Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shlomo's Dream

I swam in the sea of you,
flowing like light.
And music rose in me,
a psalm of hallelujah
sung in a minor key,
carried on a current
of liquid dreams,
there in the sea of you
that was me.
Wonder flooded in, and joy,
and I could not contain
this heartbeat rhythm
that moved in me,
swept through me
as I swam in the sea of you.
My breath, sweet like water.
like Light. soft and flowing -
a benediction scattered before me;
refracted blessings,
that carried the voice
of endless night
and God,
that opened my heart
in the sea of you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Making Shabbat. And Soup.

We did not keep kosher when I was a kid. The closest we may have gotten was the story my mother used to tell, about how, when she was growing up, her father yelled at her one day, as she went to pour herself a glass of milk to go with her Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich: “We don’t mix milk and meat!” Funny how that works – I still don’t keep kosher (though I toy with the idea these days), but I also don’t mix milk with meat.

 And, while we didn’t keep kosher, my mother always used a kosher chicken when she made chicken soup. “It tastes better,” she would say with a shrug. I have to say, she made amazing chicken soup. It was mostly for holidays, like Rosh Hashana or Pesach – big, extended-family meals that came out in a thousand courses. At least, it seemed that way. Every one of them started with soup. And noodles - lokshen – unless it was Pesach, and then it was matzoh farfel instead. Knaidelach were best when they were hard as rocks; my family held no truck with soft and fluffy matzoh balls! When my bubbe was still alive, there were always kreplach, too: chopped, spiced meat and dough, a cross between ravioli and a knish. God, but it was good!

It was heaven in a pot.

Every once in a while, my mother got it into her head to make “Shabbos dinner.” To her, that meant the whole shebang: brisket and roasted potatoes, challah, candles and wine. And it always started with soup. Homemade chicken soup. In the midst of running around – dealing with kids and carpools and family and home – she would stop. Pause for a minute, and return to something that had traveled up through the generations, a symbol and sanctification, contained in a pot of soup.

I didn’t have a huge connection to Shabbat s a kid, and that held true even as I moved into my adulthood; that connection came much later. Even so, I remember when I moved out of my parents’ house into my own apartment, every so often, when I wanted to feel connected to something older and more than just the passing of weeks and the rushing of time, when Friday started to slip and I could feel it tug at me, inviting me to slip with it, I would take out a pot and prepare to make soup.
These days, Shabbat is less about soup and more about --

Huh. I was about to write, “More about Shabbat. More about celebration and community and prayer.”
But you know – that’s the chicken soup of my Now. For me, for my family, the soup was the divider: it was special, out of the ordinary, a ritual that separated the everyday from something fine and rare, but connected me to family and tradition and love. It was Shabbat, in the same way that going to synagogue and being part of my community is now. It is the symbol, the sanctification of the moment, the pause – for breath and rest and peace – that welcomes in the holiness of Shabbat.

And, in case you’re wondering about my mother’s (and her mother’s and her mother’s mother ad infinitum) recipe for killer chicken soup, here’s the recipe (as it was given to me by my bubbe, with translation):

Bubbe’s Recipe
Stacey’s Translation
A pot, big enough to make soup
Use an 8qt pot or larger; I only know how to make a lot of soup, enough to feed a small third world nation. God forbid there only be just enough to go around.

A chicken
At least one, cut up. Kosher is good, but if you go kosher, don’t forget to pluck off all the tenacious feathers that seem to cling to the bird. Include the gorgle (neck bone), because that’s how bubbe did it

Cut in chunks or a bag of baby carrots – but they have a different taste altogether than the “real” carrots

Cut in pieces, about 3 inches each, sometimes forgotten altogether

An onion
Whole; yellow preferred; don’t use Bermuda or sweet

Green pepper
A later invention taught to us by my cousin, the sabre, for flavoring only. This is optional, and certainly not part of the original recipe

Forget it. My bubbe did not know from turnips in chicken soup. And if she didn’t know from them, they don’t belong.

Salt and pepper
Kosher, of course (the salt, not the pepper)

Fresh dill
The actual secret (as I’ve been assured) to real Jewish chicken soup. You need about 5 or 6 sprigs, not that huge bouquet the grocery store insists on packaging. Don’t be fooled; take only what you need and leave the rest at the store.

Put chicken in the pot, add water to cover, plus some more, over medium heat. Remember, the volume will boil down, and all the added ingredients only seem to make more broth because of displacement. Trust me; there will rarely be as much broth as you think you need!

Bring to a boil, skimming the bubbly, frothy, scummy stuff off the top every so often. After the first boil, lower the heat, add the rest of the ingredients. Remember – the slower the boil, the clearer the broth. Continue to skim the bubbly stuff, and simmer. Simmer for a really long time, until it smells like soup throughout the house. Taste occasionally; you’ll need to add salt to taste. Keep simmering. Taste it. Don’t forget to blow; it’s hot! When it smells like soup, and tastes like soup, it’s almost done. Simmer it more (you can’t over simmer it). When it is finally done (“How will I know when it’s done, bubbe?” “You’ll know,” was her knowing reply; and surprisingly, I did, every time), remove from heat, let cool.

Remove all the stuff – chicken, carrots, onion, etc. Strain the soup through cheese cloth and a colander. This will help “clean up” the broth, but it’s optional. Discard onion and whatever dill is still hanging around, that is usually tangled on the spoon. Remove bones from chicken**. I keep the broth separate from all the other stuff, mainly because my bubbe did, and my mother does. Certainly, if you’ve made noodles or matzoh balls, keep those separate from the broth. They are starchy, and that’s not good for the long-term health of the soup.

Here’s the important thing, the essential thing: do all this with someone – your kids, a friend, your mom. Someone. Talk about stuff while you’re making the soup – cutting things, skimming things, watching it simmer - like life and God and Shabbat and justice and how you’re feeling and love and memory. These add a particular flavor to the soup that cannot be had in store-bought items. Even kosher ones.

Chill overnight – because it’s always better the next day. As it warms for your dinner, light the candles to welcome in Shabbat. Say a few words over bread and wine – to remind us to be grateful for all that we have, all we’ve been given. 

And let us say: amen.

** In addition to having chicken to put in the soup, the absolute best meal of all was usually made for the dinner after Shabbat dinner: chicken-from-the-soup chicken sandwiches, on white bread with Miracle Whip and thick sliced tomatoes, potato chips (always Ruffles, because they had ridges, and it was the only time we were ever allowed potato chips), and cream of tomato soup, served in a coffee mug.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gray Rest

The tree just outside
my window
is bare.
Her limbs creak and
sway with stiff grace
in the late fall sky.
Ash gray and dull brown,
they match the sky
and the mood of the dull day.
It wouldn't be be quite so
jarring if the three
trees just behind
My tree
weren't still adorned in
their scarlet finery,
dancing, despite the
imminent onset of snow.
I can tell, even so,
that their scarlet is dulling,
A slow slipping of color
from bright flame
to cooling embers.
they are separated only
by a few feet
and a wall.
Maybe it's the wall
that makes the difference.
My tree, though,
is bare.
Not barren.
There will come a time,
as the year and the seasons
tumble in their time,
that her sap will warm
and rise
and spread,
surging upwards,
insistently, and my tree,
now bare,
not barren,
will burst forth
in a riot of color
and Life,
and she will sway,
her limbs heavy with bounty.
Now though,
in the gray of late fall,
now she is bare,
after a season of
bounty and grace;
she has earned
her gray rest.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Could I Be?

Week Two as Poet in Residence at Temple Beth El, Northbrook, Illinois.

This week's lesson plan was scrapped and changed, just before class, when I remembered that today is the 76th anniversary of Kristalnacht. We talked about poetry and music and prayer - how they're connected; how they crystallize and distill important ideas and feelings and images into their essence; how they create and help shape holy moments.

The discussion was lively and loud; they're seventh graders. Then we read Anna Sotto's stunningly brilliant poem, A6893. Its power is in its simplicity and spareness. After talking about the poem, its meaning, its intent, its feeling and voice, I asked the class to write their own, with the prompts "What, if removed, would not make you cry;" and "What, if taken away, would make you weep?"

They wrote, and they wrote, and they wrote. Fourteen seventh graders put pen to paper and peered inside, to answer the call - and create a holy moment for themselves. They were brilliant and funny and deep and not. I cannot wait to compile all of their writing, as we continue to write The Book of Micah: Justice, Mercy and God. Me, being who I am, accepted the obligation of the assignment as well. While I cannot (yet) share their beautiful poems, here is mine, with a debt of gratitude to Ms. Sotto, and her words of beauty and loss.

I have
a lot of
Some of it -
too much of It -
Spills and tangles
and topples
in its wondrous
But Oh!
It is grand
It sparkles
and rattles and comforts and warms
And when I spy it,
When I feel it
Or find it;
When I can touch it
or fondle it;
When I feel it,
As it runs through my fingers
Or wraps around my heart,
I think
In a sudden burst:
I am happy.
I think.
That's it; I think:
I am happy.

And if, by chance
or design
or weirdly odd happenstance,
All that Stuff went away -
I would be
I think.
I think.
I would miss it,
That stuff of mine,
But I would get
More Stuff -
More sparkly,
and comforting
and glorious

But my heart;
my soul;
my stories;
my name.

How could I be -
Who would I be -
If they were stolen
To be replaced only by
a Number?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

And When I Leave

I am not ready
To leave this place
this time
this rest.
I am not ready
for the separation that
must come, not while
I still smell
the sweetness
of cardamom and cloves.
I want to linger
in this holy time
this sacred promise
And be
Just be.
But the stars are dancing
A thousand
Infinity and
They scatter like pebbles
strewn on a field of
velvet night.
And there are numberless shades
of dark,
broken by those infinite and
silvered pebbles.
And oh! my feet ache
to explore that vast expanse,
even as my heart yearns
to stay,
to linger
in this place,
where I can still
taste the wine
that teases my tongue.
But I have blessed
The thin line that
Dark from
From Sacred
And Holy.
I have found
Rest and
peace and
and God.
And when I leave,
Though I ache to linger,
I will take with me
the sweet scent of spice, and
the teasing taste of wine, and
I will hear, Forever
the guttering of a candle
into a cup of wine,
Which will Forever be
the sound of Promise
and the promise of

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

One Vote

I voted this morning.

I almost didn't. For a split second or three, I actually considered not voting. Because it was out of the way. Because I was running late. Because really, what would my one vote not cast cost?

And I went and voted anyway, because really-- if I didn't, what the hell? Would it really matter? (Never mind that I couldn't think of what I would say to my son, what excuse or lie I might offer him. At fifteen, he is keenly interested in the whole democratic process unfolding before him. History in the making. Democracy in action. We talk politics all the time, my son and I, and seriously, my heart swells several sizes when we do, and I can see him get the issues, when he makes the connections and connects the dots, even if his opinion is not always a parroted version of mine. Especially when his opinion is not a parroted version of mine. I could have fibbed, told him I'd voted, but that lie sounded hollow, even to me, so - what the hell; might as well vote.  Get it over with.)

As I drove to my polling place, really not so much out of the way, a name popped into my head: Mickey Schwerner. And then, almost immediately: Goodman. I couldn't think of his first name (dammit), and it bothered me, teased my brain. What the hell is his first name? And the other guy? Dammit again; I can't ever remember the other guy's name. But for some reason, I always remember Mickey Schwerner.

So I voted, and drove to my next appointment, and went about my day

Mickey Schwerner. James Chaney. Andrew Goodman.  

In 1964, members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) the NAACP - a bunch of college kids, the twenty-somethings of their day - created Freedom Summer. Their goal: register African- American voters in Mississippi. Well over a thousand people, white, black, Christian, Jew, young, old -- it didn't matter. What mattered was that these people saw a broken world, filled with violence and ignorance and hatred, and they believed it was their obligation - their responsibility; their right; their joy and purpose - to heal it.

In mid-June of that year, Schwerner and Goodman headed south from New York, filled with passion and hope. They met up with Chaney, a native of Meridian, Mississippi and fellow civil rights worker. They believed that every person, regardless of the color of their skin, had the right to vote.  

So they started registering voters: men and women who'd been kept from the polls by fear and intimidation and law all their lives.  That's it: registering voters - black voters in the deep South - during the Freedom Summer of 1964.  On June 21, the three of them went to investigate the burning of a black church in Philadelphia, Nashoba County, Mississippi.  In addition to believing that all people had a right to vote, they believed all people had a right to worship and pray as they believed, safe from harm. They were arrested by the police on trumped up charges, held for several hours, and then released, after dark, into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. They were beaten there, somewhere in the dark, beaten and terrorized and murdered by a group of 18 men (though only seven were eventually convicted of conspiracy, eight eventually were acquitted by an all-white jury and three cases ended in mistrials).  

Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were beaten and murdered that night by savages rooted in hatred and violence and fear. They were murdered in the dark, alone, because they believed they could heal a broken world. 

The world is still broken. We see evidence of that every day: people in desperate need, driven by poverty or illness or hunger or hatred; a planet that is being choked and starved.  There is greed and ignorance, intolerance and indifference. Even now, access to the polls is being threatened, and there are many who are being deprived of their right to vote.  In 2014.  Not 1964, not 1865 - this year, this week, this day, there are people who are being disenfranchised. There are a thousand thousand ills that plague us - that can break our hearts and cripple our souls. And yet, in the midst of this desperate need, there is light. Kindness. Healing. Small acts - great acts, even - but acts of desperate love that stem the tide of hatred and bring grace and healing.

They changed the world, those murdered men. All of them, all of the bright and brave and hopeful men and women from that Freedom Summer. Not just them, but all of the bright and brave men and women who have fought so valiantly, with courage and conviction and commitment, all of them, from every age-- they gave their lives to change the world. And I? I thought about not voting this morning, because it was inconvenient. Because I was late and it was one vote among millions and really: what would be missed?  

What would be missed?  What would be missed would be my own desperate act of love, to heal a broken world. One person. One vote. One voice. To heal and change and bring light to the darkness. Do I care how you vote, for whom you vote?  Of course I do.  I have my own ideas and visions and beliefs on what is right, what is good (for the community, for the broken, for those who cannot speak, for those I love and those I don't).  What is more important, though, to me, is that you vote.  That matters. Exercise your voice. Make a choice. Demand that you be heard. Your voice, your vote- that desperate act of love matters.

People have died defending the belief that voting matters. People continue to die, every day, for their acts of desperate love and courage and faith, for their belief that they can heal a broken world. And here's the tough part: we may never see the work complete, our world healed. But (and this is the big part, the harder part): we are not excused from starting the work, from committing those desperate acts of love. Our Jewish sages have been teaching this for centuries: Lo alecha ham'lecha ligmor v'lo atah ben chorin l'hitabel mimena. It is not your duty to complete the work; neither are you free to desist from it.  (Pirke Avot 2:16)

Schwerner and Goodman and Chaney. They were murdered in darkness, surrounded by hatred and fear. They were killed for their belief that the world needed healing and their lives - their voices, their ideas, their actions - could heal. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King once said "If you haven't found a cause to die for, you haven't found a reason to live."  These three men, and the countless, nameless hundreds before and after who were murdered and tortured for their own desperate acts of love - from Tienanmen Square to the Berlin Wall, from Tahrir Square in Cairo to any trackless, endless place where there are men and women who demand that they be heard, that their voice - all our voices - be heard, they found their reason to live.  Let us say: zichronam liv'rcha (may their memories be for a blessing).

Let us celebrate their lives. Let us take courage from their faith. Let us vote - and argue and debate and learn and disagree and demand that our voices be heard. Let us commit acts of desperate love, because we can heal our broken world-- one voice, one act, one vote at a time. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Meant to Curse

I meant to curse You.
I opened my lips
Past the borders of my fear
And felt the curse rise in my throat.
Like the sun,
It's heat burned
And lit me from within.

I meant to curse You.

Instead there was a song:
Diffuse and
A glory of light and dark
Rising like glory,
And cold,
And silver.
Rising like wonder
And reflected joy.

I meant to curse you
I called out Your name.