Thursday, December 29, 2016

#Chanukah day 6 - War

I joke with my son: "I''m a pacifist with violent tendencies..."

He laughs. I laugh. And then I sigh - because sadly, it's true.

I remember talking to a gaggle of pre-teens once, telling them about my heroes, Dr. King and Gandhi. They wanted to know why, and I told them about non-violence. I climbed up my metaphorical mountain and sat there, in some divinely serene lotus position, and the vantage point of my lovely, modern, suburban life, and waxed profound on the profound nature of peace. And one of the smart kids (being in 6th or 7th grade, all of whom have a natural tendency is to search out every chink in an adult's armor) raised his hand, and asked in a voice loaded with innocence, "But what about the Holocauset? Would you have fought then? If you could have killed Hitler, would you have?"

They all perked up then. They sensed blood. "I don't know," was my only answer. "I am really grateful I have never been in a position that I have to choose." Even as I said the words, I could feel my insides twist and churn. Would I? In those days, I was single and childless. Now - I have my beloved son. What if the threat were to him? Would I be able to maintain my position of non-violence if the threat were to my child rather than to me - or to my community?

Hannah had an answer. She lived with her seven sons somewhere in Judea. She supported Judah and the Maccabbees, and worked to defeat Antiochus and his army. When the soldiers came, as they did to every Jewish household, to force conversion upon then, Hannah was so steadfast in her beliefs that she was able to watch those soldiers throw each of her seven sons off the roof of their house, one by one, because she would not kneel and pray to a false god.

What a bizarre twist on the Hillel story - he was stopped by a Roman soldier who put a sword to his throat and said "Teach me the Torah while standing on one foot. If you can, I will convert. If you cannot, I will kill you here." Hillel, we are told, thoughtfully stands upon one foot and answers, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary. Now go study.," And the general, so the story goes, did just that.

Hannah was told, "Bow down and pray or we will throw your sons to their deaths!" And she refused, because she was steeped in her faith. She held firm to her convictions and watched each of her sons die. Did they scream? Did she cry? Did the soldiers think twice, wondering how they could kill an innocent child? Did the soldiers question their inhumane orders? Did Hannah even once question a faith that could revere martyrdom over life? She was so sure that right was on her side; did she forget Moshe's cry: "Choose life!"

We were at war, fighting for our lives, our beliefs, our identity. And war - it changes you. It changes us all. We celebrate our victory over the Assyrians, and praise the bravery and might of Judah and Mattathias and the Maccabbean army.

And still, I am torn, between my love for peace, my belief in non-violence, my absolute conviction that violence only leads to violence, that it never solves anything. And I look around the world, at the wars and the conflicts that are killing us - all of us (because we are an "us," this world of ours, this human race of which we are a part) and I still cannot answer the question "Would you fight? Is there a Just War?" with more than an "I don't know, and thank God that I haven't had to make that choice."

It is Chanukah - a time to celebrate miracles and identity and victory. Perhaps - I hope, I pray - the lesson of this war, of any war, is not to help us answer the question "Would you fight?" but to spur us to redouble our efforts to create a world in which there is no war. Work for peace, for justice. Fight poverty and ignorance and need, not one another.

I am naive, I know. But that is my hope, even so, and I will cling to it, hold fast to it, work tirelessly for it.

#Chanukah. #festivaloflight

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#Chanukah - day 4: Liberation

Three views of liberation, since three is the number of intention.

First, for this fourth day of Chanukah, Judah the Maccabee, the Hammer of Judea. He took a rag-tag band of guerilla warriors, and from the dark corners of the land, he and his band of merry men overcame the superior forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, fought them and finally won the day.

Huzzah! Liberated - but still, there was much work to do.

The Temple had been overrun with Assyrians, Greeks and idols (oh my!). The altars had been smashed, or worse, defiled. It was unfit for people and for God.  So it was reclaimed, cleaned, made pure and holy again, and finally dedicated before the glorious miracle of the oil: only enough to last a single day, that oil, once lit, lasted for a full eight days, just long enough to get a new supply.

Nes gadol hayah sham - a great miracle happened there.

Huzzah, again. The people rejoiced in their liberation from tyranny and oppression, scrubbed the Temple -- and promptly ushered in one of the most corrupt and oppressive regimes in our history. And as long as we're talking about cleaning - let's not forget the dead, the bodies of various Judeans who were not collateral damage, but the victims of internecine warfare. Apparently, we weren't content with just Antiochus' soldiers.

We jumped from the frying pan straight into the fire. Liberation is a double edged sword. It cuts, no matter which side of the blade you're on.

FLy through several thousand years after the Hammer hit home. Humanity has learned a staggering amount during the intervening millennia, whether learned ex nihilo or some refinement of the original , that allowed civilization to flourish. Here's a list, in no particular order (and I'm not even gonna Google this, and I'm gonna miss a gajillion things here) - the stirrup, the printing press, perspective, language, poetry, drama, fireworks, gunpowder, paper, music, smelting, science, astronomy, philosophy. My God! We went from the Bronze Age to the Age of Reason in the blink of an eye, and with every jump, with every advancement, there remained some spots of darkness and decay.

Let's not even list the timeline of weaponry that paralleled that of music and dance, of art and architecture. We went from rocks to sticks to swords and spears, connon and gunpowder. The holy oil that burned in the Temple could also burn your enemies. 

Let's talk about the Jews, still considered the scourge of the western world. If we weren't thrown out of a country (don't cry for me Spain, I'll hitch a ride with Columbus), we were put into ghettos (medieval Italy) or made chattel of the king (hoorray for the Magna Carta)). We were practice dummies for the wonderful knights of the Crudades. We were demonized as money-grubbers and child-killers. 

While the Age of Enlightenment and Napoleon seemed to liberate us from the bondage of the past, there were still a few hills to climb, and work to be done. Liberation is a double-edged sword.

Seven or eight years ago, I got an email from a friend. It had a huge distribution list along with a link to a video. The body of the email read "My God, you must watch this!" Normally, I would delete such an email, wise in the ways of phishers and scams. However, I trusted the friend so I clicked on the link. He was right. It was something I needed to watch. You should, too.

Were we ever liberated? Who can retell the things that befell us? Who can count them? Evil arose, covering the world with smoke and darkness. Our people were rounded up like animals. Humanswere rounded up - Jews and Gypsies, Communists and Catholics. It didn't matter. A king arose with the power to strip  people of their humanity, of their personhood, so they could be bound and gagged and murdered, one by one by one, fed into the pits of some hell that we don't believe in. 

And can you imagine? Truly - having been made a slave, having been starved and beated and worked unto death -- in the very first moments of your liberation, you sing of hope. You sing praiases to God. Can you imagine? 

Baruch hashem - blessed is God's name. Nes gadol hayah sham - a great miracle happened there.

We rejoiced in our liberation. There was so much work to be done! We learned from our liberation. "Never again," we cried out. This degradation, this dehumanization will never happen again. We cannot allow it. We learned to be strong, To be vigilant. To be free.

And we dug in our heels, put our backs into building a land that the desert had claimed for its own. And we kept watch and we defended and we sang our "Never again" like a psalm. And we worked to make it so, to make sure we never again felt the boot of the tyrant on our necks.

And we taught the ones who came after - "Never again." And we meant it. And we meant it for the world entire. "Never again." Never let our past become another's present. Let us learn that all of us - Jew and Gentile, Muslim and Sikh, every single one of us - we must all sing the psalm of Never Again, and we must all make sure that our song is true.

And so, the third view of Liberation, for the fourth day of Chanukah, the holiday of light and liberation - liberation is hard, and is a double edged sword, and the work is long.

Sometimes, the hardest lesson of all: failure. From the dead in the Killing Fields of Pol Pot to Bosnia and Herzogovina and Rwanda. From the sex slaves in every city and town the world over to the child laborers that allow us to buy our toys so cheaply. Look at the Women of the Wall. How different are they, really, from the girls stolen by Boko Haram? Only minutes ago, I saw a tweet that read "Only 10 days to #Day1000..." 

A thousand days! A thousand! But it's not on tv much, so we can sweep that one under the rug. Right? I could go on, it seems for an infinity - a whiny chunk of infinioty: Flint. Ninth Ward. The African American community. The poor. Women. The differently-abled. Does it matter, which group of oppressed? How can we rest while there is such pain? 

We are all human. 

Liberation is a double-edged sword. It never means "and then we all lived happily ever after." It means there is work to do, much work. And the work of liberation is difficult. We may never finish the work; neither are we free to desist.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Strange Fire

The world is on fire.
I feel the flames licking
along the walls
that have all but fallen.
They shelter only shadows now,
and hunger.

They call the bombs friendly,
and the damage collateral;
the deaths unfortunate
and their cause is
holy, holy, holy.

Does God hide in the shadows,
do you think, still
waiting for a pleasing odor
to feed an insatiable hunger?
Or perhaps God has fled,
the altars abandoned to
strange fire, whose only
scent is decay?

I would flee, too,
leave the altars behind,
and the crumbling walls
and this eternal fire
fed by hatred
and your war.

I would flee,
but there is nothing left
except fire.

I would beg,
but the shadows are empty,
and their silence
is a shroud.

I would leave, but
Pharaoh's heart has
turned to stone.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rude Awakening

Like many people I know, I woke up that Wednesday morning, the day after the election, shocked and unnerved. I was supposed to have awakened elated - finally, a woman president! And hooray - we were joyfully continuing that long march begun a century ago, with the Wobblies and the suffragettes, that led to the union and labor movements, that led to the New Deal, that led to civil rights, that led to gay rights and marriage equality that led to gender equality and... Hell, you get it.

Did I say a century? Ha! Make it two. Let's not forget that whole contretemps with the folks across the pond. Let's not forget Hamilton and that rad hip-hopper Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers. We have been marching steadily, (with a very painful layover while we straightened out the mix up over just who is a person and just what is property, and fought a war to ensure that everyone in the country got it), towards that bright, shiny future, which was supposed to be my bright, shiny present, of peace, love, equality and justice for all.

And yet, on Wednesday morning, November 9th, I woke up shocked and unnerved. And frightened. I am a woman. I am a Jew. My son is black. I fear for him most of all. On November 9th, while I woke up terrified (literally terrified at the revolution that was seemed to be taking place in my world) there were a whole host of people who woke up with this insane belief that it was ok to haul out the white hoods and disgusting invective and hatred that they had been keeping under wraps for what - a decade? more? a century? And if that weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, the cold water shock of realizing that this notion - that it had all been excised somewhere in the murky past - was merely one more instance of my white privilege. This behavior had always been around; I just had all the proper armor in place to not see it.

A month later, and I continue to be mind-numbingly outraged (sorry for the oxymoron, but I can't think of any other way to explain it), as I watch the (real) news and see, more than the mysogeny and racism and anti-lgbtqa hate speech spewing forth, but the great glee and lightening speed with which that That Man is dismantling 60 years of civil rights and liberties.

And, as I prepare to send my son off to university next fall, my black, liberal, loud and wonderfully vocal son, who has been taught to speak truth to power, I worry about the landscape into which he is stepping, and wonder if it's filled with landmines.

Actually, I don't wonder - there will be plenty of landmines (and some of them are actually good - you know, the ones that blow up youthful preconceptions or the petrified ideologies of the know-it-all teen that need to be softened or changed, that are a part of healthy college life). There are some landmines, though, that have been planted by the sudden normalization of all the other horrible "-isms" that have plagued our society and have been gaining ground at too rapid a pace. These are mines that can hurt. These are mines, I fear, that can kill.

Right about now is the part where I'm supposed to find some grace, some kind of uplift - that light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel that will ease my readers' (and my) mind, right? You know, the part where the dragon may have eaten the princess, but we find out, just in the nick of time, that she was cruel and not the real princess at all, while the real princess grabs the sword to fight the battle... I fear that the light at the end of the tunnel is really the light of the oncoming train.

I just typed "no one is racing to pick up the sword," and deleted it, when I realized that fear is not quite true. Many are sprinting towards the sword in the stone - all of us who are outraged and frightened, we are picking it up. We are speaking out and shouting truth to power. (Ugh. I found the sliver of happy after all. Yay me.)

We will continue the battle. We will face insurmountable odds. We will lose a lot. Not just lose, but scary lose - on the environment, civil rights, education, etc etc etc - but we will slog on. Because that's what we do. We slog. It will not be enough. Not right now; maybe not ever. "Enough" rarely ever is. Right now, though, it is all we have. So we will use this blade until someone - perhaps you, perhaps me, maybe my son one day - forges something more powerful, more permanent.

Until then, we will be afraid. Until then, we will suit up and show up nevertheless. And we will raise our voices to speak truth to power and lose a bunch of battles and fight through the fear and one day, we may actually win the war.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Name is in Me

Will you name me,
before I can name myself?

Will you see my skin
and name me a color,
as if that defined me?
As if pigment is a thing
at all.

Will you see my sex,
my breasts that swell with milk,
and desire, and righteous indignation,
as if a mere body part
or two can claim the whole of me?

Will you find my name in my faith -
or what you think of as my faith?
Will you shackle me
and shame me,
blame me for what you
think you know?

My name is in my skin,
in its cracks and rough-edged
wrinkles, earned honestly
in the measure of my days,

It's in my sex,
in my womb that opened
and my breasts that fed
in my body that cradled life.
It's in my hands that reach
higher than I could ever grasp,
and my eyes that see
beauty in the chaos of a storm.

My name is in me,
in my back that is bent,
and my knees that don't
yet still they bear the
weight of all my days.

My name is in my faith
even as I wrestle
with the angels
who still climb their ladders,
and wrestle with me.

I feel it, the name that I
call myself, that I claim
for myself. It dances
along my skin, and fills me

Would you name me?
I have my own name,
I don't need yours.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Remember Me

How should I be remembered -
even through the sorrow
and those moments of grief
that come of their own accord,
and shake us
and make us weak,
make us bend and crumble?

The sorrow passes,
and the grief,
in their own time:
A slow and stately cadence,
steady, and the space between
each beat lengthens
like shadows at dusk.

Remember, and I am in the here,
in the slow and steady rhythms
of those in between spaces.
I am motion.
I am sound.
Find me here
in the sweep of time
in the grand abundance of life.
Remember me,
and do not grieve for long.
I am here in the song
of traffic and midnight silence.
I am in fallen leaves
and wood smoke in winter,
I'm in your generosity and in your hope.
I am here,
in your sorrow,
your grief
your joy
your love.

Remember me;
I am here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Grace, revisited

There was a day, long enough ago that I can look at it with the comfort of time, near enough that the colors are still sharp and unblurred. On that day, I sat in my living room in the late afternoon, so that there were more shadows than light. My cat threaded between my legs and I stared at the bottle of vodka I had bought earlier that day. I wanted it so badly, the sweet burn and liquid fire of the alcohol, the thirty seconds of absolute release that it always gave. I stared at that bottle, and I sank to my knees. I had every intention of drinking. I wanted it, wanted the release and the blankness. I could taste it, for God's sake! And yet I sank to my knees. And I cried out in utter despair: "I give. I can't do this anymore. I can't be so alone. Please help."

That was a shocker, that prayer. Here’s the thing: I have a couple issues with God.

Of course, anyone who's known me longer than, say, five minutes, can pretty much figure that out. I have run the gamut from at-one-with-the-All, to being convinced that my Higher Power is God's evil twin brother whose sole Divine Purpose is to mess with me and my life. I struggle with God's blessings as much as with God's capriciousness.

My journey with God has been rocky at best. At thirteen, I announced my intention to become a rabbi. By fifteen, I declared my apostasy –god was dead, orat best, immaterial. I had a God-sized hole in the middle of me, and it ached to be filled. I filled it with anything handy: sarcasm, contempt, cynicism. Throw them all in there--- anything that would make me not feel quite so empty, quite so lost.

Anger was good. If I stayed angry enough, sneered with just the right curl of the lip, I did not have to feel. After anger came alcohol: emergency spirituality in liquid form. I loved drinking. I loved the way it made my fingertips buzz, an electric pulse that made me want to dance and move and breathe. The noise in my head got quiet and I could think. I could float, and feel beautiful and connected and almost human.

Once I found them, anger and alcohol were my boon companions. They kept my demons at bay. If I stayed angry enough, drank enough, I could almost believe that they filled that hole, filled me. I could tell myself that they were enough, and that I was enough.

And then they stopped working. I couldn't get to that floaty, breathy place anymore. I couldn't find any quiet space. All that was left was this deafening white noise and a brittle coating of despair. In the end, there was a night in August, filled with heat and humidity and the smell of tar and sweat. I crawled into a bottle and some man’s bed, fully intending to pull the cork in after me. Instead, I woke up just as empty, just as alone.

So I got sober. I stumbled into the rooms and meeting places of Alcoholics Anonymous, totally spent. All those shiny happy people sitting in those shiny happy AA rooms told me: “Don’t drink, go to meetings and find a God of your understanding.”

Great. Give me a task that I have been failing at for decades. I'll get right on that.

Strangely enough, I did. Twenty plus years later, I still don’t know why – perhaps even the smallest kernel of hope can trump despair. And thus began the great God quest. I had my eyes peeled for The Answer that would explain away all my doubt and uncertainty. I looked, and I read, and I looked some more. The more I looked, the more I struggled, the more desperate I became to find solace.

I saw my friends get it. I was happy they all learned to sit comfortably in their own skins. I just wasn't getting it. After 2 years, I was sober, technically - I wasn’t drinking, but I was miserable. God may be real for everyone else, but I was pretty sure that God would never be real for me.

I told myself it didn't matter really. So what if I was a little raw? So what if all I wanted to do was drink? I couldn't sleep anymore. I stopped going to meetings - couldn't bear to listen to those shiny happy people who had found God - some Higher Power who carried them and loved them and healed them and redeemed them.

I just wanted a drink. I sat in my darkened apartment, staring at a bottle of vodka. I could taste it, I braced myself for the burn of it, and the tingle and the blankness that I knew would come.

"I give. I can't do this anymore. I can't be so alone. Please help."

That was my prayer. The only prayer I could offer. It spilled out of me, and I sat on my knees, and I didn't drink. There were no angels to dance on the head of a pin. There was no clap of thunder or heavenly choir. But I didn’t drink, even though I wanted to, even though I ached to. I didn’t. And I slept-- the whole night through. For the first time in months, I slept, deep and uninterrupted.

Redemption. I have no doubt that this moment was nothing less than the gift of redemption with a touch of grace: with no angels dancing, no thunderous choir, I finally lay down my struggle with God. I was redeemed, at last. The miracle was for me, at last. And I slept.

Twenty plus years later, trough the grace of God, I’ve still not taken that drink. I’ve found a faith that carries me through those long dark nights of the soul. I still have them. I still tend to box with God. I struggle with the idea of God still. I struggle with God still. We are locked in an eternal embrace, God and me - intimate, connected, bound together as blithely as light, as strong as love. I rail at God and demand to be carried, to be loved.

To be enough.

And I am still given grace, because I know that when I ask, I am redeemed. When I love, I am enough. And, wrapped in that blanket of grace, I sleep.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Uriel's Sword

Uriel handed me his sword,
all blazing light
and fiery glory.

"Well, I'm off,"
said he.
His wings,
dusty with disuse,
fluttered, three times in all,
leaving behind a shimmer
of old feathers
and the smell of

God! but that sword
was heavy, laden
with a dangerous beauty.
I had to shield
my eyes from its refracted radiance.
It set off sparks, there at the
suddenly unguarded Gate.
Its hinges sang  a dissonant and rusty hymn,
a sound like a gathering host of angels
readying themselves for battle
or morning prayer.

I stepped into the Garden,
where nothing had died
for ten thousand years,
and then ten thousand more,
and then more,
and then more.
Nothing could die, leaving
the Garden choked with weeds
and the glorious Presence of God.

What a waste.

I let the sword lay
where it lied,
a plaything of angels
and Gods.
in an overgrown, empty garden
and closed the Gate
behind me.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Morning Song

What holds me here,
tethered, bound,
tangled in Your breath
and pools of scarlet gold?

The morning fog rests on
the ten thousand notes that rise;
they lift me,
and ten thousand grace notes
fall into the quiet,
the not-silence
of the early morning.

And I am held. Still.
I am bound
into the not-quiet.

I lift my eyes to the heavens
and I am blinded by the sun.

I lift my arms, and gravity
catches them; they fall without grace.

I lift my voice
into the vast not-quiet,
the almost-stillness.
into birdsong
into leaf-fall
and heartbeat.

And I bind myself anew,
I tether myself
to tattered corners
and lose fringes

And I am robed in a cloak of light.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Avot in Two Tenses

(past tense)

It's shaky up here.
Not quite rickety-tumble scary
Like ladders, or those iron
stair monstrosities that
lead up into forever, yet still
show you the depths of
Down and Below
and all that open-air
of Before.
through narrow slats
and backless risers.
Here it is shaky.
Here, on the shoulders
of these giants,
I merely sway, and
listen to the ancient
songs as they

 (future tense)

If I don't know your name,
if I don't know your joy,
your fear,
your desire
or want,
if I don't know you -
Still I would hold
God's name
on my lips
like light
or breath,
and whisper it to you,
a song of rising,
a song of grace.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Afflicting the Soul

Afflict my soul ~

As if this were something new,
a commandment of some rarity!
I picture a three-taloned
scourge, held high
in front of me,
my hand clasped
lightly, with comfort
and all too familiar ease.
The tips of those talons
are bloodied.

My soul is afflicted.
It is a talent I have perfected.

But I am to afflict my soul
on that Day,
To hunger,
To thirst
To bear my discomfort
like a badge of unease,
as if, on all those other
days, I do not.

As if on all the other days -
new moon,
full moon,
sickle moons that have their
own power to draw blood -
on every other day
I wear the day
with comfort and ease.

But I will be bound
by these words
of commandment,
and I will hunger
and thirst and bend in
weary affliction.
My soul will find no
comfort as I walk to
the gates I erected,
the ones I barred
in Your holy Name.
Perhaps this year,
of all those years
and all those days,
I will lay down the
rusted talons that I carry
too easily, that fit far
too comfortably
in my calloused hands.

And these shall be my peace offering,
and I shall topple the gates,
and I will be whole.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

BlogElul - Hope

I find, much to my surprise, that I am, once again, stumped by hope. That is, I'm having a hard time daring to do it. Life is so very fragile, and the world can be so dark. One false move - or, perhaps, any move at all - will upset that delicate balance, which feels too much like the whole of existence dancing on the head of a pin. Hope requires that I move somewhere, anywhere, even a hair's breadth from the spot I am in, but I see that empty, endless expanse laid out all around, and I am afraid I will fall into forever.

That's hope for you: dangerous, and wrapped up into way too many metaphors to do anybody any good. Least of all, me. Here's a secret though, my secret: I so want to hope - fearlessly, courageously, defiantly, in the face of every fear or foe.

But perhaps. Maybe. Just maybe, I got it wrong. That vision, I think, is for the fantasy novel hero, the shield maiden, donning her armor and wielding her sword, stalwart and sure. That's not hope. Not really. That's a fantasy, nothing more. Neither is hope is not a wish, or empty words of hearts filled with thoughts and prayers. Lovely sentiments, to be sure - but these are not hope.

Hope is feeling the dread - that icy lick of fear you get just microseconds after the news of (choose all that apply): the death of a loved one; a difficult (scary) diagnosis; some disaster that is big and huge and all-encompassing. And in spite of all that ice and dread and fear - you move anyway. You hold a hand, comfort an anguished heart, breathe, stand with, witness, give strength, cook a meal, drive a carpool, smile, sing, laugh, talk, listen. And even (I hate to admit this) pray. Because sometimes, that's all that's left, the only thread you have to hold onto: prayer - a conversation with God, even one filled with every swear word you can think of, even one with no words at all.

Hope is an action.

As I said, I've not been practicing much hope these days. Instead, I've been staying a little bit stuck in the icy dread. I don't like it much (although I am quite comfortable staying so stuck; I've had way too much practise here), this precarious perch upon which I've climbed. Frankly, my balance isn't too good these days, and my arms are getting really tired. I need to let go.

An old story keeps running through my head: 
Rabbi, what if I don't feel like praying?
Pray until you do...

Perhaps it is the same with hope. What if I am afraid to hope? What if I'm too stuck? What if I don't feel like I can hope?

Hope until I do.

Until then, I will dance as gracefully as I know how, high up on this pin, and try - with all my might - to fall, to let go - to hope that one day, I will.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Thousand Shades of Black

There was no thought of
symmetry or rhythm
at the edge of the sea,
as it rolled and pitched
there on the edge of night.
No thought at all,
just a thousand shades
of black, like the negative of
Jacob's peacock coat
flung wide.

Was this the sound of heaven,
this cacophony of waves,
and a counterpoint of
cricket and wind?
A host of angels, each one
of that vast multitude beginning
a psalm of morning
at a time of their own choosing -
a great babble of benediction and praise,
one by one by one,
each different in their turn,
each the same.

As above,
so below.

And so we walked
to the edge of the sea,
to the edge of night,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Place of Agonizing Beauty

I spied Hannah once,
from the corner of my eye,
prostrated before Your altar;
in her deepest heart
a place of
agonizing beauty;
her call so silent
only a god
could hear.
My heart
thuds too loudly in
my ears; there is
no quiet place,
no stillness.
Is that where
You hide?
If I call "Ayekah?"
Would you answer?

God, but I'm tired!
I am done
I no longer care.

I am here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

At the urging of a harp: a poem for Elul (#blogelul)

I stand here,
ready to begin
to follow this road
of dust, that stretches
before me, but I cannot
see where it bends
and splits and
turns in on itself.
I have walked this
road before,
seven times seven,
and then seven more:
brought here
returned here
again and again
and yet the road is still

David's harp urges me
and the horns of Abraham's
dilemma push me,
and Jacob's ladder is crowded
with angels. They move aside,
not without some attitude,
so I may stumble up those
narrow rungs; still -
elevated though I am,
there is only dust
and a blaze of Glory
in the far distance.

I am meant to follow,
with open hands
and open heart,
to feel the quickening
of my blood
that moves in equal time
with my shame
and my joy, my fear and
love, my grief and my ecstasy,
So that i may claim them
all, as they have
claimed me;
so that i may dance
at the gates
and be whole.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Through Dust, and Time

It was there –
Under the mountain,
bits of parchment
and a river of
ink, and feathers and
crowns – a liquid fire
that burned.
We put stones in our pockets,
bones of mountain and earth,
tasting of thunder;
we walked through dust
and time
to here:
to now.

You captured the blue
of sky and
and wove them with the sun.
Ten thousand threads
and ten thousand more,
together with bits of cloth;
It unfolded in
supple billows,
lifted by an updraft,
catching in the branches of a tree,
Limned in light.

We left it where it lay,
A cloth of wondrous beauty,
A tree of life.
Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh
We sang,
A song of praise
and binding
and joy.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Ten Words

What ten words rule you?
Which move you?
Bring you forward
and return you?
What ten words
bow you
and bend you
and fill you full?
Which serve you,
or demand that
you serve?

Which call you
to your journey,
to dive inward,
move outward,
and carry you to distant
trackless shores -
a barren wilderness
that is more vast
than sky,
more filled
than stars
and time?

And yet those words,
those ten,
they carry you -
From all that
you know;

Ten words lift you
into a boundless unknown.
bring you to self;
bring you to God.

For Shavuot
based, in part, on Exodus 34:27, in honor of "Aseret ha'd'brot" - the Ten Words

Monday, August 15, 2016


I made a house of wood,
Of cubits and inches
and fashioned with tongues
and grooves, and
all the pieces fitted together,
just so.

It was beautiful to behold.

Inside, I placed soft feathers
and stones of quarry gray.
They rested in shadow
and were cold to the touch.

Just so, they burned
my hands

based on Deut. 10:3-5

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Head to Heart

The longest journey
begins with a breath -
   breath being one of the names of God -
and ends in Breath:
   as the name of God is a prayer: amen.

It is played out
on a bridge more narrow than fear
and wider than Heaven,
And gathers together
the battered, embattled rubble
of broken days and history.
It is - as if it ever wasn't - love,
that journey of unknown proportion,
Coming not because of,
Nor in spite of.
Love that is whole
And endless
   And love -
      God, yes!
             in all its infinite
                 and glorious
                       boundlessness -

                          That is the journey
                          That is the breath
                          of God.


For Tisha B'av

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Why I'm With Her (even though I wasn't always)

When I was in graduate school, I had, what I have come to believe, a holy experience: I heard God. OK, maybe not God, and not even God's actual voice. Maybe I just heard the word of God, spoken so clearly, so sparely and with such devotion that I could not help but take them in and know that, at last, there was God.

The events that led to my epiphany were profoundly prosaic: a colleague arranged for some hot shot guy from New York to speak on campus. I’d never heard of Michael Harrington before. Then again, I’d never heard of a lot of things. Who knew? Thankfully, I was a fast study.

So, on a spring day in 1985, in a faculty lounge with large casement windows that spilled soft gold light onto plush carpet and stiff-backed chairs scattered haphazardly around the room, I first heard God speak. As a convenience, God used voice of Michael Harrington to make his message heard aloud. Michael Harrington, speaking the truth of God (I swear) had this to say:

We can create a society that is not rooted in inequality and discrimination and power and wealth. We can create a just society, based on the premise that our Founding Fathers meant rather than wrote: that all of us, men and women who are black and brown and yellow and white, who are gay and straight and anything in between, who believe or don’t as they see fit, we are all of us equal, and we have a voice that, when joined with others, will always speak louder than the tyranny of gross power and grosser injustice.

Michael Harrington, a professor of political science at Queens College, and the co-founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, a writer and radical and sometime Voice of God, spoke my truth to me: money may be power, but the people - together - could be more powerful still.

Well sign me up!

I joined DSA then and there. Not surprising, I left graduate school not long after, PhD be damned. I went to work for a national poor people's organization. I was out to fight the good fight, to rouse the rabble and give people a voice.

No, not give. Give is way too condescending and nobless oblige-y. My job was to remind people that their voices, joined together, were a power to be reckoned with. We had all been silent for far too long. Now was the time to be heard.

For five years I fought that battle. I moved 15 times back and forth across the country; everything I owned fit in the trunk of my car. The cause was my world and I thrived in it. Even when I left to wander the halls of Corporate America, I didn’t lose my ideals. If I no longer fought in the trenches, my feet and my hands and my threadbare wallet strived as best they could to keep up and change the world.

You can imagine my delight the first time I heard Senator Bernie Sanders speak. His gravelly voice, and brusque New York accent was beautiful. In it, I heard the Voice of God, just as I had decades ago. Sanders, too, urged us to defend the poor, care for the needy, work to build a society of justice and equality.

I know, I know: Sanders, and Harrington before him, are not the Voice of God. I am being dramatic and somewhat flip. Still, their words, their ideas, their insistence that we are all responsible for one another, that there is an inextricable link between business and people and money and the earth that must be carefully maintained - these seem to me to be an echo of everything I've been taught about God.

I sent in my $27, and wished I could give more. I volunteered. I cast my vote for Sanders in the Illinois primary with such hope! I watched and wondered and cheered him on, and at some point I knew, in that icy pit that resides in my belly, that some invisible corner had been turned, and that sweet moment of victory was all too short-lived. Sanders would not win the nomination.


What to do? What to do?

You must understand: this was never a question! What to do? In the holy words of Michael and Bernie (and paraphrased by me): defend the poor, care for the needy, build a just society.

Look – Michael Harrington wasn’t perfect, nor is Bernie. They aren’t God. I was lucky enough to have heard the voice of God whisper through their words - words, so I believe, so powerful, they have made their way into the DNC platform. What choice is there – really - but Hillary Clinton?

Is Hillary Bernie? No. She has her own voice. She fumbles around, makes mistakes. Sometimes she even cops to them. She’s a politician – just like Bernie. It just so happens I like Bernie’s message more, hear the whisper of God a little louder, look past his foibles a little easier. I’ll tell you, though – have you ever heard the passion and the fire she can kindle when she stops running for President and just talks? God is there, too, when you listen, and she shines. She’s not Bernie. She’s not Michael. She’s not my first choice. And while I think the path towards that just and equitable society will be a little more layered than I’d like, still, I have no doubt that she will walk this path, too.

For all you “Bernie or Bust” folks still out there, now is the time to remember what matters: joined together, our voices will always speak louder than the tyranny of power and injustice. For all of Hillary’s shortcomings and sins (real or imagined) – to vote for anyone else will destroy that vision of a just society. I stand with Hillary because, I believe that my voice, added to hers, and yours, and millions of others, will always be more powerful than insatiable fear and monstrous hate.

I'm with her.

#I'mwithher #hillaryclinton "thankyoubernie #feelthebern

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Song of Knowing

A Song of Knowing

Shall I serve?
Shall I sing a song
of ascents and

Shall I rise, and
offer a blessing,
as color first stains the
arc of Heaven -
rose gold and royal blue,
a canopy of grace?

Shall I bow low,
as the light slips away
into the coming dark,
the eternal dance
of night into day
into night
into day,
ever and again,
and the skittering of stars
that shine their reflected light
upon us?

But You are higher still -
higher than stars,
and more glorious.

Shall I praise Your name
that rests on my tongue,
unspoken, its sacred letters
a puzzle of secrets and sound?
But my breath knows You,
and speaks a benediction of joy
that rests in Your name,
A sweet sound
that rises up.

Lift me,
You who dwells in
holiness, that stretches
into now and forever.
Your name shall lift me
And I shall sing
a song of ascent
and praise


For Psalm 113

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Collateral Damage

God, but I was thirsty -
thirstier than I'd ever been,
I heard my young one cry out
And even my tears
turned to rust
just like the river,
just like the Sea.
But it's ok;
this isn't meant for me.
This is a plague
for the Powers that Be -
the King of Stones and Sun.
We merely wait,
Collateral damage.

The stink of rot is strong,
but I can be stronger still,
tho my skin is marked
by runnels of rusted red,
testament to the itch
and sting
of all those things
that fly
and crawl
and skeetch across
my body.
And my baby cries -
weakly, tired from all
the swatting
and swelling
and fear.
but this is a plague
for the King of
Stones and Sun.

I thought  the rains would
bring a cleansing,
curtain of water
and life, but no:
the storms came, with
searing hail that
burned my skin
and tore through the land,
leaving little for the
locusts to devour,
except perhaps those few
carcasses still left;
cows that had died
Plagues are like that;
they steal everything,
even gods that
masquerade as cows.
Even light.
Even life.

And the darkness
weighs like stones
on my back
and I can barely
lift my arms
to shield my young one
from the Ghosts
that haunt the darkness.
She does not cry
any longer.

The King of Sun and Stones
carries these plagues
that have bent him
and bowed him,
that have stolen
his land
and his love
and his son.
His first-born son
the one he loves,
lies lifeless
in his arms,

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ten Thousand Doors

Ten thousand doors.
Ten thousand rooms.
Ten thousand shades of
Beige, with floors of wood
and wool and pictures on the walls,
framed photos -
that capture time in black and white.
Each carried from room to 

room to ten thousand rooms 
of endless beige,
carried trough ten thousand
doors that open and close:
Pictures to capture
a life, of whispers and sighs,
of moments framed by light and

coffee cup clutter. 

An infinity of doors and walls
and pictures hung,
Suspended, bursting with
Life, of whispered
hope and shouted sighs,
that pierce the walls 

built 'round my heart.

And laced through all that
dust and coffee cup clutter,
through ten thousand doors.
and ten thousand
of ten thousand shades of 
infinite, endless color and beige,
There is you.
Ten thousand doors and you,
the home of my heart.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What's the Story?

A Passover writing exercise, offered by my friend, the Rabbi (who is also a writer, and a damned good one): write a short something-or-other, based upon a given prompt, every day for the 15 days of Nisan that lead to the first seder of Passover. I tried, I really did, I tried to write something every day. A noble attempt, but it didn’t happen. Even so, I managed to kick something out for one prompt: Tell. 

Of course, the first thing I thought about, given that Passover prompt, was Chanukah. I just couldn’t get that Chanukah song to stop running through my head. You know the one - "Who can retell the things that befell us...?" (And now it's running through yours as well; no good deed and all). It works, just the same. At least the opening verse. Just substitute Moses and Aaron and Miriam and that cast of hundreds of thousands for all those Maccabees, and you can pretty much retell the story of oppression and slavery and freedom and bloodshed and war and miracles and redemption, there and back again.

That's the part that I get stuck on, the "...and back again." We tell and we tell and we tell. It’s an awesome story, filled with heroes and pyrotechnics that could keep the special effects masters at Industrial Light and Magic on their toes and at their drawing boards for years. Decades. Forever. The stuff of life is present in every word of this story we tell, all the drama and majesty and love and passion and danger and discovery and betrayal and loss.

Tell this story. Tell it to those who ask and those who don't even know there's a story to tell. Tell it as if you were there, part of the original action. Tell it as if you are still there, that we are all still there, living and experiencing it all right now.

Tell it, and tell it again. It is that important.

But here's what I'm thinking these days (as if my statement above were not hint enough): there are far too many "again's" in our story. That is, how many times do we find ourselves in need of heroes and miracles? How many times must we tell the story of soldiers and blood and war and terror?

Yes, and redemption. And yes, God. I love that these are the base of all of the stories we tell.

When, though, do we learn? When do we change? Of course we must tell the story of the Exodus! Of course we must celebrate our journey from the very narrow places into the wide open space of the wilderness where we meet God! Of course we must tell the story of our journey from slavery to freedom.

It just seems that we tell this same story, with only slight variations, of oppression, of idols and enslavement and fear and war in every generation since then. That's a lot of generations, a lot of oppression and fear and bloodshed.

Here's a secret. I love Passover. It’s my favorite holiday. How could it not be? I love that we are commanded to tell this story. As a writer, how could I not? But sometimes, in the quiet, away from the fury of the cleaning and preparing and the cooking, sometimes I wish we could tell the story with a different ending.

I'm a dork. I get that. Sometimes, I wish we could tell the story of a world that, because of our wondrous redemption, there in the wilderness, we needed no heroes, no magic, no soldiers, no war to save us yet again. That the story we tell, year after year after day after month, ever and always is the story of everyday miracles, of peace and wholeness and grace...

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Holding in the Name of God

There is a moment
(there is always a moment)
a moment of my breath
taken in great
huge -
   not sobs,
   not gasps -
though it has been that
(surely has been that!)
often has been that,
this breathing of mine;
but this breathing of mine
is not that.

It is wholly,

Not gentle,
this breath, but
Full -
Full as life, and
Out to the edges
of me, the wholeness of me
and beyond, just beyond:
full, and just fuller still,
Not gentle -
but full and

And I held it there,
this breath -
this expanding

Held it for a moment
that was eternal
an infinite moment
of holding  breath -

Only to exhale.
Not gentle,
but out to the edges
and full -
an exhale of
of a moment,
endless and still,
and I was -
in that space of infinite
beginning and endless ending

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I heard no voice -
or perhaps
silence was its own voice -
Small, and so very soft.
It whispered, just beyond
my hearing.

But it sang
in my blood.
It ran through my body
and burned my hands,
which lay idle.
It drummed a beat
that moved my heart
in a syncopated rhythm.
Not a waltz
Nor a tango
But my feet,
which had been still -
as still as my idle hands -

They danced with the
Voice that had no sound
That sang in my blood
And moved my hands
And beat in steady rhythm
So I danced.
So I sing
the song of the voiceless,
the small and softly silent ones,
And stumble on broken bits of
scattered, shattered tablets.
And I dance,

Thursday, April 7, 2016


A step -
a single step,
and I leave behind
My life. Everything
that came before,
It is -


Distant as eternity,
as a single step,
as a breath,
released -
on a prayer,
in a breath.
Beyond self, or sacrifice.
A single step,
and I am,
at last, drawn,
at last

Thursday, March 10, 2016

And so I danced

There was no voice,
Or perhaps there was a
Voiceless voice -
So soft,
so small
it could only be heard
just beyond the borders
of my hearing.

It sang anyway,
that voiceless voice.
It ran through my body
and burned my hands
which lay idle at my side.

It drummed a beat
that moved my heart,
that moved my feet
in surprising syncopation.
Not a waltz
Nor a tango,
but my idle feet,
idle as my hands -
my idle feet

They danced with the
voice that was no voice
that had no sound,
but it sang in my heart
And burned my hands
And beat in steady rhythm
And so I danced.

And sang the song
of the voiceless,
and stumbled on broken bits
of shattered tablets.

For Isaiah 1:17

Sunday, February 14, 2016


There is something
about waking,
about light that 
tiptoes in through your 
shaded window
and soft cat feet
hiding sharp cat claws,
and insistent cat sounds
that twist and twine
with the light 
and the softness
of waking
next to you.

There is something 
wondrous in waking
next to skin that smells
of sleep and 
sweat, and your 
fingers - so deftly
explore the landscape
of my body, 
its contours and 
vast planes, and trail,
like liquid fire,
to twist and twine
with soft light
and insistent sound
and wondrous delight.

there is something
about feeling your 
breath, the weight 
of you, the soft light 
of you, the wondrous delight 
of you, the heat of 
your touch, and the 
insistent beat of your
heart, a pulsebeat 
syncopated rhythm,
with an
endless measure 
of broken 
half notes,
a delicate and 
stumbling gait
of love 
and infinite grace.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Leaving Egypt

I carry Egypt with me
in a drawstring pocket
that I keep close at my side,
so that I can feel the nestled weight
of its sand and stone
and endless servitude.
Sometimes I run my thumb
along its gathered edge,
wondering if I should -
if maybe I could -
open that pocket,
just for a minute,
quick-like and easy,
so that I might feel
those sharp-edged stones,
Sun-warmed and ancient
and well-trodden
by Pharaohs and asps.

But I don't. I think the
stones might cut me,
or perhaps spill out:
All that sand and stone
that hangs so heavy at my waist,
that bows me just a bit
and fits against me just so,
It might scatter in a graceful arc
as I imagine river once did,
to escape the narrow banks
that bound it
and bent it,
shedding its great crocodile tears
Of feast and famine
in a sudden burst of freedom.

And just like that,
Egypt would lie strewn about,
Scattered by my stumbling feet
In some trackless wilderness
that has been trampled
by the feet of a thousand generations since
And by the time I stop
to do the math of
all those feet
and all that wilderness,
There would be nothing
left of Egypt,
and my drawstring pocket
would be