Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hope is the Moon

Hope is the moon seen through
skittering clouds
or leaves that have been dusted by Midas,
or maybe by Ms Borgia:
all dusty, almost brittle red and gold.
It waxes and wanes
and hangs smugly
in a charcoal sky,
like the half smile of a
drunken god.

It is nothing like the Sun
that rules in splendor
and burns.

I respond to its tidal rhythms
an eternal dance that moves me,
that batters me and carries me.
Even so, I see it only through
the boughs of trees
and skittering

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Freedom # Chanukah, fifth night

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

I know, I know - wrong holiday. Sue me. That particular phrase, that particular concept is woven deep throughout my everything. Really. I am absolutely awed at the thought of such power and wonder and love (yes, love, because if I can anthropomorphize my relationship with God, I can certainly apply the same human logic and longing to my God). 

One day we were slaves; the next - free. Ta da.

How does Chanukah fit in with all that? While we swap Moshe and his prophetic gravitas for Judah's guerrilla tactics and military prowess, the story remains hauntingly familiar: under the thumb of a king of great power who tried to break us, to take away our humanity, our spirit, our God, we were redeemed. And we have the miracles to prove it. Seas parted. Oil lasted. Food became a dicey prospect for digestive tracks. Let's face it, fried food is merely a difference in degree, not kind, from matzoh.

And after the redemption part? After the pyrotechnics and miracles and wonder and awe? Clean up on aisle seven...

Sure, we celebrate first. There's dancing and singing and praising galore!.I mean, really: we were redeemed! That is big - HUGE - awesome stuff! Talk about a shehecheiyanu moment! Literally: thank you God, for bringing us to this season of joy. But what happens when that first blush of celebration is over? What happens when the music stops?

As I see it - that's when the work of freedom really begins. Freedom is an action, not an event. It was never a gift; not for Moses and the people fleeing the narrow places. Not for Judah and the Maccabees and the other Judeans. There was a lot to attend to - nation building and temple-cleaning. Learning just what it meant to be God's people. This wasn't freedom from or freedom to. This was stay-in-the-game-freedom and do the work of being free. Because when you don't do that work, when you don't pay attention to the being free and being bound by that freedom, well, suddenly - you lose it. Suddenly, you're under a different thumb of a different king that is really just the same thumb of the same king, over and over again, ad infinitum.

And so today, on this fifth day of Chanukah, we gather to celebrate and find joy and sing praise (and eat latkes and spin dreidls and all that other family stuff of Chanukah-ing) - and we are reminded (I am reminded) that the work of freedom is part of the deal. Freedom binds me:  to God, to you, to family, to the world, and so I find a purpose in it, and a fierce joy there. And with all that - the freedom and the binding and the joy -  I celebrate the gift and grace of freedom.

Chag urim sameach!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Silver Cup - a poem for parashat Miketz

It is a hard thing, to forgive -
Forgiveness lies in the narrow place,
in the space between breath,
in the quiet and still,
overflowing from
a tarnished silver cup.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Chanukah Matzo (yes, I said matzo)

The Christmas push is on. Red and green and bits of tinsel are being crammed into an aisle or two in many stores. An almost infinite variety of Christmas wrapping paper is quickly pushing out its more secular cousins. The generic metallic golds and blue-with-white-snowflakes papers can't compete for Santa Claus and Christmas tree eye candy. Last week, I was treated to a host of heavenly angels doing an easy-listening rendition of some carol or other. The ads are creeping with inexorable zeal into print, pixel and television, reminding the world that the season of giving (and buying) is nigh.

All this was a few days past Halloween. A week before Thanksgiving, the temperatures here in Chicago were a balmy 60 degrees and there were still more than a few trees clothed in green leaves. Ugh.

To be clear, this is not an anti-Christmas, War on the Holidays rant. I happen to love the Christmas season - I love the carols, having learned them in elementary school music classes, when it was still ok to sing them, and the only Chanukah tunes were the Dreidl Song and, um, well - that was it, so we all learned it and sang it, in between the four-part harmonies of Hark! How the Bells and Gloria in Eggshells is Day-o (or whatever the words were). I loved the Christmas specials on TV, the lights that twinkle on houses along my block, the trees that I see through picture windows, boughs spread so proudly, laden with baubles and silves and stars.

Nor is this a rant on the seepage of  the Christmas buying season into the days and weeks before its traditional launch on Black Friday (which now, apparently, is a month-long event in the eyes of marketers throughout the land). And bravo to those few, brave retailers who are advertising their refusal to open on Thanksgiving Day, to give people a chance to celebrate the holiday known for gratitude and thanks (and tryptophan comas on the couch, while the football is tossed about on national television)! Bravo, I say, bravo!

This is not even a rant on the derth of funky Chanukah songs and games and family fun activities that seem to just miss. Seriously - look at Mao Tzur. The song tells the story of this tremendous victory, a real David-and-Goliath story (by the people who invented David and Goliath; I mean, descended from the David of the David and Goliath story), of a small band of rag tag rebels who overcome the forces of evil with the help of a hammer and God - and we get a dirge to mark the occasion. I have a lot of musician friends who are writing and crafting fast, to change this, but change is sometimes painfully slow.

Here's the rant: even as we approach Chanukah, which seems, for so many, to wander through the calendar much as our ancestors wandered the desert, I know that the matzoh, kosher grape juice and yahrzeit candles won't be far behind.

Every Jewish holiday. Every time.

With the exception of those grocery stores in the more Jewish neighborhoods, every Jewish holiday meant a single aisle endcap display pf matzoh, grape juice and "jelly glass" candles. I'm 56 years old, and not much has changed in that time. When my son was little, he wistfully eyed the holiday finery that decked the aisles of every store I hauled him to - just as I had done when I was a kid. That the plastic toys and noisy-for-a-minute-until-the-batteries-died tchotckes were silly and cheap and would certainly be discarded within mere hours after I (or my mother back in the day) had caved was of no consequence.

And look, I am long past the days of yearning for a tree or a visit from Santa. I still love carols, still hate egg nog, have no problem with mall Santas and cashiers who wish me "Merry Christmas!" as they hand me my change. I still call it Christmas break rather than winter break when my son gets out of school, at least in my head.

Here's where I get stuck: matzoh, grape juice and candles.

Every Jewish holiday, for 56 years at least, that's what we get. And this goes way past the commercialism of holidays, Jewish or not. There is a recognition of the beliefs and ideals and existence that is far outside our community. You'd think, after all this time, after the science that marketing has become - where advertising and manipulation and cash go hand in hand in hand, these grocery stores would at least learn to distinguish which holiday requires matzoh, or when to lay out the yahrzeit candles. Apparently, we missed that radar.

Even more, there are still major retailers who refuse to carry Chanukah things in their glut of holiday merchandising. Refuse. In the 21st century, they are a picture of red and green and tinsel and bows, and they don't even throw us a bone of something in blue and white.

I'm not calling for a Marketing and Merchandising symposium, to ensure we Jews have a place at the tchotchke trough. What I'm saying is that we are Outsiders. Still. And this time of year, when the air is filled with family and community and love, it would be nice this year to feel that I was considered a part of that, regardless of my religious beliefs. It would be nice to feel as if I mattered.

It would be nice if the matzoh stayed in its crates in the warehouse, waiting for spring to come.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Long Line of Dreamers

For Joseph, who dreamed of himself

I come from a long line of dreamers.
They dreamed of the desert,
that golden swath of dust
stretching unto forever
They dreamed of mountains casting
long shadows over growing grain
and battered hearts.
They dreamed of angels
and men, and, sometimes,
could even tell the two apart.

My father was a master of visions.
He dreamed of God and angels,
of men who rose on ladders
and waged fierce battles
in the dark.
The dreamers who came before me
claimed the power of names
and prophecy,
though they could not defeat
the sunrise.
Across the vault of heaven,
my father planted feet and flags
and built a nation scattered
by time and light.

I, too, have dreamed of stars
and wheat that bowed
in graceful supplication.
Even the sun, in its radiance,
and the moon—that silver disk
against a fold of night—
bowed to me in my dreams.
What need have I of nations and time,
of angels or men,
with all that the spheres of heaven
and the bounty of God's earth
have given me?

I, after all, am a dreamer of greatness. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

For Dinah, who did not speak: a poem for parashat Vayishlach

He says he loves me,
and his gaze
quickens my blood.

Hush, he said.
His hands moved, rough and calloused
against my perfume-dusted body

and my flesh rises to his touch,
and he loves me,
he says.

Wait, I want to say;
but he says hush
as he enters me,
takes my breath away;
and I have no words left.

My father waits to bind me
to that man who whispered love
seven blessings and I'm clean.

As if I'm broken, as if...
He says loves me.
My brothers too.
I think they hunger to avenge

the day my flesh rose to meet his touch,
when he said he loved me,
when I wanted to say wait.

When he took my breath
and my words

Wait, I want to say;
he says he loves me.
Thhereis nothing left
for me to say.

They have taken my breath -
my words -
my love -

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

For Esau - for parashat Vayishlach


Liar and thief!
Despite all you stole,
I loved you still.
I would have given anything
if you’d asked.
Instead your shadow
smothered my birthright,
my heat.

You stole the light of heaven,
the love of our mother,
even our father's faulty eyes.

You took it all and left me—
what does one call a shadow
of a shadow?

Of betrayal you made a nation
numberless as the sand and stars.

Because you knew God,
you were blessed and cursed
and beloved.
You knew God,
but I learned forgiveness.

And so I bless you and curse you

and love you more still.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Kaleidoscope of Angels: for parashat Vayeitzei

Put the stone under your head
and rest; don't be disturbed
by the kaleidoscope of angels
on their merry ride of
up and down,
between heaven and earth
and there and back again.

They may be lost,
those angels, or at least
Stuck, intractable in their
proscribed tracks,
their lesson a cautionary tale
in thinking heaven is up.

Let your stone,
cold and hard,
remind you that
there is no place God is not,
even in that rock,
and all those hard places
that the angels fear to tread.
God cares not for the ladders,
But stands over you,
And waits for you to notice.

Heaven is now,
not where.
This is the entrance.
This is the glory.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017 - The Blessing of Vulnerability and the Miracle of Thanks

A decade or two ago, newly sober, still mostly feral, I was in awe of what we called the "fellowship." Drinking had always been such a salve, a slippery balm that maintained an invisible but solid wall between me and the humans. Every drink, every drug, every thing that I used to make me not feel merely bound me tighter, twisted into a tangled mess of fear and loathing – and it all kept me safe. Invulnerable. And here were all these people, all these sober drunks with some time: sometimes only an hour or two, sometimes days or weeks or years (Years? What the hell?), all these people, with names I sometimes remembered but mostly didn't, with phone numbers readily given but that I never called. They all of them, mostly, showed up. For each other. For themselves.

For me.

Even when I snarled, or whined, or pushed back as far as I could go. I felt like Harry Beaton, the character in Brigadoon who couldn't bear his grief, who wanted only for others to hurt as much as he did, who ran, as if all the hounds of hell were running through his head, skittering up and down his spine, trying desperately to leave , all the while doomed to stay in the same place. "I'm leaving Brigadoon," he cried, "The miracle is over!" That was me, too: I wanted out, I wanted the miracle - of sobriety, of AA, of something I couldn't even name - I wanted it over for everyone. And still, all those drunks, they showed up. For me.

"Be honest," they said. Be open and willing and vulnerable, a little bit every day. I scoffed at their naiveté. "Keep coming back," they smiled, sipping coffee as the smoke from their cigarettes rose in delicate spirals, collecting in a haze just below the ceiling of the meeting room. I went back, again and again. One day, on a whim, or perhaps a dare to myself, I offered a truth or two, exposed the delicate skin of my secrets, just a fraction, and waited for the white hot pokers to come, seeking blood, sensing weakness. They never did, and I lived to tell the tale. I tried it again. And again. I shed my secrets like a shroud, felt their weight shift and dissolve, not all at once, but in time, over time, as I learned to trust.

"It's ok not to know," they said. "It's ok to ask for help." I laughed, I was too smart to fall for that line! I knew it all and needed nothing from anyone. I was the Fixer of Broken Things. I knew, above all else, that I would never be loved, and so decided that to be needed was almost the same. Almost enough. So I found all the broken pieces, all the broken people - and I fixed them all. And in all my fixing, I could find a whispery echo of the humanity I was so sure was just outside my grasp. I knew, without doubt, that only one person remained outside the circle of healing: me.

But those people, those glorious drunks, they showed up and they offered and they loved - freely, without any expectation of return. There were no scoreboards or scales that weighed my worth. With infinite caution and care, I crept away from the curse of people - the burden of their need and want and broken desire and slowly, almost imperceptibly, found grace in fellowship, the blessing of people who fill my life, and my heart.

So here now, a few decades later, looking back at a lifetime of wholeness and brokenness and breathless awe, I find grace - and God - in the kindness of strangers and the people I have gathered along the way, here in the quiet of 3:00 am.

Who am I kidding? "Looking back at a lifetime..." Ha! It's all well and good to talk of lessons learned - difficult, daring, skin-crawling lessons that you learn and then fold up neatly, put it away in a drawer in a locked room that lives down a long and cobwebbed hallway that is dusty with disuse. I like lessons like that, feel a smug humility that I can say, "Ah yes - that was hard, learning how to do that. Not that I'll do it again or anything; I got that badge, thanks."

This past year has been a never-ending parade of learning that lesson, again and again, the one where I ask for help. I tried. I tried so hard to shoulder all the broken pieces, all on my own. God, I tried! And I couldn't do it. Time and again, I struggled, like Atlas. I carried every load I was handed, felt buried by the weight of it all, until I stood - motionless, breathless, defeated - until the pain of not asking for help was finally greater than the fear of reaching out. And so, skin crawling, face pink with heat and body glistening with flop sweat, I asked for help.

And without fail - without fail - every time, there it was. Offered not as an "if - then" statement, but freely, unstintingly. There were rides and loans and stronger shoulders than mine that could bear the weight of my fear. People showed up, offered their love, sometimes in the form of coffee and a willing ear, once or twice as a meal, delivered with a happy smile and no strings. There was the offer of advice a time or two, but more often, a steady presence and a gentle hand to hold. I needed everything that was given.

I used to say, in the early days of my sobriety, that the only thing worse than not having friends was having them; the only thing worse than depending upon the kindness of strangers was depending upon the kindness of people you know. Now, a quarter of a century later, I still hesitate. I still stumble, making my solitary way to some desperately high ledge. But with every piece of brokenness that I cling to, I hesitate a little less, don't walk quite so close to the teetering edge. I am learning to shrug a little sooner, so that whatever it is that I think I must carry doesn't crush me under its weight. While I still can’t seem to say “Please…” I can finally, sometimes, actually say “Thank you,” with a modicum of grace and graciousness.

A quarter of a century later, after a lifetime of steadfast fear and absolute certainty that my burdens are mine, that I am the fixer who can never be fixed, I have discovered a new conversation topic with God. These days, there's a lot less "Why me, God?" and a helluva lot more gratitude for all the gifts I have been given. Why me? Sometimes, it's the choices I've made or the actions I've not taken that place me smack dab in the middle of something hard and fierce. Sometimes, there's no reason at all, a thing of fearsome and capricious chance that happens because it does. Even then - a conversation of thanks.

So, as we enter into this season of blessings and thanks, I offer this, my prayer of thanks, with humble gratitude for the presence of strangers and friends who teach me, every day, what grace looks like.

God of infinite compassion, who fills the world with quiet wonder and endless breath, thank You for the gift of not knowing, the grace of bending and the joy of asking, and in that joy, gratitude for the strength of vulnerability, and the ability to give thanks

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Next to Last Day

This is the next to last day,
not the last.
The next to last
still has potential,
a kiss of possibility
that can linger.
It is the embers of a fire
dulled and ashy,
that can still bite and burn.
It's firefly sparks popping
that make you jump and say "oh!"
They sweeten the chocolate darkness,
making you laugh in relief.

This is the next to last day -
and the broken can be healed still,
the lonely can be welcomed still;
forgiveness can be given still.

I shall live here,
in this un-final moment
of this next to last day,
that is potential still
that is possibility still.
I will linger here,
live here,
love here,

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Before it begins
Before the shuffling quiets
And the first breath is drawn
In anticipation of the first blessing,
the first moment of praise
Before the first note
In a cascade of notes that tumbles
and falls and rises higher
Fuller, richer, deeper
Before the words and the
silence that cradled them
Before the beginning of
the everything that is,
There was
There is
There will ever be You.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Return Me

My soul wanders,
on a carpet of light
while I sleep,
tangled in sweat-damp sheets.
Watch me, God,
from your sheltering peace.
Return me, God,
so that I may rise,
Oh that I may rise!
and bow to you -
bend to you,

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Rise, like larks

I want to fly with the larks,
who rise in exaltation.

They know Your secret name
and sing it, each one -

An ascension,
into the vastness
of sky and wind.

a psalm
a song
a glory


Sunday, November 5, 2017


I wrote this essay in the summer, right after whatever gun massacre tragedy of the day had happened. Sadly, their pace is increasing so quickly, I don't quite remember exactly which tragedy it was. Today, while I was sitting in holy, sacred space, surrounded by beloved friends (old and new) after a weekend of depth and richness and God and community, there was yet another senseless massacre, this one in a church. 

According to one facebook post I saw, 76 people have been murdered in mass shootings in just over a month. Of course, the total number of gun deaths in this time is much higher. 

So you'll forgive me, please, if my statistics are a little bit dated. How sad to think that just a few months would throw reality off so much! Still, one thing I can guarantee: the numbers have all gotten worse. Much worse. 

So again: when will enough ever be enough? How many more murders and massacres have to happen before we will act, before we offer more than "thoughts and prayers?"

What follows is the original essay, oon its entirety. 

This was a post I wrote yesterday, on Facebook:

Dear God! We are a nation under siege. When is enough enough? How many more people must die or be maimed by gun violence?!
The answer is NOT to put more guns on the streets! Don't quote the 2nd amendment to me - it calls for a well regulated militia. These terrorists - the white men who believe they are acting for God or race or political bent - who carry semi-automatic rifles that can strafe a plaza - or a baseball field or a church or a business or (pick a place, any place) - and mow down human beings to show their might and power and hatred - these terrorists can pick up their guns and bullets without a care! It is more difficult to get a driver's license than a gun license.
Dear God - when will enough be enough?

Someone I don't know commented on it - "The criminals will get their guns one way or another," implying this was a good reason why gun control won't work and shouldn't be pursued.

Here's the thing - of *course* criminals will always get their guns! I'M NOT WORRIED ABOUT THE FUCKING CRIMINALS!

- I'm worried about the mentally ill person who can readily buy a gun.
- I'm worried about the white supremacist skinhead who can legally buy a gun.
- I'm worried about the nice parents down the block who buy a gun to protect their family whose child ends up dead because said child found the gun - or MY child getting killed by their gun because he was over playing at their house and someone found the gun
- I'm worried about the guy whose pissed off at his wife or his girlfriend or boss or co-worker or the world who decides to do something about it

Of course the criminals will get their guns. We have law enforcement to deal with that, and it's by no means perfect or even relatively effective. But gun control laws were never meant to deal with that issue!

Good God people! We created this battlefield all by ourselves. This blood is on our hands. Somehow, we deified the NRA and the 2nd amendment, and we build altars to their godhood daily. And you know - it's all of us. We are all culpable in this passion play.

We wring our hands and offer thoughts and prayers as if that were enough. We shake our heads in sorrow, in anger, in bewilderment - and then we go on with our lives, until the next time, and the next time, and the time after that. Because there will always be a next time. And we will be just as culpable and just as sad and bewildered and angry.

Here are some cold hard facts, gleaned from the Center for Disease Control
  • On an average day93 Americans will be killed with guns
  • Those 93 deaths daily? Seven of them will be kids or teens.
  • Nearly 12,000 people will die. victims of gun homicide, annually
  • For every one person killed by a gun, two more will be injured
  • Every month, 50 women will be shot by their intimate partner
  • When a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, the risk of the woman being killed increases fivefold
  • The American gun homicide rate is 25 times higher, on average, than other high income      countries. The US makes up 42% of the population of that group, but accounts for 82% of the gun deaths.
What will it take?

We thought Columbine would do it, didnt we. I could have sworn we did.So I went searching, to find out how many mass shootings there had been since that deadly, horrifying kick-you-in-the-gut-and-take-your-breath-away massacre at Columbine High School in April, 1999. Funny thing - my research took me back to 1984 (a prescient year, to be sure; I'm sure I could have gone further - I chose to stop there). That was the year a man walked into a McDonald's in San Ysidro, California and opened fire, killing 21 and wounding 19.

Between San Ysidro (1984) and Columbine (1999), there were nine other mass shootings - a total of 11 shootings in all at that time. The total number of dead iwas 112. One hundred twelve lives snuffed out, and one hundred fifty-nine wounded - physically. God only knows the countless others whose wounds are not visible to the eye. Angry men. Hurt and damaged boys. Empty people who wanted to punish, who wanted to hurt, who wanted to kill. Who wanted to die. They grabbed a gun - a rifle, a shotgun, a handgun, a semiautomatic rifle - and sprayed bullets and pain and death all around them.

Columbine hit us like a wave of frigid water. It shocked us all. It sickened us all. We wept with all of the families whose worlds were destroyed that day in April. And we swore it would never happen again. Didn't we? Of course we did! We had to have. I mean, this wasn't some gangland war on the mean streets of some city. This wasn't some pissed off guy with a chip on his shoulder who shot up his girlfriend's office in an effort to show her just how much he loved her and what lengths he'd go to make her stay.

This wasn't supposed to happen - not here! This was middle class suburbia, mostly white America. This was a couple of kids! White kids, who, seemingly out of nowhere, walked into their school and opened fire on classmates and teachers alike. It wasn't until later that we found out they had an arsenal of guns at their fingertips, all legally owned by their parents. It wasn't until later that we learned they were Outsiders, bullied and marginalized and unstable.

So we learned, We learned from the harshest teacher, this most brutal lesson. We learned, and so we declared it wouldn't happen again.

Until it did. Three months later, in Atlanta. Two months after that, in Fort Hood. And two more months. And then the next month. Again and again. Over and over. The killings never stopped. People who'd been fired, or passed over, or left - they took it out on the people they worked with or loved or hated or feared. Who the fuck knows?

From Columbine to Virginia Tech - the next of the "big" ones, the shootings that really shook us up. that seem to have a more permanent status in our heads (except, of course, if your world was rocked by one of the "minor" shootings, the ones that faded more quickly from public view) - from April, 1999 - April 2007: 13 mass shootings. Ninety-seven dead, seventy-four walking wounded.

We learned. We learned how to use social media to notify students and faculty that there was a potential madman on the loose. It would have been nice to learn how to keep guns out of the hands of the madmen. Almost a year later (with only one other mass shooting and eight dead along the way), Northern Illinois University was hit by its own disgruntled student. Again, we activated the notification system, keeping those kids not in the lecture hall on lockdown and safe. We lost only five souls that day. It could have been so much worse.

But we learned. And it won't happen again. We won't let it happen again.

Binghamton, NY: April 2009, 13 dead, 4 wounded
Fort Hood, TX: November 2009, 13 dead, 32 wounded
Huntsville, AL: February 2010, 3 dead, 3 wounded
Manchester, CT: August 2010, 8 dead, 2 wounded
Tucson, AZ: August 2011, 6 dead, 11 wounded
Seal Beach, CA: October 2011, 8 dead, 1 wounded
Oakland, CA: April 2012, 7 dead, 3 wounded

Aurora, CO: July 2012 - another one of the "big names" in mass killings. This was the madman who shot up the midnight showing of a Batman movie, killing 12 and wounding 58.

Oak Creak, WI: 6 killed, 3 wounded in a Sikh temple where people were at worship
Minneapolis, MN: September 2012, 6 killed, 2 wounded
Brookfield, WI: October 2012, 3 killed, 4 wounded

Newton, CT: December 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School. This brought a nation to its knees. Stories of courage beyond what anyone could have imagined. The faces of those sweet, sweet kids, getting ready for the holidays. The teachers and administrators who did all that they could, and then did more. The parents whose children died. In all, 27 people - adults and kids - died. Were murdered.

And we declared we had had enough. We declared that this madness would end. We shouted "never again!" to anyone who would listen, and to many who wouldn't. We were done learning these lessons. We got it. Surely Congress would listen now! Surely Congress would no longer bow to the pressure of the NRA and other pro-gun lobbyists, not with all we had been through. Right?

Between Sandy Hook and the Charleston Church shooting almost exactly three years later, there were five gun mass murders, a mere 36 deaths. I mean, really - they should barely count, right?

Except they do count. As do the 13 other mass shootings that happened between then and yesterday, June 14, 2017. On that day, we saw two mass shootings, a continent apart. One in Virginia in, in the shadow of the capitol -where thank God no one was killed! - and San Francisco, where three were killed and two wounded.

In all, from what I thought would be five or six notorious cases of brutality and murder (because who can keep all of that death front and center? Life refuses to stop, or even slow down long enough to process these atrocities in their moments, and after a while, they seem to melt and fuse into one another, because how different are they, when it comes right down to it?) turned into 56 separate incidents of some guy (ok; there were two women who made it on the list; still...), some guy, some kid, some bruised and battered and broken person took out a gun and opened fire to assuage some inner demon.

From 1984 - 2017, 404 people have been killed in a mass shooting. I can't even start on those who've been killed individually. In Chicago alone, there were 762 homicides in 2016; 90% were a result of gun violence. Overall, there were 4,368 shootings here last year. We're almost at 1,000 this year, and we haven't even hit summer yet, which is when the temperature and the assault rates rise almost exponentially.

Let me remind you where all of this started: I don't give a flying fuck about criminals and their gins. In almost every single case of these mass shootings, the guns these mass murderers used were purchased legally, owned legally. Could very well have been concealed legally. In the blink of an eye, these sick individuals to their guns and ended the lives of so many.

The blink of an eye.

Do you really think that arming everybody would have stopped these murders? Even in those cases where the Authorities (whomever They may be) had an inkling that something might not be quite right in the head with these murderers, everyone was caught off guard. And no, I don't want to debate how many may have been saved in the seconds that someone on the battlefield may have had a gun, may have had the presence of mind to whip it out in the next blink of an eye, may have known how to use said gun, may have hit their target (the gunman) and not some other innocent who happened to be standing in the way (or close enough to it).

Arming everyone to the teeth is a recipe for disaster. 

We here in America seem to be the jumpy, hair-trigger gun-toting murder capital o the world. Remember that statistic, way up there? The American gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high income nations. Last year, the rate of death by gun violence in the US (per 100,000) was 10.2; in the UK, it was .2, 1.1 in Germany, 2.3 in Canada, 2.8 in France (according to a CBS news story).

It's the guns. It's the ease of access to the guns. It's the people who can get the guns, in all their angry, crazy, messed up lives. It's the inconsistencies from state to state. It's the loopholes and work-arounds that make what little control we have immaterial. It's the fucking NRA and their chokehold on Congress. It's the lobbyists and spineless politicians who put money before constituents. It's greed. It's short-sightedness and expediency. It's poverty and lack of education and gangs and ignorance and stupidity and arrogance.

It's death. Ugly, painful, nasty, brutish murder by bullet, and it knows no race, no socio-economic bracket, no gender, no religion, no political party. WE have created this battlefield. WE have condoned this culture. OUR hands are bloody. We cannot point a finger if we do not include ourselves, because we wring our hands and weep and keep these nameless, faceless victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers, and then we go on and live our lives, shifting a bit uncomfortably when we listen to the news, and we shake our heads when we hear about the latest atrocity, and we raise our voices, demanding change.

And nothing really seems to have changed.

And so we have 404 people gunned down, their blood soaking into the ground that rises up in horror. Have we had enough yet?

Every man's death diminishes me. I fear I have almost disappeared under the weight of all this death.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hagar's Song - a poem for parashat Vayeira

I hear the desert when you cry -
wide and open,
empty as Heaven.

I cannot hide from it,
neither the desert
nor your tears.

The angel bade me "Stay!"
with words of tarnished gold
and stolen silver.

What is greatness
laid against your pain?
What of glory
in a thousand years,
while you thirst and I despair?

I hear heaven when you cry -
absent and empty,
an echo of angels
and the glory of God.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Until You are Stars and Sand - a poem for parashat Lech L'cha

Go. until you are sand and stars,
until I am the only whisper
you hear,
the one of your heart,
the dreamer of you.

Leave behind all
that you know
and love
and believe.
Leave your father's gaze
and your mother's kiss.
Leave the feeling of home
and go.

Go until you are stars and sand,
until you are a blessing.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Havdallah with a gun - yet another revision, for yet another massacre

I wrote this after Sandy Hook, and I had hoped, because of the sheer horror of that massacre, we would be mobilized to do something, to force our politicians to pass sane and safe gun laws. I was wrong. I've had to revise this a number of times.

We stand in this place, all of us together. We can change this. We must.  We cannot afford another death, another injury. We cannot allow another madman to loose his anger and insanity on us.

Havdallah with a gun

In praise of blood--
a pulse beat furrow
that runs royal blue to garnet,
to brown and black, but for the
space of a breath,
it is rich and sweet
and runs like wine,
like water, like life
in its pulse beat furrows,
until it pools in the cracks 
and fissures of pavement--
rubble now, rent, once
a playground
a building,
the brick and bones
of commerce
or worship
or home.

In praise of the scent of
oil and steel, the plastic
and ozone stench
that I imagine,
like musk 
and spice
that catches, in a draft
on the wind 
and carries with it--
singing and sharp--
the corruption of death.

In praise of a spark
that singular moment
of explosion, contained 
in that flash,
that spreads like 
light, that brings no warmth, 
and nothingness follows in its wake
and it offers a psalm 
of metal striking metal
that swallows sound
a single flameless spark
disappearing into the 
weighted scent of oil 
and blood.

A benediction, a 
prayer, for a 
life, for a
death, for
a gun.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Water and Fire - Unetaneh Tokef

Ribbono shel olam,
Master of eternity,

Who numbers the stars
and the dust,
Who counts our souls -
our deeds -
our days.

You, who remembers
what time has forgotten,

Who writes and seals -
though we tell our own stories,
and live our own lives -
Blessed is the One
Who opens the gates
that we, ourselves, have closed.

God of stillness and secrets,
whose name is hidden
within our own,

Let me draw near
so that I may know
water and fire,
sword and beast,
famine and thirst,
riot and plague.

Sound the shofar!
I will hear your call
while angels tremble,
That I may know
rest and wandering,
harmony and dissonance,
peace and suffering.

Write upon my heart
poverty and richness,
degradation and exaltation.

God of power and compassion,
of mercy and hope,

Breathe into me repentance.
Sing into me righteousness.
Fill me with prayer.

Let me return, God.
Fling wide the gates.

On Rosh Hashana it is written
On Yom Kippur it is sealed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Taste of Salt

I don't find answers;
I  rearrange the mysteries.
The questions rest upon the waves;
they are the color of water,
changing with the light
and tasting of salt.

I think that God is there
- not that there is a place
where God is not -
but I think God likes the waves
and the feel of giddy unsteadiness.
I think God likes
the taste of salt.

There are no gates there
on the water.
They could never stand on the
ceaseless waves.
And even if some miracle
tied them to those shifting tides,
any gate would rust or rot
in the salted, briny air.
Then what good would they be?
They could hardly keep me out,
and could never keep God in.

Perhaps this is why God
likes that place
of water and
light that tastes of tears.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In the Space of Tekiyah - a reflection on the birthday of the world

It seems I have been writing this particular essay every day for the last seven years. Some days, I merely rearrange a comma or two; others, I'm excising whole paragraphs or creating something completely new and brilliant. If I'm to be honest, I know I cannot rewrite my brother's life or his death. I cannot rewrite my search for God, nor my constant hope for redemption, even when I'm sure I deserve it least.

I fear there are too many words, too many ideas and things to say, floating around in my head. I know, somewhere, somewhen, that they connect.  I can feel that, feel them all jostling for position, taking up residence in some little known and cobwebbed corner of my head, leaving a faint pattern in the dust and clutter.

Except, when I poke around, to find which of the eleventy-seven stories running around loose in my head is whispering "start here..." I get lost.  That internal torch gutters, sending bizarre fun-house shadows to distort my visions, and then they all go skittering about, playing hide-and-seek with the shadows and light.

And, since I can't find the beginning of this thread, can't seem to be able to tease and coax the end out from the tangled ball of string it has become, I thought about starting at the end. I could, but I don't know what that is yet either. So, I will pick one bright and shiny things to start with, and see where that leads. It may be a beginning, though more likely, it will be a middle. There are many more middles than beginnings. I will pick one thing, and see what happens.  I'm pretty sure I'll at least recognize the end, whenever we get to that.

So. First - redemption.  It's all about redemption.  My redemption, to be exact, and my quest for it.  And my fear that I will never find it. Or receive it. And it's about God. It's all about God, too. Always. And my quest for God. And my fear that I will never find God or forgiveness. And that I will never be able to forgive God. The pain of this fear is almost unbearable.

I spent a couple of decades denying God and redemption both. That pain was unimaginable. I am reminded of the midrash of King David and the origins of the Adonai S'fatai, which is the prayer we say at the beginning of the Amidah. David, the rabbis tell us, had sent a man to his certain death for the sake of satisfying his own selfish need. The man, Uriah, was a man of honor. He would not be  dissuaded when David had a sudden change of heart. He was killed in battle, along with most of his troops. David got word of Uriah's death just before eveing prayers.

What was he to do? He knew that he would have to talk to God, to ask forgiveness. But-- and here's the hard part-- David's fear: what if God said no? What if God refused?David ran into the fields, running from himself, from his fear, from God, until he could run no farther. How could he ask God for forgiveness, when he couldn't forgive himself? He stopped, just as the setting sun hit the horizon, staining the sky with crimson and gold and purple, and he cried out, in his fear and longing "Adonai s'fatai tiftach ufid yagid t'hilatecha..."

God, open my lips, that I may declare your praise...

And with that prayer-- filled to its very edges with pain and humility and hope and despair, David was forgiven.

Well sure, the voices in my head whisper, God can forgive David. Let's face it: he's, well, David. His very name means "beloved..." And you're not. You're... you. All bet's are off.

It is my greatest longing, my unrequited quest-- to be redeemed. To be forgiven. To dance in the palm of God's hand. To believe, if even for an instant, that though I may not be David, though I may not be Beloved, I may find a small piece of it, and that that may be enough.

Today is Rosh Hashanah. A new year, and already such a busy, joyous one! The Book of Life and Death is opened and the Gates of Justice swing wide. It's the birthday of the world. Today, we stand with awe and trepidation as we undertake the breathtaking majesty of diving inwards, a deep and long and solitary dive, into murky waters that make us gasp and shiver with cold. But eventually, the water warms and the silt and grit settle and we learn to see, to shine a light on the inside, all the beauty, all the pain, all the hope and need.

It is all about redemption.

Today is redemption and majesty and reflection and God. It is joy and celebration and hope and...

Whatever today is, whatever the ritual and tradition that surrounds this day may be, what today is, what today will ever and always be, is my brother's yahrzeit. For all the pomp and circumstance of Rosh HaShanah, for all my desperate yearning for redemption and God, drowning out the music and prayer and the triumphant sounding of the shofar that opened the Book and flung wide the Gate - all I can hear is the steady cadence of "This is the anniversary of his death."

This is one of those days that I am less forgiving of God.  This is the second thing.

I know - absolutely know - that God is not at fault in this. God didn't set the butterfly's wings to flapping that ended in the hurricane of my brother's death. There was no Divine Plan here. Randy smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, existed on caffeine and nicotine. He was diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer when he was 45, and died when he was 47. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him, though I don't think of him every day like I did. Stretches of time go by-- a handful of days, a week, some small length of time, and I will suddenly stop, feeling the ache of his loss like a stitch in my side, sharp and hot, receding into a dull throb until it is more memory than real. My breath doesn't  catch in my throat when I think of him. Mostly. I say kaddish at every yizcor service, and I do not weep.  Mostly.

He died because he smoked. He died because he got cancer. But he died today, seven years ago. On Rosh HaShanah, the day of pomp and circumstance and joy and celebration. I was with him in the hospital when he died, literally as the shofar sounded down the hall from his room, And so the Book was laid open and the Gates swung wide and my brother died, all in the space of tekiyah. And so today has suddenly become hard. And I am suddenly less forgiving of God.

And for all of that, when I stood in prayer and my knees began to buckle from the weight of my sorrow, when I was filled with an ocean of pain and loss, when I wanted to curse God-- when I did curse God-- there were hands that reached out to hold me steady, and strong arms to carry me through to firm ground. When I demanded of God, to God-- where the hell are You?  I was answered: here.  No farther than the nearest heartbeat, in the still small voices of all those around me, who showed me, again and again, that I was not alone. Even in my pain, even in my doubt and despair, I was not alone.

And so, the third thing: Redemption.

I started there, I know. Perhaps my ball of string, with its jumble of tangled threads and hopeless mess, was less eleventy-seven different things and more a giant mobius strip of one. Perhaps it is all reflections and variations on a single strand. Perhaps, at least for me, it is all about redemption.  And God.  Ever and always.

I have spent a lifetime yearning for redemption. I have spent an eternity of lifetimes searching for God. I have declared my disbelief in God even as I feared that God didn't believe in me. I have shouted my rage and demanded answers and whispered my praise. And the thing I come back to, again and again, like a gift of impossible and breathless wonder--

It is not what I pray that matters.  It is that I pray.

For all my yearning, for all my longing, what I don't ever realize is that I am redeemed.  I have not been abandoned by God. Neither have I been forgotten. David had it right in his psalms: we cry out to God and we are healed. He didn't tell us "God only hears the pretty words. Speak only of love and praise, only then will you be heard." No, it's pretty clear: we find healing and redemption because we cry out in our anger and our fear.

I do not believe in a Santa Claus god, who bestows presents on the deserving: God does not provide parking spaces or jobs, nor do we win wars or sporting events as the result of our faith and prayers. Good people will die, evil people will prosper, the sun will continue to blaze in the noonday sky. world without end, amen amen.

In my faith, in my prayer, what I find, again and again - what I am given, again and again, is grace. What I get is strength and courage to face what life has placed in front of me in that moment - even if that thing is the death of my beloved brother. My faith is not a guarantee that I will never know fear, or that only good and happy things will happen. My faith, my prayer, allows me to put one foot in front of the other and know that I will be carried through. And in that exact moment,  the moment I take that step, I am enough and I am redeemed. And in that moment, I dance in the palm of God's hand.

For my brother, Randy (z"l)
May we all dance in the palm of God's hand

L'shana tova u'metukah
May you have a good and sweet year

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jacob's Ladder

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 -
and once claimed,
I may again stand at the gates
and ask to enter.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

To God, who divides the waters

Nachshon ran from the narrow places, 
racing to freedom and God,
stopped on the shoes of a forever sea,
when he walked into the waters
until they almost swallowed him whole.
Past his chin they came,
but he didn't stop:
He walked; they rose.

And then they parted.

Just like that,
a miracle of divine order!
The angels flew about,
singing sweet psalms
cheering the all those marchers on,
until God reined them in,
showering them with shame.

The waters rise once more,
chest-high currents
that eddy and ripple and 
drag at the angels' sodden feet
and leaden wings, 
hosannas sung in a minor key.

Dear God, who moves 
upon the water's face;
who divided the waters 
and makes the rain;
Who sends the storms
and attends the tides -
do You wait again for Nachshon,
wrapped in his faith 
and in his folly,
to walk, and show You
once more, where the waters 
need to part?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Open the Gates

An alternative reading for Psalm 118

Open the gates of justice.
They are rusted shut
and chained.
Weeds  and brambles
choke the path
that leads there.

Open the gates
and let all enter -
the orphan and the widow,
the poor;
the stranger,
whose heart you know,
for you were once a stranger
in a strange and narrow land.

You were tortured and
enslaved, hunted,
stripped of your humanity
and your lives,

because you were
differently skinned,
otherly colored,
your faith
your ideas
and clothes
and loves
were not the same.

Open the gates
for the despairing and desperate,
for those whose
hope has been stolen.

Oh, My children!
Open the gates that
you have nailed shut.
I beseech you -
I beg you!
Open the gates.
Let the light of justice
shine; let all of
My children. rejoice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Elul, Day 1 - Nothing Hidden

I have several friends who blog Elul. There are lists of prompts. The prompts are awesome. For today, I have seen the prompt "act" and "repent" on this, the first day of Elul. Two completely different lists, two completely different people. I could have a field day spinning a tale of connection between those two verbs.

I love spinning tales between seemingly disparate things. One of these days, I swear I will do a study of what I meant to type on my phone vs. what the gods of typing think I meant.

Of course there's no small god living in my phone, playing a game of mystical tomfoolery and revelation.  So what if I type (or mean to type) "easy" and "Esau" shows up. That may not be the best example, but its the one that springs to mind (perhaps because it happened just a few hours ago). Every so often, i am riveted by what shows up on my screen; I know,absolutely, that any supposed connection that I see is circumstantial, but I am so caught by that circumstance, and I start wondering and spinning tales. They are my private flights of fancy. There's no deeper meaning to be ferreted out of pure chance.

There's nothing hidden.

Now there's a word fraught with meaning. Potentially fraught. Potential meaning. Hidden. The cascade begins.

It starts with God. What doesn't start with God? They say (some of Them, those mystical Them mostly; still, it is said) they say that God hides from us. A theological game of hide-and-seek? But God is everywhere, in everything - there can be no place that God is not, so how is it that God can hide? What does God hide, anyway? What secrets does She savor? I can't get my head aroound it.

And even as I think about God and hiding and what lies hidden, my thoughts start sliding, skittering this way and that, knowing (oh God, knowing!) the important stuff I want to avoid, the things I'd really rather stay hidden, from God, from you. From me.

And I think maybe, during this holy month of Elul, where we are called on to dive a little deeper, bend the light a little more, search some and reflect some and reveal some - this year, rather than jump on the amazing lists of prompts that dear friends have created so lovingly and mindfully, I will instead blog Elul a bit differently this year. This year I will try to find what is hidden within me.

I don't believe that God hides. I believe, with all my heart, that God is present always, in the everwhere. God needs no gates. No doors. No secret codes. Perhaps we humans do. God does not. God wants (and demands) love. with everything we have: heart and soul and "m'odecha," which I translate as our everythingness, our veryness. I have no idea what that means, but I try to comply anyway. Most days.

So. Nothing hidden. I will dive as deeply as I can, to find all the hidden places - fear and anger and beauty and love - gifts unimaginable, to be sure. I am afraid of what I will find. I think I am more afraid of finding the gifts and the grace. The other stuff is old home week for me. It's always the good stuff that floors me just a bit.

So welcome to this year's adventure. I invite you to share it with me. What do you hide? What do you reveal? If you're brave - share it. Leave a comment or two in the space you'll find below. My goal is to post some every day. Like I said - I have no idea what all will find light this month. Still, it's an adventure, right?

To quote a purely fictional character (and who doesn't feel a bit fictional every now and then?) -

"Oh! What larks!"