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.