Friday, September 30, 2016

Blog Elul Day 27: Bless

To A Panhandler Who, For A Quarter, Said  "God Bless You"
--David Wagoner

You held out your hand, expecting (on the average)
But when I crossed your palm with copper in an alloy
Newly minted by God's Country, you laid a misfortune
On me not even a prime-time gypsy would have
thought of.

God bless me? Me be one for the cloud-capped, holy-
For-showbiz, smug, sharkskinny, hog-certain, flowery
gold G-strings?
I couldn't stagger, let alone clodhop, to such music.

You could have said, Heaven tempers the wind to the 
shorn lamb
Or Heaven will protect the working girl or Heaven
Lies about us in our infancy. I half-swallowed those saws
Once. Their teeth stuck in my craw. Now I take wisdom

Shorn lambs and working girls and infants over the years
Have taught me something else about Heaven: it exists
Maybe when the Corner-cutting Fleecer, the Punch
With the Time-clock, and the Unmilkable Mother aren't

If God knows what's good for Him, He won't listen to you
About my anointment. He'll oil some squeakier sinner
And pour me an ordinary straight-up natural disaster.
Here's two-bits more, palmer, to help I'll be worth a damn.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Blog Elul Day 26: Create

The birthday of the world
By Marge Piercy
On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding

of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.

No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?

How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where

have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke

the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling

my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Blog Elul Day 25: Intend

If You Look At The Stars And Yawn
--Aaron Zeitlin

Praise me, says God, I will know that you love me. 
Curse me, I will know that you love me. 
Praise me or curse me, 
I will know that you love me. 

Sing out my graces, says God.
Raise your fist against me and revile, says God.
Sing my graces or revile.
Reviling is also praise, says God. 

But if you sit fenced off in your apathy,
Entrenched in "I don't give a damn," says God,
If you look to the stars and yawn, says God, 
If you see suffering and don't cry out, 
If you don't praise and don't revile, 
Then I created you in vain, says God. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Eulogy For Al Green

Today our congregation mourned the passing of past president Al Green. A few folks have asked me about my eulogy from today. I present it below

What do you stand for? That’s the fundamental question Torah asks us this week as we read parashat nitzvaim. We read: you stand this day...but the stand is not just a casual positioining of the self. To ‘natzav’ is to be firm and resolute, immovable, like a rock. It is to stand at attention, with intention; it is, in short, to stand for something.

Al Green stood for a great many things. He stood for responsibility. He stood for caring, for seriousness and service. He stood at his place in this congregation and this community to act as a role-model for others. He stood for what was right. And to many, to me especially, he seemed to be a permanent fixture, a tamid, alway here, immovable, ready to serve.

Where did this devotion to service and resolute determination come from? Perhaps it came from his father, a poor railroad worker, who himself was devoted to serving others, including volunteering to fight both in World War I and, as a forty-year old, in World War II. Perhaps it came from being the eldest of five siblings during the Great Depression, where his sense of seriousness and responsibility to his family was driven by the scarcity the family experienced. Perhaps he was just a serious and intense guy, which he was. Some, I would guess, would wither under the pressure that he placed on himself; instead, this drove Al harder. He graduated high school at 16, went to university at University of Delaware and had his masters degree by age 21. At this point world war II had broken out, so he entered as a lieutenant and served in the Pacific all the way through the end of the war, and continued in the reserves, finally retiring as a colonel. It was during the war while he was deployed that he saw a photo of Florence Ferber, who had just acted in the Wilmington High School senior play. He wrote to his sister that, when he returned from the war, he was going to meet and date this girl. And so, when he got back, he hopped a flight to Michigan to meet her at school. She was dating someone else, but when he saw Al’s persistence and determination, he quickly got out of the way. They were married in 1947, and he was profoundly devoted to her. He loved her deeply, fiercely, even at the end of his life worrying who was going to eat with her, or drive her, or take care of her. They would raise three children together: Penny, Karen and Andy.

While he had a head and an interest in medicine, and while Florence’s parents offered to help support that dream, he felt that, with a family, it was time for him to start his career, to take care of his family. So he went to work as a chemist, working for National Vulcanized Fiber for 35 years, eventually as a senior executive.

But as ambitious as he was with his work, his devotion was to his family, and to serving others. His children were everything. He was there in his quiet, steady way, and often shared letters so they knew how he felt. He was eloquent in his writing in a way that he wasn’t as a speaker--always direct and to the point in conversation, he could express his feelings more freely on the page. This best illustrated his dual nature. Al could be tough--he had high expectations and high standards, worried constantly about others, and going against him was something you did very very carefully. He wanted what was best for his kids, and believed truly that his children, including his daughters, could be whatever they wanted to be, and supported their dreams and hopes.  He could be tough on his kids and a tough person to talk to, but he also was upset when they were upset or hurt, concerned for their welfare. He could be loving and caring, and had a soft spot for babies. He had to be the first person to meet his first grandchild in the hospital, and would perk up whenever his great-grandson was brought up or came to visit. And it didn’t have to be in the family, either. He’d go over to babies in the restaurant to visit and have a chat.

As he was with his family, so he was with his community. His was a life of service to others, informed by his Jewish values. He volunteered at St. Francis well into his 90s, and was a beloved presence there. Florence remembered how one time, when she fell, he brought her to the emergency room and came in with her, nearly carrying her, and the staff rushed over to make sure HE was okay. He served as a volunteer with Federation well into his 90s and was given a lifetime achievement award in 1991. He was president of the Temple, president of the memorial park, volunteered with SCORE, Camp Pinemere, the JCC. Basically you name it, he did it, and was still hard at work doing it--signing checks, checking in with people--up until only a few years ago. And while he was awarded time and again for his efforts, he wasn’t interested in the accolades or the applause; it was the work that gave him the greatest satisfaction. It was doing what was right fulfilling the words of the prophet etched in our wall: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

And he did walk humbly with God. He was, as I said earlier, always here. Friday nights with Florence, and Saturday mornings, wearing his tallit long before that was acceptable in Reform circles, eyes closed as we sang the liturgy, ready to cheer on the bar mitzvah student, as much there to support them as to derive support from the service. I always knew that, if I needed to check about a name on the kaddish list or find out how things were, I could rely on Al, as did the rabbis who came before me. In one of the notes he wrote Andy, back in 1982, he talked about Saturday, Shabbat morning, being a day of relaxation, of reflection and renewal, a chance to pray, to visit his mother-in-law in the Kutz Home (which he did every saturday), and ended the note: that it was a great day to be alive.

Al passed one week from his 96th birthday, a full life, an exemplary life, a life that was truly great.
Now it falls to us to stand as, once, he stood, in the place he stood, to live up to his memory and his example, to be inspired by his devotion and his determination, to stand as he did, fulfilling the words we say to each of our b’nai mitzvah students, bowing low before God, standing upright before mortals, loving peace and pursuing it, and bringing all to God’s Torah. May this be his blessing to all of us as we say, amen.

Blog Elul Day 24: Hope

Dreams Are Illegal In The Ghetto
By Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills

(They'll be joining us for Yom Kippur by the way. Hope you'll come see them)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blog Elul Day 23: Beginnings

Beginning -By Lia Purpura 
In the beginning,in the list of begats,one begatgot forgot:work begets work(one poembearsthe next).In other words,once there was air,a birdcould be got.Not taken.Not kept.But conjured up.

Blog Elul Day 22: End

Japanese Maple

--Clive James

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.So slow a fading out brings no real pain.Breath growing shortIs just uncomfortable. You feel the drainOf energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever seeSo much sweet beauty as when fine rain fallsOn that small treeAnd saturates your brick back garden walls,So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descendsThis glistening illuminates the air.It never ends.Whenever the rain comes it will be there,Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.What I must doIs live to see that. That will end the gameFor me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,A final flood of colors will live onAs my mind dies,Burned by my vision of a world that shoneSo brightly at the last, and then was gone.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Blog Elul Day 21: Love

The New Moon
--Ruth Brin

If God were the sun, then Israel might be
the moon,
her face reflecting His eternal light.

Yes, Israel is like the moon, the moon
who waxes and wanes,
grows old, and then renews herself,
yet never leaves the skies.

Faithfully, she reappears to walk the night,
glimmering, silver, in the darkened sky.

Faithfully, she spreads her pale and ghostly light
on every room and tree and blade of grass

Until the whole world turns to silver,
transformed from darkness to shimmering beauty.

Yes, Israel, be like the moon,
renew your faith each generation.

Even when the earth casts its shadow of
faithfully reflect the light of God;

Pour over the whole world
the moonlight beauty of holiness.

Blog Elul Day 20: Fulfill

In Jerusalem
By Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Fady Joudah
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Blog Elul Day 19: Judge

--WS Merwin (as appears in Mishkan HaNefesh)

We were not made in its image
but from the beginning we believed in it
not for the pure appeasement of hunger
but for its availability
it could command our devotion
beyond question and without our consent
and by whatever name we have called it
in its name love as been set aside
unmeasured time has been devoted to it
forests have been ereased and rivers poisoned
and truth has been relegated for it
we believe that we have a right to it
even though it belongs to no one
we carry a way back to it everywhere
we are sure that it is saving something
we consider it our personal savior
all we have to pay for it is ourselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Blog Elul Day 18: Act

When Roots Are Exposed

Related Poem Content Details

The empty of stomach
manifests silence 
a stillness
that levels 
coffee in a cup
and in a respectful manner
allows steam to penetrate
the surface.
Reversal of action
has created my sandstone canyon
rooted cedar and sage at my feet.
This movement is where
a tranquility stems.

When my child creates
bubbles through a soapy wand,
I occupy the action of fate
that bursts the perfect form.
A halcyon absorbed
nesting within
the existence of the form
that no longer exists.
The formless form
is where my mind floats.

It is easy to give form
especially with English words
a promotion of mechanical ligaments
binding spirit with assembly-fabricated molds.
Just as my hair poses an appendage of my brain
my tongue poses an appendage of my heart.
I cannot classify this thought as a typewritten symbol.
An ideogram of essence
cultivates my stillness to action.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Blog Elul Day 17: Awaken

After a Rainstorm
By Robert Wrigley
Because I have come to the fence at night,
the horses arrive also from their ancient stable.
They let me stroke their long faces, and I note
in the light of the now-merging moon

how they, a Morgan and a Quarter, have been
by shake-guttered raindrops
spotted around their rumps and thus made
Appaloosas, the ancestral horses of this place.

Maybe because it is night, they are nervous,
or maybe because they too sense
what they have become, they seem
to be waiting for me to say something

to whatever ancient spirits might still abide here,
that they might awaken from this strange dream,
in which there are fences and stables and a man
who doesn’t know a single word they understand.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Blog Elul Day 16: Pray

From Song For Dov Shamir
By Dannie Abse

Working is another way of praying.
You plant in Israel the soul of a tree.
You plant in the desert the spirit of gardens.

Praying is another way of singing.
You plant in the tree the soul of lemons.
You plant in the gardens the spirit of roses.

Singing is another way of loving.
You plant in the lemons the spirit of your son.
You plant in the roses the soul of your daughter.

Loving is another way of living.
You plant in your daughter the spirit of Israel.
You plant in your son the soul of the desert.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Blog Elul Day 15: Change

By Wendy Videlock
Change is the new,


word for god,

lovely enough
to raise a song

or implicate

a sea of wrongs,
mighty enough,

like other gods,

to shelter,
bring together,

and estrange us.

Please, god,
we seem to say,

change us.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Blog Elul Day 14: Learn

How to Be Perfect
By Ron Padgett
Everything is perfect, dear friend.

Get some sleep.

Don't give advice.

Take care of your teeth and gums.

Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes
four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.

Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression
of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.

Make eye contact with a tree.

Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of

Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.

Do not speak quickly.

Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)

Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball

Be loyal.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance
and variety.

Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you
become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at
them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!

Live with an animal.

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

If you need help, ask for it.

Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.

If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you
have paid them, even if they do favors you don't want.

Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.

Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far
more defective than you imagined.

When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.

As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal

Look at that bird over there.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have
expressed a desire to kill you.

Don't expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?

Sing, every once in a while.

Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy

Don't be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

Don't think that progress exists. It doesn't.

Walk upstairs.

Do not practice cannibalism.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don't do
anything to make it impossible.

Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.

Keep your windows clean.

Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.

Don't use the word extirpate too often.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go
to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.

Grow something.

Do not wander through train stations muttering, "We're all going to

Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.

Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the
pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a
cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.

Do not exclaim, "Isn't technology wonderful!"

Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.

Don't be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even
older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty
minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and

Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.

Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you
should be.

Enjoy sex, but don't become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods
in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.

Contemplate everything's opposite.

If you're struck with the fear that you've swum out too far in the
ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.

Keep your childish self alive.

Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a
tornado on it.

Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate
how much better you feel. Don't be embarrassed about feeling better.

Do not inhale smoke.

Take a deep breath.

Do not smart off to a policeman.

Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the
street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped
in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.

Be good.

Walk down different streets.


Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice
that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.

Stay out of jail.

In later life, become a mystic.

Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.

Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is
time to leave, do so.

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

Do not go crazy a lot. It's a waste of time.

Read and reread great books.

Dig a hole with a shovel.

In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.

Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a
27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink,
say, "Water, please."

Ask "Where is the loo?" but not "Where can I urinate?"

Be kind to physical objects.

Beginning at age forty, get a complete "physical" every few years
from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.

Don't read the newspaper more than once a year.

Learn how to say "hello," "thank you," and "chopsticks"
in Mandarin.

Belch and fart, but quietly.

Be especially cordial to foreigners.

See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the
characters. Or all of them.

Take out the trash.

Love life.

Use exact change.

When there's shooting in the street, don't go near the window.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Blogging Elul Day 13: Remember

this (let's remember) day
--ee cummings

this (let's remember) day died again and
again;whose golden crimson dooms conceive

an oceaning abyss of orange dream

larger than the sky times earth:a flame beyond
soul immemorial forevering am
and as collapsing that gray mind by wave
doom disappeared,and out of perhaps (who knows?)

eternity floated a blossoming

Themes of the High Holidays

This past March I Turned 40. I realized I hadn't had a full physical in a while, and I was starting to feel run down a lot, falling asleep on the couch before 8 more often than I'd like to admit. So I made an appointment with my doctor, who ordered all sorts of tests, the kind I hadn't had in years.

I don't know why but I was not prepared for what my doctor shared with me. She did not like all sorts of numbers, including blood sugar and cholesterol. She told me I was going to have to make a lot of changes to my routine, including my diet and exercise routine. I needed to cut down on this and increase that, and I'd have to come back for more tests to see how I was progressing.

I guess it surprised me because I thought I had been doing the right things; I was exercising daily, I ate pretty well. I mean, sure, I ate more when I was tired, and I was always tired. And in this line of work there's always cake. And don't we all gain a little weight as we get older? What could I really do about that?

Talking to my doctor was the outside perspective I needed to highlight what I was doing wrong, how I could make it better, and most importantly, that I COULD make it better. So I changed my diet. I started exercising even more than before.  And it's taken months to make work, and some real fear of backsliding. And I'm happy to say that, at least so far, in my 40th year, I'm in as healthy a place as since my son was born.

I raise all of this not to humblebrag; after all, I know many of us in this room have had similar medical experiences. Rather, I'd like to suggest that our experience with Tshuvah, that idea of turning we're supposed to be focused on in the month before the high holidays, is very much like this experience. No one walks around, I hope, saying “what a terrible person I am!” And if we do we go on medication. No, in our heads, we're doing the best we can, trying to avoid temptation while doing the right things. But it's hard, and it's hard, and because it's hard, we give up. We complain about our identity, our experiences, that we're bound to do what we're going to do, that there is no escape, no choice in the matter, that we'll always backslide. It's not that we're setting ourselves up for failure, it's that we're not giving ourselves the opportunity to do the real transformational work that Tshuvah demands.

So let's start by setting ourselves up for success. First, a reality check: real Tshuvah takes more than a month. Yes, we can use this time to make kapparah, to make atonement for our actions, to correct the wrongs we've done to others. But that act alone cannot clean the spiritual schmutz off of ourselves. That takes real work. Quite possibly a lifetime of work. In the same way we can't go to the gym once and then wonder why our muscles atrophy, it had to become a discipline. It takes a willingness to change behavior, not just actions. And it means getting outside of one's self. If we try to do transformational work ourselves we slide too easily into those constructed identities: I'm just angry, I'm impatient, I never said I was a good friend. We need that outside perspective who can tell us not that transformation is easy, but that it is achievable, even if it is hard.

And we need to embrace our ability to choose. Now, that sounds self evident: don't we make choices all the time? Well, do we? Do we really? Are we making conscious choices on how we're going to respond to a given situation, or are we just reacting, moving on autopilot, responding to stimuli the way we always have without really stopping to consider our actions? Is that really choosing? Was I choosing to have three or four slices of pizza or was I just reacting to stimuli? Am I choosing to flip off the person who cut me off on Broad St in Philadelphia or am I letting my inner cro-magnon respond? There is a moment between stimulus and reaction. I can breathe in that moment. Which means I can choose in that moment. I don't have to fall back on the old habits.

It's hard. And it would be easy to see it as impossible. But just because it is hard doesn't mean we get a pass on trying. When it's something like our health we respond: don't we owe it to ourselves to do the same for our spiritual selves?  

I'll leave you with this story: The Kotzker Rebbe was once asked by a student, “Who is a good Jew?” The Rebbe replied, “Anyone who wants to be a good Jew.” The student look puzzled and asked, “Who wouldn’t want to be a good Jew?” The Rebbe replied, “That’s easy, someone who thinks he is a good Jew already.” and I would add, someone who doesn't believe they ever could be. May we yearn to change, Roland believe we can change, so that we can begin the effort to change in this season of change.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blog Elul Day 12: Forgive

My feeble attempt to translate Yehuda Amichai's "The Children":

Every day the children run on the playground
They run on their little legs, which rotate the planet like a circus
They want to be acrobats and magicians
Every night the children thank us for having brought them into the world
With beautiful politeness, they take their gifts and with their small arms they
Cling to the future stubbornly, as they cling to their parents, and their toys.
Then they lie on their backs 
In order to paint beautiful skies
Like the ceilings of the synagogue.
And I forgave my parents for having made me.
I sit next to the children until they fall asleep
And I say seven times
As the closing prayer of Yom Kippur
“I am not God.”
Seven times
“I am not God.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Blog Elul Day 11: Trust

In the month of Elul as we anticipate Rosh Hashanah, we recite Psalm 27 as part of our liturgy, as well as sound the shofar. This is Simkha Weintraub's translation: 
Psalm 27: A Psalm of David
1. Adonai is my Light and my Help;
whom will I fear?
Adonai is the Strength of my life;
who can make me afraid?
2. When evil people draw near to devour my flesh --
it is these foes and enemies who stumble and fall.
3. Even if an army rises up against me,
my heart will have no fear!
Even if a whole war besets me,
I will still feel secure.
4. One thing I ask from Adonai,
one thing I seek:
to dwell in Adonai's house all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of Adonai,
to explore Adonai's sanctuary.
5. Adonai will shelter me in a Sukkah
on an evil day;
Adonai will conceal me in the secret shelter of a tent,
raise me up safely upon a rock.
6. My head is high above my enemies around me;
I sacrifice in Adonai's tent, to the blasts of trumpets,
singing and chanting a a hymn to Adonai!
7. Adonai -- sh'ma/hear my voice when I call!
Have mercy on me and respond!
8. You seek my heart,
My heart seeks You --
I seek Your Presence.
9. Do not hide Your Face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger!
You have always been my Help
so do not abandon me, do not forsake me,
my God, my Saving One.
10. Even if my father and mother abandoned me,
Adonai would gather me in.
11. Teach me Your ways, Adonai,
Guide me on a straight and level path,
because of my watchful enemies.
12. Do not hand me over to my foes;
ignore the false witnesses and unjust accusers
who rise up against me,
breathing violence!
13. I believe I will yet see Adonai's Goodness
in the Land of Life.
14. Hope in Adonai!
Be strong inside, and let your heart be brave!
Yes, yes, hope in Adonai!
-Translation by Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, CSW (C) 1995

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Blog Elul Day 10: Count

All The Generations Before Me
--Yehuda Amichai (translation by Robert Friend; Hebrew below)

All the generations that preceded me contributed me
in small amounts, so that I would be erected here in Jerusalem
all at once, like a house of prayer or a charity institution.
That commits one. My name is the name of my contributors.
That commits one.

I am getting to be the age my father was when he died.
My last will shows many superscriptions.
I must change my life and my death
daily, to fulfill all the predictions
concerning me. So they won't be lies.
That commits one.

I have passed my fortieth year.
There are posts they will not let me fill
because of that. Were I in Auschwitz,
they wouldn't put me to work.
They'd burn me right away.
That commits one.

כל הדורות שלפני תרמו אותי
קמעה קמעה כדי שאוקם כאן בירושלים
בבת אחת, כמו בית תפילה או מוסד צדקה
זה מחייב. שמי הוא שם תורמי
זה מחייב.

אני מתקרב לגיל מות אבי.
צואתי מטלאת בהרבה טלאים,
אני צריך לשנות את חיי ואת מותי
יום יום כדי לקים את כל הנבואות
שניבאו אותי שלא יהיו שקר.
זה מחייב.

עברתי את שנת הארבעים. יש
משרות שבהן לא יקבלו אותי
בשל כך. אלו הייתי באושויץ,
לא היו שולחים אותי לעבד,
היו שורפים אותי מיד.
זה מחייב.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Blog Elul Day 9: Observe

By Amit Majmudar
Off with the wristwatch, the Reeboks, the belt.
             My laptop's in a bin.
I dig out the keys from my jeans and do
             my best Midwestern grin.
At O'Hare, at Atlanta, at Dallas/Fort Worth,
             it happens every trip,
at LaGuardia, Logan, and Washington Dulles,
             the customary strip
is never enough for  a young brown male
             whose name comes up at random.
Lest the randomness of it be doubted, observe
             how Myrtle's searched in tandem,
how Doris's six-pack of Boost has been seized
             and Ethel gets the wand.
How polite of the screeners to sham paranoia
             when what they really want
is to pick out the swarthiest, scruffiest of us
             and pat us top to toe,
my fellow Ahmeds and my alien Alis,
             Mohammed alias Mo—
my buddies from med school, my doubles partners,
             my dark unshaven brothers
whose names overlap with the crazies and God fiends,
             ourselves the goateed other.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Blog Elul Day 8: Hear

O incognito god, anonymous lord
A.M. Klein

O incognito god, anonymous lord,
with what name shall I call you? Where shall I
discover the syllable, the mystic word
that shall evoke you from eternity?
Is that sweet sound a heart makes, clocking life,
Your appellation? Is the noise of thunder, it?
Is it the hush of peace, the sound of strife?
I have no title for your glorious throne,
and for your presence not a golden word, --
only that wanting you, by that alone
I do evoke you, knowing I am heard.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Blog Elul Day 7: Choose

By Carl Sandburg
THE single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Blog Elul Day 6: Believe

From "I Wasn't One Of The Six Million: And What Is My Lifespan? Open Closed Open." By Yehuda Amichai

I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment
millions of human beings are standing at crossroads
and intersections, in jungles and deserts,
showing each other where to turn, what the right way is,
which direction. They explain exactly where to go,
what is the quickest way to get there, when to stop
and ask again. There, over there. The second
turnoff, not the first, and from there left or right,
near the white house, by the oak tree.
They explain with excited voices, with a wave of the hand
and a nod of the head: There, over there, not that there, the other there,
as in some ancient rite. This too is a new religion.
I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Blog Elul Day 5: Accept

From I Wasn’t One of the Six Million: And What Is My Life Span? Open Closed Open

By Yehuda Amichai

And what is my life span? I’m like a man gone out of Egypt:
the Red Sea parts, I cross on dry land,
two walls of water, on my right hand and on my left.
Pharaoh’s army and his horsemen behind me. Before me the desert,
perhaps the Promised Land, too. That is my life span.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Blog Elul Day 4: Understand

Autumn Psalm
By Jacqueline Osherow

A full year passed (the seasons keep me honest)
since I last noticed this same commotion.
Who knew God was an abstract expressionist?

I’m asking myself—the very question
I asked last year, staring out at this array
of racing colors, then set in motion

by the chance invasion of a Steller’s jay.
Is this what people mean by speed of light?
My usually levelheaded mulberry tree

hurling arrows everywhere in sight—
its bow: the out-of-control Virginia creeper
my friends say I should do something about,

whose vermilion went at least a full shade deeper
at the provocation of the upstart blue,
the leaves (half green, half gold) suddenly hyper

in savage competition with that red and blue—
tohubohu returned, in living color.
Kandinsky: where were you when I needed you?

My attempted poem would lie fallow a year;
I was so busy focusing on the desert’s
stinginess with everything but rumor.

No place even for the spectrum’s introverts—
rose, olive, gray—no pigment at all—
and certainly no room for shameless braggarts

like the ones that barge in here every fall
and make me feel like an unredeemed failure
even more emphatically than usual.

And here they are again, their fleet allure
still more urgent this time—the desert’s gone;
I’m through with it, want something fuller—

why shouldn’t a person have a little fun,
some utterly unnecessary extravagance?
Which was—at least I think it was—God’s plan

when He set up (such things are never left to chance)
that one split-second assignation
with genuine, no-kidding-around omnipotence

what, for lack of better words, I’m calling vision.
You breathe in, and, for once, there’s something there.
Just when you thought you’d learned some resignation,

there’s real resistance in the nearby air
until the entire universe is swayed.
Even that desert of yours isn’t quite so bare

and God’s not nonexistent; He’s just been waylaid
by a host of what no one could’ve foreseen.
He’s got plans for you: this red-gold-green parade

is actually a fairly detailed outline.
David never needed one, but he’s long dead
and God could use a little recognition.

He promises. It won’t go to His head
and if you praise Him properly (an autumn psalm!
Why didn’t I think of that?) you’ll have it made.

But while it’s true that my Virginia creeper praises Him,
its palms and fingers crimson with applause,
that the local breeze is weaving Him a diadem,

inspecting my tree’s uncut gold for flaws,
I came to talk about the way that violet-blue
sprang the greens and reds and yellows

into action: actual motion. I swear it’s true
though I’m not sure I ever took it in.
Now I’d be prepared, if some magician flew

into my field of vision, to realign
that dazzle out my window yet again.
It’s not likely, but I’m keeping my eyes open

though I still wouldn’t be able to explain
precisely what happened to these vines, these trees.
It isn’t available in my tradition.

For this, I would have to be Chinese,
Wang Wei, to be precise, on a mountain,
autumn rain converging on the trees,

a cassia flower nearby, a cloud, a pine,
washerwomen heading home for the day,
my senses and the mountain so entirely in tune

that when my stroke of blue arrives, I’m ready.
Though there is no rain here: the air’s shot through
with gold on golden leaves. Wang Wei’s so giddy

he’s calling back the dead: Li Bai! Du Fu!
Guys! You’ve got to see this—autumn sun!
They’re suddenly hell-bent on learning Hebrew

in order to get inside the celebration,
which explains how they wound up where they are
in my university library’s squashed domain.

Poor guys, it was Hebrew they were looking for,
but they ended up across the aisle from Yiddish—
some Library of Congress cataloger’s sense of humor:

the world’s calmest characters and its most skittish
squinting at each other, head to head,
all silently intoning some version of kaddish

for their nonexistent readers, one side’s dead
(the twentieth century’s lasting contribution)
and the other’s insufficiently learned

to understand a fraction of what they mean.
The writings in the world’s most spoken language
across from one that can barely get a minyan.

Sick of lanzmen, the yidden are trying to engage
the guys across the aisle in some conversation:
How, for example, do you squeeze an image

into so few words, respectfully asks Glatstein.
Wang Wei, at first, doesn’t understand the problem
but then he shrugs his shoulders, mumbles Zen

... but, please, I, myself, overheard a poem,
in the autumn rain, once, on a mountain.
How do you do it? I believe it’s called a psalm?

Glatstein’s cronies all crack up in unison.
Okay, groise macher, give him an answer.
But Glatstein dons his yarmulke (who knew he had one?)

and starts the introduction to the morning prayer,
Pisukei di zimrah, psalm by psalm.
Wang Wei is spellbound, the stacks’ stale air

suddenly a veritable balm
and I’m so touched by these amazing goings-on
that I’ve forgotten all about the autumn

staring straight at me: still alive, still golden.
What’s gold, anyway, compared to poetry?
a trick of chlorophyll, a trick of sun.

True. It was something, my changing tree
with its perfect complement: a crimson vine,
both thrown into panic by a Steller’s jay,

but it’s hard to shake the habit of digression.
Wandering has always been my people’s way
whether we’re in a desert or narration.

It’s too late to emulate Wang Wei
and his solitary years on that one mountain
though I’d love to say what I set out to say

just once. Next autumn, maybe. What’s the occasion?
Glatstein will shout over to me from the bookcase
(that is, if he’s paying any attention)

and, finally, I’ll look him in the face.
Quick. Out the window, Yankev. It’s here again.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Blog Elul Day 3: Search

From "Gods Change, Prayers Are Here To Stay"
--Yehuda Amicha 
In the street on a summer evening, I saw a woman writing
on a piece of paper spread out against a locked wooden door.
She folded it, tucked it between door and doorpost, and went
on her way.
And I didn't see her face, nor the face of the man
who would read what she had written
and I didn't see the words.  
On my desk lies a stone with the word "Amen" on it,
a fragment of a tombstone, a remnant from a Jewish graveyard
destroyed a thousand years ago in the town where I was born.
One word, "Amen," carved deep into the stone,
a final hard amen for all that was and never will return,
a soft singing amen, as in prayer:
Amen and amen, may it come to pass.  
Tombstones crumble, they say, words tumble, words fade away,
the tongues that spoke them turn to dust,
languages die as people do,
some languages rise again,
gods change up in heaven, gods get replaced.
prayers are here to stay. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Elul Day 2: Act

By Billy Collins

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Elul Day 1: Prepare

The Delta
By Bruce Bond
If you are going there by foot, prepare
to get wet. You are not you anymore.

You are a girl standing in a pool
of clouds as they catch fire in the distance.

There are laws of   heaven and those of   place
and those who see the sky in the water,

angels in ashes that are the delta’s now.
They say if you sweep the trash from your house

after dark, you sweep away your luck.
If you are going by foot, bring a stick,

a third leg, and honor the great disorder,
the great broom of waterfowl and songbirds.

Prepare to voodoo your way, best you can,
knowing there is a little water in things

you take for granted, a little charity
and squalor for the smallest forms of life.

Voodoo was always mostly charity.
People forget. If you shake a tablecloth

outside at night, someone in your family
dies. There are laws we make thinking

it was us who made them. We are not us.
We are a floodplain by the Mississippi

that once poured slaves upriver to the fields.
We are a hurricane in the making.

We could use a magus who knows something
about suffering, who knows a delta’s needs.

We understand if   you want a widow
to stay single, cut up her husband’s shoes.

He is not himself anyway and walks
barefoot across a landscape that has no north.

Only a ghost tree here and there, a frog,
a cricket, a bird. And if the fates are kind,

a girl with a stick, who is more at home,
being homeless, than you will ever be.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2013)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Parashat Re'eh: Forgiveness

There's a beautiful tale found in the Zohar, that central text of Jewish mysticism. We read there of a Rabbi Abba who once sat at the gateway of the town of Lud, which is now the home to Ben Gurion Airport. He saw a traveler sit down on a pile of rocks at the edge of a mountain overlooking a cliff. The man was exhausted from his long journey and immediately fell asleep. Rabbi Abba watched this innocuous scene for a bit until to his dismay he saw a deadly snake slither out of the rocks making its away toward the sleeping man. A giant lizard suddenly jumped out between the rocks and killed the serpent. Then the man awoke and stood up, perplexed to see a beheaded snake lying in front of him. He quickly gathered his posessions and rose to continue his journey. As he did so, the pile of rocks he was sitting on collaped and fell into the ravine below.  
Rabbi Abba ran after the man and recounted everything he had witnessed. He asked, "My friend, to what do you attribute all these miracles that just transpired?" The traveler responded as follows... 
"...Never have I gone to sleep without forgiving someone for hurting me in any way. If anyone ever hurt me, I always endeavored, with all my heart, to resolve whatever animosity was between us, and...I would turn the hateful situation into an opportunity to do acts of kindness for the person involved in the misunderstanding." (From Rosh Hashanah Readings
Of course, this is a fairy tale; a fable, meant to inspire us and perhaps hit us over the head with the idea of forgiveness. And yet, and yet...isn't it true that forgiveness--real forgiveness, the real act of turning and responding to another's actions with love, creativity and gentle rebuke--saves us from harm, real and imagined? Or, to put it another way, how many of us know people who are still torn up, torn apart, having never been forgiven or never offered forgiveness, the corrosion of anger still eating them away?

In parashat Re'eh, we read a series of blessings and curses, and the S'fat Emet, in his reading, remins us that the blessings begin with the word, "when", and the curses with the word "if"; that is to say, Goodness exists by our nature; sin is only incidental. Art Green points out that this is God being generous and forgiving of Israel; shouldn't that be true for us as well? Shouldn't we be able to see the goodness in people's intentions and judge them accordingly, while also find a way to forgive the actions when they go astray, and lead people back toward blessing?

The month of Elul begins on Sunday; that means we're right around one month to Rosh Hashanah. Now is the time, if we haven't done so already, to begin the hard work of asking forgiveness, of forgiving others, and for finding a way to turn hateful situations into acts of kindness, and to make curses into blessings. May we do so, and find ourselves sleeping soundly and without incident.