My Sukkah

Looking up.

Into the blue.

Into vastness.

Into forever.

Looking in.

Into my heart’s

pulsing wonder

and Oceans of longing.

And soul,

where can I find her?

Flitting on sunbeams,

Moonbeams, starlight?

Dancing with the wind?

Splashing through puddles

Among the homeless,

The broken ones, the mourners?

My sukkah is small,

Fragile

even in sunlight.

But its sides are open,

Its thatched roof

Receptive.

I look up.

My heart sighs

at twilight;

while spirit

embraces guests,

readies herself to dance.

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Sukkot

Feeling the eggshell

Of my existence.

Moments come,

Are swept away.

Love and life

Are swept away.

Friendships I cherish,

Work I achieve,

My Dreams and my youth

Are all swept away.

Meanwhile my sukkah stands

quivering

and resolute

amid rain,

despite wind,

determined

to welcome guests,

to shelter travelers,

students, the hungry,

to boldly prove

Providence.

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Eclipse

in streaming sunshine,

I wait as morning’s

heat intensifies.

I tie back my long

hair,push up sleeves, finally

remove socks and shoes.

then things start cooling down.

50 percent, he says .

I wait. 60 percent.

I leave my chair, sit down on the wooden

porch steps. 85 percent.

neighbors in adjoining yards

chat, wait as we all wait.

Then, in a rush,

the door closes on full day,

and twilight hangs over us. A cheer

from somewhere across the way,

a kiss between us, and sun returns

…a trickle, a stream, the light

and color and promise

of new day.

 

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Happy New Year

So here we are. The secular year 2017 is just around the corner, and you know what that means, right?

As meaning-seekers, it is only natural that we look back to remember where we’ve been, even as we strain our figurative necks to check out what lies ahead. We look inside ourselves, review our convictions and behavior, consider interactions with friends, loved ones and the world at large. To put it simply, it is time to both reflect upon and re-imagine who we are as human beings.

**I know, I know, we Jews did this during the High Holy Days.

Well, while everyone else catches up, let’s stand by patiently and review our progress.

Are you on track? I’m not.

The good news is that if you are reading this there is still time to do better.

**Let’s make a plan. We’ll take a short break, seriously contemplate what changes are needed, and meet back here the first week in January to share our thoughts.

Okay then. I’ll talk to you very soon.

Wishing you blessings galore!

To all you book lovers

So how many of you are book-lovers? Come on—raise your hand.

Well imagine being a lover of books and losing your sight. The world changes entirely. Believe me.

Those trips with Mom to the neighborhood branch when you were a kid—where every week you not only independently chose your very own reading matter but also delighted in visiting the large aquarium of lively and colorful fish—you can forget them. Now the local library represents merely a tangle of child-sized chairs and shelf after shelf of empty cardboard. Even the fish have abandoned you and withdrawn into shadow.

And how about the amazing circular library at your public High School? The wooden staircase leading up to the second level which stood like a balconyat the Met. The high ceiling and row upon row of bookshelves which made you hold your breath in awe and reverence. The utter joy of browsing; selecting; and finally presenting your treasures at the check-out desk. Not to mention actually dwelling among the words on the page…

All gone. You stand alone in a dark cave amid echoing voices and receding footsteps.

**Yes. It gets pretty lonely when you lose the world of books.

Now I know that information is still attainable. People are nice and will offer to read things like newsletters and electric bills. And all kinds of electronic devices give access to novels and great literature—anything you can imagine.

But let’s face it. There’s nothing like holding a book in your hands and interacting with the actual shape of words. There’s nothing like turning a paper page and holding your breath to discover what comes next. There’s nothing like opening your mind and heart in order to connect with the mind and heart of another human being.

That is the gift of Braille—the gift of true literacy for blind individuals.

And you know you’re passionat for Braille when…

-You order 3 books from national Library Services and don’t bother to check how many Braille volumes are involved

-You squeal with delight as a mere week later you gather the cartons of books outside your front door–4 cartons the first day and 6 cartons the next

-You throw aside whatever you are doing and whoever you are doing it with–sorry honey Scrabble and conversation can wait–to jump into the treasure trove

-You don’t mind beginning with volume 2 simply because volume 1 has not arrived yet because *oh boy* it’s here in your hands

-You don’t even complain as you lug volume after precious volume down the hall and try to find safe and out-of-the -way places to store them for the next few weeks

-And every time you stub your toe on one of the books as you make your way to the desk or a chair you sigh as if encountering your beloved

**because that’s just how vital Braille can be!

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The Day After Mother’s Day

Because I wanted to write something as meaningful and heartfelt as “My father’s Orange from a couple of years ago

But can’t find the right words—sorry about that, Ma.

***

Prayer on Mother’s Day
by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Nobody makes something from nothing,
not even God.
But God molds the tohu va-vohu,
the chaos swirling in the deep,
and — miraculous to say! — life emerges.

Life is simple at first,
then complex. Reflexive at first,
then conscious. Life becomes.

It takes all that love,
all that power,
all that guidance,
but life does emerge, waddle, and walk.

Mother, my own creator:
You’ve always been able to mold the deep chaos
and produce life.
Cradling the babies you produced,
powerful love that made a world for your children,
deep wisdom creating a path to walk, a portal to enter.

You gave me life.
You nurtured life.
You instructed, taught, disciplined
and loved.

Latest mask of the divine,
you taught me I could trust,
showed me I’d be lifted when I cried out,
gave me faith in faith itself.

How can I bless you when you are the very blessing of my blessing?
My default parenting is yours,
endless fountain of love.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Last evening I attended the shivah of a long-time congregation member. Along with the usual prayers, including the Mourner’s Kaddish, several people recalled the unique and valuable ways our departed friend had touched their lives. Pathos intertwined with humor, and I was left with a deep appreciation for Judaism’s wise and compassionate rituals.

Then a friend sat down beside me and said, “Where do we go from here?”

“What do you mean?”, I asked

“Everyone is eating and chatting, laughing even. We were just focused on him, all of us together, in a much different mood, praying and all. Where do we go from here?”

It was hard to get a real sense of his question, sitting as we were in the midst of buzzing conversation. But I was determined to connect with him, with his pain, in a meaningful way.

“Well, we join the community in reciting Kaddish for him for the next eleven months.”

But he was in no way consoled by my response. Confusion and hurt gushed from him in what seemed an unstoppable flood, until I heard him sigh, “I am filled with such overwhelming melancholy.”

Unfortunately, we were interrupted as someone posed a question to him about baseball, and then I was informed that the woman I had asked for a ride home was leaving.

I never had the chance to finish my answer.

Our friend has died. Where do we go from here?

We go on living. In honor to him, and in honor to ourselves—we go on living.

We embrace one another in community, feel the warmth and uncertainty evident in human existence, and we go on living.

And as a community, we affirm Divinity in our midst by reciting Kaddish with him in mind. We strengthen and draw strength from one another as we lean upon the ancient words, feel their rhythmic sway in our mouths and our being, feel the ground beneath our feet steadfast and strong as our people through the ages despite pain and pogrom—

And we go on living.

Lchaim, y’all!

Face to Face

So here in the midst of asking, “what’s the difference?”, you inevitably come face to face with

yourself.

Right here, waiting what seems like forever to gobble up your Bubbe’s yummy sweet kugel;

Right here, slogging through page after page of broken Hebrew—first your Grandpa’s, then your Dad’s, then your little sister’s rendition of the 4 questions;

Right here, as wine flows joyously into glass after glass, then soberly drips into saucers.

Your attention moves from the familiar seder plate with its familiar artifacts:

-parsley in honor of Springtime,

-charoset, that delicious mix of fruit, nuts, and sweet wine symbolizing the mortar used by the slaves in Egypt

-maror, horse radish representing the bitterness of slavery

-roested egg standing in for the festival sacrifice

-broiled beet or shank bone representing the Pesach sacrifice

And you can’t help thinking about all the matzah you will consume for the next 8 days, the many matzah toppers and creative desserts– not to mention the countless innovations for making due without Chametz you have encountered in your lifetime, recipes handed down ldor vdor just like the words of a prayer.

You see yourself reflected in the faces of your family. You hear your voice in the tangle of voices singing Halel and Chad Gadya. You feel the cords of tradition and family tugging you back and back, binding you close to your people then and now, stretching far ahead of where you sit at your seder table,

And you know who you are.

Blessings