What’s the Difference?

*In honor of the first night of Passover, a repost from April, 2016*

Every year Passover brings us together—families and friends, congregation members and guests, Jews and non-Jews, adults, children and teens—to tell a story. And whether the story is factually correct or not doesn’t matter half as much as the way the story is experienced in a living voice amid the passion and drama of everyday modernity.

Because we’re not just telling a story. We’re asking a very important question: What’s the difference?

This is no mere apathetic shrug of a question, but a deep, heartfelt inquiry.

In fact, the Biblical telling begins by asking the question through the lives of a few brave individuals who chose compassion as their means of social disobedience. The midwives Shifrah and Puah who risked their lives by rescuing newborn boys from Pharoah’s death decree, and the unnamed daughter of Pharoah who adopted a Hebrew infant as her own son, each knew something bigger was at stake. By acting outside conformity, they became the difference.

Miriam, too, took a risk when she stepped out of the shadows to inform Pharoah’s daughter about a wet-nurse for the Hebrew foundling. Her words of strength and joy continued to make a difference as the people journeyed through the wilderness.

And the Seder asks the question again and again, What’s the difference?

Between this night and all other nights?

Between leavened bread and unleavened bread?

Between the ways our children learn?

Between one people’s yearning for liberty 3000 years ago and those still yearning today?

And most important, what difference will each of us make in the unfolding of our lives?

A Poem by Kate Knapp

Seeing, in Three Pieces

Somehow we must see
through the shimmering cloth
of daily life, its painted,
evasive facings of what to eat,
to wear? Which work
matters? Is a bird more
or less than a man?


There have been people
who helped the world. Named
or not named. They weren’t interested
in what might matter,
doubled over as they were
with compassion. Laden
branches, bright rivers.


When a bulb burns out
we just change it–
it’s not the bulb we love;
it’s the light.

~ Kate Knapp ~

A Poem by Goethe

The Holy Longing

Tell a wise person or else keep silent
for those who do not understand
will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive
what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm waters of the love nights
where you were begotten, where you have begotten
a strange feeling creeps over you
as you watch the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness
and a desire for higher lovemaking
sweeps you upwards.
Distance does not make you falter,
now, arriving in magic, flying
and finally insane for the light
you are the butterfly, and you are gone.
And so long as you have not experienced
this: to die and so to grow
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe~

A Poem by Anna Kamienska


What’s it like to be a human
the bird asked

I myself don’t know
it’s being held prisoner by your skin
while reaching infinity
being a captive of your scrap of time
while touching eternity
being hopelessly uncertain
and helplessly hopeful
being a needle of frost
and a handful of heat
breathing in the air
and choking wordlessly
it’s being on fire
with a nest made of ashes
eating bread
while filling up on hunger
it’s dying without love
it’s loving through death

That’s funny said the bird
and flew effortlessly `up into the air

~ Anna Kamienska ~

A Poem by Mary Oliver

Can You Imagine?

For example, what the trees do
not only in lightening storms
or the watery dark of a summer’s night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now – whenever
we’re not looking. Surely you can’t imagine
they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

~ Mary Oliver ~


For my Mother, Marlene Gokenbach
August 28, 1931-April 4, 2019

There are no
between us.

You touch me,
or just sigh—
my soul sings,

in oneness
none can break

More than a vow,
a heartbeat

and cherished

A Poem by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

Re-Statement of Romance

The night knows nothing of the chants of night.
It is what it is as I am what I am:
And in perceiving this I best perceive myself

And you. Only we two may interchange
Each in the other what each has to give.
Only we two are one, not you and night,

Nor night and I, but you and I, alone,
So much alone, so deeply by ourselves,
So far beyond the casual solitudes,

That night is only the background of our selves,
Supremely true each to its separate self,
In the pale light that each upon the other throws.


No foolin’
it’s National Poetry Month!

So I’ll be featuring poems from
*One with Willows*
as well as some of my favorite
famous and not-famous-yet poets.


cracks the air
the eggshell of dreams
holds its breath
a skip and a hop
a giggle
and a wink
the unspoken soul
into the world

{tags poetry, poets, one with willows, national poetry month, april}