Open, Thou, My Lips

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

Three steps backward,

three steps forward,

I bend my knees. 

I struggle to part my lips,

to recite the words,

to offer praise. 

Let me taste rain.

Let me hear windchimes at night.

Let me inhale jasmine.  

How grateful I am,

a temporary resident

amid night stars. 

Rick Black is an award-winning book artist and poet who runs Turtle Light Press, a small press dedicated to poetry, handmade books and fine art prints. His poetry collection, Star of David, won an award for contemporary Jewish writing and was named one of the best poetry books in 2013. His haiku collection, Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, has been called “a prayer for peace.” Other poems and translations have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Midstream, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Frogpond, Cricket, RawNervz, Blithe Spirit, Still, and other journals. 

If you’d like to learn more about Rick and his work, visit his website: Turtle Light Press

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A Day at the Ball Park

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Feeling the need to catch the ocean breeze,

I went to a Brooklyn Cyclones game

in Coney Island, a minor league team 

of my beloved New York Mets.

The game was sponsored by Hadassah,

the world-wide Jewish service organization.

Seated comfortably in the stands,

I was surprised to receive

their free gift: a baseball cap

emblazoned with the Star of David

surrounding the team’s logo.

A flash to the Jews of the 1940s

who were forced to wear such a star,

my relatives for one, plus countless others.

How wonderful America is

that Jews can gather at a ball game

and proudly display their heritage.

The next batter up is Jay Gordon.

Is he Jewish?

Mel Glenn, the author of twelve books for young adults, is working on a poetry book about the pandemic tentatively titled Pandemic, Poetry, and People. He has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. You can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

Author’s Note: It is the practice of many minor league ball clubs to offer their fans free giveaways like hats, shirts and game passes. Different organizations sponsor these events.

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T’shuvah

Chris Farrar (Columbus, OH)

I’ve been Jewish all my life, but for the first 17 years I didn’t know it.  It’s fair to say that I didn’t really know what “Jewish” was.  In fact, once when I was 8 or so, I went with a friend to Mass, and then told his mother – to her great delight – that I was definitely going to be Catholic.

Well wouldn’t she be surprised.

My father was raised Baptist but really had no interest in religion.  My mother’s family was Jewish, but very secular. 

I, my sister and brother were raised without any religion or religious connection.  Due to my father’s influence, I imagine, we always had a Christmas tree, we went on Easter egg hunts and generally did the things that Christian families did.  But nothing Jewish.

I grew up without any of the normal Jewish childhood experiences.  No Yom Kippur.  No synagogue.  No Passover.  No summer camp.  “David melech yisrael” would have been just a string of sounds in a catchy tune.

It was as if my mother’s Jewish heritage didn’t exist. 

So here’s what happened.

Some time in the middle of high school I underwent knee surgery and had to stay home for several days.  After exhausting all the science fiction in the house I was desperate for something to read.  The only thing I could find was “The Source” by James Michener.

This novel takes place in Israel in the early 60s.  It looks at the history of the Jews through the lens of an archaeological dig.  The site is a fictitious tel named “Makor.”   In Hebrew the word means “source.” 

When I finished that book I knew I was Jewish and I grabbed at it with both hands.  I read book after book on the history of the Jews.  I took courses.  I even joined the Jewish Defense League for a while, until I came to understand them better.

Later I lived on a kibbutz in Israel and learned Hebrew.  I taught it at the university as a TA.  I married a wonderful Jewish woman and raised three amazing Jewish children.  And now there’s a Jewish son-in-law and a new generation of Jewish grandchildren.

Early in my relationship with Judaism, after I returned from Israel, it seemed to me that the only way to be Jewish was to be ultra-Orthodox.  The Chasidim were the saving remnant, the keepers of the sacred flame.  I moved into the Lubavitcher Chabad House at UCLA.  I put on tefillin every morning.  I kept kosher.  I kept the Sabbath. 

This lasted a month.  At the end of the month I knew I couldn’t be Jewish in that way.  I wasn’t even sure I believed in God.   Not, at any rate, the way I needed to in order to live the Lubavitcher life.  That wasn’t going to be my connection to Judaism. 

Instead, as it has developed over the years, my connection has been to the Hebrew language, to the holidays, to my family and to the history of the Bible and of the land of Israel as understood through the perspective of archaeology.

So.  T’shuvah.

On Yom Kippur we think of it as repentance.

What it really means is “return.”

For me it’s been a return to a history that is my history, to a language that is my language and to a land that is my land.

And it’s a return to a book of writings so compelling in its message that it has become the foundation of our whole concept of the obligations of our shared humanity.

 And for me, more even than this, it means a return to wonder.

Who were these people, my ancestors? How did they live? How did they think?  They were a tiny outpost of humanity, living in a poor nation, smaller than many US counties.  They were ravaged horribly by powerful nations, not once but over and over again.  They lost their Temple and their sacred city but somehow, uniquely among ancient peoples, they didn’t lose their God. 

How did they, among all peoples, develop the moral, ethical and spiritual foundation now embraced by half the world’s population?

If they could see how the power of their belief has cascaded down the centuries, what would they think of it?  What would they think of the re-emergence of their nation in its own land, of the resurrection of their language?

Would they recognize their God?  Would they see Him in the miracles of the Tanakh?  Would they see Him in the rebirth of the land of Israel?  Would they see Him in the spread of their vision through Christianity and Islam? 

Or maybe they would see Him in the way a day of teenage boredom can change a person irrevocably, sending reverberations not only down the decades of his own life but also down the lives of generations to come.

So, back to t’shuvah.  Return.

Not just a return to history; but rather, perhaps, a return to the future.

Chris Farrar grew up in southern California, earned a doctorate in linguistics, and worked in technology marketing and, eventually, in data analytics. His first novel, By the Waters of Babylon, follows twelve-year-old Ya’el as she’s deported to Babylon after the siege of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The novel is available on AmazonBarnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple Books. If you’d like to learn more about Chris and his work, visit his website: christopherfarrar.com.

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Being Jewish is a Blessing

by Carol Blatter (Tucson, AZ)

Until I take my last breath, I will always remember seeing for the first time the Hebrew words calligraphed with such care on the parchment of the Torah scroll. The Torah is said to be a tree of life, Etz Chayim, for all who uphold it. That morning, standing in front of the Torah scroll, I found myself clinging to each letter, each word, and feeling lifted up with joy in a way I had never experienced before.

I had an epiphany that these were the same words my ancestors had chanted for thousands of years and which had guided our people through years of prosperity as well as years of persecution and threats to our survival. As I touched these letters and words with the yad, the silver pointer that I held in my hand, I committed myself to serving God with all my heart and with all my soul —forever. 

My love of Judaism started a long time ago.

Mom, Dad, I want to fast for Yom Kippur.

They looked startled and worried.

Sweetie, you’re only ten and you are not required to fast, only adults have to.

But I want to.

Mom and Dad hesitated. They really didn’t know what to say.

A few moments of silence.

Ok, Mom said after she got a yes head shake from my dad. You can fast until three P.M. but no later.

Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn NY, I always knew I was Jewish. But knowing I was Jewish wasn’t the same as observing Jewishly.

I started Hebrew school. I can still see the small blue book with double lines. I can remember making a gimel. I remember dropping out of Hebrew school because of artistic pursuits including acting and dancing lessons several times a week. I couldn’t fit in one more lesson.

Wanting to be more Jewish but dropping out of Hebrew school? How did that make sense?  Looking back, it was a mistake. But this mistake was rectified years later. 

I began to learn Hebrew at the age of thirty-seven at the same time our daughter was a student at the Hebrew Academy. I thought I would help her with her homework but she didn’t need my help.

Over the years of study, my original motivation changed. I became immersed in the joy of learning Hebrew. I could translate most of the prayers and songs at the Shabbat service. I was no longer a transliterator. I was no longer a spectator. I became a seriously engaged Jew. I am a seriously engaged Jew. 

At the age of forty-four, I was called to the Torah for the first time to chant the words written with such care on its parchment.

My rabbi unrolled the Torah scroll to the portion, Re’eh, which means see.

See, be attentive. See, keep learning. See, be a responsible Jew. See, be a viable link to the future of the Jewish people. See, never forget your Jewish roots. See, make the world better.

And after all this time I now see why being Jewish is such a blessing.

Carol Blatter, a recently retired private practice psychotherapist, has contributed writings to Chaleur Press, Story Circle Network Journal,  Writing it Real anthologies101words.org, Real Women Write, Growing/ Older, and Covenant of the Generations from the Women of Reform JudaismShe is a wife, mother, and grandmother, and her greatest pleasure is listening to her precious, clever granddaughter read and create amazing stories. 

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The Sacred Snuggle

by Nina J. Mizrahi (Northbrook, IL)

I didn’t wear a tallit until my first year of rabbinic school when I lived in Jerusalem.  It never occurred to me to wear one until  I saw other women  wrapped in tallitot during prayer. I sensed their closeness with the Divine.  A yearning to share in this experience, to be enveloped by the wings of the Shechinah, arose from the depths of my soul.  Soon after, I remember shopping for my first tallit at Yad Lakashish, which means “lifeline for the old.”  The tallit was made by Jerusalem’s elders, giving them “a sense of purpose, self-worth and connection…through creative work opportunities…”  This added meaning to my Shehecheyanu moment.  

Returning from the Old City to my apartment, I unpacked and examined my new tallit. Aware that this was a significant moment in my spiritual life, I recited the Shehecheyanu, followed by the bracha for donning a tallit, kissed the two sides of the atarah (neckband), and then wrapped myself from the head down.  It was as if I were encasing myself in a sacred cocoon, imagining that I would emerge as my authentic self and be ready to commence my rabbinic studies. 

At first, having no words for that moment, I stood silently in this sacred, intimate space. At some point, powerful, unsummoned memories brought me to tears as I recalled how my father, zichrono livracha, would wrap me in his tallit.  I like to think that his deep faith in God, woven into the very fabric of his tallit, was now woven into mine.  I bathed in the warmth of the memory of these sacred snuggles, feeling deeply loved, protected and safe.  My heart overflowed with profound joy, flowing first to my father, then spilling into the universe, forming a deep connection to something greater than myself. 

So, there I was, a Jewish woman studying in Jerusalem, standing alone in an apartment that had been converted from a bomb shelter, wearing my tallit, holding its four corners in my hands.  It was a lot to take in, and I considered how the mitzvah of tzitzit requires us to look at the strings, knots and twists of the tzitzit with intention and a sense of sacred obligation.  

Committing to the mitzvah of wearing a tallit is both humbling and empowering. Since that first moment in Jerusalem forty years ago, I have wrapped myself in a tallit for prayer and hitbodedut (a solitary, intimate form of prayer offered by pouring one’s heart out to God).  I have wrapped my tallit around or held it like a chuppah over the heads of individuals, couples, families, lay leaders, teachers, and students as a way of welcoming, honoring, blessing, and celebrating. 

In Ahavat Olam, a prayer recited before the Shema, we gather the tzitzit and, imagining being united in peace, we say,”V’havienu l’shalom m’arba kanfot ha’aretz v’tolichenu komemiut l’lartzeinu — Bring us to peace from the four corners of the earth and lead us upright to our land.” 

Decades after my ordination, I attended Shabbat services in a small community where tradition was woven together with new rituals. Just before the Shema, everyone stood up and handed the tzitzit on one corner of their tallitot to someone on their left and another corner to someone on their right.  What a beautiful statement about the importance of joining together in our prayer and in our lives, which is not an easy thing in our complicated world.  Collected into one, we chanted words that the medieval Jewish mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the ARI) is said to have recited before praying each day: 

Hareini mekabel alai (Behold, I hereby take upon myself

et mitzvat haboreh (the instruction of the creator)                         

v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”)

Whether or not wearing a tallit is part of your tradition or practice, it is a symbol of the transformative power of Chesed — acts of loving kindness.  We read in the Book of Psalms (89:3): “The world is built through chesed.” 

Acts of chesed precede all others because they alone are unconditional and unmotivated.  We read in the book of Psalms (89:3) that “The world is built with chesed” (Psalms 89:3) — acts of kindness.   

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a social justice activist and founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence,  wrote a beautiful song about this verse when his daughter was born right after 9/11:

I will build this world from love…yai dai dai 

And you must build this world from love…yai dai dai 

And if we build this world from love…yai dai dai 

Then God will build this world from love…yai dai dai 

(VIDEO: http://rabbicreditor.blogspot.com/2012/12/olam-chesed-yibaneh-with-newtown-in-my.html)

I’d like to invite you to wrap yourself in your tallit (or one that you can borrow for a moment). As you wrap yourself in a sacred snuggle, I encourage you to try sending compassion first to yourself and then to others, possibly beginning with those for whom you have positive feelings, and then to those with whom you are struggling. 

You may find your own words or adapt the following phrases as you see fit.  Begin by setting your intention for the recipient of your meditation and repeat this meditation silently: 

May …I/ you/ they……..be safe

May …… I/ you/ they…..be happy/content

May ……my/your,/their  life unfold with ease

May………………….

Click here for a beautiful lovingkindness meditation offered by Sylvia Boorstein, author, psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher.

May you be blessed by who you are and may you always bring blessing to others.

Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, a spiritual leader for 35 years, gleans wisdom from ancient and contemporary sources to inspire personal growth, with the purpose of understanding the mystery of being alive and human and celebrating life more fully. If you’d like to read more of Rabbi Mizrahi’s work, visit her website. And if you’d like to reach out to her, you can write via e-mail: ninajanemizrahi@gmail.com.

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Looking for Love on JDate

Rita Plush (New York, NY)

When my husband died after our 50-plus years of marriage, I tried to make a life for myself. But a year of lunch with the ladies, my book club and yoga could take me just so far down my road less traveled. 

I wanted a man in my life, that zing, that frisson I couldn’t can’t get from a broccoli-and-cheddar quiche, a best- seller or Down Dog. But where to find a kind, intelligent, caring male who would be interested in a creative, book-reading, arts-loving, 70s-something Jewish woman?

 I let my rabbi, lawyer and accountant know I was interested in meeting someone (people know people). When they failed to raise a posse, I took the reins. Shaving five years off my age, I downloaded a flattering photo, whipped up a profile and joined the other 750,000 Jewish singles looking for love on JDate. I worried in equal measure that no one would contact me, and that somebody actually would

After a lifetime with my husband, it seemed bizarre to have another man in my life. And how would my children react? Not that I needed their permission or their blessings but their opinion of me mattered. I wanted them to think well of me, to be proud of the independent life I’d carved out. Little did I know that along with their acceptance came an abundance of unsolicited parenting. Don’t meet him alone! Don’t give him money! Don’t let him in your apartment! Take your own car. CALL US IF YOU’RE IN TROUBLE!!  

They needn’t have feared. I made quick work of a “kissy huggy type” who let me know right off what sexual positions he preferred. Actually, one was… never mind. Before we even meet, you’re giving me your faves? Thanks for sharing, fast boy! Buh-bye. And the big spender therapist who never married (not a good sign for a man his age), and sold his car for the winter so he wouldn’t have to pay for a garage. I saw myself as the designated driver in this twosome. I was looking for a partner, not some free-ride Freud. He never made it to a cup of joe at the local diner. 

And there were those who had:

Sixty-four, shorter than he’d claimed online; I said I was younger, considered it a wash. He liked older women (you came to the right place, junior), and had the habit of repeating the last words of almost all his remarks. And humming. “My Bar Mitzvah was in a hotel in the mountains, in the mountains. Humm….” was the first thing he said to me. That event was still uppermost in his mind? A small life had he. Always single, no siblings or relatives to speak of (including nothing interesting to speak of), few friends. Talking to him: 45 minutes of boring. He wanted to meet for dinner next time. I mumbled something that must have sounded like yes because he called the next day—oy vey.  Said I was busy with work and family. Mercifully, he got the hint and didn’t call again. 

There was a well-mannered Yiddish-accented gent in a handtied bowtie, jacket from one suit, pants from another, right out of an I. B Singer short story. He brought newspaper articles about his sons to show me how authentic he was and gifted me a framed picture of myself he had taken from the JDate site. A sweet man, he asked if he could call me now and then to see how I was doing. I thanked him, demurred and suggested a site for Yiddish speakers.

Things started looking up with Leonard. A well-dressed antiques dealer, active in synagogue life; an ardent reader, he enjoyed the theater and museums. He was me in a suit! We went to the Met. Another time he suggested the new Neue Galerie in NYC to see a Klimt exhibit (I thought I died and went to Art Nouveau heaven). But alas, it turned out he liked his armoires more than he liked me; breaking dates for business became a habit. Or was it monkey business; had he found another?

Would I date a married man? Separated and getting a divorce? No and no.

Would I date a non-Jewish man?

One found me on the site—You don’t have to be Jewish to be on JDate. It’s a known fact that Jewish men make the best husbands. But gentile men looking for Jewish women? Listen up madelas

He had the nicest dimpled smile. He was kind, I could tell. Here was my chance for a Christian boyfriend—a sheygets, a shander (a non-Jewish boy, a scandal), the bane of my early dating years, I dared not confess to my mother. My father? You’re kidding, right. I’d be out on the street with my crinolines and saddle shoes. But my parents were gone; it was up to me. I could date whomever I pleased. Could I though, having just about prohibited my children from dating outside the faith? I could hear them. How come it’s okay for you, but it wasn’t for us?! I could not date a gentile man no matter how gentle he was.

So, there it is and here I am. Lunching with the ladies, keeping up with my reading, and Down Dogging for all I’m worth. But wait! Social distancing is getting less distant. Who knows what eligible gents have signed on to JDate since my furlough? I’ll spiff up my profile and take another crack at this blood sport known as online dating. My age? That needs no update thank you very much; don’t confuse me with the facts. Spring is in the air, a season of new beginnings, and I’m optimistic that my new Ralph Lauren leopard print sheets from Home Goods won’t always be the most exciting thing in my bedroom.  

Rita Plush is the author of the novels Lily Steps Out and Feminine Products, and the short story collection Alterations. She is the book reviewer for Fire Island News and teaches memoir at Queensborough Community College and the Fire Island School, Continuing Ed. Her stories and essays have been published in The Alaska Quarterly Review, MacGuffin, The Iconoclast, Art Times, The Sun, The Jewish Writing Project, The Jewish Literary Journal, Down in the Dirt, Potato Soup Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Backchannels, LochRaven, Kveller, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Broadkill Review, Avalon Literary Review, Jewish Week, and The Best of Potato Soup 2020. 

If you’d like to read more about Rita and her work, visit her website: https://ritaplush.com

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All I Can Do

by Kayla Schneider-Smith (Rishon LeZion, Israel)

all i can do is be sad today,
and hear about the rockets flying from
one fence to the other
regardless of what mother and her baby
are strolling on the other side,
which man is rolling a cigarette
in the front seat of his truck,
wondering what he’ll bring home his
wife for the weekend

all i can do is not choose a side today, 
for sides have already been chosen,
and secured, and posted on doorposts
and upon gates, clung to for life,
the indentation of angry hands meant
to hold instruments, to hold one another,
grasping pocketknives grasping guns
grasping flag poles waving colors in the wind,
blues and whites and greens and blacks and reds
that claim sovereignty claim territory claim God
claim blood

all i can do is keep walking today,
walking to work walking to class
walking to busses
trying to memorize the shape of shelters
the shape of my heart how long it’ll
take me to run when i should duck for cover
when it’ll be too late

all human loss is our loss,
all mess on our fingers is ours,
the brokenness of other bodies is
our bodies’ brokenness,
brothers and sisters refusing to let go
tearing out each other’s spines
pouring all this frustrating summer heat into the gutter,
to dirty the world instead of making it better,
to hurt instead of heal

Kayla Schneider-Smith is a poet, musician, and social activist from Monmouth County, New Jersey. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she wrote this poem while completing the Yahel Social Change Fellowship in Rishon LeZion, Israel, where she taught English, piano and guitar to children, adults and senior citizens in a small neighborhood called Ramat Eliyahu. Kayla is currently attending the Master of Fine Arts Writing Program at The University of San Francisco. She aspires to be an English professor, Rabbi, or Interfaith Minister one day.

If you’d like to read her work in prose, visit: https://www.yahelisrael.com/single-post/2018/11/27/To-Be-Or-Not-to-Be-Progressive-Judaism-in-Israel

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Grandma’s Candlesticks

by Janice Alper (La Jolla, CA)

Sentinels of light,

Grandma’s brass candlesticks

engraved with her wedding date

April 10, 1910

proudly cast light at our Sabbath table.

Every Friday near sundown,

my tiny grandmother

hair neatly combed,

jaunty black skull cap on her head,

waved her calloused hands over the flames

covered her face

muttered the blessing to usher in Shabbat.

I looked up at her

inhaled her fresh bathed smell of Palmolive soap

imitated her motions

shyly whispered the blessing.

Afterward we sat for a while

in Shabbos silence.

Now every Friday,

I take the tarnished candlesticks from the shelf

head bare

wave my hands over the tiny flames

cover my face with manicured nails

say the blessing out loud

so everyone can hear

close my eyes.

For a brief moment

 as I stand with my family

 these weighty sentinels,

 guardians of my heritage,

 silently rekindle my childhood.

Janice Alper has reinvented herself in her senior life as a writer of poems, personal essays, and memoirs which have been published in San Diego Poetry Annual (2018, 19, and 20,) The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Shaking the Tree. Currently, Janice is writing a memoir, Sitting on the Stoop, about her Brooklyn, New York childhood from the mid-1940s to mid-1950s, which she may finish one day. Last year she published a book of poems, Words Bursting in Air, which you may obtain by contacting her at janicealper@gmail.com. You can follow Janice on her occasional blog, www.janicesjottings1.com

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An encounter with holiness

By Adrienne Raymer Hutt (Sarasota, FL)

At a recent Torah study, we talked about holy experiences that we felt we’ve had and what made these experiences feel holy. I did not respond during the study session as I could not remember an experience that I would describe as holy, except for the extraordinary gift of my children. Afterwards, a long forgotten memory popped into my consciousness, and I was reminded of an encounter that I had at a swimming pool on the east coast of Florida  years ago. 

When I had young children, we would go to Florida to visit my parents, and I would take along a knitting project. On one particular visit, when my children were about three and four, we all went to the community pool, and I brought my latest knitting project with me.  As my parents played with and watched over my children, I took the opportunity to relax and knit.

I learned to knit from my mother most likely when I was old enough to be able to manipulate the needles and yarn. She and my sister were extremely fine knitters, I … well,  I tried my best. My mother taught me to knit in the Eastern European fashion.  Using this method, I wound the yarn to be knitted around the second finger of my non-dominant hand, and then, with a slight twist of  that finger, I released the yarn as it was needed to knit. This was how everyone I knew knit.  I did not know it had a name, or that  there was any other way.  

I understood that this way of  knitting was a part of my heritage, my Jewish  heritage, brought to this country by women who had emigrated from Eastern European countries. As they learned the ways of their new country, they retained ties to their European culture, and, by doing so, ensured that it was passed on to future generations.  I don’t believe that was their motivation; however, it was the result, and I liked this connection to generations past and present. So, I gladly learned how to knit.

Much later on, as I observed others knitting differently than me, I learned that there was another way of knitting, an English method.  No yarn was wrapped around your finger. Rather, it was manipulated by your dominant hand.  It was a method that always looked cumbersome to me. The way I knit seemed to be concise and precise in its movements. And so, I continued to knit in the manner that I was taught.

At the pool that day there were neighbors socializing and swimming.  A woman, who I did not recognize as a friend of my parents but who seemed to be a contemporary, approached me and said that seeing me knit in this way brought her back to the shelters in England during the bombing in WWII.  She explained that she was in England during this time, having emigrated there from Russia some years before the war began.

When in the shelters, she recalled, women would knit to ease their tension and fear.  Those of her community were mostly Jewish from Eastern Europe and knit using this method.  She learned to knit in this way, she told me, from her mother when she was a young girl. 

As a result of seeing me knit in the Eastern European manner, she expressed a sense of connection to her roots and to her frightening experiences during the times she had to take shelter. Observing me knit brought her back in time, and, feeling this connection to her past, she felt compelled to bring this connection into the present.

As she spoke, I had a deep sense of connection to this woman. I visualized all of these women sitting together, knitting. Maybe they spoke and maybe they did not; however, the rhythmic movement of the needles does have a calming effect, and so I could understand why these women grabbed their knitting before running for cover. I did not ask many questions. Instead, I let her recall whatever memories of knitting and shelters and bombing she needed to recall. Listening to her, I felt the ties to my heritage and ancestral geography.  I truly marveled at how such powerful emotions—felt by me, and expressed by her—could be conveyed through the simple act of knitting.  

I never saw this woman again during that visit or on subsequent visits. I do not remember her name or what she looked like.  What I do remember is her gift of sharing our heritage and her memories. In walking those few steps at the pool to where I was sitting, she gave me extraordinary insight into how I feel about being Jewish and my connection to my heritage.

During our moments together, I was transfixed and transported to a holy place via her need to share some of her most poignant memories. It was holy because in that brief period I was no longer sitting at the pool. She and I were somewhere else, together. Time was meaningless. We were in the past. In her past and in our collective present. This stranger and I were in a holy space.  

Until now, I was unable to understand this encounter. I now recognize that this experience has stayed with me in such detail because it was holy. I have encountered many people at a pool or elsewhere and have forgotten those experiences.  This one, this holy encounter, has been patiently resting in  my memory, waiting for me to identify and acknowledge it.

Now I look at knitting and at the Eastern European method that was used by our ancestors, used in shelters, used when sitting by a pool in Florida, and I can see how this particular way of wrapping the yarn around my finger stitches us all together into a  tightly knit, beautiful, and holy Jewish community.

Adrienne Raymer Hutt was born and raised in Brooklyn New York.  She attended Brooklyn College, graduating with a B.A. degree, and received her Masters degree from Southern Connecticut State College in Counseling, as well as a post-Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Adrienne and her husband Phil lived in Old Saybrook, Ct, where she worked as a speech pathologist, a teacher of the deaf, and, finally, as a  marriage and family therapist. They are now full-time residents of Sarasota.

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Meeting Elijah

By Jodi Rosenfeld (Phoenixville, PA.)

I met Elijah once on Brattle Street in Harvard Square.

When we read about Elijah the Prophet each year in the Passover Haggadah, we learn that he visits once a generation, or perhaps once a year, appearing in our very doorways to drink his wine. 

His job? To check us out—to see if humanity is ready for the coming of the Mashiach. 

He is a wily spy that scopes out this earthly home of ours to see if we are deserving of the great Messiah’s arrival. No such arrival? We can assume that Elijah stamped our report card with a big red “Not Ready.”

Now I don’t believe in any of this. But I do believe this story is one that is meant to challenge us in profoundly personal ways. And I do believe I met Elijah.

It was an unusually warm Sunday afternoon in April of 1996, and I was doing some shopping alone in Harvard Square. The Square was jam packed with locals and tourists, college kids and elderly pedestrians. 

On Brattle Street, I came upon a white woman, perhaps in her thirties, standing on the sidewalk in front of a line of shops. She looked haggard and a little sunburned, and she held a sign, handwritten with a marker on cardboard, that said, “Homeless with AIDS.” 

Her belongings were around her. There may have been a small grocery cart with some clothes and, of course, a jar with a few dollars and change. I put in a dollar. I was not prepared for what happened next.

“Excuse me,” she said, looking right at me. “Would you mind doing me a favor? Could you watch my things for just a minute while I run into this store and buy a soda?” She gestured to the small grocery behind her.

“Um, sure,” I answered. She handed me her sign, pulled two dollars out of her jar, and went into the store. I think she was gone a total of four minutes. It felt like an hour.

As I stood there, among the throngs of people, holding the sign that said, “Homeless with AIDS,” I learned about shame. 

Passersby sneered and scowled. One woman rolled her eyes and made a sound of disgust. A man put some coins in the jar but looked me up and down as he did. When the woman came back to relieve me, I was dripping with sweat. 

I walked casually away, but I wanted to run. I wanted to run from the judgement and derision of strangers, from my shock and disappointment in the people I’d encountered, and from myself for feeling embarrassment and shame.

And then I forgot all about it until one Pesach two decades later when I thought about this idea of Elijah coming to see if humanity was ready and deserving of an ultimate miracle. 

That’s when I looked back and realized I’d met Elijah once. 

Our wily prophet was a homeless woman with AIDS.

Jodi Rosenfeld is a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety and acceptance-based therapies. She holds a degree in English and Women’s Studies from Tufts University and a doctorate from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (now William James College). She lives with her husband and two teenaged children in the western suburbs of Philadelphia and will be starting rabbinical school in fall of 2021. Her debut novel, Closer to Fine, will be published on May 25, 2021 by She Writes Press.

For more info about Jodi, visit her website: www.jodirosenfeld.com/author

And if you’d like to attend her book launch on May 25th at 7:00pm, visit: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/rosenfeldatreads/register

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