Monthly Archives: February 2011

Sanctify (Veyakhel-Pekudei)

by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

God, that very exacting architect, tells us seven times
What we need to build a Mishkan –
The skins, the acacia wood, the stones
The gold, the oils, the lapis lazuli —
And post by post,
Socket by socket,
Loop by loop,
How exactly to put it together
Or risk unspoken but surely imagined repercussions
(not the least of which might be a volcano or tsunami
that would force us to start from the ground up
and go searching, again, for copper and silver, etcetera).

And each one of those seven times
that we’re told about building that Mishkan
God, that very exacting fashionista,
Tells us what to use to make the clothes for the priests –
The yarns, the chains, the linens,
the agate and crystal and sapphires —
And braid by braid,
Sash by sash,
Hem by hem,
How exactly to put it together

All of which makes me feel a whole lot better
About how much I like jewelry.
Really.

And I’m not talking diamonds, by the way.

(I also have a many-color jacket I call Joseph
As in, “I think I’ll wear Joseph today.”)

So.

I like the idea of adorning myself
Not so much because I’m such a beauty
(although my husband thinks I am – and,
no surprise here, I have my own body-image issues,
just like almost every other woman I know)

No, I like the idea of adorning myself
(And I just realized that if you get rid of the “n”
you’re left with adoring and,
no surprise here, I don’t always feel so great about myself
just like almost every other person I know)

I like adorning myself
Because, as they tell me, I’m made in God’s image
And when I imagine Her I no longer see
That severe old man who looks like Santa without his suit
Wrapped, instead, in a white sheet
That billows in the wind like a March in-like-a-lion afternoon

Instead, I see someone tall and elegant
Like the Statue of Liberty if she softened into flesh
with silver hair and lots of silver jewelry
that shimmers by sun and glows by moon,
decorated with stones that breed in earth’s belly.
She’d have what people call “bearing”
She’d be what people call a handsome woman

So to sum all this up,
if I look like God
And God is a looker,
Who cares, apparently, about appearances,
Lord knows I’d better look good.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes — including journaling and creative expression — at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania.  She leads a non-fiction writing group and works with individual students, and is continuing to write Jewish-themed readings for what she hopes will become a book, In the Spirit of the Holidays.

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Unlikely Pair

by Chaim Weinstein (Brooklyn, NY)

I don’t dare stare at this Yiddish-speaking pair;
I eavesdrop instead, not nice, but life’s tough,
Waiting here in the cold for the 44 bus.
One, white-stubbled, stooped, bushy-browed
The other, nine, scrawny, short-limbed, pale,
Under black velvet cap long sidecurls twist,
Tsitsis turned yellow beneath his vest,
Like an old book’s pages, brittle beliefs,
Each a symbol centuries in his time.
Rough sage stares at Sidecurls’ gash;
Young boy shrugs, evasive eyes.

Old man nods, tells his tale right there:
An old Riga field, survived a bomb blast,
Head ringing, a brief deaf-mute;
About, blurry lines of white lab coats,
Dying to know it, fight his fate, stand his ground.
Doctor’s voice icy now, pierces his ears:
“We’ll amp this gangrene leg in his sleep.”
Adrenalin-lava explodes to his gurgly, “Nein!”
Blue veins in taut neck thicken, loudest, “Nein!”
Docs stop dead in their muddy tracks to hear,
Mouths clamp shut as he cries out loud
Moaning heart, Shema-tongued, mouth unstilled,
So Jew-like, he survives himself alive again.

“Now, Yingeleh,” hoary one says,
“Take care of your boychik self,
And don’t take no klops from hate-filled goys,
Gedenk: we Yidden give smacks, don’t take ‘em.”
With that he hobbles into coldest night,
Leaves sadness on the sweet young face.

The little boy, guideless, sighs, confused:
Torah-seeking, no-wave-making Jew,
Or Stubbled, injustice-smashing proud one?
Ovens and gas and beatings
Now a throbbing memory in each
Like an elusive melody
Dares us to remember
Dares us to forget.

Chaim Weinstein taught English for more than thirty years at two inner-city junior high schools in Brooklyn, NY. Two of his poems, “The Shul is Dark” and “Mr Blumen,” appeared last year on The Jewish Writing Project, and an early short story, “Ball Games and Things,” was published in Brooklyn College’s literary magazine, Nocturne. He is currently working in several genres and is hoping to  share a larger selection of his work in the future.

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Believing in God

by Jennifer Singer (Sarasota, FL)

Had an interesting conversation today with my friend Geoff Huntting, aka Rabbi Huntting.  We were commenting on the conundrum of not believing in God and yet being comforted by God-talk.  I’m always happy to talk to a like-minded person who isn’t uncomfortable with the seeming contradiction this poses.

It reminds me of a comment by my teacher at JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary), Rabbi Neil Gillman, who said that he is capable of being a rational Columbia University professor on Tuesday morning, and then feeling like he’s standing at Sinai with the Children of Israel on Saturday morning.

Note that I’ve now cited not one but two rabbis.  Thus, I hope, strengthening my case that it’s okay to have a complicated relationship with God and with God-talk.  If you ask me whether I believe in God, the answer will always be “no.”  But if you ask me if I’m comfortable with prayer that talks directly to God, or anthropomorphizes God, the answer is “yes.”

My friend Randi Brodsky (not a rabbi, but she is a physician so that should count for something) commented on my recent post called My Lucky Day (http://srqjew.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/my-lucky-day/), and said something very profound:

“Seems silly that I will ascribe good things that happen to me to God, but dumb things I will ascribe to bad luck, not that God is punishing me.  If I think about this too much, my head spins!”

I’m with her all the way on this, especially the part about it making my head spin.

It’s true — we call it bad luck when things go wrong and thank God when things go right.  And despite its confounding nature, I think this is both perfectly natural and absolutely correct.

I, for one, do not want to walk around blaming the Deity for the bad things that happen, whether they’re big (such as explosions at airports or 9-year-old girls getting shot and killed in Arizona) or little (such as why does my left elbow hurt and why won’t it stop).  I’m perfectly happy with seeing those as people-driven rather than God-driven.  (I think the elbow thing has a lot to do with texting and typing, meaning that it’s my own damn fault.)

But I also think it’s great to thank God for the good things, like my dog Xander being such a cutie (he’s snuggling the aforementioned elbow – I wonder if he can tell that it hurts), or the fact that the 12th anniversary of my cancer diagnosis is just a couple of days away.

Who cares if there’s a God Who’s listening?  Certainly not I.  Doesn’t matter if my gratitude is directed to a specific Someone or just the cosmos in general.  As long as I remember to be grateful.

Thus I will blithely continue to insist that I don’t believe in God while I continue to be perfectly happy with prayer.

Jennifer Singer has served as Foundation Director at the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation, worked as an educator at the Flanzer Jewish Community Center, and taught in programs across the community for adults and children.

In 2006, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and currently works as a fundraiser for Technion University, as well as part-time at Kol HaNeshama, a Reconstructionist congregation, where she leads services and a Family Education program called Doorways to Judaism.

She shares her home with her husband, two daughters, four dogs, three parrots, two cats, and a turtle, and hopes one day to attend rabbinical school.

You can read more of her work at her blog SRQ Jew (http://srqjew.wordpress.com/) where this piece first appeared. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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Giving Thanks

by Jacob Winkler (Passaic, NJ)

I remember running through the streets
it was still dark and I was racing
to my favorite rooftop.

This was before I learned to pray.

I would watch the sun
and in the quiet world around me
raise my arms to the sky
and twirl.

Thank You!
Thank You for the waking birds
the sun-streaks and the mountain wind.

Thank You for this life
this body and soul
and the companions You’ve given me
on this journey
my family, my friends.

Now I glance up
between verses of Psalms.

Today I have so much more
to be thankful for
it takes a long time
to say Thank You
in the morning.

Jacob Winkler lives in Passaic, NJ with his wife and one year old son. While he and his family are members of the observant community, he says he doesn’t fit easily into categories. Before spending three years learning at Yeshiva Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, he studied at the Kripalu Yoga Center in Massachusetts and spent a semester at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

You can find more of his work on his website, Glory To The Highest, http://www.glorytothehighest.com, where this piece first appeared. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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