Sunday, July 10, 2016

For Mommy, on the anniversary of her death

I was far away for the summer when I was 16

When I found out about women's liberation from my first boyfriend, 

a 19 year old Marxist,
Nigel. 

The moment I saw my first feminist flyer,  

I thought, 
This is for me. 

The second thing was, 

I can't wait to tell my mother! 
This is going to change her life! 

She hates her marriage

She hates cooking and cleaning
She hates her children, sometimes.

Now she can be free! 


But she died about a week later, 

while I was still away,
long before email and texting and Skype.
So I never told her about my discovery. 

I always thought that if she'd just lived until I got home 

Feminism would have saved her. 

Mommy --   I think there's going to be a woman president.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Blessings For The Sad

For when you are too sad to remember:

May your sadness be  felt as deeply as it needs to be
And may it lift in its proper time.

May you understand that just because some people can't be there at your sadness
Doesn't mean they don't love you.

May you be able to take pleasure in the pleasures of those around you
Even when you can't feel your own.

And may you not lose hope in the possibility of your own happiness,
Even when it is out of your line of sight.

כן יהי רצון

Friday, June 3, 2016

Malkhut: A Kavannah for the Last Week of the Omer Count



1.
We count the Omer for seven weeks, 49 days:
The loving kindness and benevolence of Chesed;
The strength and holy limitations of Gevurah;
The spiritual balance and beauty of Tiferet;
The eternal endurance of Netzach;
The prayer and intellecutalism of Hod;
The gateway of Yesod, collecting all of these sephirot and transmitting them to
Malkhut, the end of the chain, our human world.

Malkhut –  It is the culmination.
This is where we live, this is the here and now,
God's name in Malkhut is Adonai ha Eretz, Lord of the Earth. 
But in Malkhut we are ALL the lords of this realm,
We are one in the One-ness.
These are our laws, our nations, our communities, our religions,
These are our choices.
We are the rulers, here.


2.
When I was little I knew I was an American Jew
And I knew what that meant -- 
Ashkenazi,
European,
White,
UJA and Holocaust memorials,
Hebrew School and Fiddler on the Roof,
Chicken on Friday nights and Brisket on Passover,
Charoses made of apples, cinnamon, walnuts and
Manischevitz Concord Grape wine.
I was it, the Real Jew, a Pintele Yid, there was no other
And no other way to be.

There were, however, Others:  The Goyim.
Everybody who wasn't us.
My father sat in front of his TV, labelling every famous white person who appeared:  
Jew.  Not Jew. 
Jew.  Not Jew.
Jew was Good, Not Jew Bad.

Everyone was Jew or Not Jew, except for the, you know, them:
The S-words,
Literally the yiddish word for blacks,
Which could have been meant just as a description but wasn't, it was demeaning, no more than a step or two less disgusting than the N-Word.
And those people, the S-Words, were the Other times two,
The Permanently Not and Never Jews.

Even when i was really little I knew that this was a bad word to say and I was embarrassed for my father whenever he used it, which was a lot.
Because he was my father, I will make excuses for him:
Maybe to a people used to being The Other, it feels good to make someone else The Other? 
Or maybe it was a way to make himself more American, to be superior like all the other Americans, the white Americans? 
Or maybe, because he grew up on the streets of the Lower East Side and Brownsville, and he fought with the Black, Italian and Irish kids on the streets for survival, he thought he'd earned the right to be a tough guy? 
Or maybe he was just a racist?
I hope not.
But...

Well, I'm all grown up now
And is is upon me to face the truth
Of racism and Euro-centrism and privilege.
And that there are Real Jews
Of many colors and genders and nationalities and practices.
And I am only one amongst us all.
And because I know this truth,
I am obligated by Malkhut to be conscious of my choices.
Can I try tunes and prayer rituals that feel "weird"?
Can I be aware of my privileges without someone reminding me?
Can I shut up and learn from others?
Can I refrain from telling people I understand when I don't?
Can I be led by people I have never been led by?
Can I give up power I didn't even acknowledge I had?

I don't know, I guess I'll find out.
I hope so.
And really,
Brisket isn't very good for my health or the environment
And Manischevitz Concord Grape is cheap crappy wine
(I don't care, I love it).


3.
So here's a prayer for this world of Malkhut and all of us real Jews
In the last week of the Omer,
Making our choices,
As we gather at Sinai to receive Torah:

Baruch HaMavdil
Blessed Is The One That Divides,
Giving us the illusions
Of time and space
Of days and weeks
So that we may grow and learn
And take joy in the moment,
So that we may rest on Shabbat
And not go crazy,
So that we may count 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot.

We give thanks for this seventh week of the Omer
And the metaphor and earthiness of Malkhut,
Which gathers us in community
And takes us to the 50th day of the Omer,
Shavuot,
To study the choices of Ruth and Naomi
And join with all these real Jews waiting 
At the foot of Mount Sinai.

Blessed HaMavdil,
The One-ness giving us the joys of holy separation,
We are many and we are gloriously different
But we are also one in the One.
Please may we not divide ourselves against ourselves
So together, different and the same,
We may behold the Godhead.
So together, different and the same,
We may pray, forgive and be forgiven, study, create acts of loving kindness, heal the world
And receive Torah.
And let us say, 

Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Plagues Are Not Cute


Plagues are not finger puppets,
Plagues are not soft and furry stuffed toys,
Plagues don't have googly eyes,
Plagues are not cute.

Plagues are not targeted attacks,
Plagues are not guerilla warfare,
Plagues do not show up in a court of law,
Plagues are not fair.

Plagues are not a bland topic for a mild discussion,
Plagues do not call for objectivity,
Plagues are not subject to ironic humor,
Plagues are not interesting.

No,
Plagues are disaster without explanation,
Plagues are revenge without a solution,
Plagues are acts of desperation,
Plagues attack everyone,
Plagues hurt the poor more than the rich,
Plagues kill the innocent as well as the guilty,
Plagues are not cute or fair or interesting.

So I drop wine onto my plate to remember all who suffered, Hebrew and Egyptian.
I drop wine onto my plate for the desperate acts that often come with freedom struggles.
I drop wine onto my plate so that I will not forget that
Plagues
Are 
Not
Cute.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Color of Light: A Kavannah for Putting on Your Tallit

For with You is the Fountain of Light
In your light we shall see the light
      -- Psalm 36:10, translation by Robert Alter


God might be like the color of light:
When you look at it without holy separation, everything is bright and blinding.
But when you have the right tool, like a prism,
or a tallit,
You can set yourself apart and enjoy most of the colors:
And the world opens up.

But there are colors our eyes cannot see
And understandings that our minds cannot grasp but we know they are there.
When you have the right tool, like a spectograph,
or Torah,
You can perceive some of the unseen colors or at least posit their existence:
And the mystical opens up.

Perhaps 
When you have observed all the colors your eyes could see
And then learned about all the colors they could not,
Perhaps, after much time and effort,
You may realize
That it is all part of the One,
Each color separate and together, different and the same.
Flowing from the Fountain of Light,
Continuous.

And there you are, wrapped in the prism of Torah.
And you always were.



Monday, February 22, 2016

The First Two Years: A Yizkor Kavannah



I. The First Day

What?
Wait...what?
No.
How?  When?
Why?
No.
What?
No.
No no no.


II.  Shiva

Thank you for coming
Thank you for coming
Mmm, bagesl and lox, thank you so much.
You know you meant a lot to us.
Thank you for coming
Thank you for coming
Mmm, casserole, thank you so much.
You know you meant a lot to us.
Thank you for coming
Thank you for coming
Mmm, white fish salad, thank you so much.
It means a lot.

Yitgadal v'Yitkadash.
Thank you everyone, please go away now.
Go away.
Go away.
Thank you,
Amen.


III.  Sheloshim

Everyone went away.
Especially you.
One month later
And I don't know how to be.
Stop it.


IV.  Eleven Months Later

Today I brought a bottle of Scotch to shul
And many little plastic cups.
And just before the Mourner's Kaddish
I stood up and announced the unveiling.
Eleven months since you died.
I told a funny story
And poured out a drink for anyone who wanted one.
It was nice,
We toasted your life.
But you're still dead anyway.
You're still dead.
And I think I"m a little drunk.


V.  Two Years Later

It's Yizkor on Yom Kippur
And while the rabbi reads off the names
I'm going to tell you an embarrassing secret.

Sometimes when I'm watching TV
And an older couple comes on
In one of those commercials for Social Security supplemental health insurance.
And even though the dialogue is hokey
And the situation is contrived,
They are so warm and familiar with each other,
And you know they have been together for a long time
And plan to be together for a long time to come
And I can't help it,
It reminds me of you.
I know, right?
But I can't help it,
It makes me cry.
Only a little.
After all,
It's silly,
It's only a commercial for Social Security supplemental health insurance.
Oh, the rabbi just got to you.
It's good to hear her say your name again.

We remember you, together.  

Amen.