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Archive for March, 2013

Taste of Springtime, Sound of Family

I love Passover: it is when I get to taste springtime, and hear the voices of family, both those with me and those no longer here. It’s a time to be grounded and to remember who I am, cause it’s easy to forget. For days I am lost in the preparation, and then it stops, and the song and the candle light begin. And I taste springtime in the flavors of parsley, wine, horseradish, eggs, crunchy matzah and chopped apples.  I am tasting springtime! And I hear voices: my son’s new found base (he’s fourteen) my daughter joining in the conversation (!), my Mom blessing the candle light. Always my grandfather’s laugh and lilt of his voice, and my grandmother’s tired but comforting tones – their memories are for blessing. And this year as I cleaned up after,  I reallly heard the past voices of my children and nephews when they were younger and so excited by the energy, and others. These experiences transformed ordinary days into the freedom only spring feels like. I awoke the next morning with more than a memory, because my eating habits and even dishes are not the usual ones. The sight of flowers will come, but it’s not there yet  – vision is not a sense I associate with Passover, funny enough.

I was delighted to find in these senses a new connection of Pesach to this Shabbat’s Torah reading, which is the aftermath of the golden calf. There are some easy connections: The festival of  Pesach is in mentioned as part of our new covenant. Also, the golden calf may be about the choices that follow freedom from slavery, including the freedom to make wrong choices.  But it’s also partly about the senses with which Moses can experience God in some way. In Ex. 33: 20 Moses has asked of God “Please let me see your honor”.  God replies that vision/ seeing is not possible. God’s Goodness will wander by (connects to Hebrews – wanderers) and Moses will hear the calling of God’s name, but cannot see God and live! And there’s a Place in a Rock (both names of God) where Moses can be. And God’s Honor will wander by and then afterwards can See. Moses will feel the Rock and the Goodness,  hear the name. Just Like Pesach it’s vision that eludes. Interestingly vision is our longest range sense: taste, touch, smell are immanent and intimate.* Similarly,  it’s not through vision that I experience the  honor and goodness and spring-feeling and freedom of Passover, it is by hearing and touching and tasting.
The song and link I offer this Passover week is Circle of Life from Disney’s The Lion King. I have always had fun showing kids clips from the animated movie, and seeing how many Passover-Lion King connections they can find. OK Scar is Pharoah, Simba is Moses, who sees a vision of his father in a burning bush in the sky and returns to free his people, uh, lions. The moral which Rafiki tells Simba: Remember who you are!  Perhaps Simba and Nala’s love song (Can You Feel the Love) connects to chanting Song of Songs at Pesach. The Circle of LIfe is a lot more than welcoming a new baby lion to the Pride, it’s about the grandness of it all, and the journey through despair to faith and hope and love till we find our way along the path – to redemption.

My gratitude to Rabbi Rachel Barenblat for her Haggadah which I enjoyed immensely at our seder.

The poetry for the birkat, grace after the meal, even included a favorite poem by E.E. Cummings:

i thank You God for most this amazing day

for the leaping greenly spirit of trees

and for a blue true dream of sky

and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes

(and i who have died am alive again this day,

and this is the sun’s birth day

and the birthday of life, and love, and wings)…

*Although hearing is at a distance the vibrations happen within the middle and inner ear as well, most immanently.


Children and Seeds: Miraculous!

I had the most startling answer from a student Monday. In answer to the question What exemplifies “freedom” to you? Dawn answered (name changed): the Hurricane! Woah! I do get it: freedom from the demands and the routines. This kid sheltered  in the synagogue’s social hall during Sandy for power, heat, company and internet, playing and doing volunteer work for a couple of weeks. Here’s a thought: could we be overscheduling and overpressuring our kids? Passover’s so enriched by our children at the table, asking questions, searching for the hidden, maybe acting out dramas, singing “dayenu” (it would have been enough!). And here’s a child reminding us to give them back the freedom of childhood. Children are magic. This week’s haftarah contains some of the most beautiful verses from the prophet Malachi (3:23-24): Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet… to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. No wonder these verses are always read on the Shabbat before Passover! Not only is Elijah redemption man on Passover, our redemption story, but redeeming will come with the uniting of parents and children! Children: keeping our eyes tuned to wonder and idealism, to where we come from and the future we are headed to. And there is always that child in us, a part of us. My favorite musical setting of Bayom hahu (the Day will Come) is by Lisa Silverstein and Pete Tobias, and it includes these lyrics:

A day will dawn in the time to come,

a day when God’s name shall be One,

all war and suffering shall be through,

when that day comes Bayom hahu;

Bayom hahu, and on that day, I will wipe all tears away;

Sorrow and pain will all be through,

when that day comes Bayom hahu;

Let justice and righteousness flow like a stream,

the old and the young will see visions and dreams,

and what we dream shall yet come true,

when that day comes: Baym hahu;…..

The spear will break and the chariot burn,

the hearts of the parents to children will turn,

children and parents will all turn to You,

when that day comes, Bayom hahu..
So in a way, it is in our relationship with our children that Elijah visits our seder and holds the promise of redemption of the world. They are the SEEDS of redemption and a bright future – teach them well and love them, and make a safe place for them, and they will teach and love their children and perhaps this broken world can be fixed.  And we can taste this promise at the seder.
At the seder we taste slavery (bitter herbs) and perhaps the charoset is a taste of love and redemption, rather than of bricks:under the apple trees the women of exodus seduced their husbands into having children, like Moses and Miriam who would redeem us. And speaking of seduction under the apple tree, we read song of songs on Pesach! I would like to offer that Matzah is not so much the taste of slavery as the taste of seeds, and an guarding of their magical properties of sprouting feeding us. The technology of fermentation has been around at least from ancient Egypt, (they brewed beer). This technology, like fire, is a double edged sword: fermentation flavors, rises bread and preserves, but fermentation also rots, causes disease and wasting. At springtime we must carefully guard our new seeds – if they rot they cannot sprout and feed us. We must use up all our old seed, and begin to guard the new, keeping it dry. This bread of pure seed, guarded from water, and therefore rotting is what we make our bread/matzah of at the start of spring. In seed is the promise of spring and of our nourishment. As we refrain from eating risen, fermented foods = we can remember that we are fed from the magic of seeds. And loved under apple trees, planted from seeds. An in our souls, the magic of children. Zissen Pesach: a sweet Passover to all.

You are what you eat.

Why are we made of the same ingredients as our food? This is a favorite classroom question of mine, with a follow-up hint/question: Where does every morsel of food we eat come from? I am answered with silence at first, and then a voice offers: The Store?  Finally someone gets it: Everything we eat was alive, like us.  That‘s why we have the same ingredients as our food. Albert Einstein, that fabulous advocate for a sense of wonder, knew that there are only two ways to live your life: one as though nothing is a miracle, the other as though everything is a miracle. Nothing is more miraculous than the act of eating. You become what you eat – our ancestors knew this. They raised herd animals, but didn’t eat meat often.  Three times a year they placed their hands on an animal’s head and knew it was a sacrifice, a life for theirs, intense. This act of sacrifice drew them closer to the Creator- the word for sacrifice korban means to draw close. Why? Perhaps a profound appreciation for the miracle of working bodies and food, I don’t know. Maybe it reveals that acts of sacrifice help make our lives holy.

This week begins the reading of a new book in Torah, Leviticus, which many modern folks feel very uncomfortable with. Many sections deal with the details of the animal sacrifices of the ancient Tabernacle, and Temple.There’s a yuck factor for us, who don’t want to deal with, or think of the realities of where our meat comes from: we call them primitive. But it’s not primitive to fully understand the life that’s been sacrificed whenever we eat a morsel of meat. That creature’s very substance becomes our energy and materials – it’s a profound transfer.  In a world of connections we often dismiss the connections we have to other creatures – and the animal, the physical in us.   The truth is what many pet owners and nature lovers know in their hearts, we are deeply connected.  I am a pet lover, and a nature lover too. Feeling that connection strongly becomes a challenge to anyone that eats meat thought-fully.

This system of sacrifices is also a brilliant way of making amends for wrongs, celebrating thanksgivings.  All in a package deal of eating and sharing meat with the Levites and others on special occasions.  We dismiss ancient ways and instead employ mechanized meat raising, cruel treatment of animals and slaughter house employees. We encourage disconnect, discourage spirituality, and the chanting of blessings. These modern ways are what’s truly primitive!

I am reading an amazing book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, about a child named Lia of the Hmong community of California. These  loving, land-connected, live-free-or-die folks still practice animal sacrifice today.  When the family gets Lia back at one point in the story they are beyond grateful. They drive out to a cattle ranch, buy an animal, sacrifice it, tote the meat back at great expense to host a huge celebration which feeds the community. Being so very poor, this was a sacrifice on every level.

After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we found other pathways to spirituality and connections: prayer, tzedakah, mitzvah. But in order to lead to holiness these acts have to be real:  intense. Yet how many of us mumble prayer by rote, write checks to charity without feeling the connections, sacrifice for our loved ones or do righteous acts without knowing it’s healing the world! Our challenge is to make our lives holy: pay attention! find connections! say a blessing and really mean it! Choose to live your life knowing everything is a miracle. oh, and you might consider eating a little less meat, it has enormous implications for climate change and feeding the hungry of the world. Eating and our choices: more profound than you ever guessed. You are what you eat.

A song for this week, by Todd Herzog: Tov L’Hodot which means: it’s good to give thanks, song 11 in the jukebox at

The chorus: Tov L’hodot, I won’t taken these things for granted; Tov L’hodot now I see the world anew;

Tov L’hodot, friends and family bring laughter to my soul, and my life would have no meaning without You.

Anne Fadiman The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down



Perry Smilow Concert 2012 096I knew Sam since he was a little kid. By the time he was in high school he was getting up by five so he could get in a couple of more hours practice on the flute. He breathed music through his pores as though they were tiny flute holes. Like a few other artists I know, I suspect, if a tissue sample were placed in the microscope, instead of cells, eighth notes, clef signs, sharps and flats would come into view, of a person entirely made of music. Sam has talent and we are in love with the arts, and talent has always been one of those deep mysteries. Where does come from? Is it inspiration from on high, or just the passion that makes someone work till art oozes out of them? Gould and Prokofiev claimed not to  have practiced, though! So mystery it remains!
A story from our tradition is tells of a king who built a new palace. Not knowing how to decorate it, he announced a contest. Artists and sculptors came from far and wide displaying their work, and the king chose the two whose work spoke most to him. “I give you each a wall of my palace, materials and craftsmen to do with as you wish. The one whose work is best in one year’s time will be well rewarded. The first artist’s name was Tuvia, and he went to work immediately, drawing plans, hiring craftsmen, buying materials. He decided that the way the sun shone on the wall in the afternoon would be perfect for a scene of nature and flowing water, and he followed this insight. He worked many days each hour perfecting texture, color, perspective. The work in progress filled him with joy. The second artist, Golde, was stumped. She would sit and stare at her empty wall day after day, just hoping that the inspiration would come, but it never did. As the contest time neared its conclusion, Tuvia began to dismantle his scaffold, clean up paint and fabric. He proudly signed and veiled his work, while Golde’s wall was just as empty as ever. But, as the day of the judging dawns, surprisingly, Golde had some work to present. The King eagerly approached two contest walls and commanded them to be unveiled. As Tuvia saw his finished work, his heart swelled with pride. But as his eyes turn toward the other wall, his mouth fell open, and blood of anger rushed to his face. There on Golde’s wall is an exact replica of his own, line for line, exactly the same colors, down to the brushstroke. Every leaf, every dewdrop, the same! The King was surprised indeed, but as he felt the cold, smooth texture of Golde’s wall, insight dawned on him.”Who has won?” they asked the King. “I have declared this contest a draw,” he proclaimed. “You shall each return tomorrow to receive the reward you deserve.” Golde breathed a sign of relief. “But your majesty, this is unjust!”, began Tuvia. “Silence! It shall be as I have decreed!” bellowed the King, “return tomorrow!”
When the artists returned to the palace the next day, Tuvia, who had been downhearted, was delighted to see a pile of gold beyond his imaginings near the king. “Your dedication and inspiration honors my home, and I have gifted you enough gold for you to work to your heart’s content all your life!” declared the King. Deeply honored, Tuvia bowed and thanked the King. “But your majesty, what of my reward?”, protested Golde. “I have promised you the reward you deserve, and here is yours,” boomed the king. Golde looked where the king was pointing, and there shone a reflection of the mountain of gold in  a mirror. “Take it and leave my kingdom, never to return.” Spoke the king. Golde looked sadly at the King, and slowly left the palace.

This week in the Torah, the portion is named “Vayakhel” – which can translate “and he made them into a community” The portion later names the artisans that God has chosen to create the portable Mishkan, a sanctuary and dwelling for God in the Israelite’s midst.  The first is B’tzalel, who is gifted with “Spirit of God in wisdom, understanding, knowledge in all his work”  I love this! B’tzalel is an artist, but artistry is not defined as an ability to make “pretty pictures”, but rather as true insight and wisdom and  truth -turned to the works of art. And B’tzalel’s name means in God’s shadow! But for me the best is yet to come, because B’tzalel’s assistant is Oholiav, and his God-given,  gift of the heart is the ability to teach!  Teaching, visual arts, music -all are precious communications, one heart to another, about the beauty and truth we see in the world. An ability to connect, both to the universe and to other souls is the talent we may receive.  It is also how we can create community. Perhaps our life’s work is  our painting on the palace wall of God’s universe.  IF we create an original works, never just reflections.  Sam paints gorgeous pictures of sunlight and water and more with his inspiration, his talent and of course, his flute. I can learn from him, be inspired by artists, and also recognize the art and the gift which is my own life’s work: teaching.


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