This site is the bee's knees

Archive for July, 2013

Melt my heart. Harmony at the Festival

This is the anniversary, on the Jewish calendar, of my trip to Israel in 1996. In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, Moses exhorts the people to cut away the thickening of their heart, to “circumcise” their heart! So, the tiny paper I put in the cracks of the Western Wall did not have a prayer for healing but for helping cut away that thickening, fully knowing that makes me more vulnerable. As Carly Simon sang “there’s more room in an broken heart“. ( I guess I was afraid of getting an overly thick skin.) The Tin man in Wizard of Oz sang

I’d be tender, I’d be gentle
And awful sentimental
Regarding love and art
I’d be friends with the sparrows
And the boy that shoots the arrows
If I only had a heart.

But if your heart were bare, wouldn’t you cry for the sufferings you see on the evening news, or the streets of the city, would you just be “bleeding heart”? Won’t that just make you depressed? The truth is the opposite depression, according to Lauren Slater, (Prozac diaries) is like a deadening, an inability to feel anything though your senses are feeding you information, like a steel curtain between your soul and the world.

I spent this past week at the North American Jewish choral Festival in the Catskill mountains of New York. We were on a hilltop and the view and the weather were spectacular.  I got to study and sing with the likes of Nick Page; with Eleanor Epstein and Benjie Ellen Schiller Morning prayer flooded with the light of floor to ceiling bay windows began my day in harmony. And my heart melted several times, my eyes welling up, moved by the harmonies, the beauty and the sheer power of music emerging directly from the heart to the rarified air of the mountains



Listen up.

I went to a concert on the beach tonight, and a woman was singing in a plaintive voice “I’m scared!…” and she sang about being stronger after a Hurricane took her house. I listened to the music and the words. I listened. I listened to the surf and the gulls, the boat horn,  the crinkling of the chips, the chatter of folks nearby, cheers from the volleyball game. What should I listen too in the cacophony?   Some lyrics give insight from the chorus of Listen Close, song 18 in the jukebox at

Listen Close to the whispers,
they will help you to remember
who you are and who you came here to be.
Listen close and you will hear Me,
in your heart I’m always with you;
In the silence I’m the only voice you hear.                     Todd Herzog

This weeks parashah contains six of the most powerful words, and commands us to Listen! In Hebrew Shema Yisrael, YHVH Elohenu YHVH Echad. My own take on these words: “Listen up, you God-wrestlers, the creative Power of the universe,  is ours, and is Unity.”
This all important six word statement is shouted (perhaps) by Moses to the Israelites (translation: God-wrestlers) following the receiving of the Ten Commandments.  in Deuteronomy. What is your take on these six words? This prayer is in every service, in Mezuzot, is the first learned, the last uttered. Unity/Oneness is elusive, yet as real a part of our universe as separation and divisiveness. In one of the most profound connections, the very next statement is “V’ahavta” You shall love God, with all your heart, and all your soul and all your all. Easier to say than do. Do we ever do something with all we’ve got? And how to love God? By loving life? By loving others? Kindness, connecting, loving all build unity. Perhaps it’s listening that makes unity and loving possible. Unity by parts interacting, more than the sum of its parts.  You and I are organisms, unified mixtures of interacting parts, as are our cells, our families, our communities… Listen and you will hear the web of connections singing with the music of the spheres.
Todd’s Lyrics excerpted above are from a song about personal change and transformation. But I like it before reciting the Shema. Listen to your heart and the melodies and harmonies and rhythms, and the silken web of connections, listen in order to love.

A story. There once was a wise old king of a small land by the sea, beloved by the people of the realm. When there was thirst, the king’s scouts raced to tell of the news, and, at once, irrigation ditches were built. When there was hunger, emergency grain was delivered as fast as the horses could carry them. When there was sadness, the King mourned too. Any commoner could wait at court and be heard. But, alas, the wise old King died, and his son, the Prince who became king did not honor his father’s ways. When there was famine, the Prince declared “I have plenty to eat, why should I care about commoners starving?” Countered his advisors, “Your father always…” “I am not he! ” the Prince interrupted, “I am too busy with important matters of state to worry about peasants!” he bellowed. And when there was thirst, he was similarly unmoved. He had little time to listen to mere commoners. The folk of the realm became distressed. The Prince’s advisers were petitioned ceaselessly. Finally one adviser, Menachem, had an idea. Menachem approached the Prince with a wonderful idea of a relaxing day at sea on his boat. “Splendid,” said the Prince, “I can survey my coast”.

While out at sea, Menachem suddenly took out a drill and began turning the handle, carving a hole in the bottom of the craft. “What are you doing!?” cried the Prince. “Don’t you know that the boat will sink if you drill a hole in the bottom!? “We’ll both drown!” he exclaimed.  “Don’t be rediculous,” Menachem replied, “I’m only drilling on my side of the boat.”  “But we’re on this boat together, both of us will perish!” shouted the Prince.  Menachem stopped drilling. “As all of us, your common or royal,  are in this together, we cannot survive if others we depend upon suffer and perish. Now, unless you promise to mend your uncaring ways, I will resume drilling.” Menachem whispered, and picked up his drill.  Suddenly, the Prince’s ears and eyes were opened, and he understood. “Thank you, my friend, I’ve been a fool. My father was right, and I will rule like he did.”  From then on, he listened when even peasants approached the throne, and sent scouts out to make sure all were cared for. We’re all in this boat together!

(Menachem means comforter, and this is Shabbat Nachamu, from the same root, and from the haftarah reading “Be comforted, my people”)

Holding Children and Tisha b’av

Did you ever do something that made your mom or dad sad with disappointment?

A confession, one I haven’t spoken about since I was 8 or so years old. My Dad was a generous man. He sent me on an errand with my cousin Sue to get something from the corner store, but lacking smaller change, gave me a $5 bill. This was the 1960’s, it was a fortune. Enough to buy that pretty, round faced doll. My cousin Sue encouraged me: “your Dad would want you to have it.” I hesitated, and then, wanting the beautiful doll badly, I just took out the $5 and bought it. When I returned carrying my prize, Dad’s sadness and disappointment stung. It was more effective than any smack or scolding. I have never forgotten it.

Rosh Hashanah is coming, the New Year, in 7 weeks, and we sing of God as a parent: Avinu Malkenu (Barbara Streisand at )  And yet, 7 weeks before Rosh Hashanah, we weep on the ninth of Av for all the sad things in the world. We read of God’s sadness as a disappointed parent in the prophetic vision of Isaiah:

The visions of Isaiah son of Amoz: …

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth,
For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up —
And they have rebelled against Me!…..
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.

I imagine God’s disappointment as a parent’s, when we do the wrong thing .

Flashback #2: Road Trip 1998: Disney world in November, and the middle one gets sick to her stomach. So I stay up all night with her. Well, she’d been having trouble adjusting to this new baby. She wants to be carried, to ride in the stroller like him. It’s been rough, but it softens her heart a bit that when things get really dicey, when she’s sick, her parents are still there for her. That’s what parents are for -to stay up when you’re sick,  to carry you into the ER for stitches, out of the car, ’cause you’re sleeping, or just ’cause you’re lonely: I wore my kids, carrying them for years. From the Torah reading this week, a connection to the parenthood theme:

Deut. 1:31. In the desert, you  saw that Adonai your God carried you along the road you traveled to this place, just as a man carries his child.

The best song about these words is    The second song on Mah Tovu’s album Turn It.

How incredible to know that you’re held, and can hold. So as we approach the Ninth of Av, and Rosh Hashanah, parent-child connections give insights to both of these Holy days.

As we think of these images of parenthood and childhood, and weep for things lost, it seems to me urgent that we protect our children’s futures by ceasing evil and learning to do good by our planet. For the sake of holding our children, so they have a place to live in good health and to love, and to walk in fields and swim in waters and eat and drink. So Tuesday, the ninth of Av, I will sing this lament:

Eichah / Lament for the Earth: Tisha B’Av 2010
By Tamara Cohen  (student at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.)

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress.

Blue ocean, source of life –
Endangered and imprisoned.

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

Wetlands sigh without their song birds.
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered.

Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit.

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.
Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,

Breathe us into a new path–
Help us, Help us, ,
Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Protect this gift of creation! If we join together, spurred by visions of the children we were and those we carried, we can turn and re-turn this precious planet onto the right path.


Journeys and the Aleph Kallah

Remember when?

I date my life’s events in the past 25 years based on how big my kids were at that time, (sound familiar Moms?!). The Torah portion Massei retells the Israelites 42 camping stops from slavery to the promised land. “Imagine you are packing up your belongings to take a journey,” my  instructor directed. In my imagination, I took only one thing: my toddler in my arms. Interesting, because it’s been at least 12 years since I’ve had a toddler. What would you take? Where are the places along your life’s path? How will you mark or describe them. Perhaps this: we journeyed to the place of love, and rested at despair. From despair we journeyed the place we were sick, and rested at a place of recovery. From recovery did you journey to someplace: California, and perhaps rest in a place of inspiration? And all along the way, how will you remember your journey, (by how big you have grown)?  Pathways diverged along the way, how did you choose?  Well, last week I journeed to New Hampshire. There I was attending the Aleph Kallah, organized by the Jewish Renewal movement: a passionate, new, liberal, movement strongly influenced by Chassidism, the teachings of Reb Zalman Shachter; by modern environmentalism and feminism, Conservative chavurah and Reform  and even Buddhist influences  but attended by a large mixed tent of Jews. Among my favorite experiences were morning services lakeside: the breeze rustling through the leaves blew through me too!  Evening services in the giant tent were fun: many hundreds raising voices, dozens dancing (many barefoot on the grass), many smiles, much music and joy.

I studied for a week with a great philosopher, lover of life, and trickster (I’m told), Rabbi Jack Gabriel, a child of survirors, yeshivah educated, modern musician, traveler, and a funny guy. He who spoke about music and the Chasidic masters, and Kaballah. He taught me what it means to walk through walls when it seems there’s no way out. He’s one of those teachers you just love to listen and soak up all you can. I had one cool, original insight from his teaching of Kaballah’s four worlds.  This is from his song “Four Worlds Chant”

…We’re in Four Worlds simultaneously…

The first World is Assiyah, where we do our deeds. We world, we fix, we build a way to fill our needs.

The second is Ytizirah where emotions flow. We laugh, we cry, we hold or let our feelings go.

The third World is B’riyah where our thoughts are found. Beliefs and world and theories goin’ round and round

The fourth World is Atzilut, where we stop –to bbe. A soul within a spirit of serenity.

So, I thought, how can you be in these four parallel universes simultaneously? How to unite them? Then I doodled: a musical staff has five lines, yes, but four spaces – one for each World! The clef sign can bind these spaces together as music can do for our soul! So cool!

I also studied Torah in a new way, with 20 study buddies, in a group called Speak-Chorus  taught by Cantors Abbe Lyons and Michal Rubin, and Rabbi Melissa Wenig. We listened to the verses in Hebrew and varying translations. It turns out that the names of each of the 42 stops in the wilderness have amazing meanings hidden in translation. For example, Rimon Peretz means “Exploding pomegranates”,  Marah is bitterness, Yam suf, usually the Reed Sea can easily be read Yam sof, the Sea at the end. We studied interpretive text including the Baal Shem Tov, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, modern poets too. We were asked to write responses to what we heard individually in poetry and prose, and then in small groups. We spoke of our own lives’ journeys. Then the three teachers did something pretty amazing, combining the ramblings of seventeen students into a script! The common thread made it a dialogue between we wanderers and God.  The group presented this collage as the D’var Torah following the Torah reading. Rabbi Melissa explained we were presenting the Drash (commentary) of our hearts. It suddenly became beautiful, a sacred connection of the text to ourselves, and out to the listeners we were sharing with.  I include a bit of the script here:

Are we there yet? Am I at the Promised Land? (voiced as whiny children in the back seat)….

You and I stopped and camped so many times; explosive spaces between the resting…

40 years of wandering You and I, sleeping on dynamite! …

Your holy man the Berditcher told me: “Discover the divinity in each place and raise it up to its holy source”  Eighteen months.homelessness: Where’s the divinity in that?

Yam sof. The sea at the edge of the world. I lean into the wind, smell the salty algae,  feel the squishy sand between my toes. It’s lonely there. You don’t advertise that you’ve been there. You don’t get a bumper sticker: “This car drove to the sea”, “Been to the End”.  I think I’ve come back, but sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes I smell the salt in the air.

Rimon Peretz: Exploding Pomegranates, Bursting forth with aliveness, all 613 vitxvot break loose and explode me into a juicier place. …Suck the sweetness out of each seed…

..Retracing my own birth between worlds, the rooms of my heart calling for restoration.

God, may I find my way in a land that is mine…

We ended singing a translation of Noami Shemer’s Haderech Aruchah

The road is very long, it is so long,

The road is very long and full of splend’rous song

And this long march…I travel all alone

And so I sing… the lonely singer’s song, Halelu, haleluyah, halellu.

May you grow and enjoy on your journeys!


Tag Cloud