A really lovely review of 70 faces in the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly

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What a delightful surprise: The CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly (the magazine published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis) has reviewed 70 faces alongside three other collections of poetry (among them Merle Feld's and Yehoshua November's, both of which I reviewed for Zeek -- Feld's here, November's here.) The review, written by Rabbi Adam D. Fisher (the journal's poetry editor), can be found in the magazine's winter 2012 issue.

Here are some tastes of the review:

Rachel Barenblat, a rabbi living in Western Massachusetts, has given us a real gift -- a poem for each sidrah. They are beautifully written; accessible; and perfect for reading on a Shabbat afternoon or sharing with a community in a sermon, Torah, introduction to a Torah reading, or in a study group.

There are so many good poems with so many important insights it is hard to know where to start...

I'm pleased that the editors of the journal opted to run a review of the collection, and honored that Rabbi Fisher likes the poems so well. Here's more:

Rabbi Barenblat writes a wonderful midrash on Sh'mini where it tells us to break any earthen vessel into which something unclean falls. In "Vessel," she writes, "The heart is an earthen vessel, / the body an urn." She then provides us with beautiful images of ourselves when she says that we are "made from dust . . . and patched with slip, / divine fingerprints everywhere." After pointing out a few of the unsettling things that happen to us she says, "each of these charges the heart / with uncanny energy, untouchable. / /All you can do is break the clay / wide open, crack the very housing. / What hurts is what draws you/ ever nearer to what we can't reach."

Barenblat also helps us with some of the most difficult-to-explain passages. In "Like God" (Tazria) she begins, "When a woman carries a grain of rice /invisible inside her rounded belly" then tells us some of the difficulties of pregnancy, and "when a woman gives birth to an infant / even the air around her crackles . . . /changed by the enorrnity of being like God/ and shaping new life in her compassionate womb." She gets us beyond the sacrifices and the ritual uncleanness, and gets to the heart of the matter: the wonder of pregnancy and childbirth. Barenblat, who has a son, doesn't romanticize pregnancy and childbirth but she does understand Tazria in terms of its most fundamental meaning.

Rabbi Fisher has kind things to say about the cycle of akedah poems, about the Jacob and Esau poems, the Moshe poems. He quite likes my poem for parashat Chukat: "She is especially inventive and playful in 'Red Heifer' (Chukat): 'Could Moshe have imagined / the Red Heifer Steakhouse / on King George Street/ in Jerusalem? He never crossed/ /the Jordan, a Diaspora Jew /to the last of his days...'"

And here's how his review ends:

Not every poem will strike a chord within all us -- no book could do that -- but there are such riches here that everyone will find many, many poems that will help him or her see these passages with new eyes.

Thank you so much, Rabbi Fisher! (As a reminder: 70 faces is available directly from the publisher, or on Amazon.)

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A lovely review of 70 faces in Lilith!

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Deep thanks to Lilith, the awesome magazine of feminism and Judaism, for the generous review of 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems  (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011). The review appeared in the Fall 2011 issue, alongside reviews of poetry collections by Linda Pastan, Merle Feld, and Adrienne Rich. (What company to keep! And as it happens, I reviewed this same collection of Merle's in Zeek a while back.)

Here's an excerpt from the Lilith review:

Rachel Barenblat's 70 faces: Torah poems also wrestles with the question of memory but from within the collective traditions of the Torah. The title of the project comes from a passage of Bemidbar Rabbah, "There are seventy faces to Torah: Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it." Barenblat turns through the old characters and narratives of the Torah as though she is holding a prism in light: her modes are distinctly personal and shine with her understanding of life as a woman, rabbi, wife, and mother. She places herself in the predominantly male tradition of midrash (exegetical stories that seek to understand scripture) and she asserts her own voice in this rich lineage. What unfolds is a set of poems, one for each Torah portion, that speaks to body, ritual, complex, familial relationships, and the very act of writing...

If this review makes you want to read the book, of course, you're always welcome to pick up a copy of 70 faces -- if you click on that link, you'll be taken to the publisher's website, where you can look inside the book, read some of the poems, hear me reading some of the poems aloud, and buy a copy directly from Phoenicia. (It's also available on Amazon, though the publisher and I each make a few more pennies if you buy from Phoenicia direct. Do what's best for you, though; what I really want is for people to read the poems!)

Thanks, Lilith -- as a longtime reader, it's really lovely to see my work reviewed in your pages.


End-of-year gifts

Many different December opportunities for gift-giving are on their way. Whether you celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or simply enjoy the experience of giving and receiving at this time of year, you're probably doing some holiday shopping right about now.

If you are looking for a gift for someone in your life who enjoys poetry, and/or someone in your life who is interested in Torah / Bible / scripture, I hope you'll consider giving them a copy of 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems. Alicia Ostriker, author of For the Love of God: the Bible as an Open Book and The Book of Seventy, writes "These poems are so out there, so radical, and at the same time so gentle and inviting. Barenblat manages to do work that has passion and truth behind it, without ranting. I love the simple and confident way she deals with the akedah -- and I love the final poem in this collection -- gliding right past heartbreak into renewal, which is what her poems all seem to do." (And the akedah poems to which Alicia refers were recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.) The collection costs just $14, and in purchasing it, you support an independent press which puts out really beautiful work.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the consumerism of the season, or if you want to give a gift to someone but don't want to burden them with more stuff, there's always the option of making a donation in someone's honor to a cause that they support. And as Jihadi Jew recently reminded me, the Baal Shem Tov wrote that "It is best to give a little bit of sadaqah /tzedakah every day to train your hand to give." For my part, I would be delighted if donations were made to Congregation Beth Israel (the community I serve), to ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal (the body which ordained me), the Organization for Transformative Works (where I'm about to finish up a three-year Board term), or Rabbis for Human Rights (whose work I deeply admire.)

 


Pushcart nomination!

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I'm delighted to be able to announce that "The Akedah Cycle," a series of poems exploring the Biblical story of the binding of Isaac -- published in 70 faces -- has been nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.

Three others whose work is published by Phoenicia were also nominated; you can read more at the post Pushcart nominations for Phoenicia authors. As that post notes, "The Pushcart Awards honor the best work published by small presses each year, and while only a few are chosen for the published anthology by the Pushcart jury, it is a reward in itself to gain a nomination from the editors and publishers of the small journals and presses."

Thanks, Phoenicia!


Review, and poetry, in Seminary Ridge Review

I just got my copy of Seminary Ridge Review, issue 14:1, Autumn 2011, in which three of my poems appear. It's a beautiful magazine, published by Lutheran Theological Seminary. The Table of Contents contains articles including "A Contextual Reading of the Parable of the Persisisting Widow: An Indian Perspective" by Surekha Nelavala and "'Openness to the World:' Some Suggestions for Its Pastoral Bearings," by Leonard M. Humme, among othersl. (I am quite excited about reading all of these! There's a pdf available on the website, which includes all of this issue in full.)

The "Book Recommendations" section reviews of Mohja Kahf's E-mails From Scheherazad, of my collection 70 faces, and of Barbara Leff's And God Said: A Brief History of Creation. (I posted one of Mojha Kahf's poems here a few years ago; I'm looking forward to reading both of the books which were reviewed alongside mine.) The review of my book is gracious and generous. Here's a taste:

The book is infused with smoke, milk, blood, stars, curls of lemon, saddled donkeys, sinew, rafters hung with garlic, sand, apple skins, mountains. The scenes are well-set. The layout and forms support the narratives and the pacing for reading. The questions -- and there are plenty of questions -- are asked with the best sensitivity one could want in midrash explorations.

And then there's the "Poetry + Theology" section, which includes poems from Anne M. Higgins, Gary Fincke, Margaret Atwood, Paul David Steinke, Kathleen Rogers, Thomas Alan Holmes, and me. (I have three poems here: one Torah poem and two mother poems which are part of my as-yet unsold collection Waiting to Unfold.)

Deep thanks to the editors of Seminary Ridge Review; I'm honored to be included in this beautiful publication. (If you'd like to order a copy, individual copies are available for $9 per issue (includes domestic postage). Contact:

Seminary Ridge Press
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg 61 Seminary Ridge
Gettysburg, PA 17325

(Or, just download the pdf on the journal's website.)


Jewish-Christian conversation at Viva Books

 

 

The crowd at Viva Books on Tuesday.

 

All three of my 70 faces events in San Antonio have been wonderful: offering the sermon at the Shabbat service in the big sanctuary at Temple Beth El, leading Shabbat morning services at Temple Chai, and -- last but not least -- Scripture, Poetry, Interpretation: A Christian-Jewish Conversation, a panel discussion with Reverend Mary C. Earle at Viva Books.

Viva Books was (gratifyingly) packed; I'm guessing there were maybe 70 people present, among them some of my childhood friends, one of my high school English teachers, Jews and Christians of every stripe (and at least one Muslim woman to whom I was introduced.)

The program began with an introduction by Rabbi Sam Stahl, who had connected Mary and me with one another in the first place. I spoke about midrash and shared two classical examples, and Mary spoke about what women bring to ministry and to textual interpretation. Somewhere in there I read poems about creation, Abraham, Moshe, Sarah; Mary read poems about Mary / the annunciation, and about Sarah and Elizabeth, among others. We talked back and forth about Judaism and Christianity, interpretation, story, talking back to God, what's really in the text versus what people commonly imagine to have been in the text. People asked great questions which led our conversation in unexpected directions.

The conversation was recorded; if you're so inclined, you can listen to that recording here -- it's about an hour long, and I think it's pretty neat. My deep thanks to Mary Earle (who is wonderful) and to Viva for hosting us! The audio file begins with the very end of Carla Pineda's words on behalf of the bookstore, and then moves into Rabbi Sam Stahl's introduction, and then the two of us get rolling. Enjoy!

 

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[Barenblat-Earle.mp3] (11MB)

 


Thanks, Express-News

There's a lovely article in the San Antonio Express-News today -- complete with a photo of me standing of the steps of my parents' congregation, Temple Beth-El -- which begins:

More than a quarter-century ago, Rachel Barenblat was a 10-year-old budding poet relishing the moment her first creation was published.

It was a simple, rhyming piece on the human struggle to overcome the inner drive to do wrong. And it ran in the Express-News.

Words have been good to the San Antonio native.

She's won poetry awards and published several books. Her blog, the “Velveteen Rabbi,” made Time magazine's list of the top 25 blogs in 2008.

Now 36, she's back in San Antonio for the first time as an ordained rabbi to discuss her book “70 Faces: Torah Poems,” on Tuesday at a local bookstore...

You can read the whole thing if you're so inclined: Poems enrich rabbi's ministry. Thanks, Abe Levy and Express-News!


70 faces... deep in the heart of Texas!


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The 70 faces book tour is going to Texas! Here's the intel on three upcoming events happening in San Antonio after Shavuot, starting on Friday June 10, which is a week from this Friday:

June Events in San Antonio, Texas

  • Sermon in Poetry during Friday night services at Temple Beth El, June 10, 7:30pm. Corner of San Pedro and West Ashby, San Antonio. Followed by an oneg / Shabbat reception; all are welcome!

  • I'll be the visiting rabbi at Temple Chai, and will lead Shabbat morning services as well as offering a poetry d'var Torah, June 11, 10:30 am at the home of Sterling and Rachelle Neuman; all are welcome!

  • Scripture, Poetry, Interpretation: A Christian-Jewish Conversation, a panel discussion with Reverend Mary C. Earle (author of Days of Grace and Telling the Brothers.) We'll talk about the Bible and how each of our traditions understands it, and about midrash and commentary, in a "dialogue of the devout." Rachel will share poems from 70 faces, and Mary will share her own poems also inspired by scripture. Book-signing to follow. May 14 at 7:00pm, Viva Books, 8407 Broadway.

I'm looking so forward to all three of these events. (And I'm so curious to see how my ecumenical conversation with Reverend Mary Earle is similar to, and also different from, my conversation with my publisher Beth Adams, which we titled Modern Women, Old Testament.) If you're in or around south Texas, I hope you'll join us for one event, or two events, or even all three.


Modern Women, Old Testament now on YouTube!

Last weekend I went to Montreal to do two events around 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems (I blogged a bit about the trip here: two vignettes from the 70 faces book tour.) The second of those events was a conversation with Beth Adams, my dear friend and publisher, at Christ Church Cathedral. It was called Modern Women, Old Testament: A Jewish-Christian Conversation. The video of that conversation is now online!

Over the course of our conversation we talked about scripture and interpretation, faith and feminism, Israel and Palestine, motherhood and miscarriage, and more. We spoke for an hour, so the conversation is on YouTube in five parts. I'll embed all five below for your convenience; you can also go to each part directly: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five. If you do watch the video (all or even just part of it) I'd love to hear what you think.

Part 1: Introduction. Rachel and Elizabeth's backgrounds in blogging and in interfaith dialogue. Rachel talks about Jewish Renewal and about midrash.

Continue reading "Modern Women, Old Testament now on YouTube!" »


Two vignettes from the 70 faces book tour

Southern Quebec on a spring afternoon.

On Saturday evening we gathered in a beautiful underground chapel at the Unitarian Church of Montreal. This might in another church have been a plain cinderblock room, but here the four walls were painted with scenes from Canada's different landscapes: on one wall boreal forest, on another plains and prairie, all the way to the icebergs and polar bear cubs of Nunavut. The one pillar in the middle of the room was painted to resemble a tree. What a transformation!

Some folks came from the Unitarian Church of Montreal, a bunch from Chavurah Har Kodesh, plus one fellow blogger (that I knew of, at least), Susannah of Delight Was Once. We dimmed the lights and began with havdalah, which was lovely; it was the first time I'd ever used ras el hanout as the b'samim, the fragrant spices intended to revive us from the departure of Shabbat's extra soul. I think I saw one person moved to tears.

And then I asked the crowd to tell me favorite bits of Torah, and/or bits of Torah which challenge and distance them, and explained that if I had poems which arise out of those bits of Torah I would share those, and that would be the structure for the reading. People asked for wonderful and surprising things. Usually when I do this, people ask for Abraham, Isaac, Joseph; this time people asked for the thicket of sexual laws in Leviticus (I read "Naked" and "Gevurah"), for Miriam (I was so sorry I didn't have my seven Miriam stories poems with me! though I read my Song at the Sea poem), for Moshe receiving revelation.

After the formal reading was over, people stayed and schmoozed for almost an hour, eating cookies and drinking juice and chatting with me and each other as I signed books.

And then I went home with my friend Shoshanna, and savored a Unibroue, and in the morning I got to enjoy crépes and a bowl of café au lait big enough to swim in.

 


Montreal skyline, seen through my windshield.

Christ Church Cathedral is glorious and soaring. It has a beautiful ornamented ceiling, and stained glass windows which put me in mind of Reb Zalman's saying that in order to understand how a Christian worships, one needs to enter into his/her sacred space and relate to it from there -- to see the beauty of the stained glass windows from the inside, as it were. When we arrived, the choir was practicing something which sounded late-medieval or early Renaissance, with close harmonies, exactly the kind of music I used to most love to sing.

The service was lovely (complete with a baptism of three kids, which we were all invited to come up close to witness.) I enjoyed the sermon, which was about Cleophas and Mrs. Cleophas meeting Jesus on the road from Jerusalem -- and about intertextuality, which was a great set-up for our lunchtime discussion, actually.

And then we had lunch -- 20+ people around an enormous table eating sandwiches -- and Beth and I talked about poetry, Torah, midrash, and interpretation. I shared five poems from 70 faces ("The angels say" from the akedah cycle for Genesis; "The Psalm I Sing" for Exodus; "Like God" for Leviticus; "Downside" for Numbers; and "Mobius" for Deuteronomy -- please note that I'm linking here to the original versions of the poems; some were revised before publication, but these are the online versions I can point to.)

Using the five poems as jumping-off points, we talked about each of the five books, about their themes, about midrash and feminism and wrestling with difficult texts, along the way touching on Israel/Palestine, miscarriage and motherhood, and more. (A video of our conversation will be online at some point -- I'll let y'all know when it's up.)

And then helping hands whisked away the sandwiches and the water pitchers as I signed books and chatted with folks, and slowly people drifted away until only my hosts and I remained.

And once we changed into jeans, Beth and Jonathan and I walked around town, and had coffee and pastries, and relaxed with an early evening glass of wine, and eventually strolled to a neighborhood bistro for dinner just before closing time.

And in the morning, I drove home.

Returning home.


Edited to add: for more on this, don't miss Beth's beautiful post Sweetness, about our presentation, our afternoon together, and the wonders of a friendship which bridges so many divides, religion among them.


The 70 faces book tour goes to Canada!

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The 70 faces book tour is going to Canada! Here's the intel on two upcoming events happening across the border in Montreal, Quebec in just over a week:

May in Montreal

  • Havdalah & reading, May 7: Conversation and poetry reading with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat (the Velveteen Rabbi). Rabbi Barenblat's poems interrogate, explore, and lovingly respond to Torah texts, balancing feminism and contemporary liberal theology with respect for classical traditions of interpretation. Her work invites us to engage both spiritually and critically with a body of writing that lies at the root of both the Abrahamic religions and much of Western literature. The event will begin with a brief havdalah service (wine, spices, and flame to mark the end of Shabbat) and continue with conversation about midrash and the sharing of poems from 70 faces (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011.) 7pm, 5035 boulevard de Maisonneuve West (in the children's chapel), three blocks from the Vendôme metro station. For more information, contact Shoshanna Green at 514-426-0843 or shoshannag@gmail.com

  • Modern Women, Old Testament: A Jewish-Christian Conversation with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of "70 Faces: Torah Poems," and Elizabeth Adams, author and publisher. On Sunday, May 8, Christ Church Cathedral will host a book discussion with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of a recently-published and highly-praised book of poems which approach the five books of Moses from a questioning, modern perspective.

    As a longtime poet and writer, newly-ordained rabbi, and recent mother, Rachel's work helps us look at these texts from new and personal perspectives. How can modern women and men engage actively with these early Hebrew scriptures, while still loving and respecting the Bible and remaining faithful Christians and Jews? What does the tradition of midrash have to offer to Christians? How can poetry -- a tradition deeply embodied in the Hebrew Scriptures -  free us to think and feel creatively about the human issues the Bible addresses in these stories?

    The program will start at noon with a simple lunch in Fulford Hall at the Diocesan offices, followed by the conversation between Rachel and Elizabeth beginning around 12:30 pm, then opened up to all participants as a moderated discussion/Q&A. Books will be signed and available afterward. Noon; Fulford Hall, Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal. (For more: see the Event page on Facebook!)

All are welcome to attend both events -- if you're nearby, please do come! (And if not, here's a bit of good news -- the event with Beth Adams will be recorded and will be posted to YouTube. I'll share the links here when it goes live.) And for the latest up-to-date info about where I'm taking 70 faces, you can always check out the complete 70 faces book tour page...


Bringing 70 faces to Vermont

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One of the things I've been working on lately is orchestrating a handful of further events promoting 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems which was published by Phoenicia Publishing this winter. As the (newly-revised!) complete 70 faces book tour page indicates, I've got one event this month in Bennington, Vermont; next month I'm doing a couple of events in Montreal; and in June, I have four events happening in my birthplace of San Antonio, Texas.

Here's the scoop on the April event in Bennington:

Poetry: a doorway to Torah, a d'var Torah which will feature poems from 70 faces as well as poems designed to help us prepare ourselves for Pesach, at Congregation Beth El, April 16. Services are from 10am-noon, and I'll have about 25 minutes during the service to share poems: "Walk through the door of poetry into Torah with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of 70 faces: Torah poems." We'll continue the conversation over the kiddush afterwards. 225 North Street, Bennington, VT.

Hope to see you there!

(As a side note, if you're interested in Phoenicia Publishing or in small independent presses in general you might enjoy the interview that Marly Youmans is doing with Beth Adams of Phoenicia -- the interview is in three parts and all are posted at Marly's blog: part 1, part 2, part 3.)


Torah poet Seth Brown reviews 70 faces

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Seth Brown, the author of From God to Verse which renders the entire Torah in rhyming couplets, just reviewed 70 faces. Seth is another rare bird who writes Torah poetry. Although our approaches to Torah and poetry differ pretty substantially (for more on that, read the post I wrote about God to Verse when it first came out), I'm thrilled to read his review of my collection. Seth writes:

I think what I like best about this collection of poems is the immediacy they convey. Reading many of the pieces, I find myself drawn into the emotional landscape, rather than simply reading about the stories of the Torah as one usually does. There is a pervasive humanity throughout the collection, which I think shines through and makes the poems easy to connect with...

A favorite line of mine comes from the very first poem "Postpartum", based on the opening chapters of Genesis. Could the whole project be a wash? Aside from enjoying clever wording, I really appreciate the simplicity of the statement, the humanizing of the divine, and just how much is conveyed in seven words.

Read his whole review here. Thanks, Seth!


Two 70 faces events in my own home county

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A quick bulletin for any readers in the western Massachusetts area (or within reasonable driving distance of Western MA) -- I wanted to let you know that I'm doing two events around 70 faces in days to come:

In Berkshire / western Massachusetts:

  • Reading/signing at Congregation Beth Israel, March 16, 7pm. (Books provided by Papyri Books.) I'll read from the book and to talk about poetry, midrash, and finding a mirror for our own lives and spiritual experience in Torah. 53 Lois Street, North Adams.

  • Lunchtime reading at Knesset Israel synagogue, March 21 (presented as part of Jewish Federation of the Berkshires' celebration of Women's History Month).  Lunch at noon; reading / presentation at 1pm. 16 Colt Road Pittsfield, MA 01201.

If you come to the reading on Monday at 1pm, you'll have the chance to wish me happy birthday in person; if you come tomorrow evening, you'll get to see me at my own home congregation. Anyway, if you're nearby and are able to come, please do -- it's always nice to have friendly faces in the crowd!


Thanks...

...to the folks at Bnai Or for the music, the delightful hand-drum and guitar and even wee triangular mandolin, and the chance to offer a d'var Torah and then to share some poems from 70 faces which sparked excellent conversation;

to my dear friend Kris, who watched Drew on Shabbat morning so I could be a focused and present guest at Bnai Or;

to my dear friends Ora and Yossi, who brought a havdalah candle and guitar to my sister's house at the end of Shabbat so we could make havdalah, for the sweet singing and the Thai food and the connection;

to my sister for hosting Drew and me, and especially for watching him on Sunday while I went to meet more people and have more conversations about Torah and poetry and Judaism;

to the women (and one man!) of the Sisterhood of Temple Aliyah in Needham, for welcoming me into such a beautiful home with coffee and pastries and fruit, for listening attentively as I spoke about my journey to the rabbinate and as I shared poems, and then for asking wonderful questions about feminism, theodicy, miscarriage, liturgy;

to the folks at the Jewish Connections group at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, and especially to my host Lori, for inviting me to share poems -- listening with such focus -- and then asking great questions about my spiritual practices, my favorite blogs, how I balance looking out and looking in, and more.

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"Rachel reads," photo by Lorianne DiSabato.

It was an exhausting but honestly wonderful weekend. I'm home now, trying to find the right balance between looking at the news of what's happening in the world (and finding myself pretty heartsick -- I may write about that later) and buckling down to begin learning Esther trope and doing the other work which is on my plate today. Anyway: thanks to everyone who came to each of these 70 faces events. It was a joy to share this weekend with you.

 

 


70 faces events in Boston this weekend

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This weekend, Drew and I will be heading off to Boston to spend a few nights with my sister so that I can do a trio of events around 70 faces! Here's a reminder of our schedule for the weekend:

  • "Lunch and Learn" reading/discussion after services at Bnai Or, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Boston, March 12 (after services - noonish.) I'll also be giving the d'var Torah during the service, which will feature some poetry as well. All are welcome to attend the service (which will be accessible & engaging), which begins at 10am, or just to come for the lunch-and-learn; if you can, please let me know if you're planning to come so I can let them know roughly how many visitors to expect! And bring a bag lunch. Andover Newton Theological School, 210 Herrick Road, Newton Centre. (Directions.)

  • Reading/conversation about my journey with the women in the Sisterhood of Temple Aliyah, March 13, 11am. Event will be in a private home. For more information contact adenacb (at) verizon (dot) net.
  • Reading/signing in the parlor of the the Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington, sponsored by the Jewish Connections group, March 13, 2:30pm. 630 Mass Ave, Arlington Center. (Parking is on the other side of Mass Ave in municipal parking lots -- both directly across Mass Ave and diagonally across the Arlington Center intersection, with an entrance on Route 60/Mystic Street. Parking is free on Sundays.)

(Here's a list of all of the events happening as part of my 70 faces book tour.) If you're able to join me for any or all of the above, please do. I'll have books to sell, and I'm always happy to meet people who are interested in Judaism, poetry, or the combination of the two!


A few more 70 faces links

I wanted to take a moment to give a shout-out to folks who have mentioned or reviewed 70 faces recently, and also to offer a reminder of upcoming events -- I've got 3 events in the Boston area on the weekend of March 12-13, and my first Berkshire County event is in Williamstown on the evening of March 16. (Read more about all of those events here.)

The author of the blog Tony's Musings made a post earlier this winter called Velveteen Rabbi in which he wrote:

For several years now I have been inspired by the Jewish-American wisdom coming from the pen of Rachel Barenblat, who writes a blog under the title of "The Velveteen Rabbi", whose blog motto has been "When can I run and play with the real rabbis?" Having received ordination from ALEPH - the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Rachel is now Rabbi Barenblat, and has changed her motto to "Now running and playing with the real rabbis!" At the same time, this talented woman has also just seen publication of "70 Faces", poems written in response to the Torah in the longstanding tradition of midrash.

(This is as much a post about this blog as it is a post about the book, but he does say kind things about the book as well as the blog -- thanks, Tony!)

Zackary Sholem Berger reviewed 70 faces for the Forward: Torah Poems That Bring Comfort, Not Questions. Unfortunately, he didn't love the book (my first not-so-positive review!) though he found some things to like about it, at least:

Barenblat, who is also a rabbi and blogger, can make the patriarchs and matriarchs immediate and narrative possibilities concrete: "Maybe there’s always a ram," she writes, "waiting just outside the frame."

...But the fatal flaw of the book is its failure to live up to the claims the author makes for it.

And finally, one of the poems from the book was reprinted in a blog post: First Step:

This is maybe not a book I would normally own, becuase a) I'm very picky about my poetry, and b) I'm not Jewish, but I really like Rachel's poetry.

Thanks, Celli! And thanks to all who've taken the time to write something about the book or to share a favorite poem with friends.


Three days at Knox

Old Main.

On my first day in Galesburg, after a walking tour of the Knox campus (including the site of one of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates) and lunch with a handful of Knox faculty and staff, I had the profound pleasure of discussing my Akedah Cycle of poems (now published in 70 faces) with the students in the Feminist Methodologies class who had been assigned the task of reading the relevant sections of Genesis alongside the poems themselves.

We had a fabulous and free-wheeling conversation about the Bible (some of them had gone to years of religious school; others had never cracked open a Bible before), midrash (which one of the students compared with fanfiction, to my delight -- that's an argument which I'm going to explore in some depth in a forthcoming article), theology, names for God, the divine feminine, the Lurianic cosmogony and the task of lifting up the sparks, reproductive technology, the idea of reading beloved texts with awareness of their problematic qualities but still with love (I was thinking of Wendy Doniger's excellent essay Thinking Critically About Thinking Too Critically [pdf], though I couldn't come up with her name in that moment), the responsibility to wrestle with the texts we hold dear, and more.

Posters.

That evening I gave a talk about midrash and poetry, which culminated in a reading of the Akedah Cycle and then some Q-and-A. That was a lot of fun, too; I had forgotten the extent to which those poems were intended to be read aloud (though of course they were; I wrote them as a sermon in the first place) and people asked excellent questions, like how becoming a mother had changed my relationship with these Torah texts and whether I'd explored the extent to which some of these same stories appear in the Qur'an. (I got to talk a little bit about the retreat I attended for emerging Jewish and Muslim religious leaders and the study of the Joseph/Yusuf story that we did there...)

Thursday morning was spent with a rotating group of Knox students (from SASS, Hillel, and other places), a giant latte, and a pile of mini-muffins from the local bakery. We talked about school and religion and theology and travel and life after college and all kinds of good stuff. And then I got to have lunch with three faculty members, during which we discussed everything from hadith about Isaac and Ishmael to the appeal of Eastern religious traditions to religious pedagogy to the theologies of Battlestar Galactica and the Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Having a latte on hallowed ground.

And finally, on Thursday afternoon, I read from my poems as part of the Caxton Club's literary series. I read mostly poems from 70 faces, though also some poems from chaplainbook, and even a handful of poems from Waiting to Unfold, my as-yet unpublished manuscript of mother poems. The crowd was smallish (perhaps because the posters had, it was discovered, been printed with a January date) but those who were there were receptive listeners, and they asked fabulous questions afterwards -- about my creative processes, about commitment, about Torah poems and motherhood poems. It was grand.

And now, as Shabbat approaches, I'm on my way home -- and getting ready to lead services at my shul tomorrow morning, and looking forward to seeing my sweet little boy again! I'm so grateful to the community at Knox for welcoming me into your midst. Thanks for giving this rabbi, poet, and mama a chance to spend a few days with you, discussing subjects I hold dear.

 


More 70 faces links

I wanted to take a moment to thank those who have helped recently to spread the word about 70 faces. Recent online mentions of the book have included:

  • Thursday Short Poem: Barenblat's 'The Psalm I Sing'", by Hugo Schwyzer, who writes:

    Rachel is a rabbi as well as a poet, but these poems aren’t just for Jews; they are for anyone raised with even a passing familiarity with these foundations stories of Western culture.

  • 70 Faces Torah Poems - Rachel Barenblat at Daily S Press, a blog dedicated to small press happenings and the literary life. The editors shared some basic information about the book, what it is, where to find it, etc.

  • Episode 49: Trees of Life, the (belated) Tu BiShvat episode of the fabulous podcast Radio 613. They write:

    radio613′s Tu Bishvat show for 5771 ends with a review of the recently published 70 Faces: Torah Poems by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. 70 Faces eloquently blends feminism and classic traditions of textual interpretation. Listen for readings from parshas B’shalach and Yitro.

Thanks, y'all -- I'm so glad the poems resonate for you, and I really appreciate your taking the time to help share them with others!