Daily April poem: Word to the Wise

WORD TO THE WISE


here: click on the X
to close the browser window,
clap the clamshell laptop shut

resist the twitching impulse
to open up Facebook
in search of one more pellet

remember that in public spaces
the comments are a hive
of stinging wasps

take three deep breaths
all the way to your diaphragm
lower your clenched shoulders

steep your mind's tofu
in a gentle bath of poetry
seasoned with psalms

savor all five tastes
with no danger of sickness
in the hard drive or the heart

 


 

This was written for the "sometimes you have to walk away" prompt at 30x30. If you're interested in other people's responses to the prompt, you can check out each day's submissions by clicking on each prompt link, here.

The idea that the mind is like tofu, and takes on the flavor of whatever it steeps in, is one I first heard from Rabbi Jeff Roth, who attributed it to Reb Zalman.

And, of course, others are writing to the daily prompts at NaPoWriMo. (I did attempt their sea chanty prompt, but wasn't happy enough with the results to share them here, so -- you get another 30/30-inspired poem instead!)

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Coming soon: #BlogExodus

BlogExodus

Ima Bima, a.k.a. Rabbi Phyllis Sommers, is orchestrating blogExodus again this year. Starting on the first of Nisan, the lunar month coming up next on the Jewish calendar (and the lunar month which contains Passover -- Pesach begins at full moon, on 15 Nisan), folks across the J-blogosphere will be blogging, tumblring, tweeting, pinning, instragramming, and...whatever-else-ing, on the themes listed above.

It's a really neat idea. A way of trying to ensure that the two weeks leading up to Pesach are a chance to focus ourselves on the spiritual work of getting ready for the Exodus, instead of (just) on the practical work of cleaning our houses and making our kitchens kosher-for-Pesach to whatever extent we each do (or don't do) that.

I can't promise that I'll manage to post on the blogExodus themes every day of the month, but I'm going to try to do at least a few. I'm psyched for Pesach and I love the idea of blogging on these themes along with everyone else who's participating. A kind of ad-hoc, self-organizing blogburst.


To shame someone is to shed their blood

תני תנא קמיה דרב נחמן בר יצחק: כל המלבין פני חבירו ברבים כאילו שופך דמים.

One who embarrasses another in public, it is as if that person shed blood.

-- Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezia 58b

Someone who embarrasses another person in public causes their face to turn paler (הלבין את פניו / hilbin et panav) as the blood drains away. When you shame someone, the Talmud says, it's tantamount to wounding them and shedding their blood. But online, we can't see one another's faces. If someone's blog comment or email causes the blood to drain from my face in shame or in sorrow, they don't know that; they can't see me. What -- asked one of my colleagues at the Rabbis Without Borders fellows meeting -- might be the new Gemara of how we should interact with one another in this online world?

This is something I've thought about. I've been blogging here since October of 2003, so almost ten years. And for the most part, my efforts to create and foster a kind and thoughtful community of conversation have been successful. I'm endlessly grateful to all of y'all who have contributed to those conversations over the years! But I've also been verbally attacked for things I've posted here. (And I'm not even going to link to things like the so-called Self Hating Israel Terrorists list -- whose name is such a delightful acronym -- and the things they say about people with whom they disagree.)

One of my dear friends and teachers, Rabbi Sami Barth, has a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his email signature and on his website. The quote is this: "When I was young I admired clever people; now that I am older I admire kind people." I'm right there with him on that one. Cleverness may be impressive, and there have been times in my life when I have wanted to be clever and to be admired for that, but these days kindness is what I really aspire to. And I like to spend my time in places, both online and off, where that value prevails.

But there's no discounting the reality that there are a lot of places on the internet where kindness and compassion don't seem to be the operating principles. I expect that anyone who has a blog has experienced some nastiness. And often it's the kind of nastiness that (I hope) perfect strangers would never choose to direct at someone in person. (See the xkcd cartoon Listen to Yourself.) But why, then, do they feel entitled to direct it at them via the internet? By what ethic is meanness an appropriate way to treat someone?

One of my colleagues, Rabbi Harry Brechner, suggests the following rubric. Before posting or sending anything, ask yourself: is it true? is it kind? is it important? He suggests that one should be certain that at least two of the three can be answered with "yes" before putting it out there.

As far as I'm concerned, the Talmudic teaching from Bava Metzia -- that someone who shames another person, it is as though they have spilled blood -- is every bit as true online as offline. A blog is a public space. When someone comes to my blog and insults me, or my teachers, or my teachings, or my values there, it is as though that person had shamed me in public. Because they have.

Being insulted or shamed in person and being insulted or shamed online feel quite similar. The blood drains out of the face, the heart pounds in the chest, tears hammer at the back of the eyes, a painful knot forms in the throat in exactly the same way, regardless of whether it's happening in the public square or on a blog. Beyond that: something cruel or shaming, once posted on the internet, is often persistent. It's searchable. It stays there.

I keep coming back to R' Harry Brechner's threefold communication rule: is it true? is it kind? is it important?

The things we write online feel important to us. And surely most of us say things we think are true. (I could argue with the veracity of some of those things -- so much depends on one's sources, what one reads, who one believes -- but I'm willing to give most people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they post things they perceive to be true.) But I wish kindness were more often at the forefront of our consciousness.

For me, any evolving Gemara which takes the internet and social media into account needs to recognize that interactions between people online are still interactions between people. The way we treat each other online needs to be as compassionate, and as rooted in holiness and in Torah, as the way we would treat each other anywhere.


VR at Reform Judaism and at Ritualwell

My thanks go to the editors at the Reform Judaism blog for reprinting my post Every body is a reflection of God. I serve a Reform shul and I'm delighted to have that post circulating to the broad Reform community.

And my thanks are also due to the editors at Ritualwell, who asked me to write a short essay about miscarriage, spirituality, and ritual. It's here: Through (Ritualwell). Here's how it begins:

Some years ago I flew to Colorado for OHALAH, the annual gathering of Jewish Renewal clergy and student clergy, carrying a dazzling secret: I was newly-pregnant. When I danced at kabbalat Shabbat services, I was already imagining what it would be like to bring an infant with me the following year. And then I went to bed feeling uneasy with cramps, and woke to blood everywhere.

That Shabbat was endless, and it was awful. What I remember most about that terrible day was the way that—as word spread—woman after woman came up to me to tell me it had happened to her, too. I had unknowingly joined a club of which many of my friends and teachers were already members. Once, twice, three times … Each of them had stories to tell, and though they could not offer healing, there was comfort in knowing that I was not alone—that so many other women carried this invisible scar.

You can read the whole thing at Ritualwell, along with a variety of other resources for pregnancy loss. They also linked to my free chapbook of miscarriage poems, Through. Thanks, Ritualwell editors. May all who suffer that grief find comfort, speedily and soon.


Worth reading, worth pondering: spirituality that's worth the effort

I read something this week on my friend Gordon's blog which really resonated for me. It's part of his Beginner's Guide to Becoming Episcopalian series. Gordon Atkinson -- some of y'all may know this -- blogs these days at Tertium Squid; he used to blog at Real Live Preacher. Here's the snippet I want to highlight for y'all:

[H]ere’s the deal: do you really want to go to a church for the first time and understand everything that’s going on? Do you really want to walk into the most sacred hour of the week for an ancient spiritual tradition and find no surprises and nothing to learn or strive for? Do you really want a spiritual community to be so perfectly enmeshed with your cultural expectations that you can drop right into the mix with no effort at all, as if you walked into a convenience store in another city and were comforted to find that they sell Clark Bars, just like the 7-11 back home?

I do hope you’ll give this a little more effort than that. Because something wonderful can happen when you stop trying to figure out what you should be doing in a worship service. When you admit to yourself that you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll just sit and listen. Because that’s really all you can do. And that’s actually a very nice spiritual move for you to make.

Reading this, I found myself thinking: right on. I know that Jewish liturgical prayer can be opaque and distancing for people who don't already know what's what. There's a lot of Hebrew. Many of the prayers are very, very old. So are many of the traditions surrounding those prayers. Different communities have different practices: we sit, we stand, we bow, some of us shuckle / sway back and forth like a mother holding a fussy baby. Our worship can be incredibly beautiful and meaningful, but if you don't have access to what's going on, that can feel distancing. I know that.

And yet I love Gordon's point that when one walks into sacred space and sacred community, partaking in the worship of an ancient covenantal community, it's okay to not understand everything from the get-go. What a bummer it would be if entering into communal-spiritual life just happened instantly, in a flash, and there was nothing else to learn -- nothing else to master -- nothing else to strive for. Is that really what we want? Effortless spirituality, the microwave TV-dinner experience of pressing a button and being instantly fed?

Don't get me wrong -- it's important to have moments of immedate access to God and immediate connection with a community. But there's also a lot of spiritual richness in giving oneself over to an experience one doesn't entirely intellectually understand, and trusting that faith and connection and understanding will grow over time. Some things are worth investing time in. Relationships. Parenthood. Delving into a culture or a religious tradition. So it might take a lifetime: so what? What else do you plan to do "with your one wild and precious life?"

Sometimes I think we give our own tradition(s) short shrift: we're willing to have the experience of being unfamiliar, being in beginner's mind, when we travel to someplace foreign and far away, but in our own traditions we want everything to be easy. And yet there's a kind of gift, a kind of magic, which maybe only arises when we allow ourselves to be given-over to a liturgical experience we don't need to entirely understand. Anyway, Gordon says all of this beautifully. Read his whole post here: Let the big people say what needs to be said.


Liebster Award meme

Liebster2I've been nominated for a Liebster award. This is a meme, a cross between a chain letter and an award given by bloggers to bloggers; it's meant to be given to an up-and-coming blogger who has fewer than 200 followers. (The word "Liebster" comes from German and means "favorite" or "beloved.") I appreciate the nomination, though I'm not entirely sure I qualify; near as I can tell I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 subscribers, and I'm not sure that after nine years I can call this blog "up-and-coming" anymore! That said, I appreciate the spirit of the nomination -- and I'm happy to answer Rev Allyson's questions, because they're fun. Here's what she asked:

1. What role does religion play in your life?

Judaism informs pretty much everything I do. I see the world through the lenses of Torah and Jewish texts, I measure and sanctify time in Jewish ways, I connect with God through Jewish tools. Oh, and I'm blessed to be able to serve the local Jewish community as a congregational rabbi, so religion plays into how I earn my daily bread, too.

2. What's your favorite television show, and why?

There's some great television storytelling out there, so this is a bit of a tough one, but I think I'm going to go with Friday Night Lights. Amazing storytelling, characters who feel real, a terrific depiction of mature married life, and a long, slow build over the course of five seasons. It's also a beautiful look at smalltown life (both the positives and the negatives thereof), and the cinematography is stunning and often makes me nostalgic about my own Texas childhood (though my own childhood didn't involve really any football at all.)

3. What was your favorite subject in high school?

It was a toss-up between Biology, Latin, and English. I had terrific teachers in all three subjects. I was certain I was going to major in one of those three once I got to college. But then I took my first religion course, with the inimitable Thandeka, and that changed my life.

Continue reading "Liebster Award meme" »


Nice interview in the North Adams Transcript

The editors at The North Adams Transcript asked their religion writer, Seth Brown, whether he would write something about me and my blog. Seth and I had a lovely interview earlier this week, and the article is online this morning. Here's a taste:

The blog, Velveteen Rabbi, is about what Barenblat refers to as "Judaism writ large," which covers a wide range of topics including Torah, festivals, holidays, texts and poetry. More recently, her blog has also stretched to encompass a little bit about parenthood and life as a congregational rabbi.

"I think my blogging has changed as I’ve gone from being interested in the rabbinate, to moving through the rabbinic school, to now being a practicing rabbi," said Barenblat. "On the other hand, I’m still writing on a lot of the topics that captivated me 10 years ago. That’s a nice thing about Torah, God, religious practice and poetry -- they never get old."

Read the whole thing at the Transcript: Local rabbi's blog keeps conversation moving. Thanks, Transcript, and thank you, Seth!


Thanks for the reprints!

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Two Velveteen Rabbi posts have been reprinted recently -- one at Kol ALEPH, "The voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal," and one at RJ.org, the blog which shares "News and views of Reform Jews." And they are:

I'm delighted for these posts to be reaching a broader audience -- and I'm charmed to have my posts reprinted, during the same week, in both the blog of the Jewish Renewal movement and the blog of the Reform movement! What a lovely encapsulation of the truth that Renewal isn't a denomination, but rather a way of being Jewish which can dovetail with any denominational affiliation (or with none at all.)

Anyway. Thanks, Kol ALEPH and RJ.org editors! (And for those of you reading this who aren't yet following those two blogs, they're both terrific, and both worth adding to your aggregator or feed reader, for sure.)

On a semi-related note, I'm also delighted that my sermon in poetry for the second day of Rosh Hashanah was reprinted as part of the set of resources for the Days of Awe provided this year by the J Street rabbinic cabinet. I'm looking forward to reading the other sermons and materials shared there.

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Thanks, Progress Planet!

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The kind folks at Progress Planet interviewed me recently about life, my blog, and my hopes.

Here's a taste:

PP: What are your personal goals for your blog? What do you hope to achieve with it?

RB: I hope to foster conversations about Judaism — to teach Torah — to teach kindness — to teach about Jewish Renewal — to explore the intersections of different religious traditions — to explore the varieties of contemporary Jewish experience. I hope to keep myself writing about all of the above. And I hope to be part of a conscious community of people who take these things seriously, as I do.

You can read the whole thing on their site: “Many Voices” Blogger Q&A: Rachel Barenblat (The Velveteen Rabbi).


70 faces featured on How to Blog a Book

My book 70 faces and I have the honor of being featured on Nina Amir's How to Blog a Book today. Nina started that blog as a place to talk about "how to blog a book" -- how to use a blog for the purpose of writing a nonfiction book -- though once the blog was underway, she found herself also posting about blogging and books more generally, as well as "how to book a blog" (how to repurpose existing blog posts into a manuscript.) Anyway, she asked me some fun questions, and I had a good time answering. Here's a taste:

70FacesSmallI begin the month with an interview with a blogger I’ve followed for quite some time in the world of Jewish spirituality. Rachel Barenblat is a rabbi and a poet as well a blogger, and in 2008, TIME magazine named her blog one of the top 25 sites on the Internet. Pretty awesome, right? At that time, I said, “I want to figure out what she is doing right.” She was writing poetry and recording it—poetry based on the weekly Torah (or Old Testament) portion read in synagogue each week. And at that time she wasn’t even a rabbi yet!

Anyway, she already had a few chapbooks out, but now she has more published books. So, here’s her blog-to-book story, chock full of great advice on how to blog well, blog a book, book a blog and generally succeed as a blogger and an author or poet...

What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who might want to turn their blogs into books or blog a book?

Set yourself a goal and stick to it. One hundred words a day? One page a day? One post a week? Whatever it is, pick it and stick with it for at least a month—long enough for the habit to begin to become engrained. And cultivate friends (readers, other bloggers who are also writers) who are interested in commenting on your work! A good reader is worth their weight in gold. (For what it’s worth, I’ve found that the best way to interest other writers in my work is to be interested in theirs, and the best way to get other bloggers to read me and comment is for me to read them and respond to what they’re doing. So there’s an investment of time. But hopefully the ensuing relationship is its own reward.)

Read the whole thing here: Rachel Barenblat Speaks About Blogging and Booking Poetry. Thanks, Nina!


We are responsible for one another (VR in the HuffPo)

It's a dreadful story. A house of worship burned; hateful graffiti scrawled on the walls; worshipers feeling spiritually homeless, the place to which they would ordinarily turn for consolation now smudged with ash and tinged with hate.

If this had happened to a synagogue, God forbid, Jews around the world would be up in arms. Certainly my rabbinic colleagues and I would be horrified. We would denounce the hate crime from our pulpits, preach loving kindness and consolation, perhaps call in the ADL to condemn the act in the strongest possible terms.

Instead, this month, the house of worship burned was a mosque -- and the burning was almost certainly committed by Jewish hands.

That's the beginning of an op-ed which I wrote a few days ago -- in response to the burning and vandalizing of the mosque of Jabaa -- which has been published in the Huffington Post. You can read it there: We Are Responsible for One Another: Outrage Over Crimes By My Own Community.


A rabbi and a nun walk into a bar

It ought to be -- it probably is! -- the opening line of a joke: a rabbi and a nun walk into a bar...

Okay, it isn't a bar; it's a restaurant, though I do have a beer. (Who could resist a brew named Rapscallion Blessing?) And we begin our wanderings hours earlier, at Thorne's marketplace, where Drew -- happily chatting with everyone in the mall as he shows off his small wooden robot and his box of raisins -- accepts the presence of mommy's friend in the grey Buddhist nun's robes without blinking.

All afternoon we roam Northampton: from Look Park (an ice cream despite the chill, dashing about from the blue playground to the red one and back again), to Cup and Top in Florence (tea for the grown-ups, a snack for the toddler, a small indoor slide and assortment of toys, and surely every other toddler family in town), to my in-laws' apartment (where Drew demonstrates both his love of Thomas the Tank Engine and his skill at knocking down towers of blocks.) In between entertaining Drew we snatch snippets of conversation. Parents and parenting. The monastic life and how it both is and isn't similar to my householder existence. Clothing as religious signifier.

And then, thanks to my sister-in-law's willingness to babysit, we nip out to the aforementioned restaurant, where there is glorious food and even more glorious uninterrupted grown-up conversation. About what it's like to weave the words of a second language into one's own -- words for prayer or for practice, words for ideas which aren't neatly expressed in the tongue we share. About gender and the rabbinate, gender and the monastic life. About life and travel, New England and Korea, Hebrew and Tibetan, silence and chanting.

We could have talked all night. (Well: more properly, all morning -- we're neither of us night owls anymore, not given Seon Joon's responsibilities to her temple family and mine to my congregation and toddler and spouse.) As it is, we savor every moment we are given, and we part with a hug and a promise.

There is something incalculably precious about friendship between people committed to different spiritual paths. The glimmering shift between one set of lenses and the other: this is how we do it, and oh, that's how you do it, how wonderful! The same and not the same. We speak in terms of God (though, as I quipped last night quoting my beloved teacher, "the God you don't believe in, I don't believe in either") and you speak in terms of Buddha. Before meals I bless this way, and you bless that way. The differences sparkle because they're set against so very much common ground.

Equally precious, I think, is friendship cultivated over distance and time. First via blog and email. Then in person. Then via blog and email. Then via paper letters, envelopes adorned with foreign stamps and creased from long travel. Then via blog and email again. Then by -- well, walking into that proverbial bar.

Having had the thought, I can't help wondering whether this actually is an extant joke. A quick googling reveals that there are several jokes which begin "a rabbi, a priest, and a nun walk into a bar..." No offense intended to our brothers on our various spiritual paths, but we can have a good time on our own, thank you kindly. And we do. We really do.

 


I've linked to this before, but it bears rereading: Seon Joon's post Bhikkuni Ordination, April 3, 2012.


Worth reading: Seon Joon Sunim on ordination

Probably the most evocative and powerful post I've read recently comes from Buddhist nun Seon Joon Sunim: Bhikkuni Ordination, April 3, 2012. With words and with images, Seon Joon opens a window into her experience of being ordained as a bhikkuni, a fully-ordained female monastic, after years of study and training.

In this post, she writes about her decision to study to ordain in Korea:

People ask me why I came to Korea, why I chose to ordain, why I chose to ordain in Korea. I am not singularly a Zen practitioner. I freely describe my practice as a hybrid between Korean and Tibetan practices. I also feel the Tibetan canon has much to offer that the Chinese canon (the one which is authoritative in Korea) cannot. I am more of a Madhyamakan than a Tathagatagharban; big trouble in East Asia. Given all that, Korea is not the logical choice for me. It was a choice among others, and I made it partly because I was told I could study the sutras and sit Zen if I wanted, but even more so, because I could receive precepts from the double platform. As a woman and an American, I cannot tell you all how important this was to me. From the day I met the Buddha-Dharma, I also met the sangha; and from the moment I met nuns (Tibetan-tradtion nuns, in Nepal), I wanted to be a part of their community, in the widest sense of “female monastics.” I also felt that ordination in America would be very difficult. I did not have a strong relationship with any one Tibetan teacher, and didn’t know how to forge one to seek ordination. I didn’t find any large communities of bhikkunis in the West at that time. I did not have a connection with Thich Nhat Hanh’s community, even though the Plum Village and Deer Park Monastery communities are among the most stable and structured large-scale monastic communities in the West. Other than going East, I just did not know what to do. Something just didn’t feel right for me in the States.

And she also writes beautifully about the experience of the ordination itself:

I’m not sure how much I can talk about the details of the ordination ceremony. Sometimes ordination ceremonies are public, sometimes they aren’t; in Korea, outsiders are not permitted in, and certainly no non-monastics or monastics who are not of the correct monastic age (a novice nun who hadn’t received her intermediate precepts would not be allowed to even observe the ceremony, for example). But it was beautiful to me. The liturgy, a mixture of classical Chinese and formal high Korean, was intelligible to me for the first time ever; I understood only the Korean of my novice ordination and only bits of my intermediate/probationary ordination two years ago. The call-and-response, the swell of voices, the ritual of requesting everything three times; calling all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to witness us and be our teachers and guides; the array of senior nuns on the platform, their severity, their grace; the sear of the precepts’ burn, the piney smell of the mugwort and incense as they smoldered; the hummingbird-beat of the moktak while we chanted the great dharani; the weight of the seven-patch robe of a dae kasa, the kasa of a fully ordained bhikkuni, the stiffness of the new material, the way I couldn’t untangle mine enough to give me space to properly fold my feet under it while we knelt, and so I kept tugging and tugging at while tucking my feet into a small ball so they wouldn’t peep out from under my robes; the nuns intoning in the dark and then the monks several hours later, “You will now receive your precepts-body;” the injunction to only use our Dharma names. Hearing that the Buddhas of the ten directions, the protectors, and all beings rejoice when someone receives precepts. Being told that our practice, as bhikkuni, is to “cease all wrong-doing, cultivate all good actions, and benefit all beings.” Hearing and feeling, truly and deeply and with incredible gratitude and joy, that as of this moment, I have a new life.

Different from my rabbinic ordination -- and yet I can see overlap, too.

Seon Joon also takes beautiful photographs, and this post is no exception. Anyway: I commend it to anyone who's interested in Buddhism, monasticism, or the examined life writ large. I was blessed to meet her in person seven years ago this month; how amazing it is to reread my account of that meeting, and to reflect on how the seeds we were both nurturing in 2005 have so beautifully flowered.


Hosting a conversation about spiritual life and poetry

For those who are interested in poetry conversations, feel free to check out the online poetry community [community profile] poetree, where moderator J.J. Hunter has graciously invited me to host conversations this week. (Luisa Igloria, whose work I greatly admire, was poetry host there last week. I'm in terrific company!)

I hope to post a few times over the course of the week, each time exploring a different facet of the the creative and spiritual life and how they intersect for me.

My first post, On weekly poems, scripture, inspiration, is now online -- check it out and join the conversation if you're so inclined.


Haveil Havalim (Jewish Blog Carnival) #336

Okay, so I hosted Haveil Havalim #36 back in 2005, and then I hosted #326 in August, at which time I promised I wouldn't wait quite so many years before doing it again. Turns out I'm doing it again right now!

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs, a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by a different blogger each week, coordinated by Jack. (The name of the carnival, which means "vanity of vanities," is a quote from Kohelet 1:2 -- "vanity of vanities, all is vanity!")

With no further ado: a roundup of a wide variety of posts from the Jewish blogosphere. Go, read, leave comments, start conversations.

 

Torah

Reb Jeff presents Noah: the Redemption of God at A Rabbi's Search for Jewish Joy.

David Curiel presents Bereshit (and also the parshiyot which have followed it) at 40 Words of Torah.

Batya presents Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, A Cry to Break the Cycle posted at Shiloh Musings.

 

Holidays

Here at Velveteen Rabbi I shared a Sestina for Shemini Atzeret. (This may be the only sestina in the world written for this holiday!)

Rabbi Shulamit Thiede presents Turn it and turn it at Adrenaline Drash.

Tzvi Weissman presents Five "Lunar Lessons" In Honor of the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh -Mar Heshvan) at Jihadi Jew.

Continue reading "Haveil Havalim (Jewish Blog Carnival) #336" »


Haveil Havalim #326: Jewish Blog Carnival, the post-Tu-B'Av edition

Welcome to Haveil Havalim #326!

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs, a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by a different blogger each week, coordinated by Jack. (The name of the carnival, which means "vanity of vanities," is a quote from Kohelet 1:2 -- "vanity of vanities, all is vanity!")

Last time I hosted the carnival was Havel Havelim 36 back in 2005. (I knew it had been a while, but didn't realize it had been six years! Looking back at that post brings back a flood of memories; it's sandwiched in between posts about beginning my chaplaincy internship and my first day of rabbinic school. Holy wow.)

Curating the carnival -- and for that matter, reading the posts in the carnival each week -- offers a fascinating set of glimpses into the many-splendored thing which is the Jewish blogosphere. Intriguingly, the submissions which came to me via the blogcarnival submission form were mostly Jewish Israeli posts, with relatively few from Diaspora bloggers. I've also added links to posts from some of the other Jewish blogs I read, so this week's carnival draws on a slightly broader than usual subset of Jewish voices.

With no further ado, here's my roundup of some of the week's highlights. Here are posts on Torah (a diverse set of reflections on the weekly parsha and on Hasidic thought), Holidays (looking back at Tisha b'Av, exploring Tu b'Av, and diving into Shabbat), Jewish Life and Culture (posts about social media, Jewish dress and food, Yiddish, Jewish history, travel, and more), Israel (from the tent city protests to the recent attack in southern Israel, from tips for aliyah to a glimpse of post-Zionism), Personal Life, and Tikkun Olam (social justice, Somalia and Uganda, race relations, misogyny, and more). Enjoy!


Torah

Reb Jeff presents Ekev: Deuteronomy vs. Job -- "who says that we should reject everything in Torah that makes us troubled or uncomfortable? Once the red ink starts in editing the Torah, it is difficult to keep it from flowing onto every page. I would prefer to see what is truthful in the passage and also to acknowledge the discomfort. I would rather argue with the Torah than ignore it." -- at A Rabbi's Search for Jewish Joy.

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver presents The interdependence in the echelons of creation -- "Why did Hashem create mankind in a way that he needs to eat in order to survive? Moreover, food comes from domem, tzomei’ach, and chai. Why should mankind be dependent upon the creatures at a lower echelon than his own?" -- posted at A Chassidishe farbrengen.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs presents Can We Talk? A d'var Torah for Ekev -- "We know how to accuse one another of naiveté, self-hatred, selfishness, and general idiocy. But talking—and listening—comes far less easily." -- posted at the Rabbis for Human Rights blog.

Sue Swartz presents Fantasy Land -- "The Torah is fantasy.  No, not that kind of fantasy, i.e., totally made up stuff. Nor do I mean the wizards/dragons/alien marauders/magical ring stuff that entertains and enthralls. More like the oh-if-only-this-relationship-would-work-out-my-life-would-be-perfect kind of fantasy – a communal dream of grandeur and happy times with deep psychological resonance and lots of prescriptive morality thrown for good measure" -- at Awkward Offerings.

Continue reading "Haveil Havalim #326: Jewish Blog Carnival, the post-Tu-B'Av edition" »


Welcome to the blogosphere, Reb Jeff

The latest addition to my blogroll is a brand-new blog which just entered the world this week. The blog is called RebJeff: A Blog About Jewish Joy, and it's written by my dear friend Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser.

Here's an excerpt from the first post:

The first psalm in the book of Psalms begins with the word "Ashrei," which means, "Happy." Yes, the beginning of Judaism's oldest collection of prayers begins by telling us that we should be happy...The psalmist compares a happy person to a tree that draws only what it needs from the world around it, and which produces only what is natural for it to produce in the time that it is meant to produce it. The psalm makes no promises of superabundance, of conquests, or of any pleasure beyond simply living in harmony with ones surroundings.

I'm starting this blog because I know that today's Jews need Judaism. They need a tradition that points to a way of living life that leads to happiness. I believe that we are beginning an era in which Judaism will be reborn as a tradition that allows people to find the joy of being part of a community, the joy of celebrating life's sacred moments, the joy of being a part of the natural world, and the deep and difficult fulfillment of finding meaning and purpose in life, even when life is hard.

Check it out; add it to your aggregator if you're so inclined; and drop Reb Jeff a comment to welcome him to the virtual block!


Happy book news

Some of you may remember that in the years before I wrote and posted a mother poem each week, I used to write and post a Torah poem each week. It was a wonderful discipline for me. It kept me engaged with Torah, reading and pondering and then responding to the assigned weekly reading with my own heart and mind. I wrote and posted weekly Torah poems in 2008 and 2009; those poems are linked, one by one, from my divrei Torah index page. Anyway: when I paused in my practice of writing Torah poems, I collected them into a manuscript, and spent a while polishing and editing the poems in that collection.

I'm elated to be able to announce that my collection of those Torah poems, which is titled 70 Faces, will be published early in 2011 by Phoenicia Publishing, an independent press in Montreal which focuses on "words and images that illuminate culture, spirit, and the human experience." Is that not fabulous news? Beth Adams, one of the founding editors of Qarrtsiluni and the blogger behind The Cassandra Pages (also author of Going to Heaven, the book about Bishop Gene Robinson which I reviewed some time ago), announced the news recently in her post Phoenicia sails into 2011. Phoenicia published the anthology Brilliant Coroners, which I co-edited (and which I wrote about here); I am endlessly thrilled to be working with them again.

The hope is for 70 Faces to be available starting on January 9 -- the date of my ordination as a rabbi -- and I'll post here to let y'all know how you can buy a copy as soon as it's actually in print. (I'm also planning a bit of a low-key book tour, with readings and conversations in a handful of locations across New England and South Texas; if you might be interested in hosting me for an event at your bookstore or house of worship, let me know!) For a preview of the book, and advance praise from some clergy and poets whose work I really admire, stay tuned -- I'll have more to say about it in early 2011. But for now, I just wanted to share my joy.

I'm totally thrilled that this first book-length collection of poems is coming into the world at this moment in my life. Many of y'all commented on the early versions of these poems which were published here on this blog; I hope you'll pick up a copy of the book in print, too, because I think the collection is more than the sum of its parts. Also, Phoenicia does really beautiful work. I own a few of their titles (Pamela Johnson Parker's A Walk Through the Memory Palace, Dave Bonta's Odes to Tools) and am looking forward to buying more.


Guest blogging at BAP

I'm guest-blogging at the Best American Poetry Blog again this week.

Last time I blogged there, I posted daily poems, many of which were sparked by lines I asked other poets to donate. The time before that, it was poems from Israel, since I was wrapping up my summer in Jerusalem.

This time I'm planning a week of posts about poetry, music, Torah, and more. The first two posts are live: motherhood poems (about that Heid E. Erdrich book I wrote about here a few weeks ago) and Dave Bonta's utilitarian odes.

Anyway, if you're interested, feel free to pop over there and check out my guest posts, or to subscribe to the BAP blog and get a regular infusion of poets rambling about life, the universe, and everything delivered to your aggregator or inbox!

Here's a link to all my BAP posts if you want to see them all in one place. Thanks, BAP editors, for inviting me onboard again.


Welcome, new readers!

To all who are here via the very kind mention in Nick Kristof's Sunday New York Times column Is This America? (the online edition links to my post A gesture of repair, about raising money for new prayer rugs for the Al-Iman masjid in Queens) -- welcome. Come on in, make yourselves at home.

If you're new to Velveteen Rabbi, here are a few links by way of introduction. First of all, you might want to start with About Me -- a page which aims to offer a general introduction to who I am and what I'm doing here. (While I'm at it, allow me to point you toward my comments policy.) If you'd like to get a sense for who I am and what kinds of things I post here these days, here are five links to check out:

  • Roundup of JStreet conference posts -- I liveblogged the first JStreet conference last fall, shortly before my son was born. This post contains links to my eight writeups of different panels and sessions, plus a concluding essay about the experience overall.

  • The Akedah Cycle: a sermon in poetry for the second day of Rosh Hashanah -- This is the sermon I gave at my shul this year on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, when we read the story of the binding of Isaac. It's a series of ten linked poems which offer a variety of midrashic interpretations of the story. This is the sweet spot where my MFA and my rabbinic education overlap!

  • The Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach -- My own haggadah for my favorite festival of the year. Features traditional texts alongside contemporary poetry and illustrations.

  • Jewish/Muslim retreat chronicled at Zeek -- This post offers an outtake from the essay I wrote about a retreat I spent with emerging Jewish and Muslim leaders last year, and then points to the published essay in Zeek magazine.

  • Through -- My self-published collection of miscarriage poems, which I've made available for free in hopes that the collection will speak to the experience of the many other women who've endured this sorrow. For the other side of the coin, you might also enjoy my weekly mother poems which I've been posting since last November when my son was born.

Anyway: welcome! As an FYI, I moderate comments here, and sometimes it may take a while before your comments appear, so thanks for bearing with me. I hope you'll stick around a while.