Midwinter means

Midwinter means a world of white outside my window. Fine lines of white limn every branch and twig. The distant hills vanish beneath a scrim of snow.

Midwinter means fragrant clementines like tiny hand-held suns. When I puncture the peel with my thumbnail, the cat gives me a reproachful look and leaps off of my desk.

Midwinter means listening to Värttinä in the car. I don't speak a word of Finnish but their music comes from long nights and crisp snow.

Midwinter means the decadent pleasure of hand lotion and lip balm softening my thirsty skin.

Midwinter means the pleasure of watching juncos and chickadees flitting to and from the birdfeeder on the deck. From feeder to railing to roof and back again.

Midwinter means a dozen kinds of hot tea, usually with milk. Black tea with apricot. Earl Grey in all of its variations. Chai. But green tea with toasted rice, I drink plain.

Midwinter means the eye takes a keen pleasure in vivid colors against the white and brown and grey of snow and trunk and slush. Red boots, purple coat.

Midwinter means I scatter crumpled tissues like misshapen snowballs everywhere I go.

Midwinter means the repetitive rhythm of wrapping paper, fold and crease and tape in place.

Midwinter means last summer's wood burning bright, a stand-in for the sun which will always return.

Once the leaves fall

I always forget that once the leaves fall, the trees reveal their elegant bones. So do the mountains. With branches bare, the contours of every hillside come clear. I can see houses, hills, horizon through what used to be a solid wall of leaves.

The hills take on their late-fall garb. Now they're turning a faded purplish-brown with patches of evergreen -- starting from the tops of the mountains, where the leaves are all already down. These colors are comforting and gentle on the eyes.

The skies here have been overcast lately. I tell myself that they are pearlescent and dove-grey rather than gloomy. I think of how beautifully Dale writes about diffuse light, about light during rain, and resolve to savor these variegated clouds.

We're on the last week before the time change. Next Saturday night, while we are sleeping, our nation's clocks will shift backwards an hour. In early mornings, the time change is a mercy; our wakeup time won't be pitch-black anymore. (Not until midwinter, anyway.)

And early evenings...? That's the trade-off. We're heading toward the time of the year when it will be dark by the time we finish Hebrew school on Monday afternoons. Every summer I remember that fall and winter are like this, and I can't quite remember how it's bearable.

But this time of year has its beauty, too. There's one house on Route 7 which I pass on the way home from work every day which is already lighting an electric candle in every window at nightfall. Some mornings now when our son wakes me I get to see the sunrise.

And after twenty-odd years in New England I find that there's comfort in the turn of the seasons, the inevitable change in the mountains' everyday dress, the way that month leads on to month and the year unfolds exactly the way it always does, the way it should.


Fall's beauty

At this time of year I want to take photographs all the time. Everywhere I look, fall colors blaze. The hillsides are a slowly-shifting tweed of late-summer green, orange, yellow, rust, and bright flares of pure red. Every day the color balance is different. Every day the color balance is beautiful.


When light shines through the trees everything looks golden. Against the backdrop of dark clouds, the colors pop. And I know that at any moment the winds or the rain could knock the leaves off the trees and reveal bare branches beneath. Part of what makes it so gorgeous is that we know it can't last.


Fall highlights the reality that everything in the world is always changing. I want to capture the beauty as though I could keep it, hold on to it, save it for another day. And I can -- to an extent. I can photograph it and write about it and remember it. But I can only inhabit the now right now.


This is one of the lessons of Sukkot for me each year. The beauty around me is always changing. We build the sukkah and it is beautiful. We decorate it, and it is beautiful. And as soon as it's built, it starts to come apart, and that's beautiful too. The trick is learning how to see the beauty in its changes.


The challenge is finding the beauty in what is -- whatever is. Saying thank-you to God for the radiant splendor of a northern Berkshire autumn -- and for the muted colors which will follow it. This moment is all there is, and it is always passing. And it is always right now. And it is always beautiful.

Through the equinox door

32062We're approaching the doorway between the old year and the new.

Just as Jewish tradition teaches us to put a mezuzah on our doorposts, to make us mindful as we transition from one place to the next, the holidays act as mezuzot on the doorposts of our year. We're moving from one place to the next. What memories do we want to bring with us? What baggage do we want to leave behind, outside the door?

This weekend we're approaching another doorway, too: the equinox, the hinge between summer and fall. Every door offers a chance to pause and look back. In the season now ending, where did I live up to my hopes for who I would be, and where did I fall short? What do I want to lift up and remember, and what to I want to let go of, to release?

What do I want to bring with me into the new year, and into the coming season of preparing to lie fallow for the winter? What do I need to focus on so that the qualities I want to cultivate will naturally arise in me?

I posted recently about Why I love Selichot services. (Those who receive this blog via email may have received an incomplete version of the post by accident -- please do click on the link and read the whole thing if you are so inclined!) But one thing I didn't mention in that post is that this year, Selichot comes on the eve of September 21, which is for me the first day of autumn.

For what do I need to say "I'm sorry" in order to enter the new season, the new year, with a clean slate? Where do I need to create repair in my relationships with other people, with my own soul, with the Earth, with my Source? What old resentments or frustrations do I need to shed in order to walk through this doorway with my spine straight and my shoulders unclenched?

Fall is coming. The new year is coming. Who do I want to become on the other side of this door?


This is a variation on the teaching I offered during this morning's meditation minyan at my shul.

Related: First day of fall, 2012.

Summer solstice

ThesunDay Before the Solstice

a psalm of thanksgiving


For sky as implausibly blue
as a plastic kiddie pool,
scrawled with the white streaks
of self-erasing contrails.

For grass stretching up,
for the rustle of oak and birch,
for sumac spreading its canopy
over blackberry and wild grape.

For this canvas umbrella
once red as a tomato
now leached by sun
to Nantucket pink.

For cold coffee, milky
as a silted river
and sweet as birdsong,
ice cubes rattling in my glass.


(Originally posted in 2013: Psalm before the solstice.)


Every morning, in our daily liturgy, we bless God as the creator of light and former of darkness, maker of peace and of all things. Our prayer speaks, I believe, not only of the literal light of the star which we call our sun, but also the light of wisdom and insight. In our creation story, the very first thing God spoke into being was light, before the creation of the heavenly bodies we call stars and sun and moon. That supernal light still shines forth. We find that light in Torah. We find that light in wisdom. We find that light in moments of insight, illumination, en-light-enment.

As we move through the summer solstice (in this hemisphere -- aware that for our cousins in the global South this weekend brings the shortest day of the year), may we find ourselves filled with light: not only literal light but also the light of understanding and insight. And may we carry that light within us, and share it with all who we meet, in months to come.

Shabbat shalom!

A poem for the winter solstice


for Phyllis and Michael Sommer

We all tell ourselves stories
about grief to come.
Anticipating the dark
we think, how can I live
without the sun I turn toward?
We wrest what gifts we can
from the dying days.
One morning we wake
and the doorway we most dreaded
is behind us.
The ice may not recede
for months to come
but day by day
may there be more light.


As I wrote this poem, I was thinking about the way I brace myself for the long dark nights of winter. Even in high midsummer (maybe especially then), some part of me thinks, "how can we possibly survive with so little light?"

I was thinking about lessons I keep re-learning, about how the anticipation of something scary or painful can sometimes tie me in worse knots than the thing itself when it arrives.

And because I wrote the poem this week, while they were sitting shiva, I was also thinking about R' Phyllis Sommer and R' Michael Sommer, and their children, especially their son Superman Sam (zichrono livracha), whose light shone so very bright. May the increasing (physical) light of the coming days be mirrored with spiritual light to bring comfort to their bruised hearts.



For those who are interested: this year's September equinox poem and this year's June solstice poem.

Excavating the Herodian oil lamps


Oil-lampSlit the packing tape. Lift the inner box.
Slide a knife again and listen to muted rainfall:

styrofoam pebbles pouring down.
The stand emerges first, round and heavy.

Then nine swaddled packages, light
as birds' bones, sized to fit in a palm.

Scissor gently through the bubble wrap,
unfold the layers to reveal ancient clay.

What foot pedaled the wheel, what fingers
wet with slip attached each graceful spout

and smoothed it with the flat of a knife
when Herod ruled in Jerusalem?

Two thousand years ago these held light
in the gloomy season on the cusp of Kislev.

Even now, in a world of compact fluorescents
and taillights glowing in the rain like rubies

we guard our wisps of flame, whatever lets us
hope even as the days grow dark.


My parents bought these lamps decades ago, while visiting my middle brother who was at the time working on a kibbutz. They date back to the early years of the Common Era. The person who sold them said, "they were found all together in a house; they must have been a menorah!" I suppose it's possible; the Chanukah story comes from the second century B.C.E., so it does predate these. In any case, the simple fact that they were made that long ago takes my breath away.

These used to be in my parents' bedroom, in the house I grew up in. I remember seeing them there countless times when I was a kid, and learning what they were, and how old, and where they had come from. In unboxing it now, there's a way in which I feel as though I'm excavating not only these artifacts from their storage, but also my own childhood. They grace my synagogue office now, a reminder of our deep-seated need (on both literal and metaphorical levels) to kindle light against the darkness.

For more on the lamps in question: Ancient Pottery Database: Herodian oil lamps; Fowler Bible Collection: Herodian Oil Lamp.

Turn of the season

Pumpkins Mums

Maybe today's the day it won't warm up.
Goldenrod burns fall's first fire.
Doorways and front stoops sing
pumpkins and mums, pumpkins and mums.

The woodchuck waddles low across driveway
from grass to grass.
Everything's green, though yellow lurks
beneath the visual spectrum, waiting.

Listen: there's the rise
and fall, rise and fall I wait for,
breath half-held. One of these days
I'll forget there should've been sound.

Three months and the wind will whisk snow
against windowpanes, but today:
breathe warming dirt, the lawn's wild thyme.
The woodchuck munches, focused, getting ready.


This is a revision of a poem which I wrote ten years ago. In 2005 it became part of a manuscript called Manna which I sent around to first-book contests for some years. I had thought that this poem had appeared in The Berkshire Review, but my records show other poems in that journal during that time, not this one. Anyway: I find myself thinking of the "pumpkins and mums" line every year at this season, so I dug up the poem and did a bit of polishing and am sharing it here in honor of the equinox. Hope y'all enjoy.

For those who are so inclined, here's the traditional blessing for the tekufah, the equinox (which comes from Talmud):

Blessing for the Tekufah / Equinox        
 ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם עושה בראשית
Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha'olam, oseh vereishit.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, who makes creation.

Psalm before the summer solstice

Day Before the Solstice

a psalm of thanksgiving

For sky as implausibly blue
as a plastic kiddie pool,
scrawled with the white streaks
of self-erasing contrails.

For grass stretching up,
for the rustle of oak and birch,
for sumac spreading its canopy
over blackberry and wild grape.

For this canvas umbrella
once red as a tomato
now leached by sun
to Nantucket pink.

For cold coffee, milky
as a silted river
and sweet as birdsong,
ice cubes rattling in my glass.


Three poems from the book of Judges

The book of Judges contains some powerful stories. Some years ago I wrote a trio of poems exploring three of those stories and the women who feature in them: the judge and prophet Devorah, Yael who slew the general Sisera, and the nameless daughter of Yiftach (in English, his name is usually rendered Jephthah.)

Tekufat tevet, the winter solstice, is regarded as the date when Yiftach's daughter was killed. These are dark stories, but powerful ones. Today's the solstice, so I thought I'd share my trio of poems arising out of the book of Judges. If this interests you, don't miss Alicia Ostriker's long poem / ritual script Jephthah's Daughter: A Lament, available at Tel Shemesh.


1. Devorah

Beneath her palm tree, Devorah
    (the honey bee, her sting intact)
        judged the acts of the Israelites

the people came with gifts
     of oil and flour and yearling lambs
         and she answered them with justice

she sent for Barak in his leathers
    words fell from her mouth like honey
        and he yearned to taste her sweetness

come with me, he pleaded
    I will relinquish my own glory
        if I can have you by my side

nine hundred iron chariots thundered
    the Infinite cast panic like a spell
        and all Sisera's army was slain

and Devorah slept, and dreamed
     Sisera stumbles into a woman's tent
         Jael's doors open wide to let him in

he drinks milk fermented in goatskin
    he slides into sleep: her tent pin rests
        at his sweaty temple: she drives it home

Continue reading "Three poems from the book of Judges" »

Early November in an image and five lines

Early sunset in early November. Five years ago.

The fingertips on my left hand ache faintly this afternoon. When I haven't led services in two weeks, my guitar calluses begin to wear away.

It felt good to pray in our sanctuary again. We were only seven, this morning, but it's a gift to be able to sing with six people I have known for years.

Driving home I smiled at the line, stretching across the leafless hills, where the purple of distant bare trees gives way to the frosting of high-altitude snow.

I am grateful for the quiet whirr of the washing machine rotating our clothes, the even quieter hiss of wood crackling in the fireplace.

Even though I think I'm prepared, tomorrow I'll be startled by how early the sun goes down.

A havdalah ritual for the September equinox


Equinox and solstice photo courtesy of NASA.

The September equinox was yesterday.

Back at the end of June, I was blessed to celebrate Rosh Chodesh (new moon) with the women of my congregation, and this past June, the start of Tammuz fell right around the time of the June solstice -- what is, in our hemisphere, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. We celebrated with a havdalah ritual for the turn of the seasons, and it was wondrous.

Ever since then, I've been meaning to create a similar ritual for the fall equinox. And I did create one! I just didn't manage to post it in advance. (Please forgive me. Life's been a bit hectic around here lately.) Enclosed with this post is a havdalah ritual which marks and sanctifies the division between summer and fall.

What's the use of posting such a ritual after the equinox has passed? Well -- some sources indicate that while 9/22 is the equinox, the day when we will actually experience equal hours of daylight and darkness is Tuesday. So I think there is meaning in observing this special havdalah anytime between now and Tuesday, anytime between now and Yom Kippur.

Deep thanks to Rabbi Jill Hammer, whose Tishrei wisdom at Tel Shemesh provided much of the inspiration for this havdalah!


Download FallEquinoxHavdalah [pdf]

First day of fall

Leaves under water. Margaret Lindley Pond, Williamstown.

First day of fall. The hillsides' green has shifted, yellow beginning to reveal itself as chlorophyll starts to hide away. I think of John Jerome's Stone Work, of how he wrote about yellow leaves falling, about the old year becoming mulch.

After the rush and flurry of September -- the start of the Hebrew school year, the first Family Shabbat service, Drew starting preschool, the spiritual work of leading two days' worth of Rosh Hashanah services -- it feels strange and wondrous to have a weekend off. Ethan takes Drew to Caretaker Farm; I stay home with a cup of coffee, eat challah with honey, knead bread dough, get the dishwasher running.

It's time to begin moving the summer clothes back into the attic and bringing the fall wardrobe back out again. In the span of a week we've moved from weather which makes me want sandals and flowing linen to weather which makes me want bluejeans and layers, socks and closed-toed shoes.

I love summer. I was born and reared in south Texas; I bask in the heat. And every year I brace myself against the darkening of the days. In high summer I think: how will I ever survive when the sun goes down at 4:30 in the afternoon? It seems inconceivable that we will spend so much of the year in the cold and the dark.

But then the Days of Awe roll around, and the leaves start to turn, and I realize I have missed autumn. I'd forgotten how beautiful it is to watch the mountains' slow color-shifting dance. I'd forgotten the appeal of cozy sweaters, of patterned tights, of Sundays watching football, of pumpkins brightening our doorsteps.

It's not cold enough yet for the real winter wear -- the fleece-lined jeans, the heavy wool sweaters. They still seem as implausible as armor, so they stay in their boxes...for now. But the summer clothes go into the attic, armload by armload, and the autumn clothes emerge. By the end of the morning I am sniffling like mad, my allergies reawakened by the inevitable encounter with our household's particular brand of dust.

But my closet is transformed. Gone are the flowy bright skirts and tanktops, replaced with velvet and corduroy and denim. I remember again how much I gravitate toward brown and purple at this time of year -- a mirroring of the colors our hillsides will take on once the leaves have offered their final farewell.

We move through so many gates, so many doorways, at this time of year. From summer into fall; from the old year into the new; from anticipation into celebration; from the light half of the year to the dark half of the year. What will be nurtured and nourished in us during the season now beginning? What gifts will the velvety darkness of fall and winter offer this year? What qualities will I clothe myself in as the new season unfolds?

For an explanation of the equinox, including a truly gorgeous photograph of the earth seen from space at both equinoxes and both solstices, try Autumnal equinox: Equal Hours of Daylight and Darkness? Or Not?

You might also enjoy the poem I posted a few years ago on the autumn equinox, titled, appropriately, Equinox.

Summer solstice and Rosh Chodesh Tamuz

NewmoonTonight at sundown we'll enter into the new lunar month of Tamuz. In a day or two, we'll reach the solstice -- in the northern hemisphere where I live, this is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year which is also always the beginning of the days starting to shorten again. The name of this month on the Jewish calendar recalls the Sumerian deity Tamuz, who died at this season and went into the underworld. Like Tamuz, we too will experience a kind of remembered death during the season to come, as we descend into mourning for the temple which has long fallen.

I've spent the past few weeks collecting teachings about the month of Tamuz in Jewish tradition (the Tammuz page at Tel Shemesh is extraordinarily helpful) and about the summer solstice in Jewish tradition (hat tip once again to Rabbi Jill Hammer; also to Rabbi T'mimah Ickovitz for her solstice teachings) and preparing a short ritual for the new moon of Tamuz which is also a ritual of havdalah, separation, between the spring now ending and the summer we're about to begin.

Tonight (many of) the women of my congregation will gather in my backyard for this havdalah new moon ritual and then for some learning about this new moon and about the solstice in Jewish tradition. There are some tough things about Tamuz. In the coming month we'll remember the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem; we'll enter into the Three Weeks, the period called bein ha-meitzarim, "between the narrow straits," during which we prepare ourselves to mourn the fallen temple and the broken world at Tisha b'Av.

And yet this month contains blessings, too. Rosh Chodesh Tamuz is the birthday of the patriarch Joseph. Like the Sumerian god Tamuz, Joseph descended into the earth -- not into the underworld, but into a pit, and then into Egypt. And it was because of that descent that he was able to ascend so high, and to bring his entire people with him. May our descent during this season also be for the sake of ascent!

For those who are interested: here are two pages of collected teachings about Tamuz and the summer solstice, and also a two-page ritual for entering into summer / celebrating havdalah ha-tekufah, a solstice havdalah. (This is what we'll be working with at our Rosh Chodesh group tomorrow night, so if you're part of that group, you might want to skip these downloads in order to encounter the ritual and the teachings fresh. Or, you might want to download them in advance in order to spend more time with them! As you prefer.) I am deeply indebted to Rabbi Jill Hammer, from whom this ritual is adapted. Feel free to use and enjoy. Chodesh tov / a good new month to all.

Download RoshChodeshTamuzRitual [pdf]

Download RoshChodeshTamuzTeachings [pdf]


Our back deck: table and chairs buried in snow.

I've spent enough time around neopagans of various sorts to know that today is a cross-quarter (a day which falls precisely between a solstice and an equinox.) In the Northern hemisphere, today is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. We're halfway between the first day of winter and the first day of spring.

Some call today Imbolc. In some traditions, the festival is celebrated with hearthfires, consumption of dairy, and weather prognostication; Wikipedia suggests that this might be a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day, which is also celebrated today. Others know today as the Feast of St. Brighid or as Candlemas. (The Wikipedia page is pretty good; if you're interested, you might also check out Imbolc 2011 -- The Spring Quarter.)

Call it what you will; I'm just happy to be able to mark the midpoint of winter! A week ago our local newspaper ran an article with the headline Whole winter's worth of snow already here. And it's snowed several times since then. I'm not sure I need to add much commentary to that.

The solstices and equinoxes have become meaningful to me since I moved to New England. I'm keenly conscious of the dark days of December, and I celebrate every drop of increased light we receive. These days I derive quiet satisfaction from the fact that if Drew and I stop to buy diapers on the way home from daycare, it's not pitch-black outside by the time we exit the store. Little steps.

On the Jewish calendar, 5771 is a leap year. (Seven out of nineteen years are leap years, containing an extra month.) We'll insert an extra month of Adar into our calendar, and the festivals which fall during Adar will be celebrated during the "real" Adar -- the second one. That extra month, Adar I, begins this coming Friday. In a non-leap year, it's one month from Tu BiShvat to Purim, and another month to Pesach; this year, Purim and Pesach are still a long way off.

Maybe that's why I'm making a point of paying attention to today. Our spring festivals won't be here for a while yet, but today marks a seasonal midpoint between winter and spring. The snow may still be falling, but I believe that spring will come.

The pause before change

I tend to think of the equinoxes and solstices as happening on the 21st of the months in which they occur. There's a simple reason for this: my birthday is March 21, and when I was growing up I was told that my birthday was the first day of spring. (Of course this is only true in the northern hemisphere. To anyone reading this in the global South, my apologies for the boreocentrism.) I loved the idea that spring began on my birthday, and it fascinated me to think on the equinoxes, everywhere in the world gets 12 hours of daylight. (There's a lovely image of this at Wikipedia if you'd like a visual aid.)

I've since learned that technically the equinoxes and solstices don't always fall on the 21st of their requisite months. (This year, for instance, the September Equinox falls today, on September 22.) Also that it's not exactly true that everywhere in the world gets exactly 12h of light on the equinoxes. That equinox page tells me that "during the time of the September and March equinoxes many regions around the equator have a daylight length of about 12 hours and six-and-a-half minutes. Moreover, the day is slightly longer in places that are further away from the equator and the sun takes longer to rise and set in these locations."

But even if it isn't scientifically exact to think that the equinoxes are cosmic balance-points, when the earth is perfectly poised between one season and the next, on a spiritual level this idea still really works for me -- especially coming, as this one does, during the Days of Awe. I like to think that today our planet pauses, perfectly aligned, before beginning to tilt again.

The equinoxes (and solstices) are times of year when I'm especially conscious of changing light. Today the earth's tilt is vertical, neither toward the sun nor away from it; tomorrow we begin to shift. In my hemisphere, this is the official first day of autumn. Though in south Texas where I grew up that didn't really mean much, in New England where I've lived for the past seventeen years the outside world is already visibly changing. High places in my region had their first frost a couple of nights ago. (We didn't, here at our house, but it was a near thing; it's coming soon.) The angle of light at my desk has changed. While most trees here are still green, here and there a branch or a whole tree is alight with red or gold, the first flames of fall.

This shift puts me in mind of other shifts which are on their way. By the time we reach the first day of winter -- even if he is late in coming, as many first babies are -- my son will have emerged from my body and entered the world. This is the last season before his birth.

[T]he ancient book of Jubilees tells that on the night of the autumn equinox, Abraham looked up to the stars to try to see the future. At that moment, the Holy One spoke to him. As the nights grow longer, we spend time telling the stories of our ancestors and remembering our traditions. From this, we learn who we might become.

That's from Yom Kippur and the Autumn Equinox: A Comparison by Rabbi Jill Hammer, published at Tel Shemesh in a year when the two days were right up next to one another. It was from Reb Jill that I first learned the traditional Jewish blessing recited on the equinox (which can be found in Talmud:) ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם עושה בראשית / Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha'olam, oseh vereishit. (Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, who makes creation.)

The precise moment of equinox today has been calculated to fall at 21:19 UTC, which will be 5:19pm here in my time zone. I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to go outdoors and make this blessing at that moment, or whether I will find a time which arises organically out of my day when I can go outdoors, breathe deeply of the autumnal air, and bless the Source Who fills and fulfills all things. Either way, today is a hinge-point between what has been and what is coming. What, in your life, is poised on the cusp of change?

Previous equinox posts: in 2008, the poem Equinox; in 2007, the microessay Equinox, which was published at qarrtsiluni.

April 8: Here comes the sun

Winter sunrise. December 13, 2008.

Once every 28 years, the Jewish community celebrates the return of the sun to the place which our tradition says it occupied in the heavens at the precise time and day of its creation. The celebration is called Birkat ha-Chamah -- the Blessing of the Sun.

Twenty-eight years! Last time Birkat ha-Chamah was celebrated, I was six. Next time, I'll be 62. Good thing I'm planning to make the most of it this time when it rolls around....at sunrise on the morning of April 8, 2009, which is the morning of the day which will lead to the first seder of Pesach.

If you've been reading VR for any length of time, you won't be surprised to learn that I understand this not as a scientific celebration, but a metaphysical and metaphorical one. A few times in each life, if we are lucky, we have this opportunity to pause and take notice of the wonder that is our sun. To recite blessings and prayers. And to be thankful for this source of light -- and to the Source of Light which sustains it, and us, every day. How cool is that?

Spring sunrise light. March 18, 2008.

Interested folks can find a list of celebrations around the US and Israel here at Bless the Sun.org. (The list is growing; hopefully folks will add info on celebrations in other parts of the world, too.) I'll be at the 6am sunrise celebration at the entrance to Mt. Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, sponsored by Congregation Beth Israel. (Sounds like an odd location, I realize, but across the street from MGRHS is an apple orchard which overlooks the Hopper and Mount Greylock. Gorgeous.)

Bless the Sun.org also offers a listing of ceremonial materials and resources.  Hands down, my favorite liturgy for the ritual itself is written by my teacher Reb Marcia Prager, and is available on that page as a pdf download. It includes both traditional and creative texts in English, Hebrew, and transliteration. I also recommend Masekhet Hahammah, "Tractate Sun," a compendium of teachings and texts about the sun and this celebration which would make a great resource for studying between now and Pesach.

After celebrating the sun, I'll hop in my car and drive to Boston to celebrate Pesach with my sister and her family. I'm excited to see how and whether having begun my day with once-every-28-years sun celebrations shapes how the day unfolds, and how it reverberates into my celebrations of the festival of freedom which begins that night.

How will you celebrate the sun next Wednesday morning?

Summer sunrise. August 13, 2008.


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Lighting one candle on the longest night

Today is the December solstice: the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere. (A fine day to keep the home fires burning; and, indeed, we are doing just that! Ethan's chopping wood even now.) And today at sundown we'll celebrate the first night of Chanukah -- chag urim, the holiday of lights.

On the first night of Chanukah, the flame of the single festival light (and the single shamash or helper candle) can feel tiny -- maybe especially tonight, against the weight of all that darkness. The solstice and Chanukah always feel congruent to me but it's rare for the festival to begin on the solstice itself. Night falls early in the Berkshires at this time of year. The longest night is long indeed.

It always takes a leap of faith to choose to kindle light in a time of darkness, to trust that our small flames can actually make a difference in the great cold world. But they can, and they do. Lighting the first candle of Chanukah is a chance to affirm our ability to bring light into the world.

As we kindle the holiday lights tonight, may we rededicate ourselves (as our stories tell us the temple was once rededicated at this season) to the work of creating light. Even, or especially, on the longest, darkest night of the calendar year.


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11:45 eastern daylight time
is when this hemisphere,
balanced on the knife-edge
of summer, tilts into fall.

Rise from the clutter of your desk
rotate your creaking neck
and slide the screen door open.
Remember how to breathe.

Walk across the wild thyme.
In the corner behind the lilac
past the tiny backyard meadow
the berry canes are fruiting.

Here are tight red berries
on their way to blackening.
And here ripe ones, dark and lush
glimpsed beneath serrated leaves.

What a way to mark the moment,
the hard work of two springs ago
paying off now as if by magic.
Recognize grace. Open your hands.


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