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April 2006

"Placing the Voice:" poet Rachel Tzvia Back

This evening poet Rachel Tzvia Back gave a lecture entitled "Placing the Voice: The Personal and Political, Israel 2006" at Williams College. Though born in Buffalo, NY, she "is the seventh generation of her family in Palestine," according to this bio at The Drunken Boat. Her grandfather left there in the 1920s, seeking his fortune in America; in the 1980s she returned to Israel, completing the cycle, and lives there still.

On her faculty page at the Bar-Ilan University Creative Writing Program, Back writes:

In so many ways, poetry is a first language, one we know before we even speak -- a language of soul and of spirit, of desire and of dreams. To best nurture that language, to hone it and test it and demand of it honesty, one must return to first places -- places of primary belonging, primal images and understandings. As Jews, that place is figurative and literal -- it is the place of shared traditions, sources, sacred texts, and it is the place of Israel, how she figures into our personal and communal histories, and into our poems' landscapes.

Being myself a Jewish poet fascinated by the language of poetry and the language of tradition, the places both figurative and literal that we and our words inhabit, I was delighted to see that Rachel was coming to the Berkshires...and even more delighted when the Williams professors hosting her invited me to join them for dinner before her talk.

I had the pleasure of dining with Steve Gerrard, who teaches philosophy; with Rachel; and with three faculty members from the Jewish Studies concentration, Edan Dekel (Classics), Sarah Hammerschlag (Religion) and Ali Garbarini (History). We talked about Biblical translations, poetry, Williams students, language and translation, the religion department and how it has (and hasn't) changed in the decade since I was an undergrad there -- all kinds of fun things. Though I was the only non-professor at the table, I felt welcomed by the general love of poetry and of things Judaic; it was a very congenial gathering.

And then Rachel gave her talk, a combination lecture and poetry reading. "I begin with a triptych of introductions: place, politics, and poetry." Let me introduce myself to you, she said, beginning with a map, as she always does, explaining that she lives in the north of Israel, in the Galilee, in a small Jewish village, 120 Jewish families on the side of a hill. She showed a slide of the  open hills and wide vistas, and talked about the natural beauty and tight-knit community, the same reasons many of us live here in northern Berkshire. But what she didn't know when she moved there, because she didn't bother to know it then, was that on that same place, there used to be a Palestinian village.

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Progressive Faith Blog Con: July 14-16!

Progressive Faith Blog-Con 2006

Remember the Progressive Faith Blog Con, which I blogged about a few months ago? The planning committee has finally settled on a venue and a date. The con will be held from July 14-16, 2006 at Montclair State University in New Jersey, not far from NYC. (Here's Thurman's post announcing the news.) I've posted the mission statement before, but I figure it's worth saying again:

Faith and politics have the capacity to profoundly divide, or to profoundly connect. Progressive Faith BlogCon is a chance for progressive bloggers of faith to meet one another, talk with one another, and learn from one another.

Our progressive politics are rooted in our theologies, and our theological stances inform our politics; why not celebrate them together? During this weekend gathering we'll break bread together, talk about the subjects that fire our passions, and put faces with the names on our blogrolls.

The current plan calls for a bunch of panels -- led by and for bloggers of progressive faith -- on subjects that matter to us. For instance, I'm planning to suggest panels on ecumenism in the blogosphere, using blogs for Scripture study, and a few other nifty things; I'll post more about that soon. We're also hoping to have a couple of keynote speakers, and some ecumenical worship opportunities. It should be a ton of fun.

It's not yet clear to me whether or not I'll be able to be there. On July 17th I'll begin a two-year program in liturgical leadership skills, the Davvenen Leadership Training Institute, which meets for week-long retreats every six months. It's required by the Aleph rabbinic studies program, and I'm incredibly excited about it. Trouble is, I'm not sure I'll be able to go straight from the PFBC to DLTI. (For one thing, it turns my July into alphabet soup! But more seriously, it means a lot of time away from home, and two intense experiences back-to-back, and it might not be feasible.) We've talked about wanting to make remote participation possible, ideally via an irc channel and webcast; I'll keep folks posted on how and whether that develops, and on my own plans as they come together.

That said, I'm still on the planning committee, and I'm incredibly excited about the possibilities inherent in a group of progressive religious bloggers getting together. If there's any way I can be there, I will; I hope you will, too. Register here if you want to be on the mailing list; as more information coalesces, we'll let you know. (And if you want to help out in one way or another, let us know; we can always use more hearts and hands!)

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This week's portion: the metaphor of weaving

This week, in parashat Terumah, we dive deep into the detailed instructions for building the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary the Israelites carried with them in the desert. As per usual, I'm writing about it for Radical Torah. Here's a teaser from this week's post:

As Anatomy of a Dwelling reminds us, no fewer than thirteen weeks' worth of Torah portions in the book of Exodus are devoted to the details of how the Mishkan, the tabernacle, was meant to be built. ("In contrast," the folks at Chabad point out, "the Torah devotes one chapter to its account of the creation of the universe and three chapters to the revelation at Mount Sinai, and conveys many complex laws by means of a single verse, or even a single word or letter.") It's easy for the modern shul-goer to glaze over during these weeks in the Torah reading cycle. Types of wood, colors of thread, bells and breastplates: what relevance can we find in these long instructions for creating ritual items we outgrew so many centuries ago?

For my answer to that question, head over to Weaving Terumah into our lives. Enjoy!

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