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September 2010

Answer us

When I entered the sanctuary at Isabella Freedman at the very beginning of Yom Kippur, 2005 / 5766, a group of people were already seated in a rough circle on the carpet. Someone was playing a hand-drum. As I picked up the melody, I started to sing along. We were singing a little snippet of the Selichot liturgy (which is traditionally prayed starting on the Saturday night before the Days of Awe and continuing through Yom Kippur.) Here's the line we were chanting:

רחמנא דעני לעניי ענינא!
רחמנא דעני לתבירי לבא ענינא, ענינא!

O Merciful One who answers those in need, answer us!
O Merciful One who answers the broken-hearted, answer us!

The words are Aramaic. The tune we used was Hasidic in origin, though I don't know anything beyond that about its provenance.

Here's the tune we used: Rachamana D'aney on YouTube, courtesy of the folks at Ner Shalom.

That year on retreat, we returned to this chant periodically over the course of Yom Kippur; it became one of the musical and spiritual refrains of our day. We won't be singing "Rachamana d'aney" at selichot services at my shul this coming Saturday evening, but I find that it's often running through my head at this time of year, and alongside it, two Hasidic teachings which it calls to mind.

The Kotzker rebbe (Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk) is reported to have taught that "There is nothing so whole as the broken heart." It's a powerful paradox, to think that we can find wholeness not despite our brokenness but through it. Everyone who's lived in the world is a little bit broken. We hurt one another; we experience loss; we miss the mark; we grieve. But this doesn't have to distance us from God, especially not at this holy time of year. God, our tradition teaches, answers us when we call out from the place of our broken hearts.

The Baal Shem Tov tells a story about Rabbi Zev Kitzes and how his broken heart enabled him to call out the blasts of the shofar with perfect holy intention. (I wrote about that story a few years back: the master key is the broken heart.) Jewish tradition contains many teachings about the holiness we can find in what is broken. Our broken hearts offer God a way in. Or, in the words of the great Reb Leonard Cohen, "there is a crack in everything -- that's how the light gets in."

Leonard Cohen performing "Anthem."

Historically I've been more comfortable with the idea of coming to God through joy than with the idea of coming to God through sorrow. I don't want to dwell on what hurts; who does? But this year, maybe because I've recently been through the valley of the shadow of depression and emerged into the sunlight on the other side, I'm keenly aware that even in the sweetest life there is some heartbreak. This year my question is, can we draw on our experiences of heartbreak as we strive to become more compassionate and more kind, to others and to ourselves? Do we have the courage to sit with what hurts, and to trust that God will answer our brokenness with the compassion we need?

What in you is broken, this year, as we approach the Days of Awe? What would it feel like to cry out and to know that God hears you, not despite your aches but in them and through them?

A gesture of repair

It's been an extraordinary weekend.

Last week, a drunk man barged into the Al-Iman masjid in Astoria, Queens, and urinated on the prayer rugs. I tweeted about it, horrified at this display of Islamophobia (and also just plain atrocious behavior.) On Thursday, @stumark suggested that we raise money to replace the prayer rugs at the Al-Iman mosque in Queens. On Friday, I posted to this blog and to twitter asking for donations toward reimbursing the mosque for the costs of steam-cleaning their prayer rugs. My hope was to raise a few hundred bucks as a gesture of interfaith good will, a way of showing this one Muslim community that the actions of that drunk man do not represent the beliefs of most Americans.

Over the course of two days, more than a thousand US dollars poured in to my bank account. I decided to stop the fundraising when we passed the $1000 threshold, and posted to twitter saying that we'd reached our goal and could stop now; a few more donations rolled in while I was announcing that we'd raised enough, so our total is $1,180.

One thousand, one hundred and eighty dollars were donated by sixty-five people from across the United States; those who identified their locations mentioned places as far apart as Oregon, New York, and Oklahoma, and I myself live in a small town in western Massachusetts. We are people of many traditions; although Stu Mark and I are Jewish, and I know that at least two of the donors are rabbis (and many donors self-identified themselves as Jews), others self-identified as Christian (Catholic, Protestant, evangelical), Unitarian Universalist, Pagan, Buddhist, and Muslim.

The first handful of donors were people I know personally, either offline or through sustained online interaction, but within an hour of making the initial announcement I started getting donations from people whose names I had never seen before. Many who donated included notes saying things like "thank you for giving me something I can do" and "please tell the mosque that that man does not represent me."

As donations and notes of good will poured in, and as I listened to radio coverage of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I remembered sitting in my living room with friends five years ago as the scope of that disaster began to emerge. And I remembered the Katrina People Finder project, and the amazing outpouring of volunteer labor at that awful moment in time. What we learned then, and what I've been reminded of now, is that most people want to make things better; what we need is an opportunity to join together. And thanks to the internet, joining together to make the world a better place has never been easier than it is today.

I'm working on figuring out to whose attention I should send the letter and check, and will put them in the mail tomorrow. For now, I'm sitting back and marveling at the awesome things we can accomplish when we pull together. We raised $1,180 over the course of 48 hours, mostly in $5, $10, $18 and $20 increments. A few people mentioned being low-income; many people said they wished they could give more. But small donations add up, and there's something incredibly moving for me in the fact that we raised over a thousand dollars in one weekend in this way. I hope we've been able to show our Muslim friends and neighbors (offline and online) that despite the recent rise in Islamophobia, those who are preaching fear and hatred do not represent all of us.

To all who donated, and all who spread the word via emails, twitter, blogs, facebook, livejournal: thank you so much. To all who are finding this post now and wish you'd had a chance to donate, please take five minutes and make a donation to another cause which matters to you. (If you're looking for suggestions, you might consider relief efforts in Pakistan, or New Ground: a Jewish-Muslim partnership for change, or the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for peace in the Middle East.)

Wishing everyone blessings as this lunar month -- Elul on the Jewish calendar, Ramadan on the Muslim calendar -- draws toward its close. (And now it's time for me to return to planning for High Holiday services!)

Edited on 8/31 to add: I'm sending the check tomorrow to the attention of one of the administrators at the mosque; they have graciously accepted our donation, which will go toward the cost of replacing their carpets. The masjid administrators and congregation are grateful for this act of kindness. Thanks again to everyone who participated.

Edited on 9/12 to add: If you're here via Nick Kristof's column, welcome! I put up a post just for you: welcome, new readers!

Passing the virtual hat for prayer rug cleaning

My twitter stream lately has featured a lot of tweets about Park 51 (while we're on the subject, allow me to recommend Park 51 Should Not Be Complicated for Jews by my friend Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer) and about the recent rise in hate crimes against Muslims in America. Like the incident a few days ago where a drunk man barged into the Al-Iman masjid in Queens, yelled anti-Muslim slurs, and urinated on the prayer rugs.

When I tweeted about this, appalled, @stumark replied, "Let's get organized and buy them new prayer rugs."I don't know whether they need new rugs; I'm sure they've already had their existing rugs cleaned. But I'd like to be able to reimburse them for that expense as a gesture of interfaith goodwill. So I'm here to pass the virtual hat.

If you'd like to donate, send money via PayPal to me -- my email address is rbarenblat (at) gmail (dot) com -- and put "prayer rugs" in the subject line. Next week I'll send a check to the mosque. Your donation won't be tax-deductible (because I'm an individual, not a nonprofit) but let me know whether you want your name to be included on the list of donors or whether you'd prefer to give anonymously and I will honor your wishes either way.

Giving tzedakah on Fridays is a great way to open our hearts in preparation for Shabbat. On the Jewish calendar we're in the middle of the month of Elul, a time for taking an accounting of our souls and repairing our broken relationships in the world. I'd love it if we could make a gift to the Al-Iman mosque to show that the guy who desecrated their sanctuary doesn't represent the rest of us.

(For a personal story about a visit to that mosque last year during Ramadan, check out Day 7: Al-Iman Mosque.)

Edited to add: As of 5pm this afternoon in my time zone, $432 has been donated by 27 people. I'll wait until next week to send the donation, and am doing my best to update on twitter about our progress. Thanks so much, y'all.

Edited again to add: As of 8:30pm in my time zone on Saturday, $824 has been donated by 52 people. I'll continue updating twitter on our progress, and plan to send the donation to the mosque early next week.

Edited a final time to add: As of 6pm on Sunday in my time zone, $1,121 has been donated by 62 people. I think this is a good time to stop. Thank you all so much for your generosity; I will post soon with a fuller update, and plan to send the check to the Iman mosque early this week.

Another mother poem (for Big Tent Poetry) - Hand-Me-Downs


My knife zips through tape
and the box unfolds its wings.
I lift little pockets of emptiness,
their sleeves carefully tucked.

Each of these an embrace
in jersey knit, in waffle weave
or flannel, snug turtlenecks
and button-downs. This red one --

short-sleeved, blazoned
with the alphabet -- urges me
to measure each day: fall is coming,
bright goldenrod and schoolbuses

and soon sleeveless rompers
will seem as implausible
as the idea that you were ever
small enough to wear

what I place now
in a box which once held Pampers.
The packing tape screeches.
I seal the summer away.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry invites us to attend mindfully to doing something with our hands, and to see what poem arises out of that experience.

There's a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov about doing whatever work is at hand with holy mindfulness and attention. In this way, he writes, we create a dwelling-place for God wherever we are. It's a teaching I've thought about often during these first nine months of parenthood, and it came to mind again when I saw this week's poetry prompt.

This week I've been swapping out Drew's wardrobe -- boxing up the clothes which have become too small, and unboxing the next set of hand-me-downs from our close friends whose son is a year and change older than Drew -- so that was the task which gave rise to the poem.

The third stanza contains a slantwise Psalm 90 reference. The line about measuring each day came, in part, out of practicing a musical setting for Psalm 90 (which my shul will use in our Yizkor / Memorial service on Yom Kippur) which includes the line "Teach us to treasure each day." That wording felt too precious for a mother poem like this one, but when I shifted it to "measure," I was happy with how it sounded.

Here's a link to this week's "Come One, Come All" post so you can see how others responded to this prompt.


Repairing the ladder

A ladder stretching up. (If the photo isn't coming through in your email or aggregator, click here.)

My beloved teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls the spiritual work of the month of Elul -- the lunar month leading up to the Days of Awe -- tikkun ha-sulam, "repair of the ladder."

The image of the ladder reminds me of the Biblical story of Jacob who dreamed he saw a ladder stretching from within the earth all the way up to the heavens, with angels moving up and down. One teaching I've heard asks, what kind of angels begin here on earth and move up toward heaven -- why doesn't the passage describe angels descending first and then ascending? The answer, says this teaching, is that these angels are our prayers. Our prayers begin here, where we are. When we reach out to God, God reaches back to us.

Reaching out to God is part of teshuvah (return / repair), and Jewish tradition offers us repeated opportunities to do this work. There's a daily cycle of teshuvah (we seek to forgive and to be forgiven when we say the bedtime shema), a weekly cycle (we seek to forgive and to be forgiven before Shabbat), a monthly cycle (we seek to forgive and to be forgiven before new moon -- I've posted about this before), and an annual cycle. We're entering that annual cycle now, as we work our way through Elul and toward the Days of Awe. This is the time of year when teshuvah is meant to be writ large on our hearts and in our lives.

Reb Zalman's teaching about "repair of the ladder" tells me that the work of this season is work of alignment. We're meant to be aligning that internal ladder so that our prayers can ascend without obstruction, and so that divine blessing can descend in return. If there are obstructions in our relationships -- with ourselves, with our partners, with our families and friends, with our communities, with other communities, with God God's-self -- then blessing can't flow as it should.

So we're called to use this time of year as a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh, taking an accounting of the soul. But more than just taking an accounting, we're called to do the repair work that's needed. Where there are broken places in our relationships, we're supposed to try to mend them. Where there is hurt, we're supposed to try to bring healing. Where there is misunderstanding, we're supposed to try to create clarity.

This isn't easy. I don't always know how to bring healing to broken places. When is it best to shine the light of increased honesty into a relationship, and when is it best to enfold a relationship in the soft cotton of leaving something painful unsaid? When is it best to speak my truth to someone who disagrees with me, and when is that merely an excuse to indulge in righteous indignation instead of the compassion I claim I want to be practicing? These questions have been arising organically for me in several of my communities, both online and offline, as though life were trying to remind me that this is the work of this season.

I don't have a tidy way to end this post. These are some of the questions I'm sitting with as we move through Elul. Part of my work, right now, is keeping this stuff percolating in the back of my mind -- it would be easy to become distracted by the practical work of High Holiday prep (practicing guitar chords, studying nusach, marking up my machzor with post-its and melodic notation) and to use that as my excuse for neglecting the spiritual work. But that's not who I want to be.

Reading this post, what comes up for you? Does any of this resonate in your life at this moment in time?

Looking forward to selichot

It astonishes me that only three Shabbatot remain between now and Rosh Hashanah. How did the end of the year come so quickly?

I met yesterday with my rabbi to talk about Congregation Beth Israel's selichot services, the service held on the Saturday night right before Rosh Hashanah -- a chance to get people into the right frame of mind for entering the Days of Awe. We're going to do a slightly different service this year than what's been done in years past. We'll begin with havdalah, of course. We'll sing a few favorite melodies which will be familiar to most people present. But there will be new melodies, too, and some new bits of liturgy. The piece I'm probably most excited about is introducing my community to "Ana B'Koach."

The words of Ana b'Koach in Hebrew & transliteration.

My friend Reb David Seidenberg calls "Ana B'Koach" one of the "masterpieces of mystical prayer." (Here's the NeoHasid page on Ana B'Koach, which features some explanation, some history, and the words of the prayer in Hebrew, transliteration, and English.) I first encountered this prayer when I started hanging around in Jewish Renewal circles. It's a favorite prayer in that community because of Renewal's neo-Hasidic roots. We sing it sometimes during morning prayer, and sometimes during kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday evenings.

As Reb David notes, nowhere in the prayer do any traditional names of God appear -- but the prayer itself is considered to be one long name of God, which is why it ends with the line "baruch shem k'vod malchuto l'olam va'ed," "Blessed is God's glorious kingdom forever and ever" (or, in Reb Zalman's translation, "Through time and space, Your glory shines, Majestic One.")

At our selichot services, we'll be using the prayer as a lead-in to a meditation around the radical idea that every single time/place we've missed the mark in our entire lives is always forgiven. Whenever I seriously think about that, it blows me away. Everything I've ever done wrong, in my relationships with other people, in my relationship with myself, in my relationship with God: all of it is forgiven. What would it mean to truly understand that, and to let all of that old baggage go?

"Ana B'Koach" is the prayer I turn to when I'm asking for help in letting go of something that has me all worked up in guilt and recriminations. I'll be singing Hanna Tiferet's melody for the prayer, which features just the first line (Ana b'koach, gedulat y'mincha, tatir tzrurah -- in Reb Zalman's translation: "Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie our tangles!") and that baruch shem k'vod line I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. And then I'll sing the English translation using Reb Zalman's melody (which is the final melody on this Ana B'Khoach niggunim page, again courtesy of So often we tie ourselves in knots over things we've done or haven't done. This season of teshuvah (repentance / return) is a perfect time to work on untangling what's become tense and knotted in our spiritual lives.

We have a few other treats in store for selichot: one exercise which we hope will help people connect with some of their own prayers during this season, a few poems and prayers which we hope will awaken something in their listeners. I'll have my first chance to recite Petition, a prayer for selichot which I wrote last year. It should be a beautiful service. If you're in the Berkshire area on the evening of Saturday, September 4, I hope you'll come.

Another mother psalm: #7


A psalm of anticipation

Someday you'll know us by our cars:
you'll report that mama's
is sky-blue, that dad's is black

(and a pick-up truck --
a distinction boys learn so early
it must be imparted in the womb.)

Maybe you'll want to look inside,
to decode the tanks and hoses,
this one the size of a pineapple

and that one filled with antifreeze,
relishing the dark smudge of oil
that moistens your hands. Or maybe

you'll gravitate toward the yard:
petting pussywillows' spring silk,
blowing dandelions to smithereens,

checking the pots on the deck
as you wait for herb seeds to sprout.
Whatever speeds your heart

don't be afraid to go deep:
step on stones in summer streams
in search of swimming holes

or dive into sci-fi paperbacks'
lurid covers and dry newsprint pages,
calling distant galaxies home.

When you come up for air, marvel
at where you've been, where
you still have yet to go.

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry is a wordle word cloud containing words from a well-regarded poet's published poem. The poem in question is revealed in today's "Come One, Come All" post -- it's "Last August Hours Before the Year 2000," by Naomi Shihab Nye.

The wordle words were cars, asked, blown, hose, deep, dry, moisten, plant, stream, pots, pineapple, summer, zeroes, silk. I managed to use all of them in the poem again, which feels like a victory! I love writing from wordle prompts because they so often give me words I would never have chosen on my own.

This is another in my series of mother psalms, a subset of the mother poems. I initially wrote it as one long stanza -- the earliest mother psalms were all single blocks of verse -- but after a few revisions I realized that the lines were naturally coming in triplets, so I tried breaking the poem up that way and I like the visual prosody of how it moves down the page / screen.


What's changed; what's stayed the same

It's a good thing that maariv (the liturgy of evening prayers) is brief; by the time I went outside, the light was already growing low. Above me, the half-moon of Elul gleamed in the sky. Around me the trees lost their details and became dark silhouettes as I focused on the words in my tiny pocket Koren siddur.

I spent most of today working on my senior teshuvah, the legal responsum each ALEPH rabbinic student is required to write before receiving smicha. I have a complete draft: it still needs work, but I printed it out, and tomorrow I'll read it over and see what I think.

It's been almost five years since I mailed my application to ALEPH. I had already begun learning with this chevre when I took the leap of actually applying to the program; that fall I became a student chaplain at Albany Medical Center. I took my first classes. Step by step I started walking this road.

As I davened maariv this evening, part of my brain was marveling at how much has changed for me in the last five years. The siddur from which I regularly pray now would have been intimidating to me then. For that matter, I didn't know much about weekday prayer. I didn't yet know and love the minor mode of weekday nusach.

The modern Hebrew text I translated this morning (with a little bit of help from a dictionary) would have been beyond my means then. So would the very idea of writing a teshuvah. So many of the texts, ideas, and prayers which are beloved to me now weren't yet a part of my consciousness.

I hadn't yet imagined what motherhood might be like.

Of course, there are other ways in which my life has remained blessedly constant since 2005. My marriage tops that list. Ethan and I still live in the same house on a hill in western Massachusetts where we lived then. Most of the people who were important in my life five years ago are still part of my sphere. I'm still writing poems -- better ones now than I wrote then, or at least that's my hope! And I'm still blogging here.

I remember how amazing it felt to be able to call myself a rabbinic student at long last. Every time I said the words I felt a little frisson. It's hard to believe my days of being a rabbinic student are numbered now.

New translation of Isaiah for Yom Kippur

This year my rabbi and I have been working together on revising the machzor (high holiday prayerbook) which we use for the Days of Awe. One of the projects on our list was to rework the translation of Yom Kippur's haftarah reading -- the reading from the prophets -- into a more contemporary vernacular.

The reading in question is Isaiah 57:14-58:14. Here's the JPS translation; if you want to see a bilingual version, try mechon-mamre: chapter 57 (start with verse 14) and continue with the first 14 verses of chapter 58. It's a gorgeous passage in any language, and I volunteered to spend some time on a new translation for our community.

I spent a couple of days poring over the text, reading it in Hebrew and in a couple of different English translations, most notably the JPS, linked above, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow's more interpretive Haftarah for the Fast of Yom Kippur. (I didn't consult Rabbi Shefa Gold's version until after I was done with my own, but her take on the text is very much her own, and is also worth reading.)

Here's what I came up with -- feel free to use this translation (with appropriate attribution) in your own services or in your own personal prayer if it's helpful to you! 

Haftarah for Yom Kippur

Build a highway!
Clear a road!
Remove all obstacles from My people's path!

So says the One who dwells on high,
whose name is holy:
"I dwell in high holiness --
but also with the oppressed
and those whose spirits are low.
I breathe new life into the low-spirited,
I restore the hearts of the oppressed.
I will not be angry forever.
No: I who make spirits flag
also create the breath of life."

"Your sinful greed made Me angry.
I lashed out; I hid My face.
The people are stubborn, they walk
on a path devised by their own hearts,
but I take note of them
and I will heal them.
I will guide them.
I will bring solace.
To mourners I bring comforting words:
peace, peace to the far and the near,"
says Adonai, "And I will heal them."

Continue reading "New translation of Isaiah for Yom Kippur" »

Another mother poem: phantom baby


The biggest change:
    even when we're apart
        I'm not self-contained

always aware
    that you washed up
        helpless on my shore
strangers squint
    as I narrate my day
        in a sing-song to no one

the sticky smudges
    you left on my glasses
        frame everything I see

high-pitched voices
    make me turn, heart
        suddenly inside-out

you are missing
    from my hip
        an invisible ache

I'm becoming increasingly aware of the ways in which becoming Drew's mother has changed me. The first day he was in daycare, I walked up Spring Street toward a lunch date at the Thai place and was constantly conscious that he wasn't with me. After only six months, being apart already felt strange.

So far, it seems to me, parenthood is a constant process of letting go. There are trade-offs: in the womb we knew perfect intimacy, but couldn't meet. Now we are separate, which is at once the source of loneliness (especially for him, I'm guessing) and the source of our ability to connect. I can't help seeing this as a metaphor for how we relate to God, too: here in the created world it's our separateness from God which allows us to reach toward God and to be in relationship.

Anyway, this week's mother poem grew out of the experience of being apart from Drew. The poem's central metaphor is a riff on the idea that someone who has lost a limb may feel the limb's ghostly presence even after it's gone.

I didn't write to this week's Big Tent Poetry prompt, but here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what others wrote.


New moon

It's new moon -- Rosh Chodesh -- and this month, that means that a time of contemplation and prayer has begun in both the Jewish and Muslim traditions. This new month is both Elul and Ramadan. (The Jewish calendar is metonic, and the Muslim calendar is not, so our holy months don't always overlap; this won't happen again for many years. Because of the Jewish practice of inserting an extra month 7 years out of every 19, the Jewish holidays will remain in the Northern hemisphere autumn, while Ramadan will continue moving backwards on the Gregorian calendar -- in 2011 Ramadan will begin around August 1, in 2012 it will begin around July 19, and in 2013 around July 10...)

Last year I attended a retreat for emerging Jewish and Muslim leaders during the few days just before Ramadan, and wrote an essay about it for Zeek: Allah is the Light: Prayer in Ramadan and Elul. Now that we've entered that holy time of year again, I find myself thinking about the people I met on that retreat, wondering how they are and what's going on in their lives.

Hard to believe it's Elul already. Time to read Psalm 27 every day (or listen to it!) Time to do the hard work of taking a spiritual accounting of where I've been over the year which will end soon. Where have I missed the mark in my relationships with the world, with others, with myself, with my God? There's a tradition of hearing the shofar each morning during Elul, a kind of spiritual alarm clock meant to say wake up, you sleepers! As Rabbi Alan Lew (z"l) wrote, "The Book of Life and the Book of Death are open every day, and our name is written in one or the other of them at every moment, and then erased and written again the moment after that."

Of course, for those of us in my line of work, it's also time to put our backs into the work of preparing to lead long and intensive High Holiday services -- which means it's also time to struggle with how to balance the practical work our communities demand with the spiritual work we need to do in order to be able to lead those services wholly.

To my Muslim friends who are entering into a month of fasting and prayer, I wish a Ramadan mubarak, a blessed month of Ramadan! And to my Jewish friends and family, I wish a meaningful month of Elul.

Another mother poem: ode to a changing table


O changing table! Your terrycloth breast rises and dips like the gentle swell of the hills. Underneath, Pampers, stacked like stones in a falling-down wall beside a box filled with damp tufts of cloud. Above, the bright elephant hovering in the sky, its mirrored belly reflecting emptiness. Someday you will retire to the basement and mice will dart beneath your sheet. Will you remember feet beating a tattoo on your chest, fingers questing for the safety belt which dangles into your ribcage? Will you recall the scent of pink Johnson & Johnson's, this woman's hands, this baby's gleeful laughter? What will you dream?

This week's prompt at Big Tent Poetry invites us to step outside our poetic comfort zone and to write poems which differ from what we've been writing. After rereading my recent work, I decided to write a prose poem this week, and to address it to an inanimate object instead of to my son. It was fun to write; I haven't tried my hand at a prose poem in a long while.

The title is a reference to a line from the blessing for the body which traditional Jews recite upon going to the bathroom. I posted about that blessing in 2005. Sometimes I recite the asher yatzar blessing when I'm giving Drew his pre-bedtime lotion massage. It's easy to marvel at the wonders of the human form when I'm paying attention to how his miraculous little body continues to grow and change.

Here's a link to this week's Come One, Come All post so you can see what others wrote in response to the August 2 prompt.


A shameful blow to interreligious coexistence in New York

I'm deeply disappointed that the Anti-Defamation League has chosen to oppose the building of Cordoba House, an Islamic cultural center slated to be constructed in the shadow of the absent Twin Towers.

Writing at the Daily Beast ("The Anti-Defamation League's opposition to building a mosque at the site of the 9/11 attacks betrays its own founding principles"), Peter Beinart offers some history:

The ADL was born in 1913, after a Georgia jury falsely convicted a Jewish factory owner named Leo Frank of murdering a Christian employee. The men who defamed, and later lynched, Frank were anti-Semites. But they were not only anti-Semites. Three months after Frank's murder, some of his tormenters met on Georgia’s Stone Mountain to refound the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that would now dedicate itself not merely to terrorizing African-Americans, but to terrorizing Catholics and Jews as well...

"The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people," declared the ADL's charter. "Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens."

The ADL's laudable founding principles are deeply betrayed by the organization's recent decision to oppose Cordoba House's construction. There's more information about Cordoba House and about the opposition in this recent NPR story:

The plan for Cordoba House — which those who oppose it call a mosque, and those who support it call a cultural center with a place for prayer — has been the dream of Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan. Khan describes it somewhat like the Jewish Community Center uptown, with facilities for athletics, arts, performances, lectures series, forums and weddings, as well as a prayer space.

Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf considers himself an orthodox Muslim, but he is also a Sufi, a contemplative and mystical path in Islam. The offices of the Imam and his wife are in a building used by many faiths that is part of Riverside Church in upper Manhattan, a liberal bastion of interfaith work. When you listen to Khan speak, she sounds very much in that tradition.

"Our religion has been hijacked by the extremists," she says. "This center will create this kind of counter momentum which will amplify the voices of the moderate Muslims. If we have to defeat the extremists, Muslims have to be leading that effort."

I'm having a hard time understanding why anyone would oppose the building of an arts, community, and prayer space -- maybe especially a Muslim one which is meant to be built near the site of the 9/11 tragedy. If a Muslim group were opposing the construction of a Jewish arts, community, and prayer space because of the murders carried out by Baruch Goldstein in God's name on Purim some years ago, the ADL would be first in line to speak out against the antisemitism. Shame on the ADL for opposing Cordoba House's construction (see their statement) on the grounds that those who lost family on 9/11 would be further wounded by the prayerful presence of Muslims in this corner of the city that they call home.

The moon is waning now. The next new moon will herald the beginning of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar and Ramadan on the Muslim one. This is the second year that these two holy months have coincided, and it won't happen again for several years. (Last year I wrote an essay for Zeek about the confluence -- Allah is the Light: Prayer in Ramadan and Elul.) Both of our communities will spend the month engaged in prayer, contemplation, and turning-toward-God. I'd like to hope that our prayer and contemplation will lead us to deeper understanding of our common ground, but reports like this one remind me of just how far we have to go.