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Another mother poem in print

I'm delighted to be able to announce that another one of my mother poems, "The Permeable World," has been accepted for publication -- it will appear in The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home, which will be published by Holy Cow! Press in October, 2013.

Holy Cow! Press has been around for a while -- they started publishing in 1977, and I respect their work tremendously. This is the press which published Beloved on the Earth (which I reviewed here last year), and I'm delighted that they'll be publishing one of my poems this year too.

Once the anthology is available for pre-order, I'll post here again to let y'all know how you can buy a copy. Thanks, Holy Cow! editors.


February

The skies are grey. The streets are streaked with mud, and so are the sidewalks, and so are the cars. I lean on my car to toss something in the backseat and when I move away, my jeans and boots are smudged white with road salt. The excitement of early winter -- the first snowfalls, the holiday parties, the twinkling Chanukah candles -- are long gone. And we all know that no matter what the groundhog saw, even if the full moon of Shvat is now behind us, winter won't unclench for quite a while.

It's February. And around these parts, our eyes get starved for color. At least mine do. Where I grew up, it's greening already by now. I grow weary of this palette. There's a muted beauty to this season -- the hills all brown and grey and white, bare trees and distant conifers and patches of ice and snow -- but it's pale, and sometimes its subtlety eludes me. Afternoon sunlight, when the clouds part, is thin. And the sun still sets early -- not as early as it did six weeks ago, but early still. Spring feels so far away.

This is the season when I find myself standing idly in the hair products aisle of the drugstore, distracted by the glossy pictures on the covers of the boxes of hair color. I turn the names over on my tongue like butterscotch candies. Light auburn. Reddish blonde. Burgundy plum. Would I wake up feeling more vibrant, would the world be more vivid and bright, if I colored my hair for the season? In the end I purchase a bottle of nail polish instead: a little color, a little sparkle, but when it chips it's easy to remove.

I've lived in New England for twenty years now. I recognize the symptoms of The Februaries when they come on, and I know techniques for combating this particular brand of malaise. I feast my eyes on my red boots and my purple peacoat, treat myself to hot baths and to luxurious fires in the fireplace, purchase potted amaryllis or daffodil bulbs for my home office and my synagogue office so that I can drink in that hint of green, that promise of new life. I seek out strong flavors. I change things around: remove my home office rug and ponder what I might want there in its place.

The people who make catalogues are attuned to these rhythms, too. I glance through one which has come to our mailbox, and marvel at the canniness of showing photos of graduated cooking bowls in shades of lemon and lime, throw pillows in shades of effervescent spring chartreuse and bright summer sun. I come up with a zillion house projects, ideas for organizing and clearing the clutter. If I gardened, I'd be hip-deep in fantasies about seeds; as it is, I make stacks and piles, to-do lists, dreams of how I could brighten and organize.

What is it I'm really thirsty for during this slow short month of deepest midwinter? Color and spice. Experiences to saturate my senses. New growth and new potential. Windows clear and sparkling instead of fogged with condensation or streaked with salt. Some days, when I'm out at mid-day, I drive with my hat and gloves on so I can feel the fresh air on my face. This season requires patience. And the willingness to cobble together a patchwork of cures: dark green kale dressed with bright tangy lemon, the last of the sweet clementines, the fuzz of my son's red moose blanket sleeper as we cuddle before sleep.


After the week of shiva, what then?

This is something I've been working on in my capacity as a congregational rabbi. I'll be sharing it with my synagogue community. But I wanted to share it here too. This blog is part of my rabbinate, and I'm blessed to be in relationship with "internet congregants" who are spread pretty far and wide.

If you've just found this blog through searching for resources for the end of shiva, I welcome you to Velveteen Rabbi, and I hope that what follows is helpful to you.


So you're approaching the end of shiva. That first week of mourning after the funeral, after the first mourner's kaddish, after the unthinkable act of shoveling a spade-ful of earth and hearing it thud on unvarnished wood. Shiva means seven, the number of days of this first stage of grieving. One week: the most basic unit of Jewish time. After those seven days, a mourner enters the stage called shloshim, "thirty," which lasts through the first month after burial. But what does entering into shloshim mean? How does it, might it, have an impact on your life?

In the tangible world, the move from shiva to shloshim can have palpable implications. Traditional Jewish practice places a variety of restrictions on mourners during shiva -- for instance: not wearing leather shoes, sitting on the ground or on a low stool (closeness to the earth is a sign of humility and mourning), not going to work, not engaging in physical intimacy. All of these restrictions are lifted during shloshim.

For contemporary liberal Jews who do not consider themselves bound by traditional halakhot (laws / ways-of-walking), the restrictions and their abeyance may or may not have meaning. You may not have given up leather or sex or anointing yourself with perfume or listening to music this week. But the psycho-spiritual shift of moving from shiva to shloshim is still significant. The shift from shiva to shloshim is all about expansion.

During the first week of mourning one's life may contract to a very small space. Perhaps you haven't left the shiva house at all. Or even if you've gone in and out of your home, you may have felt constricted, your life seemingly shrunken. Once shiva has ended, it is time to start expanding again. Open yourself to seeing more people. Allow yourself to immerse in your work life again. Expand your self-perception: you are not only a mourner, not only someone who grieves, but also someone who lives, works, struggles, and loves.

This may feel impossible. If it does, that's okay. Just know that our tradition believes that it is good for a mourner to try to open themselves to life again after that first most-intense week of grief. Your sorrow may ebb and flow. You may experience times when you think you're close to okay again, and times when the floodwaters of emotion threaten to swamp you. Keep breathing. The emotional rollercoaster is normal. You won't always feel this way, but -- as the saying goes -- the only way out is through.

If you've been burning a shiva candle all week, your candle will naturally flicker and gutter and run out of fuel as the week of shiva ends. (The candle is designed to last for seven days; that's what makes it a shiva candle.) When the candle extinguishes itself, that may feel like another blow, another loss. Remember that the candle is only a candle: a symbol of your mourning, but not a barometer of your spiritual state or of your loved one's presence.

You can still talk to your loved one, if there is meaning for you in that practice. You can talk to God. You can pray or meditate or sit in your silent car and wail -- however you can best express whatever you're feeling. You might try writing a letter to your loved one at the end of shiva, telling them where you are and how you are as the first week of active mourning comes to its end. (What you do with the letter is up to you: save it? burn it? shred it and use the paper to mulch a new tree?)

Above all, be kind to yourself. Pay attention to what your heart needs.

This second stage of mourning lasts for one month, the time it takes for the moon to wax and become full and then wane again. This is an organic cycle, a mode of measuring time through observing the ebb and flow of the natural world. Just as the moon grows and shrinks, so our spirits and our hearts experience times of fullness and times of contraction. The end of shloshim is a time to begin looking toward fullness again. We trust that after the moon has disappeared, she will return; we trust that after our lives have been diminished by loss, light and meaning will flow into them again.

If you are moving from shiva into shloshim: I bless you that the transition should be what you need it to be. May this ancient way of thinking about mourning and the passage of time be meaningful for you; may time soothe your grief. One traditional practice is to mark the end of shiva by going for a walk around the block -- a symbolic step out of the closeness of your home, into the wide world around you. (See Ending Shiva by Rabbi Peretz Rodman.)

If you are moving out of shloshim, I offer you the same blessing: may this transition be what you most need. For those who feel the need for a ritual to mark that shift, I recommend this Leaving Shloshim Ritual by Rabbi Janet Madden. (Ritualwell has a wide variety of materials relating to mourning and bereavement, so if that ritual isn't what you need, feel free to browse.)

May the Source of Mercy bring you comfort along with all who mourn.


Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.


This week's portion: A Special Transmission at Sinai

Here's the d'var Torah I offered yesterday at my shul. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)


Imagine the scene: Mount Sinai is wreathed in smoke, the mountain trembles, and God's voice rings out like thunder. The whole people is standing together at the bottom of the mountain, and everyone hears God's voice directly.

It's an amazing moment. But it's not "The Ten Commandments," Charleton Heston-style. Ten Commandments is a bit of a misnomer. That name comes from the translators who created the King James Bible in 1611 C.E. In Jewish tradition we call these the Aseret ha-Dibrot -- the ten statements, utterances, sayings.

When the Second Temple stood, these statements were read as part of daily prayer. In Talmudic times, the rabbis consciously made a decision to stop that recitation. They worried that too much emphasis on these statements might lead people to mistakenly believe that these were the only mitzvot, and neglect the full 613.

These aren't our only mitzvot. But they are powerful, and the teaching that they came directly from God to us -- instead of through Moshe as an intermediary -- highlights the fact that these statements are special in some way. What's so special about this transmission?

Continue reading "This week's portion: A Special Transmission at Sinai" »


Best-laid plans

Friday begins with a hitch in our plans: my car won't start. So Drew and I won't be going in to town for school or work. We're staying home and waiting for the tow truck instead.

Midmorning it occurs to me that we have flour and yeast and water. Instead of going to the A-Frame as we usually do, we can bake our own challah!

Drew's willing to be lured away from the cartoons and the marble run game for a while. He pulls his footstool into the kitchen. He stirs the bowl a bit, announcing excitedly that he is helping.

A few hours later, when the dough has risen, I invite Drew back in. He seems to like patting the flour (which he calls, adorably enough, "flowers") and trying to roll snakes of dough beneath his hands.

Braiding seems like too much of a challenge for him, so I braid one big challah and one tiny one, and with the other pieces we make a twist and a spiral roll, which we set to rise.

 

While the smaller challot are baking, we read It's Challah Time! -- a longtime favorite -- and he takes obvious pleasure in being able to say, "I did that!" every time we come to a step in which he participated.

Once the first batch is out of the oven, I say hamotzi and we share a little challah roll. It's delicious: light and fluffy, tearing apart like the dinner rolls they used to serve at the Barn Door when I was a kid.

But as yummy as the bread is, Drew's obvious delight is even more so. (To be fair, he's equally delighted by the appearance of the mechanic and his big tow truck later in the day. Large vehicles are super-exciting to this three-year-old boy.)

As sundown approaches, I put one of our small braided challot beneath a napkin and tuck candles into our candlesticks, extra-excited about making the blessings with Drew over Shabbat challah we made with our own hands.

 

 

Of course, because nothing ever goes as one anticipates, it turns out at dinnertime that he doesn't like our challah. It seems to have become denser, now that it's cooled; it's not as soft and airy as the one the baker makes. He refuses to eat it. And then, for good measure, refuses to eat anything else, and blithely tells me he's done with dinner.

Oh, well. I'm still happy we made challah together. Even if he didn't eat a single Shabbat bite.


The Kallah brochure is on its way!

The brochure for this summer's ALEPH Kallah -- the Jewish Renewal biennial -- is at the printers'. And it's also available for download as a pdf if you don't want to wait!

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Find it at the Kallah website. Join us in New Hampshire for an amazing week of learning, playing, praying, singing, connecting, and having your heart opened to the divine within and around us.

(And if you're interested in writing psalms, I hope you'll consider signing up for the class I'm teaching, "Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts" -- read more about it in this post from last month.)


5 ways to celebrate Purim

Now that Tu BiShvat is behind us, the next festival on our radar is Purim. In preparation for our coming holiday of masks, costumes, food, and merriment, I've shared a post at my congregational blog about five things you can do to celebrate Purim wholly this year. It's here: How to Celebrate Purim in 5 Easy Steps.

A few of the items on that list are geared toward my local community. For instance: the first one is "listen to the megillah," and if you're local to me, you are welcome to do that at my synagogue on Saturday night February 23! And the second one is "give to the needy," and it happens that Purim afternoon coincides with the one Sunday a month when my community cooks meals for 100+ homebound senior citizens in North Adams, so if you're local to me, you are welcome to come and help out with that. But these five ways of celebrating Purim are possible no matter where you live.

Anyway, if you're looking for tips on how to make Purim fun and meaningful, check out the post over there. Shabbat shalom, y'all.