The Gifts - video

One of the best things about sharing creativity online is when other creative folks make something beautiful and new, arising out of / inspired by / in conversation with something that I created.

Like this right here, created by two longtime blogfriends:

The Gifts from Allan Hollander on Vimeo.

The audio recording is by Allan Hollander, and the animation is by Alison Kent.

The poem was originally published in my first book-length collection of poetry, 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011). If you don't have a copy, I hope you'll consider picking one up wherever fine books are sold. 

Words set to music: what joy

One of the most extraordinary things in the world, for me as a writer who is also a singer, is hearing my own words set to music. The music transforms and uplifts the words, and the end result is a work of art that is rooted in but also different from the one I put out into the world. It is humbling and amazing and awe-inspiring for me. 

I've been blessed to have that experience a few times. In 2010, composer Michael Veloso (who is a dear friend) set two of my motherhood poems from Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013) to music -- Letters to Little Bean (listen here at SoundCloud.)

In 2014, Michael Scherperel set four poems from 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011) to music in a series called "שבעים / Shiv'eem" ("Seventy") (listen here at SoundCloud.)

And this week I heard my words set to music once more: conductor and composer Sarah Riskind (a longtime friend and fellow alumna of the Williams College Elizabethans) set my "Psalm of the Sky" (which appears in Open My Lips, Ben Yehuda 2016) to music (embedded below, or if the embed doesn't work, you can listen here at SoundCloud.)


It's particularly poignant to hear this setting of these words now. During this time of pandemic, I resonate with the words of this "psalm of uncertainty" in a new way. And because singing together in person is not currently possible (and may be contraindicated even when we are able to gather again, at least until there is a vaccine), and singing in harmony on Zoom is not possible (because sounds waves clash and collide), hearing voices in harmony is especially moving to me in this moment.

I'm grateful to Sarah for this beautiful setting of my poem, and I hope it speaks to you, too.

Rabbi Jack Riemer on 70 faces

70FacesSmallA while back I received a note from Rabbi Jack Riemer, author of one of my favorite revisionings of Unetaneh Tokef, and co-author with Sylvan Kamens of We Remember Them, which I use at every funeral. He had written a new review of 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), and his review was published in the South Florida Jewish Journal. 

It's always a gift to receive a review of a book some years after its publication -- and especially so when the author of the review is someone whose work I so respect. Thank you, Rabbi Riemer! And thank you also for giving me permission to reprint the review in full on this blog.


70 faces: Torah poems
by Rachel Barenblat,
Phoenicia Publishing,
Montreal, Canada, 2015, 81 pages

                              Reviewed by Jack Riemer

We have had women rabbis for more than a generation now. We have a generation of young people who have never known it any other way. But if we stand back, we can see at least three contributions that women rabbis have made to our spiritual lives.

One is that women rabbis have given a whole new emphasis to the spiritual side of healing. We knew that rabbis were supposed to visit the sick, but women rabbis have given us a whole new perspective into the spiritual dimension of healing.  A second contribution they have made is their emphasis on prayer as a matter of the inner life, which was always there, but which was and is often neglected. And a third contribution that women rabbis have made is the creation of poems that see God in a whole series of bold new images that we were not accustomed to seeing before.

Continue reading "Rabbi Jack Riemer on 70 faces" »

Four poems from 70 faces set to music

Several years ago, composer Michael Veloso set two of the poems from the manuscript which would become Waiting to Unfold to music. I had the extraordinary experience of being able to hear them in concert, performed by the Boston-based ensemble Cantilena, at a concert of music about mothers, on my first mother's day as a mother.

70FacesSmallI'm delighted to say that another composer has found inspiration in my words. Michael Scherperel set four poems from 70 faces for piano, violin, and voice in a series called "שבעים / Shiv'eem" ("Seventy"). The series was recently performed by Michael and vocalist Susan Boardman at two recent concerts, one at Penn State and one at Studio 37 Recital Hall in Fishers, Indiana. (He tells me the songs were very well received!)

You can read about the composition, and if you are so inclined order the score, at his website. You can also click on the Soundcloud link there and listen to a live recording of one of those performances -- or you can listen to it at Soundcloud. (I'd embed the audio here but that doesn't seem to be possible, so if you want to hear the songs, you'll have to click through.)

This kind of creative collaboration is part of why I make my poems available online for free, and why I'm such a big supporter of Creative Commons and of remix projects like the Poetry Storehouse. I'm honored that Michael Scherperel liked my poems enough to set them to music, and hearing them performed is an amazing experience. Thank you, Michael and Susan!


This handwritten copy of one of my poems was shared at morning davenen at the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College yesterday:


(The image was sent to me by a friend and colleague who was there.)

I am so gratified and humbled that someone loved this poem enough to copy it out and share it!

There is something especially beautiful, I think, about a handwritten copy of a poem. Handwriting has personality. It's irreducible, irreplaceable; it can only come from the hand which wrote it. Seeing my poem written out in an unfamiliar hand is like hearing one of my poems recorded in someone else's voice.

And, of course, I'm glad that my love of all of these figures -- Avraham, Sarah, Isaac, Ishmael -- comes through for the person who chose to copy this poem.

You can find this poem in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems published by Phoenicia Publishing in 2011. (Makes a great Chanukah gift for lovers of Torah and lovers of poetry alike!)

May peace and love come to all of the children of Avraham / Ibrahim, speedily and in our days.

Poetry reading in Pittsfield

Edited to add: This reading has been canceled because there is a funeral in my community that afternoon.

November is Jewish Book Month. Jewish Book Month is an annual event of the Jewish Book Council dedicated to the celebration of (what else?) Jewish books. The Jewish Federation of the Berkshires is sponsoring a variety of Jewish Book Month events around the county during November.

I'm delighted to be able to let y'all know that Jewish Federation of the Berkshires has invited me to be part of the county's Jewish Book Month programming. I'll be sharing some of my poems at 1pm on Thursday, November 6 at Knesset Israel on Colt Road in Pittsfield.

70FacesSmall WaitingToUnfold-small

A kosher hot lunch will be provided at Knesset Israel at 12pm; the poetry reading will follow at 1pm, and all are welcome to come for one or both. If one comes only to the reading, the cost is $3 (I believe that the kosher hot lunch requires a reservation -- you can confirm that by calling Jewish Federation or Knesset Israel.)

Here's a description of the event:

Poetry of Sacred Time

Join poet and rabbi Rachel Barenblat (author of 70 faces: Torah poems and Waiting to Unfold, both published by Phoenicia Publishing, and of the forthcoming Open My Lips, coming from Ben Yehuda Press) for a poetry reading which dips into the wellsprings of Jewish sacred time. Rabbi Barenblat will share Torah poems, motherhood poems, and poems which engage with Jewish liturgy and with the unfolding of our festival year. Q-and-A and booksigning to follow.

If you're in the area, I hope you'll join us. I'll have copies of my books available for sale and am happy to inscribe them. They make great Chanukah gifts!

Visiting a shul by the sea!

I'm off this weekend to Temple Beth-El of City Island, where I will be their scholar-in-residence as they celebrate their 80th anniversary with a Shabbaton of delicious practice, teaching, and togetherness! (I posted about this a while back.)

It's going to be an action-packed weekend. Tonight: kabbalat Shabbat services with "Your Band By the Sea." Tomorrow morning: services co-led by me, Reb David, and Reb Eva, followed by a public teaching at noon on the power of blessing. Tomorrow night: havdalah and a poetry reading in a private home. Sunday morning: a class on writing in spiritual life and then a poetry reading before I turn around and head home.

If you are in or around the New York city area, I'd love to see you at any of these events which are feasible for you! Logistical details again, for those who need them:

Friday and Saturday services / teaching at Temple Beth-El, 480 City Island Avenue

Sunday sessions at Samuel Pell House, 586 City Island Ave

( writing class: $20 for non-members, bring a notebook or laptop and an open heart)

Shabbat shalom to all!

Weekend Shabbaton, poetry reading, and master class on City Island

I'm going to Temple Beth-El of City Island at the end of this month as a Scholar-In-Residence! While I'm there, I'll be participating in Shabbat services (both evening and morning), offering some teaching, reading poetry, and teaching a class. Below is some information from them (also mirrored on their website). If you're in or near New York, I hope you'll join us!

Shabbaton, Poetry Reading, & Master Class on City Island during the last weekend in May

GuitarNationally recognized rabbi, poet and blogger Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi, will hold a special shabbaton weekend as TBE’s Scholar in Residence, May 30 – June 1, 2014. This amazing weekend will include music-filled services, special teachings, and public readings/symposia of Rabbi Rachel’s works. Especially known for spiritual writing and re-imagining the lives of families and especially women for the 21st century, Rabbi Rachel is an accomplished author of numerous books of spiritual poetry, and has been named by Time Magazine as among the 25 top bloggers on the Internet.

Shabbat, May 30-31

Fri. May 30 7:30 pm Musical Shabbat with Your Band by the Sea

Sat. May 31 10:00 am Shabbat Morning Services

12:00 pm Public Teaching: The Power of Blessing


Sunday, June 1

Sun. June 1 10:30 am Master Class: Writing in Spiritual Life

12:00 pm Public Reading and Author Q&A

Friday and Saturday services / teaching at Temple Beth-El, 480 City Island Avenue

Sunday sessions at Samuel Pell House, 586 City Island Ave

( writing class: $20 for non-members, bring a notebook or laptop and an open heart)


70FacesSmallPraise for 70 faces (Phoenicia Publishing 2011)

Rachel Barenblat’s Torah poems open the doorway into sacred text so that we can walk in and make it our home.  She invites us to bring all of our passion, doubt, humor, humility and chutzpah as we encounter these ancient words and bring them to Life.  Through Rachel’s skillful, joyful, playful and profound poetry, the Torah opens her secrets to us and invites us into an intimate conversation with Truth. 
        —Rabbi Shefa Gold, Torah Journeys

These poems are so out there, so radical, and at the same time so    gentle and inviting. Barenblat manages to do work that has passion and truth behind it, without ranting. I love the final poem in this     collection – gliding right past heartbreak into renewal.
        —Alicia Ostriker, The Book of Seventy




Praise for Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia 2013)

These rich poems will carry you into the great timeless miracle and mystery of unfolding littleness, nonstop maternal alertness, beauty and exhaustion and amazing, exquisite tenderness, oh yes. 
        —Naomi Shihab Nye, The Words Under the Words

The intense observation of the poet and intense observation of the mother unite in a celebration of what is new and newborn, what is intensely felt and cherished and what is lost and mourned. Barenblat’s poems are easy to enter into, and they carry both the uniqueness of her persona as poet and serious Jew and the universality of love that has made us all. The holy is in the everyday, as our best American poets have taught us, and as Barenblat teaches us in a new way. 
        —Rodger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus


A reading in Jerusalem!

70FacesSmall WaitingToUnfold-small

I'm thoroughly delighted to be able to announce that I'll be giving a talk and poetry reading in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem next week! Here's the event description:

Thursday, March 27, 8pm: Rachel Barenblat on motherhood, poetry, and spiritual life

Join poet and rabbi Rachel Barenblat for a talk about motherhood, poetry, blogging, postpartum depression, and spiritual life. Rachel will intersperse poems from Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013) with narrative about new motherhood and postpartum depression, using these poems (written one each week during the first year of her son's life) as a springboard for a conversation about how parenthood shapes both poetry and spiritual life. Depending on the interest of those who are present, she may also talk about Torah poetry and/or about blogging; her blog Velveteen Rabbi was named one of the top 25 sites on the internet in 2008.

I'm really looking forward to sharing poems and conversation. If you are in or near Jerusalem, I hope you will join us! The event will take place at the home of Rachel Shalev, a member of Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem. Seating is limited, and the event is RSVP only; if you're planning to come, please contact Rachel Shalev and ensure your place.

Deep thanks to author and journalist (and friend) Ilene Prusher, who did the work to set this up for me. Her books will be available for sale at the event, as will a limited number of copies of mine.

Book events across the border!

WaitingToUnfold-smallThis morning, after I lead meditation at my synagogue, I'll pack my things and get ready to head up the Northway and across the border.

If you are in or near Montreal, I hope you'll join me for one or the other (or both!) of these two author events -- first a conversation (leavened with poetry) about parenthood and spiritual life at the Anglican Cathedral on Saturday afternoon at 1pm, and then a service at the Unitarian Church of Montreal on Sunday morning where I'll be sharing some poems and also the morning's sermon.

My wonderful publisher, Phoenicia, is based in Montreal -- hence the decision to head up there. 70FacesSmallThis was initially conceived as more of a book launch weekend last spring, but timing and scheduling and parenthood and logistics were difficult to resolve... so we postponed until autumn, after the Days of Awe were complete. Which is now!

I'm looking really forward to the trip. I've been to Montreal several times before -- as a high school student on a French class trip (a big deal, coming all the way from south Texas!), for a mini-honeymoon right after our wedding, for a gathering with far-flung blogger friends, for a poetry reading and panel discussion when 70 faces first came out.

Every time I'm fortunate enough to visit, I experience a slightly different facet of the city -- which I was initially going to call beautiful and unique, though it occurs to me that those words are so banal as to be almost meaningless; surely every city is beautiful and unique, seen through the right eyes. But Montreal really is both of those things, and I'm looking forward to dipping into it again.

See y'all on the other side!

Two author events in Montréal next month

I'm delighted to be able to announce that I'll be returning to Montréal in about three weeks (over the weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving) for a pair of author events.

WaitingToUnfold-small 70FacesSmall

The first will be on a Saturday afternoon at the Anglican church in Montréal, Christ Church Cathedral:


FAMILY SATURDAY, October 12th, 1-4pm in Fulford Hall (Eng) Join Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013) a collection of poems which offer an honest look at the challenges and blessings of early parenthood. Discuss the relationship between parenthood and spiritual life. Childcare will be provided. Register with the Reverend Rhonda Waters as soon as possible.

And the second will be on Sunday morning, October 13th, at the Unitarian Church of Montréal. They'll be having their usual Sunday morning service, which will center that week around themes of gratitude (since it's Canadian Thanksgiving weekend) and on music (they're hosting a choral immersion weekend.) They've graciously asked me to offer the sermon, which will also touch on themes of gratitude -- and will almost certainly involve some poetry, as will the rest of the service.

Copies of both 70 faces (Phoenicia, 2011) and Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013) will be available for sale at both events.

Both events are free and open to the public -- these are not for (Episcopalian or Unitarian Universalist) parishioners only, but for anyone of any faith who's interested in the intersections of poetry, scripture, parenthood / life in the world, spiritual life, and cultivating gratitude! If you're in the area, or able to get to the area, I hope you'll join us.


70 faces events at CBI Northampton


On March 9 and 10 I'm doing two special events at CBI Northampton -- a congregation which shares a name with my shul in North Adams, but is located some 75 minutes away in a college town in the Pioneer Valley.

On Shabbat morning at 12:30pm -- after Shabbat morning services -- I'll give a reading from 70 faces (Phoenicia, 2011) in the synagogue library. I'll share some poems from the collection, as well as some remarks about how the collection came into being and how I see it as part of an extended tradition of creative responses to Torah. I have a few poems I always like to read at an event like this one, and I'll definitely share the poem for the Torah portion of that week, but I'm also open to share poems which arise out of other parshiyot if people have requests.

And on Sunday morning at 9:45am, I'll be teaching a Torah poetry workshop on the stage of the CBI Northampton social hall. We'll begin with some writing exercises to get our creative muscles limbered up, then move into drafting Torah poems of our own (if you have a favorite story in Torah -- or, for that matter, a story which has always troubled / challenged you -- I can guide you through working with that text) and then will share our poems and talk about them in a safe, welcoming space.

This year, CBI Northampton's adult education programs all dovetail with their learning theme for the year, a focus on ecology and the environment -- so in the Torah poems workshop, I'll be inviting us to be attentive not only to the details of the Torah text but also to the ways in which the natural world manifests in the Torah and in our poems.

All are welcome; if you're in the region, please join us!

70 faces at Yale on December 5


Remember the 70 faces event which was supposed to happen at Yale last month, but was postponed for congregational reasons? It's been rescheduled for this week, hooray! I'll be giving a reading from the book at 4pm on Wednesday, December 5, at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. I'm delighted to be bringing some Torah poetry to Yale.

If you're in or near Connecticut and would enjoy hearing me read Torah poems and answer questions about Torah and poetry and how they intersect, please join us. The reading is free and open to the public, and I'll have a few books to sign and sell if you need one or if you've been looking for the perfect Chanukah gift for a Torah poetry fan in your life.


Postponing my visit to Slifka

I posted a while back about a pair of events I've been planning to do at the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University -- a lunch gathering with students, and a 4pm poetry reading / tea / Q-and-A about poetry and midrash and Torah and so forth.

I'm still looking very forward to those events, but I've had to postpone them; a congregational funeral has arisen, and funerals trump everything else on the docket.

I'll post again here when I know the rescheduled date. Thanks for understanding, all.


Edited to add: it looks like we'll do these two events on Wednesday, December 5. My apologies to everyone in the Slifka community and everyone who was planning to come to one or both of these events this week; I hope to see you next month instead!

70 faces coming to Yale on November 7!


Another save-the-date for a 70 faces event: I'll be giving a reading from the book at 4pm on Wednesday, November 7, at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. I'm delighted to be bringing some Torah poetry to Yale.

If you're in or near Connecticut and would enjoy hearing me read Torah poems and answer questions about Torah and poetry and how they intersect, please join us. The reading is free and open to the public. I'll share more information as I have it.


Edited to add: A congregational funeral has arisen, and I have to postpone this event. I will post here again as soon as I know when the rescheduled Slifka event will be.

Save the date: 70 faces events in Northampton in 2013


Save the date! I'm doing two 70 faces events in March at another western Massachusetts CBI: not Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams (my shul), but Congregation B'nai Israel in Northampton, Massachusetts. I'll be doing two events there over the course of a weekend; first a poetry reading on Shabbat, and then a Torah poems workshop on Sunday morning, where I'll guide participants through the process of writing their own poetic responses to Torah.

Torah Poetry Reading and Workshop
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
March 9-10, 2013

Join Rabbi Rachel Barenblat (70 faces, Phoenicia 2011) for a reading of Torah poems after Shabbat morning services (services run 9:30-noon) and a Torah poetry workshop on Sunday morning (9:30-11:30). Meet the natural world through Torah's lens; meet Torah through the lens of poetry; bring a love of Torah and of nature to bear on your own poems.

All are welcome; if you're in or near Northampton, I hope you'll join us!


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!

A taste of 70 faces -- set to music!

I learned earlier today that four of the poems in 70 faces have been set to music! The composer is Michael Scherperel, who teaches music at Broward College. He set four of my Torah poems -- 1. Red Heifer / Chukat, 2. Sandals / Balak, 3. Caretaker / Behar, and 4. Korban / Vayikra -- to music as a 70th birthday gift for a friend. (It appears that I'm in excellent company; he's also set material by John Donne and by CP Cavafy.) He just sent me the sheet music for the four poems he set! What a delight to see my words on the score. I only wish my piano skills were a little bit stronger.

This is actually the second time a composer has set my words to music. A few years ago Michael Veloso was commissioned by Boston-based womens' musical ensemble Cantilena to write music for a Mother's Day concert (all music featuring mothers and motherhood in some way.) He set two of my Letters to Little Bean (part of a poem cycle I wrote while pregnant, otherwise as-yet unpublished) to music. On my first Mother's Day as a mother, I went to Boston to hear Cantilena perform Mike's music and my words -- an experience I hope I never forget.

Mr. Scherperel had apparently tried to reach me to ask permission to set the poems, but when his email didn't reach me, he took the plunge and wrote the music anyway. (And I am so glad he did.) This is probably a good time to say, on the record, that I am always happy when someone is inspired to create this sort of transformative work out of something I have written! Please feel free to remix, translate, create art inspired by, compose a musical setting for, and/or otherwise make art responding to or inspired by any of my work, poetry or prose.

I ask only that you credit me as the original work's author (and, if online, please link back to my site / my work) and that you show me whatever you make, because when someone likes something I've made enough to want to make something else in response, that brings me joy.


70 faces of Torah for Shavuot

As we count the Omer, we're counting down the days until Shavuot. (This year Shavuot begins on  the evening of Saturday, May 26 -- just under four weeks from now.) Like children counting the days until a birthday or vacation, like a bride or groom counting down the days until the wedding, we're counting the 49 days until we can celebrate the anniversary of standing at Sinai and receiving Torah.

The sages tell us that each of our souls was somehow mystically present on that day: not only the souls of every Israelite who had survived the Exodus from Egypt, but the souls of every Jew who ever was or will be. When we celebrate Shavuot with mindful intention, we can glimpse that ineffable moment of transmission.

My teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi tells us that the divine broadcast is still happening -- that God broadcasts truth and love and kindness on all frequencies all the time. This is the frequency to which our community has historically been attuned. If we open the ears of our hearts and souls, we can hear it even now.

In my favorite understanding, the Torah we received at Sinai wasn't just the words we know and love, dance with and wrestle with, read each week in the scroll of Genesis through Deuteronomy. In that moment of mystical download we received too all of the commentaries, the Oral Torah, the writings of our sages of blessed memory, all the way down to every d'var Torah written even now.

Every insight, every interpretation, every mind-opening understanding was packaged with the Torah when it came down. Torah, the sages say, has 70 faces; turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.

If you're looking for a contemporary way to connect with Torah, allow me to humbly suggest my collection of Torah poems. It makes a great Shavuot gift for anyone in your life who loves poetry and/or loves Torah. If your community celebrates Confirmation at this time, consider giving it to confirmands! Or to b'nei mitzvah, or to your rabbi, or to a friend, or to yourself. Find out all about it, read the first few poems, etc, here at the Phoenicia Publishing website.


A great Shavuot gift for one and all!