Daily April poem: inspired by masonry

CAESARIA MARITIMA


13332554873_c2eae8274c_nThe vaults of the sky arched overhead.
Beneath, men on scaffolding

tucked blocks of sandstone tight.
Once the keystone took its place

they hauled the wooden bolster free
and the stones stayed taut.

Pressure makes them motionless
even after two thousand years --

empire crumbled to dust, Iudaea
a forgotten name on mosaic maps.

Armies came and went, came
and went like the waves.

Today, tourists in Kelty hats
pose where chariots used to thunder.

The Slavic fishermen are gone,
their houses leveled and rebuilt.

Now a town on top of the ruins
of a town on top of the ruins.

A few kilometers away, lush green:
golfers stroll on manicured lawns.

Enough tension, nothing can shift
without bringing the whole place down.



Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites the writing of poems featuring masonry. When I thought of stones and the laying thereof, I thought of how I'm drawn to photograph arches, and how very many of them I admired in my recent travels -- starting with the arch you see above, photographed on my first day after arrival. (If you're curious about those ruins, feel free to click through to my post about that day's journey: Walking in (ancient) Caesaria.)

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Recent reading about Palestinians and Israel

13355906035_bea01a22fb_nOne of my Israeli friends on Facebook alerted me to a recent AP article: In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates. Here's how it begins:

BEIT UMAR, West Bank (AP) - The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

But there was a crucial difference that helped to shape each boy's fate: One was Israeli, and the other Palestinian.

The tale of the two teens provides a stark example of the vast disparities of Israel's justice system in the West Bank, a contested area at the heart of the elusive search for a lasting peace.

It's worth reading, though I'll caution you that it's not a feel-good article; I think the picture it paints is pretty bleak. Still, as I've argued at some length, we for whom this piece of land is meaningful have an obligation to pay attention not only to what brings us pleasure there, but also to what saddens us.

Also interesting is Bradley Burston's latest in Ha'aretz, How to lie to college students about Israel (part one). He deftly skewers many of the untruths peddled by the Jewish right. (I'm really curious to see what he puts in the forthcoming companion piece, in which he promises to do the same for the Jewish left.) I particularly appreciate his point about the difference between boycotting settlement products and boycotting Israel writ large -- a distinction which I think is too often ignored in the American Jewish press.

13357401854_8f5a272e4c_nThe final story I'll share is one which at least offers some hope: Palestinian Teaches Tolerance via Holocaust, in the New York Times:

JERUSALEM — Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi is an unlikely advocate for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He trained as a guerrilla with the Palestine Liberation Organization, was banned from Israel for 25 years because of his prominent role in Yasir Arafat’s Fatah group, and still refers to Israelis as “my enemy.”

But Mr. Dajani, now the library director and a professor of American studies at Al-Quds University, in East Jerusalem, has become a prominent activist for tolerance...[and] in March he took what is thought to have been the first group of students from the Palestinian territories to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in Poland.

Mr. Dajani has received some fairly predictable push-back from people in the Palestinian community who aren't fans of this sort of work. In response, he is quoted as saying:

My response to all this tirade is that my duty as a teacher is to teach, to have my students explore the unexplored, to open new horizons for my students, to guide my students out of the cave of perceptions and misperceptions to see the facts and the reality on the ground, to break the walls of silence, to demolish the fences of taboos, to swim against the tide in search of truth, in sum, to advance the knowledge and learning of my students in adhering to the verse in the Holy Quran, ‘And say My God increase my knowledge...’ If there are those who do not see or do not like that, it is their problem not mine.

(That latter quote comes from a Ha'aretz story: Palestinian professor who took students to Auschwitz responds to threats.)

 

Photos from my flickr stream: soldiers in Akko; olive tree and green door.


Daily April poem: instructions for drawing a map

MAP AND TERRITORY

 

Draw the lines firm: give no doubt
where the boundaries between us

and them. Your choice of alphabet
will locate you on one side

or the other. Think of the man
walking for seven years from where

the human story began. "I forget
the names of towns without rivers."

He wakes in the morning
to the footprints of desert beetles.

As we told the story of the Exodus
he took ship across the Red Sea

on a Syrian vessel full of mourners.
Hardboiled eggs rolled on their plates.

Will he climb the Harei Yehuda
or the Jibal al-Khalil?

Overhead, cranes following his route
chivvy him with rattling calls.

From their vantage his footsteps blur
into the sinuous tracks of a snake.

His path, the great rift
no negotiations can heal.


Luisa A. Igloria offered this prompt today:

Using couplets, write a poem of literal and metaphorical transplanting in the form of instructions for drawing a map.

In the poem, make reference to a specific mode of travel, a body of water, and a mountain range. Also include only the tracks or sound made by two types of animals that creep along the ground, and one that flies.

As I began the poem I had in mind my recent travels. Was I in Jerusalem or al-Quds? Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, or Palestine?

That, in turn, reminded me of tweets I've seen recently about Silwan / the City of David from the team chronicling Paul Salopek's Out of Eden walk from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego. (If this is new to you, read about it -- it's extraordinary.)

The quote comes from one of Paul's recent dispatches, as does the image of the eggs rolling on the plates of Syrians aboard ship. That image particularly resonated with me because in Jewish tradition we eat hardboiled eggs (and also lentils) at the meal of consolation after a funeral. A reminder of life even in the face of death.

 

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Edited to add: thanks to the team at Out of Eden for featuring this poem alongside a beautiful photograph from the crossing of the Red Sea on their blog: Couplets and Kilometers.


Daily April poem: a "golden shovel"

AT THE WALL

The same molded plastic chairs, there 13539805114_082146888b_n
as everywhere: in this way it is
like the nearby market stalls, though nothing
is bought or sold. We come to pray, to
pour out our hearts. Look,
on the men's side they leap for joy, at
ease with their voices. Here any
vocalization is quiet, more
a whisper than a cry. Everything
I want to say to God blocks my words. Has
She noticed how her children have been
at each other's throats? When I've seen
enough I back away and return to
where once a carpenter faced his death.


Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo is to write a "golden shovel," a form invented by Terrance Hayes. The way it works is this: take a short poem; break it up so that each word is its own line; and then write a new poem in which those are the end-words.

I chose a short poem called "Tourists" by DH Lawrence. (You can read it by reading the last word on each line of my poem, from top to bottom. Or you can find it on this list of poems for people with short attention spans.)

There's a custom of departing from the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall) by walking backwards, rather than turning one's back on the holy place. It is only a short walk from there to the Via Dolorosa.

Photo source is my own photostream again.

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Daily April poem: a series of lunes

13408287575_f81cbd47bb_nWAKE-UP CALL


Four-thirteen AM:
the call to prayer glides
into my ear.

God is greatest!
Another voice joins the song
point and counterpoint.

I bear witness
that there is no other
God but God!

Handful of stones
thrown into a still pond
make intersecting ripples.

In my bed
I think: hear, O Israel --
God is One.

When I sing
morning prayers I will remember
this sharp yearning.

One by one
the loudspeakers cease crying out.
Listen: church bells.


The day four prompt at NaPoWriMo is to write a lune, a three-line poem intended to do in English what a haiku does in Japanese. They suggested that we work with the form developed by Jack Collum, which features stanzas of three words, five words, three words.

Just last week I was in Jerusalem marveling at the early-morning sounds of the Old City (see Staying somewhere new). That's what sparked this poem. (The photo accompanying the poem is my own.)

You can read about the adhān here at Wikipedia.

"Hear, O Israel -- God is One" is a slight abbreviation of the shema.

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Daily April poem: "faces in the street"

STRANGER


he doesn't meet my glance, the man
whose tallit is draped like wings

on his way to morning prayer
on my first day back

when I walk round-eyed
into the old neighborhood, greeting

the grandkittens of the feral cats
the three-year-old used to feed

these limestone buildings
are my minyan, witnessing

my murmured prayer of gratitude
for years of absence, and for return


Today's poem was written to a prompt at 3030 poetry -- "faces in the street." It comes out of the experience of waking early, my first morning in Jerusalem, and going for a walk to my old street before breakfast. I love seeing people walking to Shabbat morning prayer with their tallitot flying behind them in the breeze. That never happens where I live, so it's a sight I associate entirely with Jerusalem. I struggled a bit to find the right title for this poem, and settled on "stranger" -- hoping it would reflect both the man in the poem, and the narrator of the poem, which is to say, me.

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Daily April poem for NaPoWriMo: based on a non-Greco-Roman myth


LEVIATHAN


Vaster than any known creature who lives in the deep!
Prayers encircle your horns. Light shines from your eyes.

Most of all you are lonely: God reconsidered your power
and killed your companion, salting away her flesh

as a feast for the righteous at the end of time.
These are the stories we whisper where you can't hear.

Each day you eat a whale whole and drink the Jordan down.
Maybe it's your fault there isn't enough water anymore.

To the dispossessed, the defending army is a leviathan
destroying homes with a flick of its mighty tail.

To the other side, the riotous rabble are numerous
as the scales on leviathan's back, deadly as its toothy maw.

Can that story change, or are we locked like bullets
into the rifled helix which points to the fearsome day

when the triumphant will stitch a sukkah from your skin
when we will have slain the greatest mystery of the sea?


The April 2 NaPoWriMo prompt suggests the writing of a poem arising out of a non-Greco-Roman myth. I chose Leviathan - drawing on a number of different midrash about the great sea-creature, many of which are cited in its Wikipedia entry (to which I just linked.)

Of course, since I am still processing my recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, thinking about leviathan's might and power led me to thinking about how each side in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict sees the other as the powerful aggressor, so that's in this poem too.

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Returning to Hebron - on a Dual Narrative Tour

13492442823_43af1b707f_nOne of the things I knew I wanted to do, upon returning to Israel for the first time in many years, was to go with Eliyahu McLean to Hebron on his Hebron Dual Narrative Tour. I had heard about the trip from a rabbi friend, who wrote to me:

Eliyahu's trip to Hebron is amazing and wonderful and done in tandem with a Palestinian guide. I cannot recommend the experience highly enough... on Eliyahu's trip, one spends 1/2 the day speaking with Jewish settlers, and 1/2 the day speaking with Palestinians. One experiences what is happening on the ground there. It is painful, complex, and not rhetorical or polemical.  It is not either/or to go with Eliyahu, but both/and in every sense of the word.

Not either/or, but both/and: that sounds right up my alley. Eliyahu was the first person ordained by Reb Zalman as a Rodef Shalom, a seeker of peace. (Learn more about his work at Jerusalem PeaceMakers which he co-founded along with the late sheikh Abdul Aziz-Bukhari, may his memory be a blessing. And here's an interview with Eliyahu at JustVision. While I'm at it -- let me mention that Eliyahu and my friend Reuven collaborated on transcribing the story of Reb Zalman Among the Sufis of Hebron, which I have cherished for years.)

13538370743_c172463a27_nI had visited Hebron once, in 2008, but not on this kind of dual-narrative trip. I was eager to see what I would learn. So last Wednesday morning I woke up early at the Ecce Homo convent and made my way through the Old City, out the Damascus Gate, and all the way down Street of the Prophets to meet up with the group. We were a mixed group of internationals: from Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Canada, the United States, and more. As far as I could tell, I was the only Jew on the tour.

(Long post ahead -- more than 4000 words, and many images, too. I hope you'll read the whole thing, despite its length.)

One of the first things that Eliyahu said to us was, "Remember that this trip is about dual narratives. You may feel at times that they are dueling narratives!" The first half of the day was spent with Eliyahu as our guide in the Jewish area of Hebron, which is called H2. H2 consists of about 20% of Hebron, geographically speaking; about 30,000-40,000 Palestinians live there. He reminded us that Hebron is one of Judaism's four holy cities, was the first capital from which King David reigned, and is considered in Jewish tradition to be second only to Jerusalem. 

Eliyahu speaks to our group; two Palestinian women at the edge of Shuhada / King David street.

He pointed out that both sides in this conflict tend to paint themselves as the victims. For instance: the Palestinian narrative holds that the closure of Shuhada street (which Jews call King David street) is a form of apartheid. That street had been a primary market thoroughfare before it was closed by the IDF. Now it is a ghost town of shuttered shops (and Palestinians are forbidden from walking on most of it), which the Palestinian narrative sees as a land grab and an exercise of power and control. The Israeli narrative says that King David street was closed because of suicide bombings and other attacks on Jews, and points out that Palestinians have access to 97% of the city while Jews are confined to a mere 3%, so clearly it's the Jews, not the Palestinians, who are the victims. (That's one example of incompatible narratives; over the course of the day we encountered many others.)

Continue reading "Returning to Hebron - on a Dual Narrative Tour" »


A Shabbat evening with the Nava Tehila community

At my first Jewish Renewal Shabbat services, back at the old Elat Chayyim in 2002, I felt as though my soul had come home. Every time I have davened with Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem, I have felt the same way.

When I saw that Nava Tehila didn't have a scheduled service during my time in Israel, I shrugged and figured that was just the luck of the draw. They only meet once a month; I was only here for ten days; it was okay. I made plans to spend Friday evening with Bill and Trudianne, two Jewish Renewal friends from Edmonton, whom I met at the Reb Zalman retreat at Elat Chayyim in 2004. I figured we'd come up with someplace to daven one way or another.

But then on Thursday night at my poetry reading (sponsored by Nava Tehila, and hosted in the home of a Nava Tehila member) I learned that the community would be having a service after all. It wasn't an official open-to-the-public service led by Reb Ruth and her band of amazing musicians; rather, a community service, led by community members, hosted in a community member's home. They were gracious enough to welcome us into their midst for the night, and it was exactly what my heart needed.

As the musicians began to play, people lit candles, and I went to kindle two tealights myself. As I lit them, I was overwhelmed by a wave of emotion -- thinking of my usual weekly tradition of lighting Shabbat candles with our son while Skyping with my parents 2000 miles away. I have had an amazing time in Israel, and will be enriched by this trip for a long time to come -- but I also really miss our little boy, and lighting candles without him made me a little bit weepy.

We sat in a circle in a gracious apartment with a big and beautiful mirpesset (balcony) from which one can see the Mount of Olives, the panorama of the Jerusalem foothills, and apparently on clear nights one can see the lights of Amman in the distance across the Dead Sea. There were several guitarists, one person playing a small harp, and one drummer. We moved through the psalms of kabbalat Shabbat, the service of welcoming the Shabbat bride, without any commentary or page numbers (or for that matter, siddurim) -- people just knew the words.

Many of the melodies were melodies I know from previous encounters with Nava Tehila, or from their two beautiful cds. (You can hear their music at Bandcamp.) Spontaneous harmonies unfolded. We sang with gusto. The musicians were terrific: all in synch with each other, changing tempo and mood effortlessly. At the best moments it felt as though we were all part of one organism, one heart with many bodies and voices giving voice to our shared Shabbat prayer.

When we went out on the mirpesset to welcome the Shabbat bride, I found myself overcome by emotion again. Grateful to be here -- grateful to be ringing in Shabbat with a room full of people who know what these words mean and who love them as much as I do -- amazed to be singing these ancient psalms, and these medieval Shabbat hymns, here, in this place, Jerusalem -- awestruck to be davening outdoors, looking over these hills which are at once so parallel to, and so wildly different from, the hills on which our deck looks out at home -- filled with yearning: for home, for here, for the healed and whole Jerusalem of my dreams, for my family (and especially our son), for connection with Shabbat...

And then someone I didn't know placed a kind hand on my arm, and I thanked her silently, and I pulled myself together and let the tears recede, and joined the singing again.

At one point, when we had paused for a moment, we heard the adhān ringing out from minaret after minaret. "God is great," someone murmured. "They're singing harmony with us," someone else said. A moment later came the riotous ringing of Friday evening church bells.

After an hour of luxurious kabbalat Shabbat singing, we heard a d'var Torah from a community member (usually given in Hebrew; tonight, in deference to the many visitors, he spoke mostly in English) and then another community member led us in a short-and-sweet ma'ariv (evening) service. We blessed juice and challah, enjoyed a glorious potluck (my contribution was the fresh strawberries I'd bought in the Old City that afternoon), and then spent some time in triads talking about how we're feeling spiritually as Pesach approaches. My trio sat on the mirpesset, and as we talked, we stopped to marvel at the fireworks down in the valley -- an Arab wedding, my hosts explained.

When we regrouped we sang some spontaneous niggunim -- more close harmonies, more deep feeling -- and then Bill and Trudianne and I regretfully bid the group farewell and caught a cab back to the Old City.

Before I left, I was honored with the request to share a poem. (I read this week's Torah poem from 70 faces, "Like God.") Before I read the poem, I thanked them for welcoming me. I said that every American rabbi comes to Jerusalem hoping for spiritual sustenance, for that feeling of one's soul being revitalized and rejuvenated -- and that I'm not sure everyone actually has that experience, even though it's what we come here for -- and that davening with Nava Tehila gives me exactly that: it fills me up and renews me to return home and bring these living waters back to the community I'm blessed to serve.


An unexpected messenger

I walked to Ben Yehuda street toward the end of Shabbat, thinking that I was going to wait on a park bench until Shabbat ended and the stores opened, in order to try to buy a Spiderman kippah for our son. (I should've just bought one in Tzfat when I first saw them; I haven't been able to find one anywhere else!) I did stay on a park bench for quite a while, and waited until well after nightfall, and the kippah stores did not open, and finally I walked back to the Old City and treated myself to one last Jerusalem dinner (kubbeh, pita and hummous, salatim, and a slushy mint-flecked lemonade -- glorious.)

But I did have an encounter on Ben Yehuda which may have been the real reason that I was there.

I was sitting on the park bench, thinking about my trip, thinking about home, when a man in a dark suit wearing a black hat stopped to ask me something in Hebrew. I answered, he thanked me, he moved on. A few minutes later, he was back. And he asked if he could talk with me. I was initially a bit reluctant, but there was something about him which felt safe to me, so I acquiesced. He said (in Hebrew) that he sensed that I was sad, and that his heart felt a connection to me, and that he wanted to urge me to cultivate joy. This sounds corny, doesn't it? But my instincts told me that this guy was okay, and I am never one to turn down a spontaneous spiritual encounter.

He asked if I pray, and I said that I do indeed. Then he asked if he could recite a psalm for me or with me. I suggested psalm 126, which I know by heart, and we recited it together. There was something extraordinary about saying those words -- that ancient psalmist's expression of joy at returning to Zion -- in this place. Then he offered psalm 122, and we prayed that one together, too. "I lift my eyes up to the mountains. From where comes my help? My help comes from the Holy Blessed One, creator of heaven and earth!" It's another one of my favorites.

He asked if I would tell him what had been on my mind. I said that I was thinking about my son, who is far away. He told me about his eight children and grandchildren, and about his son Noam who was born with encephalitis -- "water on the brain" -- who died fifteen months ago at the age of twenty. I offered him the traditional words of consolation, and he clasped my hands and blessed me. He told me about the nonprofit he now runs, which provides free meals for the poor, and which is named in his son's memory, that the merit from the good deed might accrue on his son's behalf.

We smiled at each other. He told me that he is an Orthodox rabbi named Yitzchak; I told him that my name is Rachel, and he called me his sister. He expressed some surprise at my Hebrew and my fluency with the psalms, and asked what I do. I told him that I am a poet and a mother -- a partial truth; I didn't have the sense, in that moment, that he would respond well to hearing that I am a rabbi, so I left that part out. He blessed me that I should have joy in my writing and joy in my son. "Teach your son to love everyone," he advised me, solemnly. "That is the most important thing." He blessed me again, and I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

So I didn't get the kippah I was hoping to find. But I did get a blessing -- several blessings, really. Perhaps the friendly man in the black hat was an angel, a messenger, stopping in to remind me to serve God with love and with joy.

 


Meeting new (old) friends

One of the joys of being a longtime blogger is having the chance to meet people whose words one has read for years. I've had the opportunity to meet three bloggers while I've been in Jerusalem. First I had lunch with Chaviva (of Just Call Me Chaviva); then Ilene (of Primagravida) hosted me for a poetry reading; and then I spent most of a day with Vicky (of Bethlehem Blogger.)

On Thursday Chaviva and I met for lunch on Emek Refaim in West Jerusalem, where we chatted about life, parenthood (her baby is adorable), how I came to the rabbinate, how she came to Israel, how Israel has and hasn't been what she imagined before she made aliyah, what it's like living far away from family, and so on. Chaviva lives in Neve Daniel, which I had seen briefly from the bus on my way home from Hebron the day before. It is lovely and green and looks like a great place to rear a kid. (Of course, to its residents it is a  suburb of Jerusalem; to the residents of Bethlehem just down the hill, it is an illegal settlement. I did mention that I'm trying to sit with the contradictions, right?) I didn't think to snap a photo, so you'll just have to take my word for our encounter.

The poetry reading, moderated by Ilene and hosted by a lovely woman named Rachel in her Baka apartment, was wonderful. I read poems from both 70 faces and Waiting to Unfold, and talked about Torah and parenthood and poetry and postpartum depression and all kinds of good things. It was such a sweet evening that I almost missed my guesthouse's curfew!

And then the next day Vicky came to meet me at the guesthouse for spiritual pilgrims where I have been staying in the Old City. She took me to a fantastic bookstore-café in East Jerusalem where we ate sandwiches and chocolate cake, and browsed books, and talked about all sorts of things -- how she came to Bethlehem, her PhD research, the children with whom she works, how and why I became a rabbi, culture, theology, her Bethlehem host family, and more. It was the sort of meeting where one instantly feels as though one is with a longtime friend. Of course, we've been reading each others' blogs for years, so we have known each other for a long time, even if we hadn't met in person before. But I suspect that our blog-familiarity is only part of why we clicked so comfortably.

St. Peter in Gallicantu.

Then she took me to see one of her favorite places in Jerusalem, an utterly spectacular church on the far side of the Old City. It's called St. Peter in Gallicantu, and the name denotes the cock crowing -- as in the story of Peter rejecting Jesus three times before the rooster could announce the morning. I didn't manage to get any great photographs of it, so the one above will have to stand in. The interior mosaics which cover the dome and its pillars are incredible: a soft rainbow of colors, a ring of angels bearing trumpets whose robes resemble clouds. And although there was a tour group there when we arrived, we sat quietly off to the side and in time they departed and left us alone in the basilica, which was quiet and peaceful in a way I rarely associate with this city! The church was serene and I said a silent prayer that real peace may come speedily and soon to this place where so many people for so many centuries have sought connection with God.

With Vicky, post-falafel.

She came with me back to my guesthouse so I could don a clean white shirt for Shabbat. We had glorious falafel near the Damascus Gate, and she taught me how to say strawberries in Arabic (so I could buy some for the Shabbat potluck I would be attending), and then we regretfully parted ways. Vicky wrote a really lovely post about our day together: Meeting the Velveteen Rabbi.

I'm grateful that the internet has brought me into connection with so many wonderful people here.


The adventure of staying somewhere new

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View from the roof of the Ecce Homo, twilight. Below: intersection with minaret, shopkeeper's wares.

13408211325_efa47a699a_nI've never stayed in the Old City before. The moment I walk out of the convent guesthouse where I am staying, I'm on the cobblestones of the Via Dolorosa. Merchants selling Christian religious icons beckon me into their storefronts. If I continue walking away from the Lion's Gate, I reach a T-junction. If I turn left there, and follow the road as it zigs and zags a bit, I wind up at the Kotel. If I turn right, and follow the road as it zigs and zags a bit, I wind up at the Damascus Gate.

I don't think these streets are officially part of the marketplace (shuk in Hebrew, souq in Arabic), but there are market stalls along them nonetheless. A few vendors are selling prayer beads / rosaries (both Christian and Muslim), or religious icons. Others sell leather sandals, spices, Arabic candy, loops of sesame-encrusted bread, plastic toys, abayas, and alarm clocks shaped like the Dome of the Rock.

I am an obvious outsider in my jeans, sandals, and t-shirt. Even when I don't have my camera out, even without a guidebook in hand, I am clearly a foreigner, which means that vendors call out to me as I pass. "Hello! Miss! Step inside. Come and see." I smile but keep on walking; I'm not in the market for their wares. I wish I could snap photographs of the market stalls, and of the locals as they weave effortlessly through the foot traffic, but I don't.

Breathing in, I inhale coffee with cardamom, a tendril of the incense burning at the spice vendor's shop, vehicle exhaust, the apple-like sweetness of nargila smoke. The scents link me instantly with my summer in Jerusalem and with the trip Ethan and I took to Amman. This is the fragrance of the Middle East. I wonder whether I first encountered it on my adolescent trip to Cairo with my parents and sister, all those years ago, but I can't call up those sense-memories. One way or another, there is nothing like this scent back home.

13408386863_c75b22552c_nAround me I hear the clamor of voices, mostly speaking Arabic, which I do not understand. Occasionally I hear a snatch of Hebrew, mostly from the visibly-Jewish passers-by, the men in black frock coats with peyos and hats, the women with their hair wrapped in scarves who push strollers and lead little ones by the hand. The streets are narrow; there is barely enough room for the occasional car which creeps through, horn blaring when the foot traffic gets in its way.

As I return to the guesthouse, the set hour arrives for Muslim evening prayer. The adhān rings out first from one minaret, then from another, and within moments I am ensconced in an aural web of voices coming from every direction. The melody is plaintive and melancholy to my untrained ear. (Not so much a melody as a nusach -- like the old melodic modes in which we sing weekday prayer.) The voices seem to ripple, like the surface of a pond into which stones have been thrown. When the call to prayer falls silent, I hear the sound of church bells.

 

Photos, once again,  from my ever-expanding trip photoset.


Two historic synagogues in Tzfat

After a wonderful morning of davening the morning service with my family and celebrating my nephew as he became bar mitzvah, and a delicious lunch at the Bar-El guesthouse, our guide Kobi took us to visit two historic synagogues before setting us loose to wander the streets of the artists' quarter.

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At the Karo synagogue: lights, and corner genizah; Sefardic-style Torah case.

The first is the synagogue named after Rabbi Joseph Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, "The Set Table," a compendium of halakha first printed in 1565 which is considered authoritative in many quarters even today. Rabbi Karo was born in Spain in 1488, though emigrated as a child to Portugal when the Inquisition began. After the Jews were driven out of Portugal, he made his way to in Tzfat, where he was chief rabbi for 35 years.

The synagogue we visited bears his name, though it is not precisely the one where he davened. That one was destroyed in the earthquake of 1759. It was rebuilt, and then a second earthquake in 1837 took the second version down, too! But both times, the wall containing the aron, the ark where the Torah scrolls are kept, remained intact. Some saw that as a miracle. Others, our guide noted, attributed it to the fact that the wall containing the ark was double-thick.

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At the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue: stained glass window; aron / ark, with wooden carvings.

From there it is a very short walk, only a few scant blocks, to the Ari synagogue, named after Rabbi Isaac Luria who is known as the Ari. That synagogue was built in the late 16th century, and may be the oldest synagogue in Israel to have been continuously in use. The Ari is the one of the original guiding lights of what we know today as kabbalah.

It was the Ari who took his disciples each Friday evening into a nearby field to greet the Sabbath bride -- the custom which has evolved into the service we know today as kabbalat Shabbat, "receiving" or "welcoming Shabat." (If you see a similarity between kabbalat and kabbalah, that's because kabbalah literally means "that which is received" -- wisdom which comes to us from beyond.)

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Ceiling at the synagogue of the Ari.

When I think of the Ari, I think of kabbalah. The idea that when God's initial light streamed into creation it was too powerful to be contained, and the vessels of creation shattered, leaving sparks of divinity scattered everywhere, and it's our job to perform mitzvot mindfully and thereby uplift those sparks back to God...? That's Lurianic; that's what tikkun olam means.

When I think of Rabbi Joseph Karo, I think of halakha, because the Shulchan Aruch has been so foundational. It's easy for me to forget that he too was a mystic. It is said that he was visited by an angelic being who taught him secret mysteries of Torah.

I can't say that I had a mystical experience in either synagogue; perhaps the general tourist experience isn't conducive to that. Still, they are truly beautiful prayer places, and I am glad to have visited them again.


In Akko: Crusader-era ruins and the Jezzar Pasha mosque

13358289154_bf1dcfd468_nAnother new-to-me destination on my family's travels was Akko -- one of the oldest continuously-inhabited sites in the region. (Bet She'an has evidence of habitation for about 6000 years; Akko, about 4000 years.) From the city's Wikipedia page I learned that the first settlement on this site was in the early Bronze age, about 3000 BCE. I also learned that "The name 'Akka is recorded in Egyptian sources from about 2000 BCE, with three signs (the initial guttural, "k" and "a"; followed by the sign for 'foreign city.')" How cool is that?

At one time Akko was ruled by Rome; then became part of the Byzantine empire; then spent a while under Muslim rule; then the Crusaders took control. By the 1130s it had a population of around 25,000 and was the biggest city in the Crusader kingdom except for Jerusalem. Eventually the Ottomans ruled there; then it became part of British Mandate Palestine. In 1929 there was a pogrom during which Arab residents demolished the synagogue in the old city. Tensions between Arabs and Jews were high again between 1936 and 1939. In 1948, when the city became part of the modern state of Israel, about 3/4 of its Arab inhabitants were displaced. But today it remains a "mixed city," with both an Arab and a Jewish population.

What reading I was able to do before the trip suggested that the relationships between the Arab and Jewish populations here are still complicated: see Arab rock attack at home in Acre, 2013, or The Israeli TV guide to cheap Arab lives, 2014. (Note that those reports come from very different news sources, so they paint quite different pictures.) I'm heartened to read about places like the Sir Charles Clore Jewish-Arab Community Center -- though I don't know enough to know how to balance the existence of a place like that against the other stories to which I just linked.

13356256385_92f1ed8d39_nAnyway: given the link that my sister sent out before the trip (Underground Crusader city revealed beneath streets of Acre, Ha'aretz) I suspected Akko was on our agenda for primarily archaeological reasons, and I was right. Here's a glimpse of that Ha'aretz piece to whet your appetite, as it did mine:

Preparing to open a new subterranean section to the public, workers cleaned stones this week in an arched passageway underground. Etched in plaster on one wall was a coat of arms — graffiti left by a medieval traveler. Nearby was a main street of cobblestones and a row of shops that once sold clay figurines and ampules for holy water, popular souvenirs for pilgrims.

All were last used by residents in 1291, the year a Muslim army from Egypt defeated Acre's Christian garrison and leveled its remains. The existing city, built by the Ottoman Turks around 1750, effectively preserved this earlier town, which had been hidden for centuries under the rubble.

"It's like Pompeii of Roman times — it's a complete city," said Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of Acre. He called the town "one of the most exciting sites in the world of archaeology."

I know that archaeology is often political -- especially in the "Holy Land;" here's a great article about that, actually: Digging for the Truth -- but I couldn't help being excited at the prospect of seeing ruins like these, especially given that the whole Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

13356287753_a024faee29_nWe began with the Ottoman-era Citadel, and then entered the Hospitallers' Fortress, the vast vaulted halls built and used by the Hospitallers knights during the Crusader era, which had been buried for centuries beneath the Citadel and nearby prison. Our guide explained that the structures above them had caved in during an invasion (perhaps the Mamluk invasion? it's hard to keep track!) and it was apparently easier to just fill the spaces with sand and build on top than to clear them out. So for a time, prisoners in the local prison yard did their exercises on top of these ancient hidden halls.

I've never been much of a Crusader buff. Jews didn't fare well during the Crusades, and that's never been a period of history into which I've wanted to delve too deeply. But leaving aside for the moment the problematics of the Crusades as violent holy wars, this complex of early medieval halls and great rooms is dazzling.

Toward the end of our time in the Crusader complex we walked through a tiny underground tunnel which once served as the sewer conduit between this underground complex and the sea -- and then through the Templars' tunnel, which is believed to have been a secret Crusader escape route which allowed them to flee to their waiting boats on the sea. Running water flowed beneath our feet as we trod on a well-constructed wooden walkway, sometimes crouching beneath a surprisingly low vaulted ceiling, and made our way underground to the shore.

13357463725_8113d7aa81_nWe also visited the largest mosque in Israel outside of Jerusalem, the Jezzar Pasha Mosque , built in 1781. I hadn't known we were coming to a mosque today, so was wearing short sleeves. The friendly gentleman at the entrance to the compound passed out dark blue cloths which several of us used to cover in various ways in order to be appropriately-respectful. Once we were adequately draped, we stepped inside.

I'm not sure I would have been much of a fan of Jezzar Pasha himself, whose nickname was "The Butcher." (Sounds like he wasn't very nice to his Jewish chief advisor, Haim Farhi.) But the mosque which takes his name, constructed on his orders in a single year, is quite beautiful.

The Jezzar Pasha mosque inhabits a lush, peaceful courtyard where birds sing and a water fountain (with faucets for wudu) flows merrily. The inlay on the outside of the building is gorgeous, as is the green dome. Inside, names of God twine around the building in gold letters on blue, and beautiful inlay and painted ornament rest side-by-side with an LED clock which displays the time until the next prayers.

13357956374_2ae768fa41_nWe spent a while walking around its courtyard, admiring the artistry of the Byzantine and Persian ornamentation, and standing in small groups quietly inside the doors of the mosque (not on the prayer rugs, but on a little wooden area just inside the door which was clearly meant for visitors) just letting the space wash over us.

After visiting the mosque, we walked back to the Crusader ruins -- and heard the adhān about two minutes later, while standing in a small grassy square just outside one of the main entrances to the ruins. We stopped and listened to its haunting melodies. God is great! rolled out like auditory calligraphy, floating on the sea-scented air.

 

All photos in this post come from this trip's photoset, which I'm doing my best to add to each day (wifi permitting.)

 


Walking in (ancient) Caesaria

13332922384_0e2d06f3c5_nOn Shabbat morning I woke up in Jerusalem and, with nearly twenty members of my extended family, boarded a bus heading north. The first place we visited together was Caesaria (קֵיסָרְיָה / قيسارية‎).

Before our visit, the name mostly evoked the Hannah Szenes poem הליכה לקיסריה, "Walking to Caesaria." Here it is sung by Regina Spektor [YouTube link] -- gives me chills every time. (We often sing this in my synagogue at Yizkor / Memorial services.) The words mean, "My God, my God, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart."

Wanting to know more than just that beautiful melody, I read the town's Wikipedia page, and here's a snippet of what it says:

The town was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE as the port city Caesarea Maritima. It served as an administrative center of Judaea Province of the Roman Empire, and later the capital of the Byzantine Palaestina Prima province during the classic period. Following the Muslim conquest in the 7th century, the city had an Arab majority until Crusader renovation, but was again abandoned after the Mamluk conquest. It was populated in 1884 by Bosniak immigrants, who settled in a small fishing village. In 1940, kibbutz Sdot Yam was established next to the village. In February 1948 the village was conquered by a Palmach unit commanded by Yitzhak Rabin and its people expelled. In 1952, a Jewish town of Caesarea was established near the ruins of the old city, which were made into the national park of Caesarea Maritima.

After the Roman material -- I'm always fascinated by Roman-era history, ever since spending all of those years studying Latin -- the British Mandate section is most interesting to me, especially the part about the village notable who approached local Jews in an effort to establish a non-belligerency agreement in 1947, and the Haganah presence which followed in 1948, resulting in the expulsion of the town's residents and subsequent demolishing of most of its houses. That said -- we didn't see any of modern Caesaria, so most of that research turned out to be background for a place we didn't visit!

13332642464_4d176dbb12_nWhere we actually went was Caesarea Maritima, the Israeli national park containing the extensive ruins of ancient Caesaria, which was established by Herod the Great around 25 B.C.E. (The town, not the national park, obviously.) Of course, this means that Caesaria isn't mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures, because it's far too recent for that. We spent a neat morning exploring the ruins along with the guide my sister had hired. He was full of interesting facts about, e.g., where the marble to build the columns had come from, and how the theatre and hippodrome were used, and how the city got its name, and how the manmade harbor was built out of concrete laid underwater during the first century B.C.E. (and why it later eroded away).

Much of what we saw was original -- for instance, the mosaic floors in various places, which were gorgeous -- though the outdoor semicircular theatre is mostly reconstruction, and so is the replica of the stone which bore the inscription "Pontius Pilate dedicated a building here to Caesar in such-and-such a year" -- the original is in the Israel museum, too precious to leave out to the winds and the weather, as it's the only place outside of the Christian scriptures where Pilate is mentioned. Apparently it was found face-down in the theatre; people had been using it as a stepping-stone for years, and were stunned when it was flipped over and they realized its historical importance. I particularly liked the ruins of the palace, with the mosaic floor, and the remnants of what may once have been a swimming or bathing pool, right on the edge of the sea.

13331836623_472610895f_nAfterwards we drove along amazingly twisty mountain roads to the Arab village of Ein Hud (not to be confused with the Israeli artists' village Ein Hod, which is next door) for a meal at Habait Be'Ein Hud, which was one of the most extraordinary meals of my life. There is no menu; you just eat whatever the mother of the household has cooked that day. I love putting my trust in a chef's hands like that, and oh, wow, this kitchen did not disappoint. The place was packed, and we were the only English-speaking table in evidence.

We were seated at a giant long banquet table next to windows overlooking the hills and wildflowers and olive trees. The food just kept coming: hummus, babaghanoush, tabbouleh, olives and turmeric-pickled cauliflower, every Arabic salad and appetizer I could name (and several I couldn't, including one which I think was made mostly out of Swiss chard with lemon and cumin.) That alone would have been plenty of lunch. But it turned out to be just the prelude to plate after plate of spiced rice and chicken, turmeric-yellow rice surrounded by chunks of fork-tender meat, eggplant in a rich sauce, stuffed peppers...!

13331732625_868e9eeafe_nI wish I could have eaten twice as much as I did; it was incredible. I just kept saying "todah rabah! shukran!" to the people who brought the food, over and over again.

That meal culminated in a downstairs sitting area, where we were offered tea or coffee (I chose coffee -- in a tiny eggshell teacup, dark and thick and cardamom-scented, which I sweetened with sugar; the flavor immediately took me back to the last time I was in this part of the world!) and ate baklava and relaxed.

There was another surprise in store. I think a local capoeira club happens to practice there on Shabbat afternoons. At least, my sister insisted that she had not hired them as entertainment; they just showed up, turned on music, and fought / danced / did their beautiful graceful moves. We sipped our coffee and tea, and applauded, and one of my older nephews got up and one of the dancers taught him a few of their simpler patterns...and then we got back on the bus and continued on our way.

 

All photos can be found in my growing photoset from this trip.


A reading in Jerusalem!

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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.


On my way

Il_570xN.184531812Mark Twain wrote that "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness[.]" I don't know about fatal, but anyone who travels with open eyes and an open heart can't help but be moved. By the things we have in common across the earth's wide expanse, and by the many fascinating places where we differ in custom, practice, dress, way of being in the world.

Travel can shake one out of calcified habits. Days have a different rhythm when one is away from home. Everything seems new, or has the capacity to seem new. Home is about sedentary comfort, the small joys of the mundane and routine. But most of those routines are shattered when one is on the road, waking in an unfamiliar bed, breathing unfamiliar air.

I love my home (the house itself, and the hilltop where it stands, and the community of which it is a part), and I like the rhythms of my life as rabbi, mother, poet, daughter, spouse. And I also love leaving home: walking with renewed attentiveness to the world around me, meeting new people, seeing new things, connecting where I've been with where I'm going.

Traveling, like parenthood, requires yielding a certain amount of control. We make the best plans we can, and inevitably something comes along to shift those plans into a new configuration. Traveling is an exercise in mindfulness and an exercise in cultivating graceful acceptance of whatever gifts the world places in our path, even if they don't look like gifts at the time.

This morning I will drive the familiar winding country roads which take me to the airport an hour away. After a short flight, I'll spend most of the day in an unfamiliar airport. And then I'll get on another plane -- a much bigger one, this time -- and fly all night, arriving tomorrow jet-lagged and disoriented in Tel Aviv.

I've been thinking about this trip for a long time. It was on my mind when I wrote The spiritual work of wrestling with the both/and (February, 2014.) I can't help thinking back to June of 2008 when I last made this journey -- though then I was leaving home for a whole season; this time I'll be abroad for a mere ten days. Then I was a student; now I am a rabbi, and a mom.

I think I know some of what these ten days will hold. (Time with family; a bar mitzvah; a day trip to Hebron; a poetry reading in Jerusalem next Thursday; meals and coffee with friends.) But I'm also going to do my best to be open to surprises, and to find the blessing in every moment, and to keep my mind and heart open to being further broadened, even when that broadening stretches me beyond my usual comfort zone.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make the journey. May all who travel reach their destinations safely, today and every day.

 

 


Two perspectives on Zionism

As I prepare for my own departure tomorrow, I've paused in my packing to read two essays written by respected rabbinic colleagues, both published this week in Al-Jazeera. In one essay, Rabbi Ari Hart writes about why he is a Zionist. In the other, Rabbi Brant Rosen writes about why he is not.

Rabbi Ari Hart writes:

5e4085425f7bc9f0a0ac43ed63f6a9adThe Psalmist says it best: Zionism and the return to Israel is like a dream. It is an ancient dream, thousands of years older than the Holocaust, European anti-semitism and colonialism. It is a three-part dream of returning to the home from which we were exiled, living out our destiny as a people, and bringing righteousness and justice into the world. It is a dream we carried with us from Algeria to Azerbaijan, New York to New Dehli for 2,000 years.

For millennia, the dream lay embedded in Jewish yearning, scripture and prayer, but with only the faintest hope of it being realised. The consistent attempts by Jews to live and flourish in the land of Israel, long before the existence of Zionism as a political ideology, were an expression of that dream. The more recent emergence of political Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel have marked the beginning of that dream coming true.

...The challenge of my Zionism is to recognise two things at the same time: how positive Zionism and the state of Israel have been for the Jewish people and the world, and that a beautiful dream does not always mean a perfect reality.

-- Rabbi Ari Hart, My Zionist dream, my Zionist reality

In response, Rabbi Brant Rosen writes:

9-9-11-Brant-RosenLike Rabbi Hart, I am profoundly inspired by the Jewish dream of return so powerfully evoked in Psalm 126. I do not, however, understand these words to be a "blueprint" for Jewish political nationalism. For most of Jewish history, in fact, the Jewish dream of return to the land was not understood literally but was rather projected onto a far-off messianic future. The rabbinic sages who developed Jewish tradition forcefully prohibited the forcing of God's hand through the establishment of an independent Jewish state...

I believe that as Jews, we must be willing to own [our] dark history and say it out loud: during 1947 to 1948, Zionist military forces either displaced or forcibly expelled over 700,000 Palestinians then forbid their return, creating what is today the largest refugee population in the world. Today more than 4,000,000 Palestinians harbour their own dream of return - not to a mythic Biblical homeland but to a land that they remember only too well.

In short, Israel's founding is inextricably bound up with an inherent injustice to the people who had made a home in this land. More critically, it is an injustice that continues until today through policies of dispossession and displacement designed to maintain a Jewish demographic majority in the state of Israel.

-- Rabbi Brant Rosen, A Jewish dream beyond political nationalism.

Reading these two essays side-by-side is an experience of wrestling with the both/and, for sure.


A poem from 1999

Sabra-fruit-small-045LIMESTONE


Texas doesn't have the Mediterranean
but any native knows the similarities.
The sabra is prickly on the outside,
sweet on the inside, like cactus fruit.
Texas has cactus, and we're also
not short on attitude.

Variations: Israeli ranchers are
Bedouins living in corrugated metal
and black plastic, moving goats
and sheep through Judaean desert,
not big men with Rolex watches
and Lucchese boots.

But the sky is the same, and the rocks:
I grew up surrounded by Jerusalem stone.
No wonder Zionism was innate.
Every palm, fig, banana tree
reminded my parents of kibbutz fields
rising like soldiers across the Negev.


This poem appears in my second chapbook What Stays (Bennington Writing Seminars Alumni Chapbook Series, 2002). It's on my mind because I'm about to spend several days with my extended Texas family in that other landscape which looks so much like the one where I grew up -- so similar, and so different, in all kinds of ways.

Sabra is Hebrew slang for "native-born Israeli." The name comes from the plant I grew up calling prickly pear cactus, which grows all over south Texas. (I know the paddles as nopales, an ingredient in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking.)

There are things I would do differently if I were revising this poem now -- I'm not satisfied with the last line at all; I can see what I was trying to evoke, but I don't think it works -- but this is the way the poem appeared when first published. What Stays had a limited printing, but I still have some copies; email me if you're interested in buying one. (Also someone's selling one on Amazon!)


Joshua Prager's Half-Life

HalfLife_Byliner_396_612_35I recently finished Joshua Prager's Half-Life: Reflections from Jerusalem on a Broken Neck. Prager was a young man of nineteen studying in Jerusalem when the bus he was riding in was slammed by another vehicle -- not an act of terrorism, as one might have assumed, (especially when a Palestinian driver hits a bus full of Jews), but simple carelessness and bad driving. His neck was broken, a moment of rupture which divided his life irrevocably into a "before" and an "after."

The book's narrative curls around and loops in on itself. We read about Prager as a hale and hearty student; we read about him paralyzed; we read about the morning of the crash, and the last bodily freedom he remembers; we read about physical therapy and the excruciating effort to regain bodily control. Learning to breathe and to sit again. From quadriplegic to hemiplegic to walking, albeit with difficulty, with a cane.

We return with Prager to Jerusalem, and as voyeurs on his shoulder we accompany him as he slowly makes his way through the city where his life changed. Navigating, for instance, the cobbled streets and uneven city curbs which I remember from pushing a stroller there in the summer of 2008 with my housemates' three-year-old in tow.

This book is full of poignant tension between what was, and what is, and what might yet be. The same could be said of Jerusalem, with its storied history and contested present and future. As Prager himself notes: "This ancient city is a palimpsest, its narratives written and rewritten on white stone." This memoir's structure evokes that quality. At the beginning of any new section, we might be in the now or we might be in the then -- or any moment in between. Even in the now, the then peeks through.

Prager approaches his subject with clear eyes and deft turns of phrase. I admire his ability to write so candidly about his experience, without sentimentality and without sparing anyone, including the reader. The scene where he goes to meet the driver of the minibus responsible for his injuries is a particularly fine example of that. He doesn't sugar-coat and he doesn't flinch from what is -- and he also resists the urge to demonize or oversimplify. (You can hear him tell that story in his TED talk, which I've linked to below.)

One of the book's most memorable moments for me (as a rabbi and sometime hospital chaplain) is the scene where the rabbi emeritus of his synagogue walks into his hospital room and loudly prays over his prone body. Prager writes:

I was mortified. No, rabbi! NO!

But I, who one month before had wrestled a trio of classmates, pinning each, was unable to fend off a rabbi in his eightieth year. And as the litany unfurled -- God asked to shine his face upon me, to be gracious to me, to lift up his countenance to me, to give me peace -- I wished to disappear. But I saw over my stockinged feet that the congregation was not listening, the yellow man beside me, his saffron urine bagged between us, minding his tea. And so I succumbed to a blessing.

In some ways this whole memoir feels to me like a book about succumbing to blessing with grace, and also a book about fighting for every inch of recovery and understanding. The two coexist sometimes uneasily, and that tension is part of what drives the narrative forward.

Prager resists the platitudes -- "everything happens for a reason" or "God only gives us what we can handle." (Two of the top sentences on my list of things never to say to hospital patients, by the by.) But he also resists, I think, the sense that if God doesn't have a "plan" then our lives is meaningless. I experienced this book as Prager's work at making meaning out of his own life, out of the lived Torah of his human experience. And in reading about his process, we join him in making, or finding, meaning too.

You can read an excerpt online here. To my surprise, the Kindle edition is only $3.99 on Amazon. Worth a read.

 

For more:

Joshua Prager's TED talk, In search of the man who broke my neck [video]

The Q & A: Joshua Prager: Reconstituting a Self, The Economist