Monday, December 26, 2011

A Man with a Name (though I don't know it)

A Man with a Name
(though I don't know it)

Sat next to him
on the Greyhound bus
from New York to Maryland.

He was concerned about the seat lights.
They weren't working at first,
but they lit up when we moved.

He had a textbook on his lap.
Read two or three pages.
We both slept for a couple of hours.

He got his Master's at Hopkins.
He didn't understand
why we had made a rest stop
when we were already running late.
The driver was fixing the sockets.

I stood up to make sure that everyone was there.
(A full bus makes it easy to check.)
He admired my caring.

The tiara on my lap - for a New Year's costume?
No, I'm bringing it home
for my 20-year-old brother.

Residency in D.C. following time at UCLA.
We talked about snow and snow days
and snowball fights.
I don't like snowball fights.
I pass it off on my pacifist streak,
but really, I just get scared.
I'm more okay with them now.

He mused upon a life
without constant studying.
I appreciate structure
and work-not-work
separation.

He grew up speaking English in Nigeria.
His accent is British-sounding.
We both sometimes say "gonna". I say "hon".

The moon was newly new
and we discussed a bit of religion.
He brightened up
when I mentioned singing in New York.
He was in a church choir once.
His family is very religious;
he is "not particularly".

The sun was at 10 o'clock, on our left.
We both got sunspots. I closed my eyes,
following the circles as they descended.

He likes shrimp and crabs
and doesn't like chocolate
or Ethiopian restaurants-
the bread is not his favorite.
White chocolate is good, though.

He approves of his sister's boyfriend,
not that either of them asked him.

I did not strike him as a New Yorker.
I extolled the subway for a while
and hoped that I would not turn
taciturn.
Apparently it takes about a year.

He grew to like the Ravens
but still finds the Orioles
not to his taste.

He likes performing facial reconstructions
because he is making a difference
one person at a time.

As a Senior Resident, he has both Christmas and New Year's off.

He is going to see two friends tonight,
home friends,
and family as well. We're both hungry.

I had already deemed him
"A man with a name
(though I don't know it)"-
but he told me his name before the bus stopped,
first name only,
and I told him mine,
and we shook hands.

We parted with well wishes,
and he's going to look up my choir,
although I don't know if he'll remember
how to spell it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Haiku: New Jersey to Port Authority

We speak haiku
and let the world keep turning.
Someone must witness.

Cultures are poems.
Some sing within the stanzas.
Others burst through the syllable count.

Counting syllables.
Possibilities expand
within a framework.

Religious frameworks
put the yoke of Heaven on
your back. Heavy wings.

Culture poetry.
I stay within the structure
afraid to lose rhyme.

Afraid to lose time
On the New Jersey transit,
I think, write, and sleep.

Earlier haiku

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Haiku: Port Authority to New Jersey

Waiting for New Jersey.
Adventurous bus station
music - exciting!

Bus station music.
I'm feeling adventurous
in transit to a home.

Bussing yet again.
My dad's an Aramean -
I'm still wandering.

Dad's Aramean.
New York New Jersey transit.
Ask for directions.

Suburban desert.
Miss Moses has a road map
leading to dinner.

More haiku

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Star-studded shoes

Star-studded shoes

I have a liking for long skirts
candlesticks and harmonies.
I also have a liking for these star-studded shoes.
Pink All-Stars they are,
paneled in stars that have caught
the rainbow
just waiting to let it loose
when I saunter down the street.
Now you just watch these star-studded shoes
walk up to that there bimah
and sing a song to God.
They'll do it.

-December 13, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My adventure in saying something to a stranger where I would normally not

So I walked into the subway.
There was this guy past the turnstiles with red hair and a beard.
A short beard, very short.
Reddish orange, the beard.
His red hair was down to his chin or so. Kind of curly, I think.
Well, it was just really cool. He rocked his red hair.
He stood
(leaned?)
against one of the columns
in the middle of the Grand Central subway stop.
I took note-
-he had a bag that could have been luggage-
-maybe not, but what was he waiting there for?-
and passed by
almost got to the place where I would go down the stairs
thought for a bit
looked back at him
thought for a bit
then turned around, went up to him
said "Excuse me,
I just wanted to say that I  
appreciate your hair.
Have a good evening."
And he said
"Thank you"
in an pleasant smiled manner
(and an akin-to-British accent).
(Then I noticed that he was well-dressed and the accent made sense.)
And I skedaddled off and
went down the stairs.
I might have looked back once, I forget.
That was my adventure in saying something to a stranger where I would normally not.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Santas, and Other Causes for a Good Mood

I am in such a good mood.

1) babysitting
2) subway interactions
3) Santas Claus
4) buying Chunky Monkey ice cream
5) bananas on my door

Babysitting
     This was my second time babysitting two wonderful kids. There is a cat named Little Man. They (not including Little Man) ate tortellini, which happens to be one of my favorite foods. I played duck duck goose with the younger girl and some of her dolls and stuffed/beaned animals, and then we read The Berenstain Bears before she got in bed. The 10-year-old-boy and I discussed books - including our own aspirations (both of us are writing stories currently) - and played Scrabble. As I was washing dishes, I thought about how calm I felt, how calming this all was. I love being with kids. I love petting cats. I love bonding. Babysitting is being.
     The boy took out the second book in the Eragon series for me to read while he read before sleep, and the father had recommended a New Yorker fiction article by Nathan Englander. I read the article first and had just finished when the parents came home. Eldest will wait for next time.

Subway interactions
     I have written about the subway before. There are many manners of riding on the subway. The headphone manner: you are not closed off from others through body language, but you make yourself separate, involved in a different world from the one around you, one that should only be intruded upon when necessary. The already involved manner: you are traveling with someone or someones - perhaps your child, your boyfriend, your posse - and are engaging in conversation or cuddling. The "I am trying to nap" manner - self-explanatory. The "When will this train get here?" manner. The vacant manner, common in the mornings and late at night. The similar-in-phenotype yet different-in-genotype preoccupied manner. The prayer manner, which, to an observer, seems similar to vacant and preoccupied and, probably, to "I am trying to nap (standing up)" if your eyes are closed.
     I frequent the roaming eyes manner: you are interested in other people in general, smile upon making eye contact if you overcome your shyness, ask questions, make comments, and engage in conversation on occasion, especially if you find yourself talking to someone who is not from New York. Yet I find that the "absorbed in your reading but can be interrupted" manner is often the most lucrative in terms of social interaction. My most involved and interesting conversations occur when I am studying Jewish liturgical sheet music. Tonight, I had a brief chat about my future after a young man noticed that I had a GRE book on my lap. I myself met a pianist on the way down from Washington Heights after I discovered that her book was Russian. (If you want my attention in a public setting, speak or read in Russian. I have been known to follow around Harvard tour groups in order to drink of it.)
     Subway interactions - so fun! Unless you step on someone's foot. Then you feel bad for a while.

Santas Claus
     On my way to babysitting, I noticed this man:
     Yes. Yes, that is Santa Claus.
     He was not the only one. And many of them were drunk, as another subway-goer commented. (Regardless, I saw one mother-and-child pair ask for a photo op. All the ones that I encountered were in good spirits!) I asked another Claus for some explanation, and it turns out that there was a SantaCon tonight. You show up with two cans of food while wearing a Santa Claus outfit at one of two starting places, and from there you head to bars around town who are also participating in a charitable project. I think that being a Santa Claus gives you leave to converse with other Santa Clauses. (Or should it be "Santas Claus", like "knights-errant" and "Brothers Grimm"?) Another tip for city interactions: anything that brings you closer together in dress, attitude, or other discernible quality also entails a sense of affinity that often can lead to conversation or at least a knowing smile.
     I found myself thinking about causes, and what you do while you are supporting a cause. I might flesh out these thoughts, but not right now.
     Here are some more Santas for you. I asked in advance before taking their picture. (The answer of the two who heard me was in the affirmative, in case you were wondering.)
   Thanks, Santas Claus.

Buying Chunky Monkey ice cream
     I had just babysat. I had money in my purse. I would have gotten a cone, but that place on Lexington was closed. Instead I went to the neighborhood convenience store and bought Chunky Monkey ice cream and two oranges. Need I say more?
     I think the two men who run the store recognize me each time now. I have demonstrated a seaweed habit and like to think that they have noticed.

Bananas on my door
     Last night was a long night for one that had a bedtime of eleven o'clock. I had reserved a place at a Chabad meal twenty blocks south of me. Services were to start at 6:30. I arrived perhaps ten minutes late - not sure, wasn't wearing a watch - and found a locked building and no doorman. I couldn't ring the bell. I waited for a good twenty minutes, sang to myself a bit, and watched a man try to cajole people into entering the fur-selling store next door. (Furs were on sale!) Perhaps I had accidentally headed to their office address instead of their religious-services-plus-dinner address. Regardless, I was short davening and a meal.
     Headed back north, stopping at two places of Jewish prayer on the way. Prayed at one - gorgeous, gorgeous sanctuary - but was kicked out very kindly when the building was to close. The second one I arrived at after services had finished. There were young adults milling and chatting in the entrance-way, but a couple of men that I asked could not point me to the sanctuary. They were there for a Manhattan Jewish Experience dinner. Had they prayed elsewhere beforehand? I do not know. I did not ask. A non-Jewish man who worked there was the one who told me services had finished, and who told me no, the room was closed, I could not go in and pray. I almost cried once I had left the building. Sometimes things hit me hard.
     I made my weary way back north. The doorman brightened my night, as he often does. I stayed downstairs for probably a good hour, our chatting punctuated by his occasional elevator calls. I lamented my unpreparedness for eating dinner in the apartment, and we discussed food, nutrition, and weight for a bit among other topics. Thank goodness, I had the basic Shabbat dinner elements of wine and two unbroken bread items, and later in the night I let him know that I had also discovered an apple and some yogurt and had enough for a veritable feast. (It turns out that pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese can be good even cold on bread.) So while I did not have food with company, I still ended my night with a more-than-sufficient amount of both.
     I saw him today on my way out to babysitting. We were both to be working until eleven o'clock.
     I came home to bananas on my door.
Filled with appreciation and awe that such people as he exist in the world, I ate one banana straightaway and have yet to touch the Chunky Monkey ice cream.




Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hamal'akh Hagoel Oti

(To listen, please go to the Songs page. Thanks!)

Shir Hama'alot of Seudah Shlishit

The prelude to the Grace after Meals for the third meal of Shabbat.

(To listen, please go to the Songs page.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yedid Nefesh

First time putting a song online. Yedid Nefesh is traditionally sung on Friday nights, right as Shabbat is starting, and then sometimes again on Saturday nights, right before the end of Shabbat, with a different tune. I was going to use pictures from a walk I took once, but uploading takes a while, so instead you have the Hebrew text to look at if you'd like. (Slightly different Hebrew text from what I'm singing.)

(To listen, please go to the Songs page.)

It was especially good for me to have this prayer when I was on a train crossing Russia. The 1 (2) 3 1 (2) 3 1 rhythm matched the rhythm of the turning wheels perfectly.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One day, I set out to write.

Almost all of my drawing energy these days is going to illustrating a short story - initiative, concept, words, and direction by my friend Joel K., an amazing individual filled to bursting with talent and joy!

Here's one of the first attempts at the first page. (Hooray for left-handed redheads! Love you, Mom!) Currently working on coloring page 5.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One of those nights

1. One of those nights Tonight was one of those nights where I walked right past my train stop without noticing. Then again, I am not too familiar with Houston Street, so I might have missed the stop even if I had not been wrapped up in conversation with two fellow choristers.The girl who became my friend was the one to notice, a girl of eighteen with curly black hair and a lot to say. We continued on to another convenient stop, bearing to our left while the third of us crossed the street to reach her apartment.One of the first in my newly adopted singing group (well, I guess they adopted me) to reach out, my friend had proposed that we walk together and then delved into bits of my life story - which, of course, inspired her to share bits of hers.
By the time we parted ways with our acquaintance, I had talked about Seeds of Peace, and my friend had explained aspects of her background and upbringing....
This is how she had started talking about the community - because what I said about Seeds of Peace bringing people together who might be unaware of each other (at least in some senses) resonated, and she felt that the community could use something like that, that there was such a large amount of ignorance, that it was just not representative of the larger world, that they weren't really living in the world.We talked a little bit about religion - we passed a food cart, I asked if she kept Halal, she said she's not really anything at the moment. She went some into being baptized Catholic and being raised in the Church but then snapping a couple weeks before Communion - or confirmation? Whichever it was, she was around thirteen, which she used as part of the explanation of why snapping made sense.
  I mentioned going to a Quaker school at some point.

Our third had brought up the Episcopal church that she attends.She said there, they're Christian, but sort of anything goes.
  Are there drums sometimes? I inquired.
  Yes, drums.
  It was around then that she parted ways with us.
  And then my friend really started talking.
  She had been talking all along, but this was a little more rapid-fire.I forget a little bit of the ordering.
  There was one question I asked that set her off talking, but there were also things she just said on her own.
  She said there was no use playing the field if she found the person she lovedand I said "If you know, you know." And she seemed to agree with that....
She asked me at one point
  if I was very religious.
  I said, "Pretty religious."
  She shared some of her views. Not views as in, "I believe in God," etc.
Although at one point she said something about spirituality but that that word sounds "kumbaya." I totally understood her there.
  The views that she shared were about what she loved about various religions.
  Muslims, she said -
in Islam, there is a new love of God every day.
  My first thought was that this meant there was a different way to love God you were supposed to take on each day.
  Then she said
  In Judaism, you have an old love of God every day.
  Then I started thinking about the new and the ancient.
That our love of God is an old love, in an old way.
  She said
  that Jews are keeping an ancient promise, are still keeping that promise.
"If that's what you do."
  I thought that was beautiful and it totally changed the way I see my role. I might have thought of it before. But it came out of her mouth then, and it was a breath of clarity.
  She talked about Christianity
said that she had issues with modern Christianity
  has seen a lot of hypocrisy
  but what she believes Christianity should be
  is love over morality
  She is frustrated by seeing people hate others for their sins.
After what I would call the commandment of "v'ahavta l'reacha camocha"(love your neighbor as yourself).
  She apologized several times for speaking so much.
  I said I enjoyed it and was looking forward to many more opportunities.
 I said she was a pretty wise person.
And she started remarking about how she wasn't, or she doubted that, something to that effect
  and then we got into a conversation about
  how if you acknowledge that you're wise, that's how you're supposed to know you're not
  that the wise people are ones who don't know it really
  and the kind people too, the good people.
I mentioned this, and she started talking about a story about a guru
  who would do something called tapas
  and get to some sort of state
  but then upon realizing it or thinking of himself a certain way
  he went back to the beginningagain
that that's how people get drawn back into the cycles of reincarnation - you think you do a good deed, and once you think about it in that way karma draws you back.
So it was right as we were talking about such matters that we arrived at the second train stop.
  We bid each other good night, take care, see you next week, I'll add you on Facebook.
   2. Train Man, or the moment I might regret as long as I remember it
I got on the train. It's a longer trip than I usually take, at least not involving a transfer - meaning more time I can do something instead of walking.
  There was a man next to me in awesome pants. He had hair in a bun on the top of his head. He was Asian of some sort. He was part of a group of people. One of them commented on his pants. I said I loved them too.
A woman a bit down the train car had sold them to him on her online store. They were part of the same group.
  I pulled out my chazzanut pages to study and sing quietly on the way back north. Review time.
At some point, the large group left. They were really cool. I contemplated what it would be like to say, Hey, you guys seem real neat, or something like that at least, My name's Molly, can I hang with you?
  I don't know what that would have even looked like. They might have been looking for a bar at the moment. I have work tomorrow.
  So they left.
  I sat down.
  A couple people sat down next to me, presently.
A man on each side. I gave each a brief glance and continued studying.
  But a woman was looking to sit down. She chose on the other side of one of the men, but I wasn't sure there was enough space, so I stood up. As I am wont to do.
But then it turned out there was enough space, and the man scooted a bit and beckoned me to sit back down. Which I did, feeling slightly foolish but only very, very slightly. I would have stood and been happy, but perhaps it would have made it seem like I didn't want to sit there. In any case, he made sure there was room.
  So I studied.
  At some point, the man said, Are you studying to become a cantor?
I paused - the answer has taken different forms over the days and years - and answered that I was not currently studying to become a cantor, but I was taking a class on chazzanut.
  I forget whether we used the word cantor or chazzan. Perhaps cantor.
He said, so you are learning for fun?
  I said, well, not really, I want to lead services, I like leading services.
  It was obvious at some point that he was a Hebrew-speaker from the way he pronounced a few of the following words.
  He said all he had learned was singing his parashah, for his bar mitzvah.
  I asked which parashah? (Parashah was the word that gave him away as non-American.)
  He said Bereishit.
I said, a good place to start.
  He had dark curly hair, somewhere between wavy and curly. Within ten years of my age. Within five, probably.
  He said I was probably planning on leading Reform services?
I said no, actually. Conservative. Then I hesitated and almost corrected that, almost explained more, almost said something about not Reform being about liking Hebrew, but then all I said was, whomever would let me, but not Reform.
He said, there are troubles in Israel about women singing, have you heard?
  I said, yes, I've heard, and added a couple more words that related to how I had been following such matters to some extent.
  I said, are you from Israel?
  He said yes, where are you from? I said I'm from Baltimore.
Or maybe we asked each other in the opposite order.
  Either here or slightly earlier in the conversation he said,
  I'm sorry, I am distracting you from studying.
  Or you were studying.
  Or something like that.
  But I said, not at all. Or that's okay. Or something like that.
  And closed my book on my lap.
  We were in silence for some moments.
I forget whether we talked about something else, or whether this happened slightly earlier in the conversation and then the rest of the conversation happened right then.
  But we were saying something, but not mid-sentence.
  Then it got to my stop.
  I said, this is my stop. and got up.
  Have a good night, I said.
  Good night, he said.
And I left the train, not knowing his name, not knowing where he was going, no way to contact him ever ever.
  I contemplated looking at Craigslist to see if he had put anything there.
  Not for romantic reasons.
  But just a conversation, he was interested in me, I was curious about him to some extent, at least enjoying talking with him.
I could have stayed on one more stop. Very easily. I often do get off at the next stop, if I take the express train.
  But instead, I just left the train with a good night.
  And that's something that I might always regret if I remember it.
  At least that's what I was thinking as I left the station.
  Although now I realize
  that this story wouldn't have a part three in the same way if I hadn't gotten off the train there.

3. Because I was feeling slightly hungry  Because I was feeling slightly hungry
  and walked into a Starbucks
  because the door was open.
  I almost never go into Starbucks. Nothing against it, just almost never a reason to.
  But I walked in
  and was waiting to get a piece of multiple berry coffee cake.
  There were two doctors there
  stethoscopes around their necks.
  I asked the woman if she was on call
she said no, she was working, just taking a coffee break.
  I was going to pay the guy for my slice of coffee cake.
  He said not to pay, they were about to throw it all out anyway.
Oh, that's what he had said earlier, that they were about to throw everything out, did I want anything?
  The female doctor (the one closer to the man behind the counter) and I were shocked.
  They were just going to throw it out? They always threw it out?
  There was a lot of food left - and fresh, too.
  I was thinking of finding a homeless shelter in the area to take it.
That'll actually be a project of mine this week, trying to figure out whether that Starbucks location can partner with a shelter to donate what's left at the end of the day.
  But my phone wasn't really able to search for a shelter at that moment.
  or at least not that quickly.
  The woman suggested to him that if they were going to throw it out but were asking us to take what we wanted, she could take some back to the hospital.
Maybe the ER is where she was. I don't remember. But she was going to put the food in the conference room.
  The doctors would be very happy for that late at night.
 I volunteered to help her carry it back. It was that much food.
  But it ended up fitting on one or both of her arms,
  in paper bags with handles, five or six strung on her right arm.
Smallish paper bags, but still.
  And that wasn't even all of the muffins and cakes and candies.
But that happened, and I walked out of the store with her (after asking for a piece of lemon pound cake for breakfast - he gave me two, I found out when I got home)
  and we swapped first names and parted with a Good night.
I acknowledged earlier on how it was probably strange of me to just walk in with her, so it's good that it turned out that way, I think.
but yes, we parted
  I came back here
  she had asked for the guy's name
  Noel, or Noelle, however it's spelled, but pronounced No-el.
  I looked up a homeless shelter and called and got an answering machine.
And I looked forward to putting this into writing...about my extraordinary evening. And I thought, I had a distinct sense of God tonight.  4. Seaweed  And then I bought two packs of seaweed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Girl (2008)

Девушка

Ее волосы похожи на речку,
текущую за домом моего детства,
спокойную, но постоянно двигающуюся,
сияющую в присутствии солнца,
которое свободно, весело, ласкательно
касается ее постоянно меняющуюся рябь
светлыми пальцами. И я хочу
быть ей солнцем, но боюсь, боюсь.

10 июля 2008

Girl

Her hair is like the brook
flowing behind my childhood home,
peaceful, but constantly moving,
shining in the presence of the sun,
which freely, joyfully, caressingly
brushes her constantly changing current
with light fingers. And I want
to be the sun to her, but I am afraid, afraid.

10 July 2008 (translated over 2009-2011)

Yom Kippur 5767 (2006)

I rediscovered this while writing my thesis in the spring of 2011, and all of a sudden I saw the full circle that my academic studies had become. Originally written for a poetry class during high school.


Yom Kippur

I faltered. Did we skip a paragraph? My eyes frantically searched the page as my finger skimmed line after line of Hebrew, and I wanted to take out a remote control and pause the service, but everyone continued chanting. It was useless—I gave up, closed the book and looked around. Farther down the wooden bench, an old woman with a hooked nose and hunched shoulders had her eyes closed. She mumbled the words, rocking onto her toes and back in time to the song. The everlasting light flickered above. Behind it, the ark was open. The Torahs stared back at me and I glanced away quickly, opening my book again. I read the poem on the English side—is it a translation? I have no idea—

—and the first line is so selfish that I am shocked out of thinking and I just read. The line comes up again in the next stanza: For my sake was the world created. And again, a stanza later: For my sake was the world created. I am humming along to the Hebrew chant. Once someone told me to say watermelon cantaloupe watermelon cantaloupe over and over again if I forgot the words to a song, but instead when I open my mouth the Soviet National Anthem comes pouring out. No one notices—the Russian follows the same chords as the prayer, so I am just providing a harmony. Singing about the triumph of communism, I look at the old woman. For my sake was the world created, and her mumbling takes the form of a bird, a soft white bird holding a sprig of ivy. It soars around the room, past the stained glass windows, and I realize that the air is full of individual voices, voice-birds, phoenixes and hummingbirds and pigeons and eagles. I smile—for my sake was the world created—and with a wave of my hand the birds are gone, and I just see voices bouncing off the ceiling and the walls. The voices disintegrate into separate notes. They softly bump into each other, spinning and faintly changing direction in the air. For my sake was the world created….

I blinked, and there were only dust motes floating in the colored light, and people around me chanting words in a foreign language.

                        -January 11, 2006

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bellies

I love dancing blues with someone with a belly.

A belly acts as another point of contact. (Thank you to my Boston friends who first pointed this out to me.) Plus, it keeps the lead and follow from having to worry about more questionable areas of contact.

Weekly ode to blues! Hope you enjoyed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Burning Bush

Are You My Rabbi?
~One Bird's Quest~
Back                                                                                                                                 Next
(two more panels to come)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Vayera, and musings on stardust

    I am, you might say, a staunch non-supporter of poetic license in liturgical translation. Yet this week, I came across an aesthetically influenced translation choice that resonated, that taught me something new.

    Please open your Sim Shalom prayer-books* to the middle of Kabbalat Shabbat, the service marking the reception of the Sabbath:

 תהלים צ’’ו

 .... שירו לײ שיר חדש, שירו ליי כל–הארץ

.יעלז שדי וכל–אשר בו, אז ירננו כל–עצי יער...
,לפני יי כי בא, כי בא לשפט הארץ
.ישפט תבל בצדק, ועמים באמונתו

Psalm 96

Sing a new song to Adonai!
Acclaim Adonai, all people on earth....

...Let field and forest sing for joy;
Adonai comes to rule the earth:
To rule the world justly,
the nations with faithfulness.


Then flip a couple of pages:


תהלים צ’’ח

....שירו ליי שיר חדש, כי נפלאות עשה


.נהרות ימחאו כף, יחד הרים ירננו...
,לפני יי כי בא לשפט הארץ
 .ישפט תבל בצדק ועמים באמונתו

Psalm 98

Sing to Adonai a new song, for God has worked wonders....

...Let the rivers applaud in exultation,
let the mountains all echo earth's joyous song.

Adonai is coming to rule the earth:
To sustain the world with kindness,
to judge its people with fairness.

    "To rule," "To sustain," "to judge" - all of these are used to translate the verb לשפט. I would generally say that this was a choice made in order to diversify the Hebrew, to make it seem that the two psalms end more differently than they do. But Friday night, I realized that the translator, consciously or not, had a point. In an ideal world, to rule is to judge, to judge is to sustain.

    When the people of Sodom desire to be intimate with Lot's guest angels, Lot entreats them not to act wickedly and offers his two virgin daughters in the angels' stead (Genesis 19:8). The gathered citizens do not accept Lot's proposition; indeed, they are further infuriated by the suggestion, and Lot instead of the angels becomes the focus of the citizens' anger and violence: "Now we will deal worse with you than with them," the citizens say as they move to attack Lot and his household (ibid).
    A modern-day reader of this scene might question Lot's decision to offer his daughters to the mob in place of his guests or extol Lot's strong awareness of and dedication to being a host ("they have come under the shelter of my roof") and draw conclusions about his merit in accordance with such musings. The people of Sodom, however, seem not to care much about the rationale of Lot's decision and response. Instead, infuriated and insulted by what they see as Lot's audacity, they attack his right to challenge and condemn their practices in the first place. While Lot "came to dwell" as a stranger in their midst, they say, he is now "passing judgment," seeming to lord over them (וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֶחָד בָּא-לָגוּר וַיִּשְׁפֹּט שָׁפוֹט; Genesis 19:9).
    Sodom consists primarily of sinful people, according to God God's-self in Genesis 18:20, and Lot attests with, it seems, the Torah's backing that these people are wrong in desiring to force themselves upon the visiting men. But can all of the mob's beliefs and actions be so quickly condemned? The citizens' criticism of Lot has nothing to do with the definition of sinful behavior, and everything to do with the dialectic between community insiders and outsiders.** In citing Lot's outsider status, the natives of Sodom say that he has no power to interfere in the their practices. Strangers, they would argue, cannot impose their sentiments on those who have so graciously welcomed them.
    Lot, however, does not see himself as a stranger, a גר, in their midst. "אַל-נָא אַחַי, תָּרֵעוּ" he says; "Please, my brothers/neighbors, do not do evil" (Genesis 19:8). My brothers. My neighbors. By positioning himself at least linguistically within the people of Sodom, he appeals to what he puts forward as a common, not a particular, code of morality. It is the citizens who explicitly reject the in-group status that he claims, attesting that he has not yet merited the ability to act as one of them, to hold influence regarding matters of justice. The mob's retaliation against Lot's words seems callous and selective; even when Lot considers himself one of them, and they might feel the same under other circumstances, they do not return the acceptance in this moment due to the critical nature of Lot's remarks.
    Perhaps it was their verbal expulsion of Lot from Sodom that saved Lot and his family from not only living but also dying as members of the community, for it is only after this exchange of dialogue that the angels tell Lot and his household to flee. Perhaps, after this argument, Lot and his household were not even to be counted among the ten righteous necessary for the preservation of the city against God's wrath. Perhaps it was precisely Lot's judgment that, had it been accepted, had it been allowed to rule, would have sustained Sodom.

    Think about the communities in which you position yourself as a neighbor, as a brother, as a sister. Think about the communities in which you decide to remain a stranger, a guest, to distance yourself from communal identification, from communal fate.

    Think about your place in this world. Are you a guest? Are you a stranger? Or are you bound up in the web of existence, as inextricable from the fate of the universe as an ocean, as a horseshoe crab? (To paraphrase both Joni Mitchell in "Woodstock" and Abraham's address to God in Genesis 18:27: I am stardust and ashes.)

    Is your soul any more or less of a guest, a stranger, a neighbor, a partner, to this planet, to God, than your body? (Is your soul a guest to your body?)

    There are many ways in which we are guests in this life, in which we treat ourselves and our surroundings with the utmost care, as precious gifts.

But today, I encourage you to connect the parts of yourself, to connect yourself with the world, to live, to feel hurt, to feel joy, to have a stake in this community of yours that includes the stars from which you came. To be in partnership with God.

You have the right to judge. You have the obligation to sustain.


* As I write this post, I only have access to the Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, which has slightly different translations from the more general Siddur Sim Shalom, in which I first made these observations. The salient words in translation are mixed around a little bit yet still present.

** One could say that the relationship between insiders and outsiders, as well as the delineation of those boundaries, is a theme of this week's Torah portion - from when the angels visit Abraham and Sarah  to when Abraham pretends Sarah is his sister to avoid being killed in a foreign city to when Abraham, due to Sarah's insistence, makes Hagar and Ishmael leave his household.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A poem from the summer

A poem from this summer

The couch
Strands of water and a white hair
Noisily falling into my lap as I draw
My fingernails will soon be rid of their polish
And my neck has taken on its rosy hue of summertime.
New friends, old friends, lost friends
Choice in my hands, the familiar unfamiliar
And the unfamiliar familiar.
Busqueing for a few bucks
as the twilight sets in
and talent, he says. Harmony, she says.
Wake up, teal shirt. Trivia game and a ticking watch.
Blue plastic, marking the sections of my life
and I play around with them,
make them go slightly faster, slightly slower,
with not much success.
In this for me? For the white hair?
                      The teal shirt?
                                 The watch?
                                                The blue pen?
                                                            I watch it.

June 26-27, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sometimes


Sometimes, when I squint my eyes, lights separate into drops of brightness, a honeycomb hexagon pattern forming in an array that dazzles and dances against the dark sky as we zoom under the streetlamps on the highway.
 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Prayer, God, and Aphasia

This post will grow in the coming days. For now, two quotations from the ninth chapter of Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat:

"...speech--natural speech--does not consist of words alone, nor (as Hughlings Jackson thought) 'propositions alone. It consists of utterance - an uttering-forth of one's whole meaning with one's whole being - the understanding of which involves infinitely more than mere word-recognition. And this was the clue to aphasiacs' understanding, even when they might be wholly uncomprehending of words as such. For though the words, the verbal constructions, per se, might convey nothing, spoken language is normally suffused with 'tone', embedded in an expressiveness which transcends the verbal - and it is precisely this expressiveness, so deep, so various, so complex, so subtle, which is perfectly preserved in aphasia, though understanding of words be destroyed....Something has gone, has been devastated, it is true - but something has come, in its stead, has been immensely enhanced, so that - at least with emotionally-laden utterance - the meaning may be fully grasped even when every word is missed." (81)

"Thus the feeling I sometimes have - which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have - that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily...." (82)

What would it be like to converse with God, to pray to God, if you believed that God was an aphasiac? Would you construct your sentences differently? Would you worry about your sincerity? Would you cease to care about sounding a certain way, focusing a certain way? Would you switch languages?

What if God had agnosia, was unable to assess tone color? Would you add in emphases and inflections and cries for your own sake? Would you make sure you meant the words? Would you stop caring?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Blues Dancing

I love to blues dance.
What is blues dance? Here are two examples.*

I first learned to blues dance to Ain't No Sunshine while working at a summer camp out in Minnesota. (Here's a pretty good version by Tracy Chapman and Buddy Guy. Just the constant beat. I love a constant beat.) Then followed a five-year hiatus.

My college years were mainly a mix of salsa, swing, and Israeli dance, but last winter, on a date, I caught the bug again. Almost every Thursday night from then until graduation found me in Union Square, dancing, happy.

Blues dancing is not swing dancing. Many people (including me) come to blues dance from swing. I draw a comparison to tennis players who start playing badminton. You have moves that work, but they aren't quite the same. (Use your wrist, not your arm!) Professor Flitwick would play badminton. He would be darn good, if he tried.

I love a good lead. A good lead directs you enough with slight changes in posture and position that you think you are a superb dancer yourself. "Oh, look at me, I just spun around three times, and he was only holding my hand with three fingers. Aren't I just great!"

Blues dancing is social. It is attraction. It is no commitment. It is motion. It is whimsical, exhibitionist, crazy, funky, smooth, exploratory. It is freedom. It is learning your own body. It is learning another body. It is movement. It is feeling. It is the music. It is the music. It is freedom tied to a beat. A strong beat, and always you go up on the beat, up, up. But down in between, settling to sway from knees and hips.

Blues dancing is falling in love with five people in an hour, never seeing them again, and being fine with that.

I generally show up alone, selfishly, relationship and friendship ties implicit but not inhibiting, unburdened by the obligation to dance with one person in particular, not needing to teach anyone, just bringing myself and a smile and ten-fifteen bucks and some socks that get very dirty.

Baltimore brought the occasional Tuesday of happiness, and I found my New York crowd about a month ago.

Someone came to blues dancing on Saturday night dressed as a zebra. Complete with mask. She was fuller-bodied and it was awesome to watch her rock it.

Her first dance of the night was with a dapper thin old man wearing a suit and a hat. He dances extremely well and also validates you by saying "Aw yeah!" every once in a while in an appreciative fashion.

There was someone else who looked like a boyfriend of mine from high school. It wasn't him, though. He was powerful and fast and kept swinging me around (I think it was West Coast) to the point where I was afraid of what would happen if I lost grip of his hands. He was dressed like someone from the mountains, I think. We were both in flannel, but my hair was in pigtail braids. He told me he appreciated my energy.

It is good that I smile during blues dancing. Not that I am making any claims to my smile's brilliance or wry crookedness or anything like that. In fact, even though I chipped my tooth once on a fork while eating Caesar salad in a dining hall, the chip is small enough to escape being endearing. But a smile represents enjoyment, so no matter how good or bad I am at dancing, hopefully I make people feel happy when they are dancing with me.

And it is true that I am just cheerful when I dance! What a wonderful time it is!

Although I probably will not start saying "Aw yeah!". I'll leave that to the old thin suited men.




*For the second video: Admire her hip movements! But keep more tension in your arms.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sukkah Decorations

Ya'aleh v'Yavo
This one stayed up longer than any of the others
(except for the photo of the Besht)


To Sit in the Sukkah


To Raise the Lulav


Photoshop!

My first real forage. Some experimentation with coloring Flight. Then I learned how to use Raiser's Edge. All in a good day.

If only Photoshop were on my computer outside of work! Wouldn't that be great.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Moods

I was in a rush today and made spaghetti for dinner. The spaghetti was almost cooked when I tried to open the jar of marinara sauce. I could not open it. Nor could I open the two other jars in the cabinet. I ran them under water, I used a cloth between my hand and the lid, I pressed down. I almost cried. I tried so hard that I hurt my wrists.

My mother told me to turn a jar upside down and hit it a few times in order to loosen the pressure on the seal. Presto. My mood lifted. Thank you, Mom.

Last night I took pictures of a group of Portuguese-speaking folk who were traveling on the subway, at their request. This was happy.

I took the elevator down from the tenth floor of an apartment building. The man riding down with me told me that I had a beautiful smile. He seems to think smiles are few between people in New York. We understood each other - it turns out he is from Virginia, and I am Baltimorean. I told him I would do my best to keep smiling.

Silence is such a wonderful thing. To walk into a room, and have silence. A particular kind of silence, not apartment silence, but prayer space silence, God space silence, silence aided by the barely perceptible whoosh of an air conditioner, or a waterfall. Silence that remains and answers when you sing. Silence that embraces. Silence that you do not want to leave.

I recognized the man on the S shuttle who sings about Jesus. I told him I wasn't going to give him money today, and he respected that.

My doorman told me we could marry in five years, he's studying to be a priest, but the type of priest that can get married.

The next time I was in the lobby, he picked a flower out of my hair. It was only there because he saw it. Or maybe it had been there for a long while, waiting to be noticed.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seeds of Peace, High Holidays, and Other Thoughts

(Don't want to read? Look at these Yom-Kippur-related drawings instead until I am reunited with my scanner.)

Dear readers,

An update - I am now in New York City, working for an awesome organization called Seeds of Peace, whose mission is to "inspire and equip new generations of leaders from regions of conflict with the relationships, understanding, and skills needed to advance lasting peace" (http://www.seedsofpeace.org/). It is non-political and secular, although one could argue that peace itself is political mindset (discuss!). As an unabashed idealist who believes in the need for intercultural communication and understanding while acknowledging the power - and importance - of national and individual stories and identities, I am thrilled to be with Seeds of Peace. If you have any questions, I'll talk your ear off about why I think SOP is awesome. Just email me for more information.

 להבדיל | And now for something completely different

There seems to be nothing like a three-day holiday marathon (two days of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, followed straightaway by Shabbat) when it comes to entering a new community. I arrived in NYC on Wednesday around noon, went through a round of errands, and was out of the apartment on the way to services by 6 p.m. While I prepared myself for eating alone the entire time, I ended up doing so only once, on Friday night. And even then Abraham Joshua Heschel kept me company, reaching through the pages of The Sabbath. My favorite quotation for this Shabbat:

"For where shall the likeness of God be found? There is no quality that space has in common with the essence of God. There is not enough freedom on the top of the mountain; there is not enough glory in the silence of the sea. Yet the likeness of God can be found in time, which is eternity in disguise." (16)

Over the course of Rosh Hashanah and for Shabbat lunch I ate with over twenty-five new acquaintances, most of whom I might even remember by name. Babies occasionally slept or played nearby. One man was from Siberia and taught me a new expression, "у него глаза разбегаются." Literally, his eyes run apart from each other, run off in different directions. Used to describe someone - in this case, his son - who cannot focus on a single thing or activity. Another woman turned out to work in the seat next to a good friend of mine at AJWS. Some interesting journeys for sure at the food-laden tables. And boy, the food! And the generosity, the hospitality. The sincere well-wishes. I look forward to returning the favor and welcoming new members in turn into what is now my community.

________


There were several speakers and teachers whose words affected me greatly these past three days. It is now past midnight, and I am feeling quite tired, so I will only list key points for now:

Our life in this world as "a gift within a gift" (Rabbi Shai Held, at Kehilat Hadar)

The significance of expressing thankfulness, gratefulness, with the first word one utters upon waking; the orientation of being grateful as a quintessentially human orientation, one that indebts us to our fellow human beings, one that is necessary for healthy and true living (Rabbi Shai Held, at Hadar; my main question: Is God grateful? Can God be grateful and remain God?)

Yom hashishi ("The sixth day," recited by some before the blessing on wine on Friday nights) as referring to the sixth of Sivan, when the complete culmination of the creation of the world marked by the giving of the Torah also added a second layer to Shabbat observance, including the mandate to make the day holy beyond its inherent holiness (Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun)

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) as a time to reflect on how we approach Shabbat, just as Shabbat is a time to reflect on how we approach the rest of the week; needing the time apart, the time paused, in order to reflect and reevaluate (Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, at CKJ)

The Book of Jonah as a story about coming to terms with God's attribute of mercy (Gilah Kletenik, at CKJ; my question: To where have we come as people, and what do we think of ourselves, when we think that God should not be merciful upon others?)

________


Shabbat is a time where I make a concerted effort not to work, and I see this work as including behaviors beyond the strictly proscribed acts such as writing, cooking, mending, and engaging in commerce. While in college, for example, I often avoided class-related reading, and I tried not to speak at length about my job search. Talking about work is in a different category, halakhically (according to Jewish law) and practically, from performing work itself, relating more to the disruption of a Shabbat ethos or aesthetic than to the disruption of a Shabbat lifestyle, yet I find that restraining from both helps me to set Shabbat apart and preserve it as a time of rest.

This Shabbat, I found that I now stand at an interesting confluence of prohibitions, for talking about my work is my work. At the same time, I love Seeds of Peace and what it stands for, and I think that peace, intercultural understanding, group identity, and the ability for youth to carry the future are perfectly wonderful topics for academic and religious conversation on Shabbat. It is now up for me to set guidelines for myself, so that I stop discussing SOP at some reasonable point - for example, before I would be tempted to write down someone's name to contact them later about helping out. Most likely, this will end up being a matter of mindset. I am open to suggestions as well as to recommendations for reading up on related halakha.

________


I looked up tonight when leaving shul. I could not see stars. A fellow walker confirmed that I should not expect to see them here. This got me to thinking about light pollution, about glorification, about prayer, about focus, about communication.

For those who are suspended during these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a state of slightly elevated self-awareness, I wish the following:

May it be this week that we put enough waiting silence into and between our prayers that we allow God the space and the time to guide us, that we open ourselves to receiving as well as to giving, to hearing as well as to speaking, that we do not block out the stars with our own human lights.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The New York City Subway

(Don't want to read? Look at some pictures instead.)

I love the metro.
I love the bustle, the direction, the sheer mass of humanity. I love being squished into a standing position so I do not have to hold on. I love testing out my balance, standing as though on a skateboard in my super-cool converse-type sneakers and dress pants. I love the permission to be quiet. I love the acts of kindness, the proffering of seats for old and pregnant and tired, the moments of eye contact sometimes followed by smiles - shy, hesitant, sympathetic, bold, joyful.

"Plan extra time for travel," NYC-savvy people tell me. It turns out that a number of mundane metropolitan maladies have the potential to defy the powers that be at Google Maps. Trains break down; streets come under repair; transfers do not always line up. Today, however, I came across another reason to give myself a buffer of twenty minutes:

Good music.

Heading from the S train to the 6 train at the East 42nd Street/Grand Central stop, I ran into the fine musicians of The Yaz Band, headed up by Yasuyuki "Yaz" Tagaki. To gain a taste of the experience, look here (not my own video; this one features a slightly different musician lineup but is in the same location).

A locked rhythm, contagious energy, crisp drums, tight control that made your body want to dance. The least you could do was bob your head in time - not down, down, down on each beat, but up, up, up, in the blues dance tradition.

How lovely to have the time to stand there for twenty minutes, bobbing slightly to the music, wishing to do more, watching Yaz step in place, one foot after the other, as he keeps time for the band and enjoys himself a bit.

I exchanged grins with another young woman in work attire who was standing slightly behind me. She seemed so excited and happy to be part of a communal jazz experience. She was striking, slim and pretty, with good jewelry and a short fitted dress. Unlike me, she had kept on her heels for the subway. She stayed for at least three songs before tipping and heading down the stairs toward the platform for the downtown 6 train.

One guy with dark hair and a bulky top also stayed for multiple songs and went over to the information table at one point. He kept his headphones on the entire time. I assume his music was off.

I focused attention on the people going by without stopping. Some turned their heads. One put his hands over his ears. Most did not smile. I bet they were on tight schedules.

Another girl started dancing over near the keyboardist. Subtle steps and hip and shoulder and head movements, certainly more into the groove than into performing for an audience. A guy came out from the throng and displayed his own interpretations in front of her. There might have been some applause. I would have danced with someone. Heck, this is the most anonymous that I'll ever be in this city. I should capitalize on the opportunity.

An old black gentleman with graying hair in a dark striped business suit took out his camera and recorded a few songs. His stance was calm and his hands were steady, and every so often he switched the angle from which he filmed. I admired his dedication to his task and his love for the music, and I imagined that he must have a back story. Some jazz past. Maybe he once fronted a band, listening to the keyboardist take a solo, feeling the pulse, moving his feet to the beat, one foot after the other, back and forth, body turning slightly right, left, right, left.

Give yourself some extra time when traveling by metro. And carry some bucks for tips.

**

They first hooked me with this song, which I have transcribed below according to the solo saxophone line. Can anyone tell me what it is? I'm guessing Hancock or Coltrane.

|:e---gaa----gabde----------------e---gaa----gabde------------bdbde--e--------bdbde--e------------:|

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So....

From last year. Click to zoom.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not the only one

Are You My Rabbi?
~One Bird's Quest~
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Monday, September 12, 2011

Interlude

Are You My Rabbi?
~One Bird's Quest~
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One Thing Leads to Another

Started out drawing the chick from Are You My Rabbi. Turned out a winged boy with peyos and a shtreimel wanted to be there too.
Wasn't quite done for the night, so I sat down to draw a woman. Then my monitor went dark, and I saw myself in the reflection.
Matt says it's a classic case of over-defined mouth. Could definitely use some work. Will try again soon!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Are You My Rabbi?
~One Bird's Quest~
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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Are You My Rabbi?
~One Bird's Quest~
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In honor of Jeremy A.-D.