Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yeshivat Hadar #2

The three-sided mobile hanging in my bedroom (a triptych of sorts, you could say) depicts a group of people (a kehila? an am?) standing on a cliff above a grassy land with a river running through it. I just realized while reattaching one of the chopsticks serving as a hanging post that I made the dirt of the cliff and the faces of the people out of the same sandpaper.

The first Hadar Shabbaton took place (took time?) in Washington Heights Sept. 7-8. That Shabbat already feels so long ago--I was still having "first conversations" with some of my fellow fellows. I guess it was technically last year. We talked Torah and life stories, caring for others and how we make decisions within and/or outside of a halakhic framework, Yiddish and interpersonal connection. We prayed and sang and ate and napped on various pieces of furniture. We learned. We were comfortable.

Fort Tryon is one of my favorite places to daven in New York, and I invited a friend to join me there after Shabbat to experience Selichot (a series of penitential prayers and verses that started, for Ashkenazim, the night of Sept. 8 and continued through this past Tuesday morning). We prayed in a small room, the same place we had inhabited for Friday night services, and the sound filled. I remembered the loudness from last year. A space and a group of people that invite you to sing out, to add harmonies that expand, that deepen and darken and create bells, vessels, simplicities of speech, communal speech, a community speaking.

There is a drawing or a poem I have been thinking about for months and months. A morning service at Fort Tryon. Silence, the Amidah. Silent figures wrapped in tallitot, tallitot over heads. Back and forth, the bending. Silent figures, upper bodies bend, back and forth. And young children weave around them, run around them, playing among the silent swathed benders, the ivory-swathed trees, the old trees, a forest of them and the children play, burbling water coursing around old old stones.

"I felt joy out of my fear and fear out of my joy"

Classes over the second and third weeks of yeshiva incorporated a mix of straightforward, philosophical, and personal discussions. Under Devorah Zlochower's guidance, we charted the ordering of sacrifices on Yom Kippur in the Temple. Rav Shai spoke of various ways of thinking about awe, including the connection between awe and humility--awareness of our own smallness and simultaneous internalization of grandeur (with significant input on this particular point from Laynie). He commented that the presence of God means that "all these things that seem private are not private." Dena Weiss led a discussion about mercy, judgment, fairness, showing favor, forgiveness, cleansing, restoration, reconciliation, vindication, etc. with specific attention to the phrases "nesiat panim" and "nesiat avon." (Is mercy fair? Is this a paradox? If so, how do we get out of it? What is the mechanism involved in "nesiat avon," the lifting/cleaning/concealing of guilt/sin/punishment of iniquity? When our punishments get lifted, what happens to our sins?) Rav Aviva helped us tease out an argument regarding the placement of declaration/remembrance of God's kingship within the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. Dori reminded us of what was beautiful in the cores of our conversations. Rav Jason challenged us to look more closely at the passage in the Torah that describes the 13 midot, the 13 attributes of God.

Rav Shai gave us the space to discuss whether or not--and in which cases--forgiveness is a moral as well as a religious obligation, reminding us that this involves "talking about some of the deepest hurts and wounds that people are carrying around." "Do we believe that emotional decisions are possible?" Is forgiving an act, a process, or both? When might it make sense to forgive but not reconcile? "The moment you condone you can no longer forgive....Excusing actually makes forgiving impossible...superfluous." Like the teasing out of knots.

Rav Eitan spoke about the need "to build...communities...that are radiant." His shiur on tefilah, prayer, delineated parameters and qualities to consider when constructing or fine-tuning a prayer community and its services: choreography, sustainability, constituency, and the balances between charisma and predictability, excellence and democracy, and poetry and prose.

I took pride and joy in the way that my classmates, having learned certain material in pairs together for an hour, then cited each other in the concluding shiur (group class) and resolved to bring observations made by my chevrutah to the larger group more often.

The other fellows continue to be one of the highlights of the year program. Each of us has introduced ourselves to the group through teaching something, or about something, dear to us:

An introductory--and immersive--Yiddish lesson
"The Six Steps of Nonviolence"
The prophetic nature of science fiction
Drumming patterns
Her family
The creative self
The Theater of the Oppressed
A poem she wrote
Three stories from her life
The importance of learning/knowing a foreign language
Silence and calm and the connection between Quaker Meeting and graphic novels (me)
Theater, including Shakespeare and directing/stage management
Two yet to come!

On October 15 we will start our primary learning projects for the year. Soon, I will write Hadar #3 in order to elaborate upon the above, which currently contains too much listing and not enough thinking, and to share a few more experiences, such as our first visit to Jewish Home Lifecare.

Words to music

Your shoes
drumming up dust
shoes drumming up dust on this dance floor
on this dance floor
this dusty dusty dance floor
Your shoes
drumming up dust
shoes, dust, dance floor

Give me your shoes
your shiny shoes
your drumming shiny shoes
give me your shoes
your shiny shoes
your drumming shiny black shoes
I want those black shoes on my feet
let me feel my feet
in your drumming shoes
in your elegant
humming drumming shoes

KlezKanada, "Poetry and Music" workshop, 8.23.2012

Monday, September 24, 2012


Collecting on the windowsill collecting on the sidewalk collecting in my eyes my eyelashes on my lashes my cheekbones

Dust to dust little specks of dusk in my eyes my eyelashes on my lashes my cheekbones

Water runs down to the ground the ground water water run go leave the dust the dusk on my cheekbones

spatter me with sprinkles with finger flecked sprinkles red dusky dusk cheekbones

as the water runs down down to the ground the water ground water from the sky

from the sky to the ground the water by way of cheekbones of dust of dusky red collecting

collecting on the windowsill collecting on the sidewalk collecting in the clouds collecting in my eyes

eyelashes flecked with cheekbones red dusky dust blushing blood rushing from the sky to the ground dust to dust with water collecting spreading dropping binding cleaving stretching bunching holding falling

falling to the ground from the sky the water cling to each other! cling to the water bring the dust closer bring the water closer make a drop a drop that drops holding holding to itself holding to the water the dust the water dust water soul water dust water dust body cleave cleave hold tight let the molecules work let the bonds stay let the charges meld oh soul water oh my soul

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Rediscovered the journal in which I recorded notes during the summer of 2010, when I was studying at Pardes. It has been sitting on my shelf in New York for months, but I did not take the time to look through it until I was preparing for my running-through-a-fountain-with-a-friend visit to Washington Heights this past Friday and decided it had enough blank pages to be appropriate notebook to carry along. There are some true journal entries, some email addresses that I was happy to remind myself of, some shuk grocery lists (at least one written by someone else who had a much better sense of menu and proportions), some thesis thoughts, many quotations from classes (generally marked by quotation marks), and the occasional prompted freewrite. Twice, our teachers asked us to write prayers. Or at least to start. To try, to see.

The cymbals hang in the stormy wind and they clang G-d! G-d! Let His name be part of everything! Bed squ[e]aks and rattling chains, the song of stars and the rustle of footsteps, let all praise G-d and be part of G-d's ways. How can You know all? But it is so. With every moment the universe rings; with every blink it all becomes clear. It is to G-d that we must turn our eyes; it is to G-d that we must turn our ears. How good it is, that melody in the air! Let us match it with our lips. G-d on high has released my lips, that I may sing of G-d's glory forever. How you shed light upon the world and unto the innermost parts of my soul! Knower of secrets, my light reaches to your light, aching to bask and rejoice in your presence.

July 12, 2010:

"Where do I begin?" "If you want to start somewhere...start with the one-line blessings....One word is important: Ata....the word that makes or breaks the blessing." -Mike Feuer/Tovah Leah [Perhaps I didn't remember who spoke this.]

"The essence of the words...the word to emphasize is Ata."

"Prayer is new every single day."
 -relationships being new every single day

  my life reaches out to you and the blue pen writes. the lines gray and straight dictating the forms of my praise. How to praise? I will tell you a story. This chair, right here, once an old man sat in it. He furrowed his brow and hrrumphed, then smiled, let his shoulders relax and his eyes open. In this moment he praised G-d. Where are the words? With what words can I praise you? What has not already been said, should I just switch into Russian, how can my words merit reaching you? do they need to reach you? Perhaps not. Ata ata ata ata ata

                                                                                        אתה פה

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Faya found me

Faya, someone I have been trying to reach for years, just found me on the Russian version of Facebook. She no longer lives in Saint Petersburg. She got married. Maybe I'll still bring her flowers someday.

Blessed day, today

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ti'ta'nu (We have led astray)

I apologize,
on the platform
who looked at
in terror
through the closing
subway doors
on the side
had indicated
on the side
I realized
when it was
too late
to save
from my advice

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Yeshivat Hadar #1

On Wednesday (i.e. yesterday), I started studying at Yeshivat Hadar, an egalitarian place of Jewish study on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I will be there for the duration of a school year, studying traditional texts, engaging in communal prayer, and working to spread learning and kindness in the city.

Topics so far have included teaching (in particular, the situations in which one does harm by teaching when not ready or by not teaching when ready), biblical passages relating to teshuvah (returning/repentance) and viduy (confession), obligations incumbent upon a community as well as upon the person/people making rulings for the community, and reflections upon the connections (and, it may feel, tensions) between what feels moral/ethical to an individual and what halakhah (normative Jewish law) seems to say. We have also discussed the mission of Mechon Hadar (the institution of which the Yeshiva is a part) in depth and distributed "toranut" roles--the tasks that we will complete in order to ensure that our space stays nice and that our meals take place.

Today felt great. I have not engaged in sustained chevruta study (i.e. with a partner) since the summer of 2011 at the Northwoods Kollel of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and I rediscovered how much I appreciate this particular method of exploring a text, giving voice to thoughts and feelings that arise, and considering the insights and connections the other person brings to the conversation. My chevruta and I both expressed appreciation for the other's comments and questions.

Which brings me to one of the aspects of my new learning environment that struck me as most definitive. On Wednesday, we sat in a circle while discussing the commentary on a passage in Mishlei/Proverbs that tied the passage to the harm caused by teaching or not teaching, and I realized at some point that I respected everyone else in the circle intellectually and personally. No matter who spoke, I found myself approaching their suggestions with curiosity and, every once in a while, a bit of admiration. This should be my general way of existing in the world--never being impatient with someone's reflections, never judging someone's character or output in a way that shuts off my ability to pay further attention. May it be so.

My favorite part of yeshiva so far, actually, has been communal prayer. We engage in whichever of the three daily prayer services we are present for; once our routine regularizes, there will be two days a week that we will be at Hadar for all three. Our voices meld well in a way that also keeps each one distinct, as if there were a river made of bright and pastel ribbons. The fact that the time is built into our schedule means that we do not rush through in order to get to something else; there is likewise no use in waiting for it to end. There is just the space to stand, to think, to speak, to bend, to nod. To raise noise. To put forehead on forearm. To breathe.

It was actually when attending a prayer service last spring at the yeshiva that I finally realized that this is where I belong.

I'll draw your attention to the first of many classes at Hadar that will be open to the public this fall:

"To Dwell in God's House All the Days of My Life:" Exploring the Psalm for Elul and the Days of Awe
Rabbi Shai Held
Over and over again during this season, we declare that God is our "light" and our "salvation," and pray for the ability to dwell in God's house. But what is Psalm 27 really about? In this session, we'll do a close literary and theological reading of the Psalm and uncover its deeper meanings.

The class will take place at 190 Amsterdam Avenue (69th Street), in the West End Synagogue building. Prayer services are also open to all; feel free to contact me for those times or check out Mechon Hadar's website.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Holy ground

Drawing angels

I bring this feather into existence
and this one
and this one