Is There a Cloak Big Enough?

An evolving midrash on Fabrangen‘s Omer Blog is exploring the idea of eating the fruit — honoring the essential Torah of an individual or community — while discarding the rind: In the case of the talmudic era Elisha ben Abuyah, the “rind” is understood as outright apostasy, but his student/friend Meir continues to defend and enjoy the fruit.

Even beyond the “fruit/rind” strategy, Rabbi Meir insists on redeeming his friend/teacher by spreading his cloak over Acher as Boaz did to redeem Ruth, welcoming the other.

Can this same strategy be employed between Jewish communities with apparently intractable differences of practice and belief? A truly welcoming cloak would have to leave room for the other to be other: is there a cloak that big?
Continue reading Is There a Cloak Big Enough?

Meir, Elisha, Boaz, Ruth and the White Space

How does the apostate Elisha ben Abuyah end up with the biblical Boaz and Ruth, as they spend the night on the threshing floor? (Chapter 3 of the Book of Ruth). Some explorations on the way to Shavuot and reading Ruth….
Continue reading Meir, Elisha, Boaz, Ruth and the White Space

Lekh Lekha: Language and Translation

The Stranger’s Strange Words: a theology

Chapter 16 of Breishit/Genesis introduces the character of Hagar — as in stranger [ger] — who serves as Sarah’s maid and bears Ishmael to Abraham. In one of two episodes in which we find Hagar (and Ishmael) out in the wilderness, she meets an angel/messenger of God [malach yud-hey-vav-hey]. Translators note difficulty working out Hagar’s words after she sees God (and/or was seen by God) — ra-iti acharei ro-i — or, perhaps, as one translator has it, after she sees the back of God.
Continue reading Lekh Lekha: Language and Translation

Warp and Weft Sunset

This visual midrash combines the sentiment of Debbie Perlman’s new psalm, “Thirty Nine: For Consolidation,” and the text of the yizkor prayers, which ask that our departed loved ones be “bound up in the bonds of life.” It uses a design created by one member of Fabrangen Havurah to “bind up” the memorial threads of hundreds of participants in high holiday services.

YizkorEmbroidery

It began at Fabrangen’s yizkor service on Yom Kippur 5764 (October 2003). At that service, participants were offered an embroidery thread and asked to recall loves ones, calling to mind ways in which our lives already reflect — or might better reflect — what they taught us.

Using a common tune for the “Achat Sha’alti” verses of Psalm 27, we sang the final verse of Perlman’s poem:

You are the warp and the weft;
Braid in this slender thread upon Your loom.
You are the texture and the smooth cloth;
Form me in a running stitch to you.

Each person was asked to “choose at least one action you do or plan to do in memory of a loved one.” Memorial threads were gathered, with the promise that they would be woven into a “a memorial piece, thus weaving those precious, personal memories into a precious, public memorial, as we together seek a ‘pattern of holiness, bound tightly to God’s design’ for ourselves and our community.”

“Warp and Weft” Sunset

Following the service, Fabrangen member Dottie Weintraub drew a colorful sun reflecting on water as it sets as the model for the embroidery. Skilled and novice stitchers began weaving those threads to match the picture. Several of us gathered to recall loved ones while we took turns stitching. Many others took long solo hours working on the sunset.

For several years, the partially completed version graced Yom Kippur services. Finally, Dottie took the piece with her, when she moved to California, finished it, had it framed and shipped it back to DC. The “Warp and Weft” Sunset appeared at Yom Kippur services in 5770. It has since resided at the home where Fabrangen West meets and makes periodic trips to other Fabrangen service locations when yizkor is recited.

At the Yom Kippur service which first included the completed embroidery, Deb Kolodny led us in singing

I’m holding on
Got my eye on the road and my heart in a song
Whatever happened is already gone,
I won’t let go.
I won’t let go
— Sonia Ruttstein

With deep gratitude to Dottie for the final effort — she didn’t let go — and to Deb who helped launch the effort, co-leading the 5764 service, to every member of the community whose original promises of action went into those threads, to all who added their loving stitches and to all whose memories form the sunset and its reflection…

UPDATE: Deb Kolodny, now a rabbi living in Oregon, can be found here, and Dottie Weintraub and her artwork can be found in California, here, for example.

The less mobile Memorial Quilt continues to honor the memory of departed Fabrangeners and loved ones.



Debbie Perlman (1951-2002)
“Thirty Nine: For Consolidation,”
Flames to Heaven: New Psalms for Healing and Praise

Twine my life to life, O Eternal,
Plied strength on strength,
To nurture my heart and renew my soul.

Join me in a partnership with You.
Tightly wrap my days in duties for Your sake.

Spin around me the worlds of Yours sages,
The dreams of Your children,
Rub my face with the rough weave of women’s stories
To strengthen my faint pulse

Bind me to Your Torah,
Four bright blue corners
Knotted together for Your glory.

You are the warp and the weft;
Braid in this slender thread upon Your loom.
You are the texture and the smooth cloth;
Form me in a running stitch to you.

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