Eicha for my city and maybe for yours

Alas! How lonely sits the city
Once great with joyful people!
New horrors fill horizons now
while old pain never left
Each new loss diminishes
the streets themselves bereft

Bitterly we weep all night
cheeks wet with tears unseen
If we are to join together,
we must widen this choir of woe
When some cries are background noise
what’s the meaning of “friend” and “foe”?

City in despair right here,
Can Jewish space bring rest?
Refugees are some, just some,
of misery’s many faces
Public protest spreads the nation
are we stuck in narrow places?

Down our roads, more peril
desolation, violence, fear
systems that crush and jail
separate, cage, and hate
Borders come in many shapes
Too often closed, that welcome gate

Evidence mounts. Not in our name.
Closing camps, protecting neighbors and strangers –
that is work we are all called to do
But what about mutual care?
Or must we ignore some of our truths
in chasing a goal that we share?

Forging coalition is struggle, tougher in anguish.
Inside affliction, can we hear another cry?
It is painful and complex, but we must keep trying
trying to heed the whole sound
I know you can hear it, God once declared loudly:
that voice of a sibling crying up from the ground

–V. Spatz, songeveryday.org CC-BY-SA

Yes: We demonstrate publicly that Jews will not turn our backs on refugees arriving in this country and on immigrant neighbors already here. We support vigils and protest to #CloseTheCamps. Now!!
Can we not also:

  • Recognize many ways our country has long separated families, caged and brutalized people?
  • Cry with our local, national and international communities, refugees and not, who lend different voices to the chorus of “How lonely sits this place!”?
  • Send prayer energy to our many beleaguered communities, near and far?
  • Commit to exploring, in the days to come, ways in which we are complicit in so much suffering and ways we might take up action for repair?

“It is not ours to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it” — Pirkei Avot 2:16

Here’s a PDF of this post, should anyone want to print a single page.Eichah for my city maybe yours

Now What? Exploring Babylon Stage Two

I launched the “Exploring Babylon” project on this blog in October 2017. Stage One was to run for roughly 40 weeks, from Sukkot through Tisha B’av. WordPress statistics tell me that I’ve posted 40 times in the category, “Exploring Babylon,” although not entirely on the weekly schedule I’d originally planned, and Tisha B’av is fast — no pun intended — approaching (eve of July 21 through dark July 22).

Not sure yet what shape Stage Two will take. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Where Exodus Metaphors Fail

Meanwhile, a recent interview with the author of Black Power, Jewish Politics returns us to the basic challenge that impelled me into this project.

When I talk generally with white Jews about why Jews are involved in social justice or civil rights or racial equality, they’ll talk about this shared history of oppression.

And the problem is that American Jewish history and African-American history are 180 degrees opposite on that question. One of my African-American colleagues, he said, “If I ever go to a Seder and the Jews say that they know what it’s like because they too were once slaves in Egypt,” he’s gonna punch ’em.

Because if Jews have to go back to ancient Egypt to get the slavery metaphor, then they’ve kind of missed that American Jewish history is a story of rapid social ascent, and African-American history is the legacy of slavery. That argument is insulting, and it’s very elementary.

And, of course, I found that the people actually involved in the movement in the 50s, they knew that. And they were quite clear that they were not buying into that.
— Marc Dollinger, 6/4/18 NPR interview

In the struggle for racial and other forms of social justice, might the language and history of Exile serve where Exodus metaphors sometimes fail?

And, as we move through the month of Av and on toward a new year, how might we use ideas about exile and Babylon, in particular, to inform us?

As the source of a long intertextual journey, Psalm 137 generates the poetic vocabulary of exile: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and cried as we remembered Zion.” The pleonastic “there,” repeated in the third verse, calls attention to itself by its very redundancy; syntactically superfluous, “there” defines exile as the place that is always elsewhere. Being elsewhere, being far from Zion, is the pre-text for poetry….(p.9)

With the (re)territorialization of the Jewish imagination in the twentieth century, a radical shift takes place in the relative position of ends and means, of original and mimetic space, of holy and profane, of ownership and tenancy. If exile is narrative, then to historicize the end of the narrative is to invite a form of epic closure that threatens the storytelling enterprise itself–an enterprise that remained alive, like Scheherazade, by suspending endings. Conversely, to claim an absolute place for the exilic imagination is to privilege the story as the thing itself; the map for the territory, language without referent; and to regard “nomadic writing” as the inherently Jewish vocation…. (p.14)
— Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Booking Passage

Again, comments and suggestions welcome.

May the mourning of the weeks ahead bring us some new light.

NOTES:
Pleonasm
Although it’s pretty clear from context, and maybe everyone else knows, I did look up “pleonasm” for my own edification. Here’s a useful and not overly ad-filled explanation of pleonasm.
BACK

Citation
Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven. Booking Passage: Exile and Homecoming in the Modern Jewish Imagination. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.
BACK-2

interlude: Summer 5777

Tammuz is interlude, reiteration, steady growth,” writes Debbie Perlman, describing the month in the Jewish calendar which began this past weekend. She goes on to reference sprinklers, weeds, and fields already planted, concluding:

Hear us as we move into this time of increase,
As we gather up sunlight and breezes and rains
To lay aside against the unknowns ahead.
Hear us as we call You in truth.
— from “Ninety-One: Rosh Chodesh Tammuz”
IN Flames to Heaven: New Psalms for Healing & Praise

A few words about “interlude” and gathering up “against the unknowns ahead.”

“Against the Unknowns Ahead”

Taking a wide view of the Jewish calendar, we’re in a sort of dip between two peaks: Shavuot, festival of “receiving Torah,” and Simchat Torah, festival of “rejoicing in the Torah.”

For seven weeks, beginning on the second night of Passover, we counted “up” to Shavuot. The next milestone on the calendar, 40 days later, commemorates the incident of the Golden Calf — in other words, our failure to “receive” Torah very well. The Fast of Tammuz (this year: 7/11/17) launches a downward swing with “The Three Weeks” and Tisha B’Av, mourning loss of both Temples and other calamities faced by the Jewish people.

From that lowest point (9 Av, this year: 8/1/17), we begin the climb toward the new year, through the high holidays, Sukkot and, finally, Simchat Torah (this year: 10/13/17).

But right now, we’re still in the 40 days between Shavuot and the Fast of Tammuz. Reading ourselves into the Exodus story: We are still in the early days of liberty from Egyptian slavery; Moses is still on the mountain, obtaining the first tablets, which have yet to be smashed. We know nothing about the Golden Calf or the Spies and the decades of tromping in the desert, realizing the best we can hope for is that the next generation will make it out. Today, still, is about anticipation and hope for immediate changes in the life of our community.

From the vantage point of the Exodus story, this is a great time to “lay aside against the unknowns.” With a view to the Jewish calendar — and to the civic calendar in the U.S. — this is an important interlude to shore up resources for the challenging days ahead.

“When you come…”

The Torah potion Ki Tavo (“When You Come…”; Deut 26:1-29:8) is bookmarked by two fascinating passages: Near the beginning is he passage we read at the Passover seder, recapping our ancestors’ journey and our own through the Exodus; toward the end, we are told that it took forty years for us to understand what happened.

Deuteronomy 26: 5-10

וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב.
And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.

וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה
And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.

וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ,
וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ
And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.

וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל–וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים.
And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.

[these two verses are not part of the Haggadah:]
וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ.
And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה;
וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.’ And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.

Deuteronomy 29: 1-3

וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם:
אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְעֵינֵיכֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לְפַרְעֹה וּלְכָל-עֲבָדָיו, וּלְכָל-אַרְצוֹ
And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them: Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;

הַמַּסּוֹת, הַגְּדֹלֹת, אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ, עֵינֶיךָ–הָאֹתֹת וְהַמֹּפְתִים הַגְּדֹלִים, הָהֵם.
the great trials which thine eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders;

וְלֹא-נָתַן יְהוָה לָכֶם לֵב לָדַעַת, וְעֵינַיִם לִרְאוֹת וְאָזְנַיִם לִשְׁמֹעַ, עַד, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
but the LORD hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.

Shabbat Ki Tavo falls this year between Labor Day, the traditional end of the U.S. “summer vacation” (9/4/17), and Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year (9/21/17). A sort of meta-interlude.

Now, in the interlude of early Tammuz, perhaps we can begin to “gather up sunlight and breezes and rains,” our communities’ stories and our own, in preparation for the travels ahead.

Blood, Justice, Grief and Healing: A Tale for Two Birthdays

from TransAfrica Forum

from TransAfrica Forum — http://transafrica.org/

This week, Jews begin to move beyond the lowest point of the calendar, a period known as “The Three Weeks,” toward the new year. The Three Weeks focus on prophetic admonishment for our ethical failings, while the seven weeks that follow call for a renewed focus on a “path of justice.”

Nelson Mandela’s birthday, July 18, comes this year just at this point of turning. “Mandela Day,” too, encourages us to move beyond grief into healing action.
Continue Reading