Introduction: Every bullet leaves pain in circles rippling outward, like the diameter of the bomb the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai once described. Amichai’s bomb extends from 30 centimeters to the immediate range of dead and wounded, out to a solitary mourner “far across the sea,” finally encompassing “the entire world in the circle.” (Chana Bloch’s […]

[updated 8/15] At the invitation of Temple Micah‘s Lunch and Learn program (8/10/16), I shared some thoughts about Jews and Racial Justice. I appreciate the opportunity. As promised, I offer the references cited for anyone who wants to explore further: Jews and Racial Justice reference page. I also include below a link to the SongRiseDC […]

“Maybe” is not always comfortable in a world that values black and white, in or out, yes or no. But the Book of Jonah, recited on Yom Kippur afternoon, suggests that coming to terms with “maybe” is a key lesson of these days between “it is written” and “it is sealed.” And two musical approaches to “Maybe” help illuminate Jonah’s struggles with concept.
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Just recently learned about “Sermon Slam,” a project of Open Quorum. Looking forward to seeing how this new forum develops.

In honor of tonight’s event at DC’s JCC, here is “The Sermon” a great way to warm up for a Sermon Slam and/or Shavuot.


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In honor of this odd confluence of holidays — 30 Days of Dead, Chanukah, and Thanksgiving — I offer these thoughts on Jewish worship, text study and the Grateful Dead. It is not necessary to know anything about the (Grateful) Dead or to like them, musically or culturally, to explore this analogy. I’ve been told by fans and non-fans that it is helpful. I hope you enjoy and find it useful and welcome comments.

The material was originally shared at Temple Micah (DC) for Shabbat Shelach in 2011. Here’s the introduction from that dvar torah.

Not Just for Dead Fans

How the Grateful Dead, Jewish Text and Worship Explain One Another and Raise Interesting Questions.”

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Thoughts from Amy Brookman in response to “Pinchas and the scary friend

Writing the word “shalom” with a broken vav beats the sword of Pinchas into a plowshare. Your commentary doesn’t stop there, but goes on beating it until it emerges as a musical instrument. In other words you made me think of this poem that refers to the book of Micah.

An Appendix to the Vision of Peace
Tosefet Lachazon Hashalom
Don’t stop after beating the swords
into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into plowshares first.
– Yehuda Amichai
p. 777, Kol Haneshemah (Wyncote, PA: The Reconstructionist Press, 1996)

And the many nations shall go and shall say:
Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the LORD,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That He may instruct us in His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.
For instruction shall come forth from Zion,
The word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Thus He will judge among the many peoples,
And arbitrate for the multitude of nations, however distant;
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares*
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall never again know war;
But every man shall sit
Under his grapevine or fig tree
With no one to disturb him.
For it was the LORD of Hosts who spoke.

*More exactly, the iron points with which wooden plows were tipped.
— footnote from JPS 1999 Hebrew-English Tanakh

— Micah 4:2-4

The broken vav looks to me like iron points or plow tips.
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It is an age-old Jewish practice to start a day with gratitude and thanks. The question was raised in a recent study session about why tunes for the earliest of morning prayers tend to be very peppy, while not all of us awaken like that. One associated teaching is that we should approach each day with as much vigor as we have. I no of no sleepier versions, so to speak, so perhaps someone needs to compose a “modah ani for slow wakers.”

Early blessings to accompany the acts of awakening — opening the eyes, putting feet on the ground, dressing, etc. — are found in the Talmud (Berakhot 60b) and included, in various orders and with different forms of address to God, in countless Jewish prayer books. Among the blessings recited earliest in the day are those focusing on the soul, body and intellect. This practice is meant to train the Jew to enjoy nothing — not even the functioning of own bodies or brains — without acknowledging and thanking God.

As discussed in Temple Micah’s first Shabbat session on the siddur, the “modah/modeh ani” prayer came into practice more recently — recent, as in the last few hundred years. It is an odd blessing, in Jewish tradition, because it does not mention God’s name. Leaving aside the reasons for this, the real power of the prayer is in practicing conscious direction of thought upon awakening (or as soon thereafter as possible).

In that spirit, here are some further resources and notes:
Gratitude without God
Gratitude with Coffee: in the Midst of Work, Attending to Others
Gratitude in Tough Times and in Mourning

Here are two musical approaches to modah/modeh ani. One was composed by Cantor Jeff Klepper and is frequently sung at Temple Micah; it’s performed in this video a capella by a mother and daughter. Another is Rabbi David Paskin performing his own composition. There are many other versions, but these are two I like.

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