Range of Possibilities (Beyond 44)

“The media we consume has a profound impact on the range of possibilities we can imagine. Therefore, centering Black female narratives in our reading habits should be a central practice for anyone trying to envision a world in which Black Women are respected, honored, supported and loved.” — So writes Aaron Goggans in his post, #ILoveBlackWomen Day One: Read, and I gratefully accept the suggestion.

from Aaron Goggans' "Well Examined Life"
from Aaron Goggans’ “Well Examined Life”

Important in its own right, focusing on women seems also a good antidote to this week’s all-male Torah portion (Bamidbar [“in the wilderness”], Numbers 1:1-4:20), and to the masculine-centered Sinai narrative of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. (In which “the people” are told “don’t go near a woman” [Ex 19:15].)

Deep as erasure, sexism, and misogyny has been for Jewish women and women in Western culture generally, Black women face, in addition, misogynoir. It is, therefore, as Aaron Goggans points out, particularly important to “intentionally consume art, music and literature created by and about Black Trans* Women, Black Women and Black Girls” to counteract this reality.

half-bloodMoreover, any life missing out on Black female voices is simply deprived. And so, in the spirit of #ILoveBlackWomen: READ, I share a few favorites:

Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues. NY: Picador, 2011.
An engaging novel which also offers a glimpse into some often-overlooked bits of history, including the experience of Afro-Germans and France’s “Rhineland Bastards,” following WWI and through WWII. (See U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for historical background.)

Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Personal reflections — too young, at 30, IMO for a “memoir” — from the creator of the web comedy series by the same name as well as a number of other comedy projects. Rae reports taking out some first-draft material in deference to family feeling, but the result is still honest and insightful, and — like her video work — humorous without cruelty.

Sonia Sanchez, Morning Haiku. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.
A collection of “haiku” in the sense of spare, powerful verses (not necessarily of the 5-7-5 pattern). Verses are written for varied individuals, from Emmett Till to Ras Baraka, Sarah Vaughn to Oprah Winfrey. See below for an excerpt from 21 Haiku for (Odetta).

A number of other authors, filmmakers, and other powerful Black female voices have been mentioned over the course of this Omer journey from oppression to Revelation. Here is a sampling:

Rain to the Desert

You asked: is there
no song that will
bring rain to this desert?
— Sonia Sanchez (see below)

Thanks, again, to “The Well Examined Life” for the reminder of how many songs, with how much potential to bring rain, we might miss without making a conscious effort to hear from Black trans women, women, and girls. Check out the blog for additional #ILoveBlackWomen activities.

We counted 44 on the evening of May 17. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.


Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-five days which are six weeks and three days in the Omer.
Hayom chamishah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot ushloshah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

Although the concept is not new to me, the word is. For more on this term — meaning “how racism and anti-Blackness alter the experience of misogyny for Black women, specifically” — see Gradient Lair and Wikipedia.


21 Haiku (for Odetta)
from Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku

the sound of
your voice thundering out
of the earth

a drum
beat summoning us
to prayer

the smell of
your breathing

by politics
you dare to love

You opened
up your throat
to travelers

Lead Belly on Saturday
nites and Sunday mornings

your music asked
has your song a father
or a mother?

…10. You asked: is there
no song that will
bring rain to this desert?

[fuller version at Google Books]

Strength and Boundaries, Imperfection and Hope (Beyond 7)

With the close of Shabbat and the end of Passover, we move into the “gevurah [strength, boundaries]” week of the omer, on our journey away from oppression.

In the spirit of gevurah as strength, I suggest we begin this week by honoring the strength of individuals of color, persevering in a society that too often sees them in ways that do not celebrate their humanity. In the spirit of gevurah as boundaries, I suggest we begin this week by honoring the many different routes such perseverance can take.

At the close of Shabbat, we mark the division of holy and mundane, and Rabbi Jonathan Saks says:

By inviting human beings to engage in Havdala [dividing] at the end of Shabbat, God invites us to create worlds. Creation involves the ability to make distinctions, to rescue order from chaos, to respect the integrity of creation….The message of Havdala is: if we respect the integrity of boundaries, we can turn chaos into order, darkness into light.
— commentary to Havdala prayer, p. 726 Koren Saks Siddur

In addition, R. Saks teaches that the moment of lighting a candle to mark the transition from Shabbat to the weekdays also recalls the exile of Eve and Adam from Eden and how God showed them how to make light, so that they could become partners in the on-going work of creation.

Letting go of Shabbat is a moment of deep realization that the world is still imperfect and that we have work to do. But it is also a moment of special yearning and hope, as we breathe in the spices to fortifying us for the week’s work ahead. Havdala, and the going out of Shabbat, is thus a great time for considering strength and boundaries.
Continue reading Strength and Boundaries, Imperfection and Hope (Beyond 7)

An Old Pattern Caught (Beyond 6)

With the final days of Passover, we come to the end of the omer’s first week, focusing on God’s attribute of Chesed [loving-kindness]. We began this week considering the “not-knowing” at the start of the Exodus story, what David Silber called “callousness and a lack of sensitivity,” a “moral deficiency.” We explored Moses’ “capacity to twist his neck,” to see what others missed, as an impetus for redemption. Meanwhile, the news conspired to graphically illustrate — for all to see in ways that seem impossible to refute — how easy it has been for police to create, and much of the population to acquiesce in believing, an oppression-affirming view that is the opposite of the “trouble to see” with which redemption begins.

An Old Pattern Caught

For some, the story of Walter Scott — a Black man apparently gunned down in cold blood by police and then vilified in police and subsequent media reports — is a shock. For some, however, it’s an old pattern that just happened to be caught by video this time:

[A piece of fiction:]
Earlier today DC police fatally shot a mentally ill man in Petworth after a brief stand-off in front of the man’s home….

…Witnesses say that police stopped the recent transplant from the South-Side of Chicago for unknown reasons. “The dude was clearly nervous. From across the street it looked like he was scared of police and was wearing a dark hoodie,” says neighbor and eye witness Mark St. Claire….

*update: post originally said that victim was armed….
*update: post originally identified the victim as only 3/5ths of a person.
*update: post was originally titled “Another Dead Nigger.”
— from “Mentally ill man fatally shot in Petworth,” by Aaron Goggans
on the Well-Examined Life, December 2014

Continue reading An Old Pattern Caught (Beyond 6)