Sunday, May 31, 2009


The Kabalists tell us the story of creation through their mystical lens:

Hashem, infused in every molecule
spinning inside each atom and neutrino.
The first act of creation was to make the nothingness,
hanging holiness like lanterns to light the way.
The spherote shattered in a-dam/dirtperson's first sin
Godliness spilling, blending, twisting, merging,
ruining the perfect havdallah

Our mission, which we accepted
mere moments ago
at Har Sinai
is to expose, uncover, unveil, unearth
the bits of blessedness
collect it to us
tuck it safely in the deep pockets of our nefesh
to be delivered at the end of our travels

In these last hours and minutes,
remember that job,
the task you took on during that infinte moment
when God's voice plucked at the strings of our soul,
Truth singing through you

I can't explain how you could
Walk out in the morning's first light
spread your arms, hands, fingers wide, like a net
collect the rays of sun.
I have no trick for catching the wind,
capturing it in your hair, your cloths
So that it will survive the 7,000 miles to us

So do this instead:
Before you go, walk barefoot across the ground.
Promise that no matter how clean you get,
Israel's soil will remain between your toes.

During your break, ignore the doctor's advice
go out without your hat
until you feel the tips of your ears heat from the sun
Promise that even after red fades to tan and eventually to peach,
You will always walk in Jerusalem's light

If you can get back there,
walk once more to the Kotel
Rub your hands raw against the ancient stones
Promise that even after the scabs and scrapes fade
Holiness will be held in every handshake

Imprint Israel, make it part of every sense

I won't say don't cry.
What a waste that would be.

Cry for the joy of the gift you have received
Cry for those who didn't live long enough to see the things
that became mundane to you, in the months you were there
Cry in frustration for the friendships that will fade
when the distance between you is more than a dorm room.
And cry for joy at the ones that won't.

Water the Land with your tears.
Plant a seed fashioned from your soul
and marvel at what will grow
in holy soil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For Heather, on her arrival

You will walk wide streets under waving palms
signs writ large in alien characters
names as foreign as the soil underfoot
yet familiar, as your voice to ears
let the sun which warmed our Fathers and Mothers
infuse your skin,
kiss your hair
tickle your nose
Without parents near, still you are nurtured.

You will open like a flower in the afternoon light
childhood's canopy, the tent of parental protection folded away.
The courtyard of your adulthood beckons bright
following the way once trod by our Mothers and Fathers
Chava walking, a child on her hip
Rachel running, love in her eyes
Rivka atop her camel, hanging on for dear life but falling off in love
Sarah standing solemnly, silently
moving you to a new place in your heart and your head.

Peoples from all kinds of away
mouths speaking, struggling in translation
your mind tussling, translating their talk
effort yielding understanding and connection
Chanting blessings, sharing the words of our Fathers and Mothers
cupping the flame
singing the songs
tasting the joy of libation and liberation
binding you to the land so that you may be free, releasing you so that you may return

May your journey there be your chrysalis
May the hot Israeli sun dry your newborn wings
May ripe Israeli fruit feed nectar to your lithe new form
May the language of our Mothers and Fathers inspire your soul

And from that moment until the end of your days,
whether you are there, or here or somewhere between
may your feet always feel the sandy kiss of the land of our Ancestors

Friday, August 25, 2006

You were only waiting...

For a long time, I have carried around with me a very depressing mental image for the Beatles song "Blackbird". I would relate it here, but I've been told by enough people that it ruined their enjoyment of the song so I usually just keep it to myself.

Not that my mental image inhibited my own love of the song. I took a fond, if somewhat morbidly melancholy, pleasure in singing it and hearing it performed. But it was never a happy song.

Now, when my son Joram (who is now 6) was a baby we had this routine. He was hard to put to sleep, so we would rock in the chair and I would pat his back. With significant force. No namby-pamby girly-man taps for him. He would only settle down if you gave him room-echoing "whomps" with your whole hand. And it wasn't that slow, heartbeat type rhythm that seems so soothing. Joram preferred a medium-to-fast beat. So there I am, pounding out a steady rhythm and rocking him to sleep when I realize

(pat pat pat pat)
Blackbird singin' in the dead of night
(pat pat pat pat)
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
(pat pat pat)
All your life
(pat pat pat)
You were only waiting for this moment to arrive

In that moment of discovery, several things came together for me and were resolved - my concern about having a son; the personal upheaval of that time - a job change, a country change, a new child; and so on. And above it all was the immediate and complete transformation of that song into something positive and hopeful. The lyrics took on new and very personal meaning, and I knew I would never hear it the same way again.

It is said that encounters with God (however you envision God) are transformative. Torah shows this with so many name changes (Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob ("heel") becomes Israel ("God wrestler").) Upon meeting Moses, even God gets a name change to YHWH ("I am that I am becoming").

Love (everyone say it with me: "twu wuv") is deeply transforming. As is deep tragedy, or sudden loss. However it happens, if you meet up with God in some way, you can't remain the same.

By reverse logic, finding yourself transformed is evidence of an encounter with God. In that instant of change for Joram and I, Shechinah (another name for God, meaning "her spirit which surrounds us") came into the room.

I think Mr. McCartney would be proud.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

POEM: Elegy

You wail in counterpoint to the church bells
Ringing down the road from the clinic
9 times they tolled, as if to say "enough, enough"
Or perhaps "so soon"

My mind a study of indecision.
In my heart, I am holding off death
In one moment
And urging it on in the next

"It's not fair to let them suffer"
But are you "them", or am I?
Who is spared, and who condemned?

I watch the syringe deliver sleep into your veins.
I hold you, oblivious to your lack of control
I croon your favorite story in your ear
The one you would overcome stairs and the dog and old age
To hear every bedtime

Your eyes never close

All the men of our house, the fraternity you left behind
Dig your grave
The world, drained by your absence of any warmth
Weeps ice instead of tears

POEM: work session

Eyes wide like a horse about to spook
Sideways staring at my fingers on the keyboard
As if they are medusae-snakes, ready to betray you at any moment
Capture you and bind you and force you into
The impossible labor of sentences and grammar

Head thrown back, eyes unfocused,
fingers bucking and jumping on the keys like 15 year old driving a stick-shift
Brain firing on all cylenders at the same time
Unable to hold onto just half of one thought
As your steady stream of ideas,
Each one thesis-worthy
Race by me

The words:
Twist and writhe on paper
Despairing of their limitation, their solid singlular concrete meaning
Desperate to break the bonds that hold them fast
To leap off the page, to be able to shift and change and transform
both themselves and those who view them
To rise again in the mind, in the air between us
Where your brain gave them birth
And your lips gave them flight

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Shabbat Katrina

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978)
It was an uncomfortable Shabbat. The sense of sanctuary we normally enjoyed, the suspension of work-week pressures and petty stresses was absent. We all knew why, but even that knowledge didn't comfort us. Our group of friends - a collection of families who get together for food, talking, food, socializing, food, Torah study and also a little food -- had been struggling all evening with what we thought about hurricane Katrina and the victims left in the wake of the disaster.

After dinner had been cleared, coffee served, and the kids had beaten their customary hasty retreat to the basement, we turned our attention to Re'eh, the portion for the week. Even though they are found near the end of the portion, the words seemed to scream at us from the page, shocking us back to our earlier conversation.

(Deut) 15:7 When, in a settlement in the land that God your Lord is giving you, any of your brothers is poor, do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother. 15:8 Open your hand generously, and extend to him any credit he needs to take care of his wants. 15:9 Be very careful that you not have an irresponsible idea and say to yourself, 'The seventh year is approaching, and it will be the remission year.' You may then look unkindly at your impoverished brother, and not give him anything. If he then complains to God about you, you will have a sin. 15:10 Therefore, make every effort to give him, and do not feel bad about giving it, since God your Lord will then bless you in all your endeavors, no matter what you do. 15:11 The poor will never cease to exist in the land, so I am commanding you to open your hand generously to your poor and destitute brother in your land.

Abandoning all pretense of Torah study, we began to debate. What could we do - here, now, with the group and resources we had? We're not a rich bunch, to be sure. Nor is any of us politically well-connected. We don't have skills that would warrant a road trip down to the gulf. It didn't appear there were many choices.

Then one of the group got up and pointedly slapped a $100 bill into the Jar.

An old glass jar is always in the center of the Shabbat table, and over the course of the year it is filled with the money we empty out of our pockets as Shabbat begins. Once a year this money is distributed to a variety of charities. We had started this tradition a few years ago, when everyone's kids were too old and too savvy and too numerous to deal with at Chanukah. We wanted to use that time of year to teach about Tikkun Olam. So during the week of Chanukah all the families would gather, and everyone would talk about their charity of choice, and then the "under-18 crowd" would decide which groups should get the money and how much. It was a useful holiday-time lesson in tzedakah.

But here we were, 4 months away from Chanukah. The jar was full, but not as full as it would be. $100 had just dropped into it. As I said before, we're not rich - this got our attention.

"We can do something now," he said from his perch on the couch. "We can do something later, too. But here, right now, we can do something. What's it going to be?"

"Something now" was a $400 donation to The Jewish Federation of Cleveland ( Our jar is empty, but we're building it back up week by week.

"Something later" depends on you. Our group is challenging yours. Like our group, maybe you aren't rich, or politically connected, or gifted with life saving skills in times of disaster. But we're betting you can pull together a small donation. Take this opportunity to teach others that each one of us can change the world.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

ESSAY: Tooth Faerie Delayed

My wife and I are pretty fanatic when it comes to the tooth fairy.

Being Jewish, there aren't a whole lot of other imaginary visitors in the lives of our kids. Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc.  all don't make stops at our house. Sure, there's Elijah, the kindly old prophet who visits during Passover and drinks a cup of sickly-sweet wine. That just doesn't stack up against bunnies and elves who leave toys and chocolate. So, like I said, my wife and I are pretty fanatic when it comes to the patron myth (and Ms.) of dentistry.

In our house, the tooth faeiry leaves notes along with cash. Not just for the newly-toothless, but also for the other kids. For the not-quite-reading children, pictographic messages are sent, otherwise it's multi-colored notes in precise script. . She left a "goodbye" letter to my oldest when she lost her last tooth. She has left "I can't wait to start visiting you" letters to my one-year-old in his crib.

The other day, Isabelle, my nine year old daughter came home proudly carrying her tooth. The school had thoughtfully triple-bagged it along with a big sign that read "biohazard" in red lettering. Isabelle was pumped. It had been two years since the last tooth and she was ready for some cold hard cash. Out came the plush tooth-shaped pillow with the pocket (tooth goes in, coin comes out the next morning). It's one of the few times our kids race for bed.

The next morning, Isabelle came downstairs looking confused and vaguely shaken. The tooth fairy hadn't come! You could tell her world was a slightly less understandable place. Concern was etched on her face.

My wife was desperately trying to ease her concerns. "I'm sure there's an explanation, honey," she said as soothingly as she could. From my office I could hear the desperation of a Mom with her back to the wall. I knew it was time for extreme measures. I opened up my internet browser and headed for

"Stormy weather targets the Ohio Vally" read the headline.

"Perfect!" I thought. Being a computer geek has its drawbacks - public image at the top of a long list that ends with "terminally uncool". But in this case, my geekhood was a better asset than any fashion concious GQ magazine poseur could ever hope to have. Heck, in that moment, geekhood was a superpower. "Stormy weather targets the Ohio Valley, throws tooth fairy off course!" read the new headline, replete with the logo and accompanying graphics.

The story continued: "After another day of devastating tornadoes across the Plains and Missouri Valley on Monday, the action will shift eastward into the Ohio Valley today. The storms have created havoc for normally-reliable public service workers, mail carriers and even the tooth fairy. Fortunately, today should not feature as many tornadoes as the primary threat is expected to be damaging winds. Storms will also continue to rumble across the central Plains and mid-Mississippi Valley as well. Extra workers, including sprites, pixies and gnomes have been called in to fill in, although delays are expected."

I printed off a copy and highlighted the important parts. Then I called Isabelle into my office. Nonchalantly, I pointed to the screen. "This just came in on my weather service. I thought you would want to know." Then I turned back to the program I was debugging, trying hard to watch her face out of the corner of my eye.

Her homeroom teacher, principal, gym teacher and most of her friends got to see the weather report that day, courtesy of "Isabelle the weather kid". Something in her universe had clearly been validated. The tooth fairy is on! How much more real do you get than that?

The tooth fairy came that night. Notes were left for everyone, along with the usual cash-and-carry arrangement.

The next morning, Isabelle found an updated report on the kitchen table: "The threat of heavy rain moves southward; Magical service workers finally catch up." read the morning headline. "The Tooth Fairy, helped by hundreds of her friends and relatives, was finally able to catch up with her duties today as storms and high winds let up around the region. Heavy rain is likely to roll eastward along a stalled front strung out from the Missouri-Arkansas to the Kentucky-Tennessee border, but it appears she will be able to keep up with demand. With the front expected to stall in that position through Thursday, serious flooding may result as rainfall totals in some locations. A few severe tunderstorms are possible, as well. The only other other area of precipitation in the Midwest on Wednesday is likely to be across northern North Dakota, northern Minnesota and the U. P. of Michigan where a few showers will fall. "I want to thank everyone for pitching in and helping out," said the tired but happy Tooth Fairy. "And I want to thank all the children for being patient and understanding if I was late getting to their house." "

I'm sure this will catch up to me someday. I know there's the chance that Isabelle will ask me something which will require my total honesty, and in her face I'll read a headline of stormy doubt. She'll hear my answer and wonder if I'm changing web pages again to cover for my faults. But for the moment my children live in a world where magic is still possible, where goodness is the norm, and where the travel patterns of certain fairies are not only known, but documented on internet weather sites.

Monday, July 28, 2003


"Dad, I want to cut my hair".

Heather, my 10 year old, is telling me how she plans to rip out my heart and drag it around the back yard. I've tried very hard over the years to keep my personal preferences on hairstyles just that - personal. The fact is that I love long hair. Not for myself - my personal coif has only ever grown straight out from my head until I look like a chia pet. But on women, especially the women who inhabit our home, I think the "Rapunzel" look is great.

My wife has always indulged this preference with the same enthusiasm that I shave. The fact is that I would prefer not to have to wake up and scrape a jagged deadly sliver of metal across my throat, risking cuts, razor burns, and certain death (don't laugh - you've never seen me shave. It is NOT pretty!). But it all comes out even. I love long hair. She hates beards. We each have adjusted.

Our two daughters, have, until now, gone with the flow. Mommy has long hair, so they do, too. And don't talk to me about being a Daddy Despot - I do my share of shampooing, conditioning, brushing, drying, and braiding. I've taken responsibility wherever I could. Which is not to say we haven't had the "haircut" conversation before. When Heather makes new friends, she bounces around the idea of matching her hair to theirs. My greatest fear is that someday she will become best buddies with Sinead O'Connor.

"Dad, are you listening? I said I want to cut my hair.".

In the past, I've considered forbidding her from ever letting scissors touch so much as a strand. My wife has gently reminded me that this would only make her more determined, and we'd probably find her one day with a machete in one hand and half her scalp in the other.


I'm thinking "No problem, honey. Don't let it bother you for a moment that it will send me to an early grave. Don't worry for a second that you'll be throwing away 10 years of happiness for me. I'll get over it. Somehow."

What I usually say is "It's your hair. You are welcome to do whatever you want. It can always grow back if you don't like it."

"Mom?!? Dad isn't listening again."

Debbie shows me an article from the Jewish News. It's talking about people who have cut their hair for "Locks of Love" - an organization which takes donated hair and uses it to create wigs. Those wigs are given to children who have lost their hair while going through chemotherapy. Heather, who can sit on her hair, read the article and wants to participate. Isabelle (the 7 year old who worships the ground upon which her big sister walks) is standing next to her, nodding vehemently.

Thoughts of personal preference, selfishness, parental control, and the crime of missing out on an amazing "life lesson" mingle uncomfortably in my mind.

A week later we are in John Robert's Hair Salon in Solon. Debbie graciously offered me a chance to decline, if I thought it was going to be too hard to watch. But I'm there - video camera in hand. It took me a while to think it through, but the fact is that the gesture the girls are making is too important. I have to give my full support.

When the cutting starts, my enthusiasm surprises me. It's all smiles for everyone. We had read that some people become emotional when their hair is cut, but the kids and my wife are laughing and enjoying themselves. Everyone keeps asking me if I am OK with this, if I have second thoughts. I'm too busy taking video, snapping pictures, and cheering to answer.

The girls have never been in a hair salon in their lives, and they are swept away by the sights, smells, and the pageantry of it all. They want to know if we can get one of the funky hair-washing chairs for our house. When they are told they will not only have their hair cut, but styled as well, they are ready to adopt the stylist on the spot.

My wife seems a bit more subdued, but also happy to have a hair style that doesn't require so much maintenance.

Once it's all done I ask them how it feels, how they feel. "Great!" is the un-ambivalent response.

When we are back in the car, Heather tells me, "You know what, Dad? I'm going to start growing my hair out. That way I can donate it again."

I can't wait.