Category Archives: poetry

A poem for the first day of the Omer

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Today is the first day of the Omer — the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Jewish tradition offers us these seven weeks as a time for the spiritual work of discernment, refinement, and inner growth.

Our Omer discussion group will meet every Friday at 3pm during this holy corridor of time. (Read all about it.) All are welcome.

I’ll be posting daily Omer poems on my blog Velveteen Rabbi over the next seven weeks. The first one is included here. If you’d like to receive those daily Omer meditations, you can go to Velveteen Rabbi and sign up to receive my posts via email.  (If you scroll down on that page a bit, there’s a box in the right-hand sidebar which says “enter your email address” and a button which says “subscribe.”)

May these weeks of the Omer yield an abundant harvest of wisdom and insight for all of us.

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

DAY 1: ONE STEP

The Egyptian sky
was a goddess
doing a backbend.

Once we crossed
the watery barrier
she gave way

and the heavens
became sapphire floor
beneath the throne.

And we stood
by the sea
and sang praises

because what else
could we do,
we who survived?

Here we are
again, shaking off
salt water tears

on a shore
we’ve never seen.
There’s no map.

Above us, miles
of air stretching
to kiss vacuum:

all that freedom
impossible to bear
sometimes. Too much

depends on us.
Last night’s maror
stings our eyes.

Ahead: uncharted space,
the holy wilderness
of the heart.

Take one step
into the labyrinth.
Leave Egypt behind.


Today is the first day of the Omer.

“The Egyptian sky / was a goddess / doing a backbend” — one of the deities in the Egyptian pantheon was Nut, sometimes depicted as a star-covered woman arching over the earth.

“[T]he heavens / became sapphire floor / beneath the throne” — see parashat Mishpatim and its description of the floor beneath the divine throne as being like sapphire. The idea of the sky changing as the prevailing beliefs change also owes a debt to Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky books.

Today we take our first step on the journey between Pesach and Shavuot. What are we headed toward? What are we leaving behind?

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Matot – and our special Rumi Shabbat

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for morning services will be Rabbi Rachel. This week we’ll be holding a Rumi Shabbat Service, in which the prayers of our morning liturgy are interwoven with poems by the Sufi mystic poet Rumi. Our Torah study on Shabbat morning will be a conversation about the Rumi poems and our prayers and how they reflect and refract each other.

This week we’re reading the Torah portion called Matot in the book of Numbers. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services. If you would like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years:

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbat

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service host. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!

The Poetry of Prayer at the Williamstown Coffee Shop this fall/winter

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The Poetry of Prayer at the Coffee Shop

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One Friday A Month, Oct-Feb, 2pm

Join poet & rabbi Rachel Barenblat for a monthly taste of the poetry of Jewish liturgical prayer. Each month we’ll explore a different prayer from the standard daily service, learning a bit about its origins but focusing primarily on its poetry. How do its metaphors and allusions aim to connect us with something beyond ourselves? How does reading the prayer as poetry free us to experience it in a new way? We’ll also look at contemporary / creative reworkings of these classical prayers. There will be plenty of time for questions and conversation.

If you have a favorite prayerbook, feel free to bring it, though copies of the prayers will be provided. All are welcome. If you know you’re coming, please email  so we can be sure to make enough copies. There is no tuition.

2-3:30pm, Oct. 25, Nov. 22, Dec. 20, Jan. 31, Feb. 28
at Tunnel City Coffee, Spring Street, Williamstown MA

offered by Congregation Beth Israel | www.cbiweb.org  
www.facebook.com/CBINorthAdams | 413-663-5830 | rebrachel@cbiweb.org

Poetry reading at CBI at 4pm on Sunday, June 9

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Join us at CBI on Sunday June 9 at 4pm for the North County premiere of Waiting to Unfold, Rabbi Rachel’s new collection of poems!

Poetry reading and conversation / booksigning / Q-and-A / plus refreshments!

cosponsored by MotherWoman and the Berkshire County Perinatal Support Coalition

Join Rabbi Rachel Barenblat (70 faces, Phoenicia, 2011) for a reading from Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013), her new collection of poems, written as weekly poems during her first year of motherhood. Rodger Kamenetz says, “The intense observation of the poet and the intense observation of the mother unite in a celebration of what is new and newborn, what is intensely felt and cherished and what is lost and mourned.” Refreshments & book-signing to follow.

We’ll also hear a few words from a MotherWoman representative, who will speak briefly about the work they do with new mothers across Berkshire County. Please join us!

Holocaust Cinquains from the Ne’arim

Monday was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), and the Ne’arim students participated in a lesson about the Shoah. They learned some history and talked about what it might have been like to be one of the Jews assigned by the Nazis to oversee other Jews in the ghetto. Then the students were invited to write Holocaust Cinquains.

A cinquain is a five line poem, and in this simplified form consists of a one-word line, a two-word line, a three-word line, a four-word line, and a five-word line. Here are the fruits of the students’ labors.

Hitler
hate Jews
slaughtering 11 million people
bad time to live
Nazis
— authorship unknown

Holocaust
Horrible century
Nazis kill Jewish
Crazy, horrible, fear, terror
Killing
— Jonah

Holocaust
people killing many
lots of death
lots of people died
death
— Cole

Holocaust
Horrible history
Tens of millions dead
Terrifying, horrifying, scary
Death
— David

Genocide
Ruthless killing
Exterminating a culture
Evil, insensitive, hostile, racism
Holocaust
— Adam

Holocaust
Killing many
Jews being slaughtered
Hiding, killing, fear, extinction
Horror
— Theo

Holocaust
Nazis: killed
Jews, Gypsies, gays,
Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled people:
Death
— Miriam

Thanks to the Ne’arim class for engaging so thoughtfully with this painful and meaningful subject.

Save the Date: Poetry service in April

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The service will be at 9:30am on Shabbat morning April 6 / 26 Nissan 5773. Mark your calendars; we hope you’ll join us! More information will be forthcoming as the date approaches, so stay tuned.

Poet Merle Feld coming to CBI on Sunday, July 22!

A reminder: Jewish poet Merle Feld is coming to CBI this Sunday, July 22, to give a reading at 2pm! She will read her work in the CBI sanctuary; refreshments and a book-signing will follow.

Feld is a widely-published poet, award-winning playwright, peace activist and educator. She is the author of Finding Words, (URJ Press, 2011 — here’s Reb Rachel’s review of that collection, in Zeek magazine) and the highly acclaimed memoir, A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition (SUNY Press, revised edition 2007).

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear her share her powerful work. As a foretaste of good things to come, one of her poems is enclosed below.

This program is co-sponsored by Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.

Hope to see you for an afternoon of Jewish poetry at CBI!

 

We All Stood Together

by Merle Feld

My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
of what he saw
of what he heard
of what it all meant to him

I wish I had such a record
of what happened to me there

It seems like every time I want to write
I can’t
I’m always holding a baby
one of my own
or one for a friend
always holding a baby
so my hands are never free
to write things down

And then
As time passes
the particulars
the hard data
the who what when where why
slip away from me
and all I’m left with is
the feeling

But feelings are just sounds
The vowel barking of a mute
my brother is so sure of what he heard
after all he’s got a record of it
consonant after consonant after consonant

If we remembered it together
we could recreate holy time
sparks flying