Thursday, August 31, 2006

Comment Here Now

Living in the moment is a fascinating concept. One of my early poems is about this:


I live
in the past
and the future

is just a

As I see
you live
this moment

I wonder
how it

Recently, at an improv performance the topic called out was "Living In The The Moment." We were doing a segment in which two people do movie reviews. The audience provides titles, then the two reviewers talk about the film and describe a scene, and then other players act out the referenced clip. I was one of the actors that had to do the scene after my colleagues set it up. It was, they said, the scene in the icecream parlor, where X and Y are deciding what icecream to buy. Heavy. In the moment. Reminded me of this post.

Speaking of living in the past and future... One year ago tomorrow I posted about what to do when sleep alludes you. I like the way it came out. I've come to realize that my pop culture allusions often go unnoticed (although, yes - anonymous that was the Mr. Clean slogan, thanks to google I was able to quote it right). There's a Billy Joel reference in the linked post of above. Recently there was a quote from a song of a singer/songwriter who has become an extreme Muslim.

From The Latest Lookjed

A suggestion for the new year:
Putting God in the center
By Rabbi Yaakov Bieler

When thinking about where Orthodox Jewish day schools might place renewed emphasis both curricularly as well as experientially, I would advocate that God and the manner in which an awareness of His Presence should impact all that we do should be made the central theme of all religious education initiatives.

If Avodat HaShem is the ultimate purpose of Judaism and Jewish belief, I am not sure that day schools are presently doing enough to nurture such a sensibility. While a symptom of the problem is the quality of Tefilla (prayer) that the average day school student engages in not only within the school precincts, but also on Shabbat, Yom Tov and during vacation times - if a student sensed a personal closeness to HaShem, his/her Tefilla per force would have to be serious and heartfelt - I believe that the manner in which the subject matter of the Shiurim that comprise roughly half of thedual curriculum is approached, also contributes to spiritual aridity.

TaNaCh, Tora SheB'Al Peh, Halacha and Hashkafa must all be perceived by teachers and students as so much more than mere examples of ancient literature and commentaries that comprise Jewish culture and tradition.While wishing our students to achieve literacy with regard to the texts and concepts of our heritage is an important goal for our educational institutions, nevertheless I would maintain that literacy must be understood as little more than a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Even if a student upon graduation can competently read, decode, analyze and comprehend Jewish primary and secondary texts, if s/he is devoid of spirituality and a sense of having a relationship with the Divine, then literally and figuratively "Ikar Chaser Min HaSefer" (the essence is missing from the text).

I have always been inspired not only in my personal study, but also in my teaching by the insight of R. Chayim Volozhin in his commentary Ruach Chayim: on Pirkei Avot 1:1 :For when one engaged in the study of Talmud and Codes and Tosafot, and in his research and dialectical discourse concerning them, he is attached(deveikut) to the Holy One for all comes from Sinai ... The Holy One and Torah are a unity, and he who is attached to His Tora is attached to Him.[1]Placing God front and center in the day school experience is crucial to the viability of Orthodox day school education.[1] Cited in R. Norman Lamm, Tora for Tora's Sake in the Works of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin and His Contemporaries, Ktav , Hoboken, NJ, 1989, p. 243.


Rabbi Yaakov Bieler is the Rabbi of the Kemp Mill Synagogue, SilverSpring, Maryland, and is on the faculty of the Malvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy. He has published extensively on topics related to the philosophyof education in the modern Orthodox day school, including an article entitled "Preserving Modern Orthodoxy in our Day Schools" accessible at Other articles by Rabbi Bieler appear on the Lookstein Center website at

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

5 Jewish Book Beginnings

What follows are the opening paragraphs of five works relating to Jewish tradition, learning, and faith. See if you can name them. (Please don’t give them away right away if you know them, rather present hints for others.)

1. When I first completed this manuscript, I forwarded a copy and request for criticism to a dear colleague – a brilliant academician possessing extraordinary breadth and depth in the liberal arts. Months passed with no response. Later we met at a social gathering, and I asked him if he had reviewed the essay. His response was stunning. He said that he had not read the manuscript and probably would not, because he “was never bothered by the question” of the Torah’s origin.

How was it possible, I wondered, that such an inquisitive scholar could approach the origin of humankind’s most read, most published, and once most influential text with such unabashed apathy? A few weeks later, a teacher of mine who was aware of the project asked me, “Why is it important that the Torah was written by G-d?” Since then this essay has elicited many similar reactions.
Such responses reveal a double tragedy.

2. The subject of these essays is given in the title as “duties” – the duties of Israel. In Jewish parlance duties in general are designated Mitzvoth, an expression which immediately indicates what constitutes duty for Judaism and what the basis is on which all our duties rest. It is commandment, the commandment of G-d, that constitutes duty for the Israelite, and the will of G-d that is the sole basis of all our duties. And should any other basis for any duty be possible for the whole of mankind? Ought the idea of “duty” to be conceivable without the idea of “G-d’s will”?

3. Why another “aid” to Gemorah study? The question is a good one – and it is not by chance that we begin with a question. This book is meant, above all, to teach you to ask the right questions. To achieve a precise pshat (understanding) of a section of Gemara, one must first ask the proper questions.

4. We were sitting at a Shabbos meal. And I was relating to our guest some of the many stories that had been handed down in my family, and sharing with him a few of my memories of first generation American Jews. I mentioned to our guest how upset I had been with my uncle, who had been a virtual treasure house of family traditions and stories laden with precious teachings, and who had commented only a small fraction of these to writing and took the rest with him to eternity.
“You are critical of your uncle,” our guest said, but aren’t you guilty of the same thing?”

5. The writer says: I have written this work not to teach men what they do not know, but to remind them of what they know and is very evident to them for you will find in most of my words only things which most people know, and concerning which they entertain no doubts. But to the extent that they are well known and their truths revealed to all, so is forgetfulness in relation to them extremely prevalent.

Kein Leiv HaAdam LaAdam

The favorite place
of any camp I've been in;
it's always the lake

BeToch HaSadeh

Two take center stage
your wisdom, the work of G-d
experience, life


Long, short, winding road
with mystery at the end
long but short our lives

5 7 5

New flowers do grow
of seeds planted long ago
from old blinking tears

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Goodbye Wall

With this posting the last post that you presently see when you scroll to the bottom will be replaced by the one above it. This happens every time a new post appears. But this time it'll shake me up because the bottom post is presently the post I wrote before leaving Israel.

It was two weeks ago tomorrow. I called the cab for noon. The flight was 4:30 PM. It had been changed from 8 AM. I appreciated the extra hours in the holiest place on earth. But I didn't want to push it. So I planned to leave with plenty of spare time.

I went to my favorite morning minyan. A man named Efrayim Caspi runs a beautiful davening daily at 7AM. He leads three minyanim a day there. He owns his own special Torah. He also owns scrolls of all the books that are publicly read like Eichah. He wears white pants and sneakers and a knitted kippah. He looks like he's 60 something. The minyan is slow and orderly. At the end there were special Tehllim recited, plus a daily Mishnah, plus daily Tehillim. Mr. Caspi strikes me as a refined and holy person.

I had a nice little chat with him the day I left. It put a closure on my memories of him, which included going through security with him and his Haftorah scroll at minchah time on Tisha B'Av ("Hoo Iti," he told the guard as we walked through, unchecked), having him assist me in getting a pair of Tefillin on the day I took my knapsack without my Tefillin), and having him point out to me a man that I didn't have to but that he felt was appropriate to give tzedakah to (the man who lent me the tefillin).

After minyan I lingered. It was one of the only days that I stood close against The Wall. I prayed to G-d at that holy place, knowing I'd soon have to travel 6000 miles for the zechut. Soon I had my last Bonkers bagel with cream cheese (a shmear that some consider criminally expensive, but not me) and got one with tuna for my airport lunch.

Then I finished packing while Danny Sanderson played from my laptop. I wanted to write a long piece for the blog. I wanted answers. I always do. I didn't reach that point. I was rushed and sat for a few minutes. A short poem that disappointed me was birthed. I posted it and headed out to the cab.

A saintly man, who's name I didn't get, appeared as from no-where and helped me with my bags. There are no streets in the Jewish Quarter, so we schlepped my book heavy bags to the parking lot. On the way I heard my name called. It was a colleague/friend. I explained that I was rushing to the cab. "Time for a quick hug?" he asked. Yes. Then I caught up with my assistant. The waiting driver greeted me cheerfully (my experience with cab drivers was quite positive) and off we went.

I got through security with no problem. I had been very worried about the weight of my suitcases, but apparently they were fine. I had a carry on and a knapsack and no-one seemed to mind. The handbag weighed about ten times more than the minimum, but they didn't weigh it. I found a wonderful little record store that was actually reasonably priced and loaded up.

The waiting area was empty. I ate may tuna, said some phone goodbyes, and boarded the plane. I liked my seat, in the very last row. I had forgotten to call for the very kosher meal, but my travel agent took care of that. Soon we were in the air and I was eating my Bedatz meatpie. My seat mate was pleasant and interesting (see second paragraph here). The flight was smooth.

It was a comfortable and easy exit - too easy. Just as I will soon press publish and the last words of my recent trip will disappear, so too I packed and rode and flew, and five and a half weeks all but blinked away forever. All but.

Rhymes With Mushroom, Noodle

You don't
often see
people carrying sun umbrellas,
but I saw several of them
at and around The Kotel,
partcularly on Bar Mitzvah days.

Your Still Young, That's Your Fault

These fathers
and sons came
during the war
from Haifa
for a Bar Mitzvah

Monday, August 28, 2006

Yaffa Sha'ah Achat

I wonder if anyone ever took a picture of me at The Wall, without my knowledge. Good chance. I was not only touched by the holiness of the Kotel, but I was also fascinated by the culture. There is a Daf Yomi shiur held at the Kotel every night (a friend of mine thinks that's wrong - too public.) There are the twice weekly bar mitzvah ceremonies. There are the people who ask for money. There are the regulars who pray there three times every day. There are the workers who have to put a thousand siddurim away at the end of Tisha B'Av. There are the people getting people to put on Tefillin. There are the people who are there regularly doing their thing, some quietly and some not so quietly. There are the people who just arrived, sometimes tearing their shirts. There are the long prayers up close. There are the notes written and placed in the cracks. There are the cardboard kippas that fly off just as the friend is about to snap the picture, so that I magine many people have photos of themselves in front of the Wall with one hand on their heads. There are the army ceremonies. And there are weddings. There are tour guides and their groups. There are the people that say Tikkun Chatzot every night. There are the guards, some of whom are friendly and will offer you pizza late at night. There are the people sitting, taking it all in.

One Year Ago Tomorrow

Last year at this time I was spending a lot of energy on organizing. Back then some passed through my abode and noticed the desk and shelves, the filed papers, the ordered knick knacks and plants, that were new touches. The papers were the hardest part, still are. But one year ago I went through every paper owned and made more progress in this area than ever. And for this I still say, thank G-d.

At that time McAryeh commented about the paper saving habit that our grandfathers (to some extent) shared. It was through that post that I discovered McAryeh's site, which is truly outstanding. I miss his comments here, but I'm glad to once again have fresh postings to read at his site. Highly recommended.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

YYYYYYYYYYYCan you identify these opening lines of books?
88888888888888888(If you must google, google sparingly)

1. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

2. Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.

3. If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me...

4. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.

5. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

6. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.

7. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

8. All this happened, more or less.

9. It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

10. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that...

11. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

12. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

13. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

14. I'm dead. (non-fiction)

15. Life changes fast. (non-fiction)

Will Clean Your Whole House & Everything That's In It

I never clean my home like I do when I have a deadline for work. The Clorox comes out. I get the idea in my head that I can't do this one thing until everything else is in order. How can I sit down and write a recommendation, the desk is a mess? Suddenly the desk bothers me.

If I understand him, Billy Collins is addressing this Mr. Clean phenomenon in his Advice For Writers. I can't find that poem on line, but you can imagine - if you know his style. Here now is a response and homage from an aspiring poet:

A Reply to Billy Collins
By Derrick Porter

Thank you for your advice, since when
I have washed down every wall,
the floor shining like Solomon's palace,
and a second letter to the Pope
sits spotless on the hall table.

As there are no fields or rocks nearby
I scoured undersides of pots placed
around the garden, but the only eggs found
were on rafts of migratory ants which flew out
whenever I managed to lift any flagstone.

On returning to the house I stowed
what brushes were found under the sink.
Did it matter they were hardened white,
and the sponge a body part
collected from a skeletal coral?

At dawn - weary-eyed - I encountered
the immaculate altar of my desk,
but the only sully rising from its surface
was a stack of poems that rose like layers
of ungarnished tortilla.

From a small jug, lapis lazuli,
I took the sharpest (the only) pencil,
and wrote the tiniest sentences possible.
Mr Collins, I have been up all night
and no ant has followed me in from the wood.

Long Time

Once upon a time
I sat with you any time
Now how I miss you

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Happy Families Are All Alike

"When does school start?" If you see me, don't feel obligated to ask me that. If you do ask, it's OK, but if you can hold back it'll just be one less time and I'll be appreciative. Soon. That's the answer. And there's miles to go before I sleep (gosh, that's good).

There are so many life events that I want to write about...

The woman that I sat next to on the plane back from Israel. She went to a Satmar school in Meah Shearim. She got thrown out for hosing a teacher. She left the derech, as the saying goes these days. She lives now in Long Island. Her father was a big donor to the school, got her back in. On this visit she went to the school and asked to see the principal. They said he wasn't available. She said she'd come back every day till he was available. The principal told her of her great yichus and how he hopes she keeps something. She apologized to and forgave him. She's still not ready to fully forgive a teacher whom she idolized and then was very disappointed by. She's in her fifties and you'd think all this happened yesterday...

I bought one secular book in Israel, by Etgar Keret. Very high level stuff IMHO.

I've always been a big Mister Fred Rogers fan. I just got a book about a man's friendship with Mr R. "Anything mentionable s manageable," Rogers used to say. It's like that poem by the girl in Haifa...

A friend read Anna Karenina over the summer. I just heard about this today. It's a heavy book and reading it was a big deal. Also today, serendipitously, I found a new release of Billy Collins' first book. Here comes a poem:

On Closing Anna Karenina
by Billy Collins

I must have started reading this monster
a decade before Tolstoy was born
but the vodka and the suicide are behind me now,
all the winter farms, ice-skating and horsemanship.

It consumed so many evenings and afternoons,
I thought a Russian official would appear
to slip a medal over my lowered head
when I reached the last page.

But I found there only the last word,
a useless looking thing, stalled there,
ending its sentence and the whole book at once.

With no more plot to nudge along and nothing
to unfold, it is the only word with no future.

It stares into space and chants its own name
as a traveler whose road has just vanished
might stare into the dark, vacant fields ahead,
knowing he cannot go forward, cannot go back.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Towards A Pure Post

Yitzchak Klepter and Co's Tzlil Mechuvan, one of a slew of CDs of Kaveret and post Kaveret that I got at the end of my Israel trip, plays as I write this. Shabbat was here, now she's gone. Why she had to go, I don't know. Shabbat was special (and I'm not just writing that because I know that my host is a regular reader). I was the guest rabbi at the West Side Institutional Synagogue. The rabbi's off and so are many congregants, that's why there were guest congregants. There was an auf-ruf of someone who's family members have all gone to or still go or will go to the school I work in (I had written "my school," but that didn't sound right). And the engaged gentleman had been to the play I was in. Half of the couple that hosted me also went to the school I teach in. Talks with some of these people reminded me of how much the more things change the more they stay the same.

I spoke 4 times over Shabbos. Last night I spoke for about 5-7 minutes before Barchu about the parsha and how Shoftim/Shotrim and She'arecha can be understood as referring to us and the need to protect our souls. In the AM speech I spoke about Egla Arufa and tied that in (somehow) with the auf-ruf. The basic idea was that when someone died mysteriously the reaction was to accept responsibility and to feel bad, not just go on with business as usual. I ended with the explanation of chassan domeh lemelech; that a king is responsible for others, just as someone becoming a chason is shifting to becoming responsible for others. This is how Yosef knew that Yosef was right, because he was the only one who realized that a king's dreams are not about himself but about his country and her needs.

In the afternoon I gave a class on humor in Judaism. I went through sources: the first example of humor by the Jewish People, what purpose this serves; gallows humor, humor as a way to be heard, does G-d have a sense of humor?, what it means that it's forbidden to fill your mouth with laughter in this world, humor as a way to keep from drowning. sense of humor VS sense of direction, leitzanut vs healthy humor. These are points I've spoken about before. A new addition came via my friend Benjy Kramer: In Nidchei Yisrael Perek Chof the Chofetz Chaim about nivul peh and how it breaks down embarrassment and leads to sin. And even f t doesn't lead to sin it corrodes your soul. Sad, that ths is the number one topic of humor for most people in Western culture. I ended the talk with examples of good uses of speech and the idea of Nefesh Chayah and Ruach Memalelah. Then I closed with a poem.

At Shaloshudes I spoke about great Jewish stories. Rav Nachman MiBreslov says that if stories are not sophisticated, then why did G-d start the Torah with stories? He also says that people think stories are meant to put you to sleep but they're really menat to wake you up. I told three Maggid of Dubno mashalim about mashalim and then two stories about the conflict of individuality VS community.

I like teaching/speaking when I've said the same thong before and can tweak it, but have it set in my mind. This is why my least favorite of my Shabbos presentations was the drasha, because it was a presentation I've never given before. The other 3 talks ironically came out sounding fresher, specfically because they had been presented before. This is why I like teaching in school things I've taught before. Unfortunately, my school (sic) thinks it's more fresh to have the lmudei kodesh teachers teach new things every year. Thus I will be teaching my 11th year (beli ayin hara) and my limudei kodesh classes will all be prepared and taught for the first time.

I was thinkng of going to Rabbi Slifkin's Bronx Zoo tour at 10AM tomorrow. But now I'm leaning towards no. If anyone reads this in time, maybe you'll go. It sounds like a one in a million (at least) kind of opportunity.

Friday, August 25, 2006


We need protection
Of the gates into our soul (1)
Shoftim VeShotrim

Bribes will blind your eyes
And the world is filled with them (2)
Beware subtle bribes

Seek justice justice
For Jewish brothers, others
Mayor Koch's pshat (3)

The dead man will die
Already gone long ago
As some dead men live (4)

Two or three eidim
The third counts like the second
For better or worse (5)

Not trendy, but true
Destroy evil from your midst
A Jewish duty

Listen to the judge
When he says that right is right
Or that left is left (6)

Place a king on you
That his fear should be on you
Like the King of kings

Limit the horses
There should be no exceptions
No matter how wise (7)

Kings too must recall
G-d is the King of all kings
Keep Torah guide close

(1) The Sefer Yetzirah and others explain that the command to defend our gates applies not only to our cities but tour bodies. Our orifices are our gates and we must protect our souls by defending what we allow inside us.

(2) Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains that the world offers bribes of materialismand that we must be on guard to adhere to the truth and not be swayed by the bribes of this world. Along these lines Rav Chaim Schmuelewitz said "there are no doubts, only desires."

(3) When Koch was hosting a radio program and a man called up and said that Hatzalah wouldn't take him because he wasn't Jewish, Koch said he didn't believe that because of this traditional Jewish understanding of this pasuk.

(4) The Torah states "yumat hameit," and the rabbis explain that a bad person is like dead when alive. The rabbis add that righteous people live on after they die.

(5) The rabbis say that the Torah says two or three count to tell you that if the two witnesses are found to be phony, the third person is held accountable too for having latched onto them. And the idea is developed that it is a great thing when you connect to good people.

(6) See Torah Temimah. Everyone quotes the Chazal that says, listen even if they say left is right. But the Torah Temimah quotes a Chazal that says the sensible reverse - only listen when they say right is right...

(7) The wise Shlomo HaMelech erred in this regard.

In Falls Village

Here's how the photo looks
without any help from Photo Editor.

Last Shabbos I served
as rabbi for a group
of about 85 seniors.
The camp is blessed
with being in the middle
of the Berkshires.
I took this (with a little help
from Microsoft Photo Editor) on Sunday. Everyone should have a gazebo,
especially if it comes with a lake view.

(read loudly, into cell phone:) I'M IN THE LIBRARY!!!

Sitting and writing from the YU library for the first time in a while... The library will close soon, so I'm on deadline. This is going to be one of those free writing posts. I hope.

I think a lot about blogging, but moreso about writing. Recently I got a few off line comments about spelling errors. Please email me via the profile or post a polite comment with the correction if you notice a spelling error. My home computer is missing the letter I, so that's part of the problem. Another issue over the summer was that in Israel had limited access to the internet so I would sometimes post quickly with out checking. I'm told that since I'm back there have been errors and it has been suggested that it's due to jetlag. Again, if you see something say something, i.e. point out the correction with kindness.

The performance the other night was good, but long and for an emcee - high pressured. Lost Tribe did well. I felt the emceeing went well but that its a challenging and mostly thankless task.
The act to watch for is a young fellow named Aryeh Kunstler who hopes to release a CD by Chanukah time. He is talent filled, and more importantly filled with faith and exuberance. May he be blessed to keep his purity and energy as he grows and (I predict) becomes well known.

And now, what people search the blogosphere and indeed the entire web for, day and night, the feature that has generated a lot of buzz; ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over, please put your hands together and give a big blog welcome to the fabulous haikus of Rabbi Neil Fleischmann!!!

You may ask yourself
why leave the dream behind you
why not stay inside

Just to feel at all
a sign that I am alive
a cause to rejoice

How do we walk by
another human being?
we get used to it

Anger pushes G-d
Anger says there's no sense here
pushes G-d away

Run from walls to fall
fall and not know how to stop
the wall would catch you

Galus Comes In Many Forms

My positive feelings about Israel didn't come out of no-where. My awareness of the state of exile that we are in is not new to me, as illustrated by this post from OYAT.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I've Been Sitting Like This Since I Was A Kid

Poetry is dear to my heart, none more precious than the poetry I wrote this summer sitting at the Kotel on a bench made of stone, comfortably distant and close.

Just Kidding

"Humor is inherently ambiguous. You're saying more than one thing, and it's not clear exactly what the message is." That's a quote from the August Psychology Today. People like to say that humor is about surprise, as in 1,2, 3..15. Or, to give the usual example; guy in a new $1000 suit walks out of a club and slips an a banana peel. Or to to give the more common term; this is a non sequitur, and equals humor.

Subtlety, ambiguity, ambivalence are also part of humor. It's a big piece of what I see as funny. It's how I see writing too. Somewhere T.S. Elliot (I'm presently into citing people with two initials in place of a first name) (stay tuned for E.B. White, A.A. Milne. ee cummings, J.D. Salinger and more) (in fact, how many writers and/or others can you came with two initial initials?) writes that poetry is all about reframing, about taking away labels, about looking at things in a different way. (After that whole initial thing I just decided it my not be a T.S. Elliot quote.) (I am reminded of the time that a friend of mine decided that it might be a good idea to read C.S. Lewis, because Rav Aharon Lichtenstein had quoted him. But my friend's not a big reader, so he decided to get the Cliff Notes. But my friend doesn't have a great memory, so he got Cliff notes on T.S. Elliot.) Poetry is not about ambiguity for everyone and either is humor. But I think this opens up the differences between various personalities. Discuss.

To Write Or...

Blogging is a complex thing. Who reads it? Who do you want reading it? Who writes it? (This sounds like a simple question but is really the hardest one. I am always reminded of the comment that Hal Holbrook has played Mark Twain longer than Mark Twain played Mark Twain. We are always assuming a character. I've said it before and I'll say it again - when people see me on stage they question the act/persona as opposed to my one on one demeanor, and my response is that the day today is the act and the onstage is real. But who knows? It's often said that the only one that knows the inner truths of a person is the person themself. But often the person themselves is the last one to get themselves. Somewhere, C.S. Lewis wrote that people spend years working to figure out things about themselves that an astute person could tell them after knowing them for five minutes. Anyway, the question remains, who may I ask, is writing?)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

From The Soon To Be Released Flip Book

I've been tryng for days to post a picture. I've tried and failed. I'm going to post this right away before it gets lost.

This is a first.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Clear here for last year's first Wasaic entry, and
here for the second, and here for the third, here for the fourth.
Here in Wasaic
rhymes with Pasaic
feels more like Paramus
I'm an ignoramus
when it comes to geography
am struck by the memory
of sitting in the past
waiting for the last
train warrior pick up
then will come my turn
till then I write, taciturn
wonder why I’m here
what is real, what’s venere
I wonder wonder who am
wait for my train


If you have time and interest take a look at Gil Student's recent post about The Jewish Week's headline story concerning KOE.

Here's my comment on that post (I was comment 307) followed by Gil's response.

ME: On an unrelated yet relevant note: how do you feel about getting 307 comments? Is it very time consuming (I'd imagine at this number it becomes almost all consuming)? Is it frustrting to get pulled in where you may not have expected to go? Did you expect this many comments on this post? Can you usually tell when a post will get a lot of comments? - rabbi neil fleischmann

GS: On an unrelated yet relevant note: how do you feel about getting 307 comments? Is it very time consuming (I'd imagine at this number it becomes almost all consuming)?

No, but only because I haven't read most of the comments due to lack of time.Did you expect this many comments on this post?

Can you usually tell when a post will get a lot of comments?

This many comments? No. I have no idea what posts will generate comments. I like to think that I control the blog but I really don't. I think Steve Brizel and Nachum have more control over it than I do.

Four More Tears

One in a million
that's why I write these haikus
for that one to shine

Bless us, G-d, with peace
with peace, goodness, and blessing
we pray thrice daily

Waiting: the hard part
Hardest: we're always waiting
for life, death, something

A man is nothing
if that man is not a mentsch
otherwise, why life?


One of the amazing things about the Kotel (and all of Yerushalayim) is that it is a magnetic force that brings people together. I sat at the Kotel and people that are dear to me appeared. Without exaggeration I met twenty people that I knew at the Kotel. I am always reminded of the pshat that Avraham Newman once said to me, that you always meet people that you know in Yerushalayim because it is Ir SheChubrah Lah Yachdav – it unites people. (One morning during minyan I heard a voice from behind me say to me gently, “you know I once heard that Yerushalayim is called Ir SheChubah Lah Yachdav because you always bump in to people that you know… it was a dear friend and chavruta.)

On my first full day back in Israel I davened in a minyan inside the cave where the Kotel continues inside. After the minyan I was sitting for a bit, writing, thinking, praying - and someone to my left looked familiar. I asked him if he was who I thought he was and he said yes, and then asked who I was. I last saw him nine years ago, so I understand that I didn’t look familiar right away. It was a dear old roommate and friend named Simcha Hochbaum who is now a popular and talented tour guide.

He was about to embark on leading a three hour tour and invited me to come as his guest. It was an amazing tour of spots around (literally) the Old City that are seldom seen, the focus being the entrance gates to Har haBayit. I’m very glad that I went and got to spend time with this very special person. (Of course on the tour there were two other people that I knew.) This photo is one of the entrances to the place where the Beit HaMikdash stood.

Today I told someone that I just came back from my trip.
“What program?”
“I rented an apartment in the Old City and learned with a chavrusa for the morning hours and then spent a lot of time at the Kotel.”
“Just sitting there? Why the obsession with a wall?”

I tried to explain, dropped factoids like that it’s close to where the Beit HaMikdash was. But it just didn’t resonate with this person’s brand of (orthodox) Judaism or of life. Sigh.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Is Man; A Tree Of The Field

There's a three hour rehearsal tonight for Lost Tribe, my improv group. Sounds like an oxymoron - improv rehearsal. Reminds me of what Abraham Lincoln once said, that the best improvised remarks are prepared three weeks in advance.

I'm thinking a lot. Some interesting posts may be coming - or you may have to steal my diary.

A few years ago I was talking to a student about Shiriya, the school wide competition that he had no interest n attending. I asked if he's go if I assured him that they'd sing a song about him. He agreed. They sang Ilan, Ilan and his name was Ilan. He still stayed home.

Jet lag still lingers, responsibilities call. I'm hosting and performing in a show tomorrow night, am meeting soon with the producer. It's fascinating to me how much work into things that look like play/fun. I used to always use Rchard Lewis in my mind as an example of a comedian who doesn't seem so responsible, but must be to have made it as far as he has (this was before I knew he was a - now recovered - alcholholc).

WRM - I read somewhere recently that Richard Lewis is underappreciated critically for his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm (I'm not well aquainted with the show). The reviewer said that he has the hardest job on the show because he's the only one who shows true emotion.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Other Ve'Achalta


All In All...

I have to get used to not being able to go to the Kotel and get a minyan at any time. (What a zechut, to be able to wake up anytime between six and nine and be on time for a minyan at the holiest place n the world.) I have to get used to not being able to go to the kotel and sit and write, or say tehillim, or learn, or receive all friends and teachers and acquaintances. There are so many reasons that I love the Kotel and so many of these things that I wish I felt/saw more in beit medrashim and shuls. The broad range of people, the ability to just sit without feeling (too) judged by others for what you're learning, doing. Tehillim and personal prayers are an acceptable, even praiseworthy thing to spend time on. It feels to me that a beis medrash/shul s not often enough where you can simply sit and pray or learn n your own personal way.

On Poetry

This weekend at senior camp I was torn between two topics: Israel and poetry. I solved the problem by combining the two topics. I printed out the poems I wrote in Israel. I read the Kinah and my two love poems about the kotel (they are about the kotel). I also read Roseanne Cash's Western Wall and my poem about her song.

I opened by reading from the DeSola Poole Siddur, which adapts Anim Zemirot into an English poem. I explained that I find metaphorical meaning in the way that we include but brush away Anim Zemirot. This is a deeply poetic kabalistic work, and we debate saying it and then have a kid "daven it up."

We run from the poetic essence of our tradition. But we'll never succeed in burying the truth of poetry's place in Judaism. It is in the Torah from the start till the end where it is explicitly referred to as a song. Of course there are specific songs throughout Tanach, including Shir HaShirim. And the rabbis through the generatons were poets. People would be less bored during Selichot week and on Tisha B'Av if they would come to terms with the prominence of poetry in Judaism.

An amazing thing happened on the way through the lecture - no less than three seniors came forward as poets. One man said he started writing poetry at seventy five and if he knew earlier that he could do that he's have lived his whole life differently (says he'd have become a professional poet). I was supposed to get copies of his work, but left the camp without that happening. He writes openly about the pain of growing old and of being the only Bush supporter in a poetry group filled with liberals. I'd like to post his work. Another guest writes about love, hope and repentance in a straightforward, beautiful way. A year ago at Yom Kippur time she was troubled about a falling out with a friend and wrote about it poetically, and since then it's been flowing. Each of these campers recited a poem during this talk. A Russian woman approached me afterwards and told me that she writes poetry regularly too.

One of the interns (who work cheap in exchange for room, board, and classes) told me that I should consider teaching Jewish poetry as that seems to be my passion. She said that many people don't know their passion and that given that do, why not go for it? Would I consider a degree in English? Maybe I should. I am more passionate about writing poetry than any English teacher in my school.

UUUPerhaps a poet
is who we were meant to be
UU,if not we then me

Saturday, August 19, 2006

VeHevei Dan Et Kol HaAdam...

Tonight during a Pirkei Avot class I asked for ideas as to why the mishnah says to appoint a rabbi and aquire a friend and then follows that with saying to judge everyone favorably. What's the connection between getting a rabbi and friend and judging others favorably? One man said that we tend to see our mentors and friends positively and should allow that attitude to spill over to everyone else. This was a new take that I liked very much. It reminded me of the statement in Kiddushin that a man must see a woman before he marries her lest he later find something detestable in her and not fulfil that which is written: "Ve'ahavta Lereacha Kamochah." The explanation I heard for this is that marriage is the context in which with one person you focus on fulfilling the mitzvah of loving somone as much as you love yourself and only then can you branch out from there.

Friday, August 18, 2006


1. Great plural blessing
rains on individuals
as each of us needs

Rabbi Dovid Feinstein addresses the question of why G-d says to see in singular (re'eh) that a blessing is put before you, in plural (lifneichem). His answer is that while blessings are sent to everyone, they reach every individual in the exact way that he or she needs.

2. What is the blessing?
the blessing is if you listen
that is the blessing

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch notes that the Torah states that you will see a blessing if you listen to G-d, but then the blessing is not stated. He explains that listening is the blessing itself, i.e. that besides any other rewards observing a Torah lifestyle is its own blessing.

3. Like sand and like stars
we are each a whole and part
to shine and align

Rabbi Josh Hoffman explains that the plural is used in addition to the singular to stress that each individual must balance their own needs with their responsibility as part of the greater whole. After individual needs are met a person must apply their own gifts on a national level. This fits with why Avraham was told that his descendants would be like the sand and the stars. Every star shines alone, but every grain of sand blends in with the others, thus representing the individual and communal aspects of Jewish life.

I See A Wall

One year
ago today
four years
after where
I was yesterday
I wrote what I felt
at this moment

Inner Self Portrait

like now
I go inside
myself and
check the light
is it right


From this week's Jewish Week:
It's always a good time when New York's Jewish music, comedy and theatre staples get together. This line up features, among others, the Aryeh Kunsteler Band, Ira Heller, Skull Kap, improv group Lost Tribe, scenes from the musical \"Soul Searching,\" and comedian/poet Neil Fleischmann. Off-Broadway actress Ellie Dvorkin hosts the festivities. — Synagogue for the Arts, 49 White Street. (212) 966-7141. Tues., Aug. 22, 6:30 p.m. $15, preferred seating $50
(I have an inside tip
that the host has stepped down
and passed that responsibility on
to a certain comedian/poet)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Free Association (click for cool link)

What an amazing world. Yesterday I was in Israel. I flew away, it took about twelve hours. Some would consider that a long flight. I think that six thousand miles in twelve hours is pretty good time for a human. It reminds me of when a website takes 25 seconds to come up and someone shouts - "OMG! This computer is soooo slow!" I think for having an image from a distant land appear in front of you via pushing a button - twenty five (even thirty) seconds is not bad. Which reminds me of the Bill Cosby routine about man inventing the car and saying it was faaantastic, while G-d created the rabbit and said it was good. And man invented the refrigerator and said it was unbeliieeevable, while G-d created the oceans and said they were good. Then he adds - the car's got a flat and the refrigerator blew a fuse, the rabbits still running and the ocean's still flowing. Man makes some pretty incredible stuff, but G-d is still The Master. But that's tangential (even for a tangent). A more relevant side point is this: once during a scene Oliver Hardy had to wipe his nose but he was afraid that using a hanky would look too crude, so he pretended to be playing with his tie nervously, and that's the story behind his trademark tie twiddle. But imagine, that was once considered crude! That seems a bit similar (in my universe) to the fact that once upon a time getting mail from someone in three days was considered quick, but now twenty five seconds for an email is slow. This reminds me of people being called slow or (worse) retarded and how much I hate that. Which reminds me of the idea of labels and my distaste for them. Which reminds me of the saying - label cans not people. Which reminds me of the person who recently told me that he/she is thankful for labels and knowing what his/her disability/condition is. This reminds me of how I never seem to get clear answers regarding anything, and how I’m a little jealous of people who know their diagnosis/answer/label. Which reminds me that the person who told me this may read this - and will hopefully take no offense as none is meant. Which reminds me of the reader a few months back who took serious offense when none was meant. Which reminds me of how I never know who’s reading this. And also – how sometimes people learn things here that they don’t hear from me directly. Which makes me wonder about this MO – of not always saying things directly. Which reminds me of how different different people can be. And how different one person can be at different times. Which reminds me that I was in Israel yesterday at this time. Which reminds me that this is the first day in over a month that I haven’t been at the Kotel. This reminds me of what my friend said when I asked him why he was going to the Kotel every day – “we don’t have a Kotel in Teaneck.” We don’t have one in Washington Heights either. Come to think of it no community here has one. G-d, I hope no-one builds one.


One year ago today I posted about teachers and red pens. I'm not a fan. I use pencil. Click here to read why).

I was also inspired to post a passage from The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time. Some people find that book funny. Others find the voice false. I find it powerful, heartbreaking, and remarkable.

It was soon after Tisha B'Av, OYAT, and I wrote about Rabbi Frand's talk on that day about the power of words. I wrote then;"People hurt others" he said, "sometimes purposely, sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes thoughtlessly." I didn't write it out, but I remain haunted by the story he told about the matzah ball eating champion. The winner of this contest explained that he did it to try try to compensate for being told when he was growing up that he was and would always be nothing.

I spent most of yesterday in the air. So here's a little something from OYAY; One year ago yesterday I pasted the lyrics to Giant Step and paid homage to Goffin and King. Two days ago today I wrote about a play performance from on location right after the show. Why does it feel like a hundred million years ago?

On Prayer Briefly

In early times certain people would prepare for an hour before prayer. They spent another hour letting it sink in. Maybe it was like meditation? (- asks Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan). Maybe. Traditional thinking seems to see prayer as anti-meditation. The point almost seems to be to get tense.

Rabbi Moshe Eiseman points out that when many people in the frum world speak of learning something quickly/superficially they say they daven it up. He asks, what does this say about our approach to prayer?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Have Havel

Have to let go
of the urge to be heard
of the need to be seen

Have to hold on to
the urge to seek G-d
the need to be here

Have to halve
my anxiety
double my faith

Have to own
my stone
in The Wall

Have I time
for a nap
before I go?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Love Poem Number Two

Misplaced pride
had me thinking
I was in your league

After a week
of seeing you
every night

I stood you up
with no excuse
you waited all night

This morning I surface
saying I’m sorry
just call me Cliché

The sun shines over
your beautiful face
staring like stone

G-d never left you
I think you think;
how dare I mislead

Whose side am I on
It’s time I decide
how long can you wait

I sigh before you
ask for a chance for love
before the Western Wall

5 Before Sleep

He makes bad movies
that's my main problem with him
politics aside
(- on Spike Lee)

I write poetry
but isn't it more than that?
I breathe and speak it

Like a swimming pool -
who doesn't like a swimming pool?-
we need to stay clean

In Israel too
it takes over at some point
we lie down and sleep

Henceforth I forgive
anyone who angered me
hurt me anyway

Monday, August 14, 2006


This reminds me that school is coming up fast. This year, PG, I'll be teaching Breishit from Toldot on. Any thoughts?


A sense of humor and perspective is key. I love this poem.

Poem of Poems

The last time that we were together
for a long time
I remember traveling to meet you
and writing about the longing
and each time we met again
I felt more deeply and
wrote another poem
I’ve kept them in a little beige notebook
Then we parted ways
actually I flew away
you stayed rock solid still
Nine years went by
Now I sit opposite you
in khaki pants, Indian style
Parker pen poised
for the first time
in a long time
I don’t feel
like writing poetry
I don’t feel
like crying
I don’t feel
like praying
I feel hungry
But I don’t want to leave you
not for pizza
I sit on a bench made of stone
comfortably distant and close
feeling like I’m being watched
but not minding
glancing up shyly
playing peekaboo with you
from my private box
due east of the Western Wall.

Gold Wall

Lines wind
like dreams
seem seamless
with life
and life
with dream
barely between
twenty years
a second

black sky
looms high
look to to
answer all
sit by wall
sit still
look forward
beyond age
despite all

be real
come close
least most
try defy
trap old
old fool

in need
for them
for me
who knew
you when
hide we
side fence
bring defense

I will
at wall

8 or 9 haikus

i will miss moments
like sitting in this taxi
hearing of cease fire

it started with me
a war right after i came
as i leave it ends

living here is hard
says everyone who lives here
then they say to come

axis of evil
i'm not comfortable with that
american me

when i walk uphill
i close my eyes and pretend
i'm going downstairs

down to my parents' basement
speckled orange steps

dart pierced broken heart
a small hole eats it alive
accept the whole; thrive

what stands in my way
is one of those questions like
what makes man unique

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Modeh Ani

I thank/admit before You; King,
living and enduring,
that you have returned inside me my soul
with kind giving. Great is Your Belief.
The Kotzker Rebbe once commented that when he said this prayer, he pondered who is the Ani and who is the Lefanecha and then he couldn't go on beyond those words.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Roseanne Cash Zechurah LeTovah

Since arriving here
I've become more aware
of her non-tzanuah dress
liberal world view
(non-Jewish essence)
maybe that's why
I've ignored her CD
I brought with me
planned to play as
I walked the city
still I can't help
think about how
right on she is
in her song on
her three visits
here as a child
the impact she
carried thirty years
till she broke down
into words , words
about G-d's fall about
feeling anything
at all
at this unique
time and space
The Western Wall

May I Ask Who's Reading?

Looking over
the shoulder
of someone
I respect
reading my blog
for the first time
I shudder

With Apologies (To Bob Marley)

I've been writing since I got here - here being Yerushalayim. But I'm skipping now to a poem I just wrote. The earlier ones are peppier.

What will remain
after the last backwards walk
away from these weeks
away from this wall
away from the breath
from the death from it -

What will remain
of my heart
and my head
and my soul
all on loan
will the truth live
be shown

Where will I go
when I leave here
why would I ever
leave home
I'm professional, older,
experienced, know more
but how much
how much have I grown

I sat in this park
many long years ago
and I wrote
of the page
being blank
now the page is
written on, folded
misplaced, been handholded
the page is now crinkled and dank

I wanted to end this
with breadth and breath
with scope and with hope
somehow I know I'll always
be one who goes up and goes down
one who struggles and gropes
so I pray that I always hold
on to this air
and remember Jerusalem
feel her and care

May we all blink
and find redemption is here
for you and for me
it will come
have no fear.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


One Year Ago At the NYFR Blog: (If you choose to comment on the year ago post, I think it's better todo it here at this post as it will thus be more readily seen.)

This is a good poem that I discovered in a book called Fish about morale in the workplace based on the good morale in a fish market. This poem s usable around Rosh Chodesh time for those that see poems and life in a John Stuart Mill kind of way. For some of us this poem works every day.

August 11, 2005 was a rich blogging day for me. I am surprised now that I failed to mention that the prize I won at Ira's party was a Cinderella coloring book that I recall perusing in the Riback car on the way home. That still strikes me - that he does this game for his kids without remembering that his parents did it for him. How much of all of our lives that an apt metaphor of?

I have not been posting about it in a straightforward way, at least haven't till now. But here it comes. I have been in Israel for a month. Thank G-d a billion times. Whenever I visit Israel I visit with Mr. C. and this time has been no exception. Read more about Mr. C. at the post of one year ago today.

Those Were the Days

Last summer at this time, blogging was new. So many of my posts back then were attempts at presenting myself straight up. I recommend those posts. I am borrowing something from the blog book of a colleague blogger - see if you can name him. It's called - one year ago at myblog.

One year ago today I attended a bris and riffed about it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On Books

I was tagged by Rose - feel free to post your answers in comments:

1. One book that changed your life? Catcher In The Rye

2. One book you have read more than once? Sefer Yonah

3. One book you would want on a desert island? Do Unto Others

4. One book that made you laugh? Bird By Bird

5. One book that made you cry? Patrimony

6. One book you wish had been written? Nine Horses

7. One book you wish had never been written? Protocols of theElders of Zion

8. One book you are currently reading? Ragtime

9. One book you have been meaning to read? Chovas HaTalmidim (took it upon myself as a Simchat Torah pledge)

10. Now tag five people. No!

Monday, August 07, 2006

back by popular demand

sad state of affairs
it's just hard to tell who cares
trust their silverware


where I go I am
from myself I'm on the lam
but there's no escape


A fallen cracked egg
I've come here to beg for life
Hear my silent strife


Is it me or just
a we - a nation so old
we can barely see?

Eikev Qs

What practice regarding brachot do we learn from this parsha?
How does a pasuk hint to his practice?
How can this pasuk be explained through the most famous scene of The Karate Kid?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Neither Merely Technical Nor Soley Fantastic

You know how it is
when you almost walk into
someone walking the other way
and you go left and he goes the same way
then like in a dance step you both go right

That same move that happens
in supermarkets and on Main Streets
just took as it's setting the Western Wall
merging logistical life and deep inside dreams

I'm Thinking At The Kotel

The walls
we build
are telling

Take my
of silence

I chose
while bravado
is all
the rage

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Just One More VaEtchanan Thing...

Over Shabbos, someone I heard speak cited an Ohr HaChayim from parshat Yitro (Shmot 18:21 at the end of his words on the pasuk). The Ohr HaChayim explains why Yitro is written up in the Torah as having given sagacious advice even though this may paint the Jewish People in a disparaging manner (because they seemed to not get something until this Midianite priest came and enlightened them). "It seems that the reasoning behind this is for G-d to show Bnei Yisrael, both that generation and each and every generation, that there are amongst the nations people who excel in understanding and in deep wisdom...And the point is that it was not due to their smartness or profound wisdom that G-d chose the Jewish People, but rather due to the highest kindness and His love for our forefathers."

See if you can guess what this connects to in VaEtchanan and what question it raises.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Parsha Quiz!: VaEtchanan

It was a not so quiet week in Lake Wobegone. Still not ready to blog in a present tense, linear way.

If you'd like to read a "vort" by me on the parsha please click on VaEtchanan in the Torah link in the archives.

And now (trumpets please) a new feature here at the NYFR blog: A Parsha Quiz. Yaaaaaaay!
(Thank you Kermit).

Feel free to print these and use them to stay alert during Kriyat HaTorah.

The questons are taken and sometimes adapted from the sefer Torah Sha'ashuai by Frankel.

Shabbat Shalom


1. 7:3 in our parsha states the 248th negative command in the Torah – “do not have mercy on them.” How does this relate to what Pinchas did and how he accomplished his task?

2. 2:30 speaks of where we turn when in dire straits. Later on in the parsha we are told of a place we can run to, and the name of this place is comprised of the same word that means dire straits. Name the 2 words.

3. This parsha contains 3 out of 6 of a group of important places. It also contains one out of four famous categories of people. Name them both.

4. Our parsha contains four pesukim that are recited at different points of the taking out and reading of the Torah. Name them.

5. According to tradition at the start of this parsha Moshe does a gutsy thing, something that he does, according to Rashi, on a total of three occasions. Descibe what he does and name the other occasions.

6. What word does Moshe use to the Jewish People in a restraining manner, that is used back at him by G-d in this parsha? Who previously used this phrase against Moshe and then Moshe used it back in response to him?

7. What place that is prominent in the news is mentioned in both the haftorah and the parsha? Cite the sources. According to Rashi and Unkelus, in the parsha this is actually referring to what (something other than what it sounds like)?

8. What pronoun that is used for Moshe in this parsha indicates, according to Chazal, that he was losing his strength?

9. E’avrah Nah, is said by Moshe famously in this parha. Where are two other places where Moshe asked this same phrase of people rather than G-d?

10. What prediction in this parsha is similar to a quote from Hallel that is also similar to a Simon and Garfunkle song. Name the Hallel and Simon quotes.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sifsosav Dovevos Ba'Kever

I have written before and will probably write again about Aaron Bulman. If anyone is interested in acquiring his posthumous book, please let me know. It has been my honor to give the book to people that I think will get it. Below is how I inscribed one copy that I shared with a friend.
Rosh Chodesh Av 5766

Dear Jon,

I spread his books
around my worlds
as a non believer
would spread his ashes

These books are pieces
of Aaron and thus pieces of me,
friends of distinction
like you

Perhaps one day there will be
a physical book of my poems
In my mind it is written
with you one of the stars

We were blessed this summer
in the city that unites souls
to talk Torah in our way
Torah that restores spirit:

Holiness of friends
like the Western Wall itself
hovers and protects

A Kinah

Generally, fast days are meant to be days of Teshuva. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning. But Teshuva is directly connected to staying the perpetual mourning . This is one meaning behind the saying that any generation that doesn’t see the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt, it s as if it was destroyed in their time. Having the Bet HaMikdash and feeling the closeness to
G-d that it generated is a matter of merit that comes through the hard work of repentance.

We, Avraham’s descendants, are like stars and sand. Grains of sand all blend together. Stars each shine alone. We must always combine our work on ourselves as individuals and as members of a nation. Some would say this is a matter of balance, but perhaps it needs to be more of a synthesis. Even on a day like today, when to some extent there is no I but only a we, we each naturally think of ourselves along with the greater whole.

I was thinking of keeping the following to myself. I’ve decided to share it. Statements about my being a servant of G-d or the like are statements of what I would like to be. Statements that seem harsh on myself make use of poetic license. The point here is not to paint myself in a virtuous light or the reverse, but to share a prayer.

Many people have a hard time connecting with the kinot, which are poems. These were written by human beings. Perhaps if we tried to write a kinah ourselves we would better relate to the day. Rabbi Soloveitchik (as quoted by Rabbi JJ Schachter) said that the fact that so many kinot use the Aleph Bet is a way of saying that really the pain is endless, but by using this structure the kinah can have a start and end. I hesitate to say this, but as a writer I disagree. Using the alphabet or acrostics are a way of getting out what is difficult to get out. You feel you can’t write anything at all but if you use the letters of your name or the letters of Tisha B’Av or of the Aleph Bet, all of a sudden it flows.

Originally I wrote this in Hebrew and, not yet being comfortable typing and posting n Hebrew, adapted it to English. I skipped X and Z because it seemed to me that it would be too forced to use those letters. If this was a lighter piece or a lighter day I would have used them. I hope this is of use to someone and fits with the theme of the day and the work we need to do. May we be blessed with full redemption right now today.

A Temple of holiness we lost.
A clarity of faith I lost.

Being clear as day; our guilt stands.
Being even clearer; I am not what I need to be.

Come and see how pleasant were our dwellings.
Come and see how I sit now on the Kotel floor.

Depleted of connection to G-d and to each other;
Depletion of connectedness inside my heart.

Each year, a year further from where we once were.
Especially me, I feel like less than I should be.

Foolish spies began our error.
Foolish I continue.

Going from land to land, we stay strangers.
Going no-where but my homeland, I feel a stranger.

Hearts bleed for Jewish blood flowing as water.
Heart and blood inside me are too cold.

In time comfort will do us well.
I see even now that the land s very good.

Jews will celebrate this day one day.
Jews, including me, await the holiday.

Kept dark, the Temple candles.
Kept dark, my heart’s constant candle.

Lest it be forever that you forget us.
Let it be stated that will always be your son.

Meals for our heart; your holy spirit.
My mealtime tonight; sitting fast with you.

Newly planted daily, Torah in our hearts.
Natah, my name means plant, I wish to grow.

One Torah, an elixir of life, you gave us.
Only from the poison power please save me.

Poor are what even our rich are.
Poor at the door, I am at your home.

Quiet. A muted nation.
Quite sad. I am speechless.

Righteous we are not, for we have sinned.
Rightful rulings I don’t seek, but kindness.

Saved for now, sanctification for future times.
Salvation and holiness reach me at last.

This nation awaits your return to us.
This me awaits my return to you.

Unwelcome war leads us to ask for peace.
Unwelcome hate causes me to seek love.

Virtuous and pure, you commanded us to be.
Verily, for the second, I am pure.

What is the purpose behind our nation’s pain?
When will I join my nation in salvation’s song?

You are one and your people are one.
Yours truly wants to be close to you and yours.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The ninth comes and goes
a scheduled day of grief
but it's deeper, no?

Tisha B'Av Poem

the last word

his in

the talmudist memorizes

that carry
beyond the hissing
of Zyklon B

- Aaron E. Bulman

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Walk inside a dream
and from that place make it real
it won't have to end