Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Unfriendly Shul Story

(inspired by Treppenwitz’s post, ”The Unfriendliest Shul in the World”)

Some years ago, I decided to try a synagogue that, while adhering to halakha (Jewish religious law), made efforts to increase the participation of women in the service. For example, after the Torah scroll is removed from the Ark, a woman carries it through the women’s section, and then a man carries it through the men’s section. In this way, all congregants, men and women alike, have the opportunity to kiss the Torah scroll as it is carried to the reading table.

One Shabbat morning, I was asked to carry the Torah scroll through the women’s section, an honor that I gladly accepted. When it was time, I took the Torah scroll in my arms and carried it down the main aisle, from the front of the room to the rear, as I had been told to do.

I was about halfway down the aisle when I noticed a small group of women gathered in the rear of the women’s section. I didn’t recognize them, and it seemed to me that they looked a little lost. I figured that they must be guests or perhaps new to the area. Thinking that it would be good to reach out to them a little, I walked a few steps away from the main aisle and brought the Torah scroll directly to them to kiss. Then I turned around, retraced my steps to the mehitzah [the divider between the men’s and women’s sections] and handed the Torah scroll to the man who would take it through the men’s section. My extra walk to and from the group of women took no more than several seconds – a very small price to pay, I thought, for making them feel welcome. Since I hadn’t caused any delay in the service, surely no one would have a problem with what I had done – or so I thought.

After the service, one of the women who had been at the back of the room approached me. She said that she and her friends were new to the area and thanked me for having carried the Torah scroll to them. It had meant so much, she said.

At almost the same time, one of the women in charge of the synagogue gave me a quiet reprimand. The next time I was given the opportunity to carry the Torah through the women’s section, she said, I was to carry it straight down the aisle, not turning to the right or to the left.

I told her about the woman at the back of the room – how lost she and her friends had looked, and how she had thanked me for carrying the Torah to them. “Doesn’t that mean anything?” I asked. “It was only a few seconds, no more. I didn’t delay the service at all, and they felt so much better.”

The woman only repeated: “When you carry the Torah, you must carry it straight down the aisle.”

Well, I figured, this lady certainly has her priorities in order....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Post-Shabbat Roundup

So... this motza’ei Shabbat (Saturday night; post-Sabbath), here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Baked a batch of sourdough pita bread (the dough was already risen by Shabbat and had spent Shabbat in the refrigerator)
  • Made a batch of soap
  • Poured the liquid laundry soap that I made several days ago into its proper containers (for more information on making homemade laundry soap, see here, here and here, and see here for the recipe that I use)
  • Tore a bunch of newspaper for Kitten’s litter box (big advantages: no dust, no tracking and it’s free; slight disadvantage: it takes some time and effort)

Whew! Time for bed, I think. Shavua tov!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

A Visit to the Sunbirds

Pssst! Wanna see a sunbird nest? Wanna see some baby chicks? Wanna see Mama and Papa Sunbird feeding their baby chicks?

OK. I’ll show you.

Papa Sunbird feeds the babies:

Papa Sunbird feeds his babies

Mama Sunbird feeds the babies:

Mama Sunbird feeds her babies 5

The babies in the nest:

Three sunbird chicks

You can see the rest of the set here.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Fed Poetry

Mark Strand

Just over a week ago, I went to hear the poet Mark Strand at the American Cultural Center here in Jerusalem. (Thank goodness for Facebook, which is how I found out about the reading. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about it.)

It so happens that Mark Strand is the author of one of my very favorite poems, “Eating Poetry.” So of course I had to go!

(Click the link above and go read the poem. Then come back here for the rest of the story, if you’re so inclined. But read the poem! Please! Now!)

The reading was wonderful. Mark Strand read some of his older poems and some of his new work, which he said leaned more toward prose than poetry these days. I enjoyed it all, but throughout the reading I waited for him to read “Eating Poetry.” Finally, he announced that he would be reading the last poem of the evening, and when he began it, my heart sank a little. It was lovely, but it wasn’t the poem that I’d been waiting for.

But then – ah, saving grace! The emcee announced a question-and-answer period. I raised my hand immediately, and Mark Strand turned to me with a smile and asked, “What’s your question?”

“Not a question but a favor,” I said. “I’ve loved your poem, ‘Eating Poetry,’ for many years. I studied it in school when I was younger. Please, would you read it for us?”

Even as I asked the question, it occurred to me that I probably wasn’t the only one who asked for this poem at his readings. Perhaps he had read it thousands of times already and was tired of it. Perhaps he thought that here, in far-off Jerusalem, he would escape having to read it aloud yet again. My breath caught. I know that we American expats need hutzpah to survive around here, but had I gone too far?

There was no need to worry. Mark Strand smiled and said, “Yes,” picked up the book of his poems that he had been reading from, found the poem inside and, stepping toward me on the stage, began to read.

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry....

I sat looking up at him, taking in every word. I can’t quite describe the feeling... it was almost as though the poem, which I was hearing from the poet himself after so many years, became a cord of light that stretched along the sound of his voice to me. I was smiling so hard that my cheeks hurt. There were tears in my eyes. I didn’t want it to end.

In that moment, there was no happiness like mine. I was being fed poetry.

Professor Strand, if you ever read this: at your reading in Jerusalem last May, you gave this American expat a gift of joy that I will always remember. Thank you, with all my heart.