The Sacred Carob Tree of Khirbat al-Lawz

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The carob tree in the old village center of Khirbat al-Lawz

Every Tu B’shvat,
on a hill just west of Jerusalem,
almond trees are blooming their white blossoms
down a rocky terraced hillside.
Stone rubble is laced here and there along its slope –
the only remaining traces of the village
they called Khirbat al-Lawz.

Not long ago this place was populated by
hundreds of villagers who grew
olives, grapes, figs and tended farms
with sheep and chickens.
On the hillside there are two springs
called Ein al-Quff that sent water
down ducts that led to a well
built into the hillside.

Generation after generation
the farmers of the region
would parcel and share this water
to grow their crops.
Every evening after work, it is said,
the men of Khirbat al-Lawz
would gather near a carob tree
in the village center
to talk, smoke, drink and sing
late into the evening.

This life vanished forever on July 14 1948,
when the Haganah occupied and expelled
the people of Khirbat al-Lawz during a military action
known as “Operation Dani.”
The villagers remained in the nearby hills
hoping to return at the end of war,
but soldiers from the Harel Brigade
forbade their return
on pain of death.

Soon after the Jewish National Fund
built a thick forest of non-indigenous
evergreens around Khirbat al-Lawz
and the neighboring village of Sataf.
Today, the JNF website tells us:

This site offers many stunning walks in nature,
where you can also see olive orchards
and agricultural plots on
ancient agricultural terraces.
The two springs that emerge
from the site serve as a reminder
of an almost vanished Hebrew culture
dating back thousands of years.
Here, as in the days of the ancient Israelites,
irrigated vegetable gardens grow
alongside vineyards, olive groves and almond orchards
that need no artificial irrigation
and color the countryside green all year round.

Hikers today will surely not notice it,
but not far from these well groomed trails
you can still find the village center of Khirbat al-Lawz.
The spot is marked by an ancient carob tree
rising out of the thorns and dead grass –
bent and tilted to the side, but still growing.

According to the Jewish sages
it takes carob trees seventy years to fully bear fruit.
When we plant them, they say,
it is not for our own sake,
but for the benefit of future generations.

So this Tu B’shvat, think of a hillside
just west of Jerusalem
where the almond trees are blooming
down a rocky terraced hillside
and a sacred carob tree grows sideways
where a village center once stood.

Then close your eyes and imagine
the wind breezing through its leaves,
whispering to future generations:
you are not forgotten,
the time will yet come
for your return.


psalm 90: your so-called fortress

Medieval Akkerman fortress near Odessa in Ukraine

you’ve been my refuge,
or so i’ve been told since
the day i first learned how to sing
those rapturous hymns
to my stronghold, my fortress,
my shield.

you may have noticed
i don’t sing those songs any more
or maybe you haven’t,
maybe the cacophony of all
these desperate hosannas
are just background noise to you –
a faint and constant buzzing
in the halls of your mansions on high.

oh yes, you’ve been my refuge.
or maybe more accurately my escape,
my pretense, my excuse.
looking back i think the moment
my song began to falter
was the moment
i came to question the purpose
of your so-called fortress:

did you build it to keep me safe
or merely complacent?
to teach me your ways
or to keep me in line?
to shelter me from the storm
or protect me from the sorrows
that inevitably lay beyond?


For Hanukkah: The Ballad of Clara Lemlich

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Al Hanisim,
This is for the miracles,
for the redemption, for the mighty deeds,
for the saving acts and
for the resistance of our ancestors
in days of old, at this very time…

First night of Hanukkah 1909 and
the worst snowstorm in twenty years
was slowly gathering
the wind ripping holes
through the lines of strikers
huddling against the piercing cold.

Among them was young Clara Lemlich
the same one who just two weeks earlier
stood impatiently in Cooper Union
hour after hour
listening to the union men drone on
until fed up, she grabbed the podium and sent
Yiddish words flying, inciting
sparking, then finally
igniting:

I am a working girl
one of those who are on strike
against intolerable conditions.
I am tired of listening to speakers
who talk in general terms.
What we are here for
is to decide whether we shall strike
or shall not strike.
I offer a resolution
that a general strike
be declared now.

Thus exploded the Uprising of the Twenty Thousand.

After the smoke had cleared
the ILGW won union contracts at every shop
save one: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
who said no to new changes, no to fair wages
no to any union in our shop.

One year later the Triangle burst into flame,
sending working women plummeting to their deaths
like sparks flying, sputtering and disappearing
on a cold winter’s night.

That’s how it is with miracles:
we rededicate the Temple
but in due time it will fall.
The miracle isn’t the fire that lasts, no
the miracle is where we find
the strength to rise up
and relight the fire
once again.

Post Script:

Clara Lemlich died at the age of 96
at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged,
after organizing their workers
and agitating their management
to honor the boycott of the United Farm Workers
(which they did).


New For Yom Kippur: Isaiah 57:14-58:14 Reimagined

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Stop for just this moment
and consider:
the roads you are traveling
will not lead you to my kingdom.
You journey so proudly
so blindly
through this barren land
and I can abide it
no longer.

Your false piety
has become unbearable to me.
You look up to the skies,
you say all the right prayers
yet somehow you cannot see
that the world is coming apart
all around you.

You look for me endlessly,
you ask me to show you the way;
how can you be so eager to know me
yet so unwilling to see my face
in the one who is standing
right next to you?

You fast on this holy day of yours
while children go hungry in your own city
and families line up for bags of grain.
You pray for your martyrs,
you recite Yizkor and Kaddish
then sell handguns and Apache helicopters,
and profit from the blood they spill.

You call for inclusion and compassion
while you build a system of racism
and oppression that grows
without end.
You march for peace
but refuse to see the difference
between the hollow peace
of domination and control
and the true peace
of justice for all.

You advocate for human rights
in far off lands
and yet you lock up and shoot down
black and brown bodies
in your own backyard.
You chant from your holy texts:
“do not oppress because
we were once oppressed”
while you occupy another people.
You wield your legacy of victimhood
like a weapon
as you expel and expropriate,
build checkpoints and demolish homes.

You preach of freedom
and democracy
and yet you treat the world
as your personal fiefdom.
you topple governments of nations
that refuse to serve your interests,
prop up tyrannical regimes
to ensure your hegemony.

Your fast today is meaningless to me.
Do you really think this is the fast I desire:
to forgo food for one day
to intone the same prayers
to your confess the same sins
year after year?
Do you believe such a fast,
will make a difference?

No, this is the fast I desire,
dismantle your systems of oppression
open wide your prisons,
tear down your separation walls,
destroy your weapons of death
let justice rule in your streets.

Open wide the vaults and
share your abundant wealth so that
all are fed and clothed and sheltered.
Bring in the immigrants,
let the refugees return home
at long last.

These are the sacred sacrifices
I have been asking of you all along.
Do you think you are up to the task?
Will you offer them to me?
Will you let go of your old ways,
your hollow meaningless rituals
and find the courage to worship
with offerings that I truly require?

Are you ready to spread my healing
across this broken bleeding world,
to stop looking forward and behind,
and venture into the dark places
you would never dare to tread,
only to realize you yourselves have been
dwelling there all along?
Do you have the strength to say
to the ones whom you find there:
hineini
here I am, here I am,
here I am.

These sacrifices you offer up to me
cannot possibly be sustained.
Your well will run dry,
the source of your very lives
will be depleted and soon
you will have nothing left to give.

So let these wells dry up,
seek out the springs that give forth
life giving waters without end.
Restore the foundations of my world
Tear down the walls you have built,
Rebuild the homes you have destroyed
Erase the borders that you have drawn.

Open your sidewalks and pathways,
your roads and highways,
clear the way for all
to find their way without fear
and you will discover a place
you never dreamed could
ever possibly exist:

the place where the low is brought high
and the high is brought low:
the kingdom of heaven
that dwells right here
on earth.


For Rosh Hashanah: Today the World is Created

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Hayom harat olam
On this day the world was created.
Baruch she’amar ve’hayah ha’olam
Blessed the one who spoke
and the world became.

So here is our prayer, 
as the world around us
seems to wither and die,
as the nights widen and
days grow cold
and crumbling leaves float
down to the ground:

Blessed is the one
who speaks the words within,
the words that kindle fire
for the cold days ahead,
a pinpoint flame shining
through the darkness,
waiting, just waiting
for the moment that life
will be re-birthed anew.

Blessed is the one dares
to speak words of hope
to a world of hopelessness
words that defy
the fear and dread and despair,
words that whisper to
a bruised and broken soul:
you will rise, you will rise
you will rise.

Blessed is the one with the gall
to speak the truth out loud,
showing us the way to a day
we never dared to believe
would ever arrive,
to a place we thought could only exist
in the world of our dreams.

Blessed is the one who whispers
to unyielding, impenetrable rock,
coaxing out life-giving waters
so that thirsting souls
staggering on edge of death
may drink and live to see
another day.

Blessed is the one whose words
shine light into the dark places
where injustice dwells
lifting the shadows of impunity
so that all may see what must be seen
so that all may do what
they know they must do.

Blessed is the one who speaks
where words are forbidden,
who breaks the silence,
who disturbs the peace,
who speaks of worlds that might be
knowing full well the cost.

Hayom harat olam
On this day the world was created.

And today we commit ourselves
to speak the words
that will lead us
to a world re-born anew.


Ve’ahavtah Reimagined: You Shall Love the One

0e1141541_blog-the-passover-lamb.jpgYou shall love the One
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all you have.

Hold tight to this love, even as you send it out
to parts unknown.
Let this love flow through you
when you sleep though the night,
when you rise in the morning,
when you venture out and when you return.

Make this love real through your thoughts and deeds
no matter how trivial they may seem.
Keep it in front of your eyes
that your steps be true,
when they lead you toward the light
and when they lead into darkness.

Paint it thick upon the doorposts of your house,
so that the love you have offered
so freely
may always find its way home.


For Tisha B’Av: A New Version of Lamentations 1

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Lamentations, Chapter 1

1. Our home lies ravaged.
The glory it once knew
has always been a sham,
a hollow shell
masquerading as greatness.
The truth is now so very plain
for all the world to see.

2. Late into the night we weep
mourning for a past that never was.
No one comes to comfort,
for there is no comfort to be had.

3. There are no more friends,
no more enemies,
only this desolation and emptiness
from which we can no longer
look away.

4. For now we know
we’ve been in exile all along,
comfortable in our illusions
of homeland security
even as we wandered mindlessly
into dark and narrow places.

5. But now the roads are closed to us.
There is no safe passage,
in truth there never was.
We can only sigh in helplessness,
turn around, and walk away
from the place where we began.

6. The oppressed is now the oppressor,
and the oppressor, the oppressed.
We have no one left to blame,
no more battles to be won
no enemies to fight,
no terrorists to eradicate
once and for all.

7. Truly, all we once valued
were mere delusions.
Our strength was nothing but dread,
our might, our weakness,
our victories, celebrations of vanity
to avoid the awful truth
of our powerlessness.

8. How easy to point the finger of blame
so that we might avoid
our own culpability
in this destruction,
this ruin that has now
blown back upon us.

9. How deep the shame
that comes with this terrible knowledge.
How can we not have known
what others must have known
or seen what others must clearly have seen?
What must they think now
that we have sunk so low?

10. For we assumed a future of plenty,
presuming our prosperity
was somehow our entitlement.
But this plenitude was never ours to claim.
Now it is all gone
and our children face a future
of scarcity and want.

11. Please, when you pass us along the road
do not look away as we once did,
from the poor and wretched souls
crouching on street corners.
We do not seek your pity –
We only ask that you look
deep into our eyes and let our grief
sear into your soul.

12. May you never know the trembling
that goes deep into your bones,
to the core of all you once thought
was true and enduring
and unshakeable.
May you never turn a corner
only to be hurled down,
with no safety net to break your fall.

13. For so long we’ve been unable to feel
the hangman’s noose
that has slowly been tightening
around our throats.
We’ve learned how to live
never knowing that our very breath
has been slowly ebbing away.

14. All who we thought to be heroes
have betrayed and abandoned us.
The real heroes languish
in prisons and unmarked graves.
There is no one left
to save us now.

15. For all this and more do we weep:
For that which never was,
and that which might have been.
For our complacency and complicity,
our willful blindness,
our readiness to look away
from that which must be faced.

16. We are now beyond comfort.
Beyond feeling.
We stumble endlessly
with only the desperate hope
that somewhere in this emptiness
we might still discover
a new way forward.

17. Is it possible that this way
was before us all along?
How easy, how effortless it was
to turn away, to go down this path
that has lead to our destruction,
to this pain that will never end.

18. My family, my friends,
my teachers, all are gone.
Those of us who supported one another
in faith and love
now fend for themselves.
Truly, there is no one left
for us to turn.

19. Thus we cry
into this this empty waste:
is there be a source of strength
that still hearkens to the pain
of those who have
nowhere to go?

20. Oh, move us from this place
of wretched misery,
the devastation we have wrought
and the guilt that spreads through us
like a plague.

21. We are ready to shoulder the blame,
to accept our responsibility.
We just don’t know
how to unburden ourselves
from this awful shame and loathing
that blocks the way forward.

22. For now it is all we can do
to send forth our pain
that it might somehow renew our days,
not as they were before,
but rather as they somehow
might be.