Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party

Originally posted on The Weekly Sift:

Tea Partiers say you don’t understand them because you don’t understand American history. That’s probably true, but not in the way they want you to think.

Late in 2012, I came out of the Lincoln movie with two historical mysteries to solve:

  • How did the two parties switch places regarding the South, white supremacy, and civil rights? In Lincoln’s day, a radical Republican was an abolitionist, and when blacks did get the vote, they almost unanimously voted Republican. Today, the archetypal Republican is a Southern white, and blacks are almost all Democrats. How did American politics get from there to here?
  • One of the movie’s themes was how heavily the war’s continuing carnage weighed on Lincoln. (It particularly came through during Grant’s guided tour of the Richmond battlefield.) Could any cause, however lofty, justify this incredible slaughter? And yet, I realized, Lincoln was winning. What must the Confederate leaders…

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Moving to a New Channel

Beloved readers! Having moved over the past few years from blogging to artistic writing, I decided to create a new channel —

I’ll maintain Almost Jewish as a resource for a good while yet, but I do hope you’ll follow me at Divrei Shimon.

Very grateful to all,
Shim’on Menachem

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Psalm 27

My being here is proof
Of vast conspiracies defeated
And all my varied longings come to this —
To stand, a broken, beating heart
And ask, and beg, just one more day!
A glimpse, a taste, a brush of love and glory
Of unknown miracles performed on my behalf
Of near escapes and second chances.
To feel the solid ground beneath my feet
And raise my head in spite of everything
And sing out loud!

And still I call out, ask
Is anybody there?
Or do I cry alone?
I think sometimes I hear
A voice within that says
I’m everywhere you look for Me.
And yet I’m so afraid —
Do I deserve to be heard?
Going along by the skin of my teeth,
And the seat of my pants,
Wasting so much love.

Maybe I can learn
A different way to be
A better path, around
The sinkholes, traps, false starts
And quicksand. Make
No enemies, invite
No bitterness. Have faith
In something. Find the good.
Find God where I am.

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Help with Hallel?

Lovely readers, I am working on a textual meditation of sorts for a Passover seder, and I would be grateful if you could share, by comment or privately, anything that comes up for you in response to the following:

“Describe a moment — from your life, from a story you know — when after a long struggle, dignity and empowerment came to the downtrodden.”

Psalm 113

מקימי מעפר דל
מאשפת ירים אביון

God raises the poor from dust.
God elevates the noble from the trash heap.

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Vayikra, And God Called Out: An Invitation to Gender Justice

Originally posted on Queering Jew:

The following is a d’var Torah I delivered at Hillel B’nai Torah this past Shabbat, at the invitation of Rabbi Barbara Penzner, on the occasion of International Women’s Day Shabbat. 
A note of gratitude: All of my learning about the richness of Jewish tradition’s engagement with gender and sex diversity has been guided and shaped by incredible trans and gender non-conforming friends, teachers, rabbis, rabbinical students, and activists. Some of their work is directly referenced here, but all of their teaching is reflected in what I bring to any conversation about gender justice. Much thanks for how your work has impacted me, whether you’ve known it or not, to: [soon-to-be Rabbi] Becky Silverstein, Rabbi Elliot Kukla, Rabbi Reuben Zellman, Joy Ladin, [soon-to-be Rabbi] Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor, Micah Bazant, and many many more. Thank you for bringing your Torah into into the world with wisdom, grace, and…

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Taking on the Akeidah

I had an opening, with the help and support of some holy chevrei, to take on Binding of Isaac and accompanying meditations that occupy a conspicuous space during the morning blessings. This is what came out.

My God and the God of my ancestors,
My limbs, my heart, the tips of my fingers buzz with creation.
This body is Your instrument
Ready to move
On the knife’s edge of action.

My God and the God of my ancestors calls out,
Avraham, Avraham
Which one am I?
Do I put forth my hand?
Do I not?

Ribbono shel olam,
If I step beck, will I tip the balance of mercy?
If I move, will I doom us all?
And if the angel calls, will I hear?

Ribon kol haOlamim,
This body, my breath, my vanities
I empty them before You
All that is left is hineini

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Psalm 147 — For Skeptics


Loose takes on the themes and images presented in each line of the original text…


What does “Praise Yah!” mean? Think of a time – I know you’ve had one – maybe singing the one song you know. Was it at a campfire, or that time you went to shul? Many bodies, one voice, the sense of “I” expanding and diluting.


You may not be convinced of this, but I assure you, something was put together that day – notes and chords and buzzing bones. A fleshy antenna for something cosmic.


Like far-flung comets drawn to an inner orbit, set alight, their icy hearts afire, jagged crusts smoothing and exhaling.


You may not believe me, but consider this, that sitting in your pew or on your log, you were plugging in to something grand – a universe of stars, each one, like you, known by name and story.


Try to picture the Mind behind it all. You can’t of course, but in the stretching of that inner eye, you may catch a glimpse of curious sparks, a luminous vibration, something … else.


This may not yet make sense at all, but you’ll know it when it happens. New strength will well inside you. You’ll glimpse the moral order of a falling leaf, a sprouting lilly.


Don’t be afraid the next time someone offers you a drum, or a tamborine perhaps. Don’t know the words? Just a la la is enough to join, to merge, for just a moment.


To connect with a great mystery, that powerful alignment that fills a violent universe with utterly improbable oases.


Sun and clouds and rain and food that – can you believe it? – just pops out of the ground.


Plugging in to all of this is not easy, but it is simple – even for you. Perfectionist, overachiever, analyzing everything. You’ll get it all back later.


You don’t have to let go for long. Just a moment, really. And with any luck – if you prefer to think of it as luck – you’ll come out the other side a little soothed, lightened.


There’s a reason you’re so strong, you see, but not in the ways you think you are.


There’s a reason you keep going, and if you really want to put your finger on it, just keep singing.


One by one, you’ll see and hear and taste and smell and touch uncounted blessings. Dozens. Hundreds. Dripping, flowing, flooding.


There will be other moments, I should warn you, when you’ll tremble. You’ll feel small, not in control.


A brittle leaf afloat in stormy winds across a vast estate of continents.


One speck, a temporary form, a molecule of flotsam tossed by vast and ancient cycles.


Creation and destruction, great breaths in, breaths out.


That fellow Jacob – the one from last chapter – dropped his guard and suddenly understood. And his eyes were opened to unseen worlds.


But we want, of course, to take it step by step. When you’re ready – or better yet, just before you’re ready – take up the drum, join in on the next line. Sway and dance and sing with us, yourself, with all existence. And then – this is my hope for you – “Praise  Yah!” will feel as if it makes a little bit of sense.

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