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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Psalm 126

This Psalm is straightforwardly post-exilic (for which see Sefer haWiki) but switches in its narrative perspective between before and after the return from Babylon, between gratitude and longing for return, helped by the profoundly non-linear mechanics of verbal tense and aspect in biblical Hebrew. The Psalmist chooses words associated with joy (s’hoq, rinah) that are — I think deliberately — tinged with other, more complicated emotions. Here’s what came out. 

שִׁיר, הַמַּעֲלוֹת

They used to sing a song
On the steps of the Temple
The very place wiped out,
Put back together
Stone by stone.

בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה, אֶת-שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן–    הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים

Exile or return.
Which one is the dream?
We left something behind
But no one remembers what or where.

אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק, פִּינוּ–    וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה

Our mouths are filled with laughter
And a taste of mockery
Our tongues with cries of joy
Tinged by knowing,
Somehow we are still in exile.

אָז, יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם–    הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם-אֵלֶּה
הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ–    הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים

The miracle that people said could never happen
We were as surprised as everyone else
Happy and unprepared.

שׁוּבָה יְהוָה, אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב
הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה–    בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ

Mysterious Being,
Return our return.
Restore our restoration.
Bring us back to wherever we started
And we’ll be strong
Like stream beds in the desert
Etched and hard but ready for the flow.
Waters of weeping, saturating
Sprouting cries of joy
Fresh, green.

הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ, וּבָכֹה– נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ-הַזָּרַע
בֹּא-יָבֹא בְרִנָּה– נֹשֵׂא, אֲלֻמֹּתָיו

I was the one who trudged along
Sowing my trail of tears
And now I think I’m ready
For the golden sheaths they watered.

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