It’s On Fire. 9.11

From Isaiah 31

Woe to those who go down to the narrows for help and who rely on horses,
they trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen
because they are strong, and they did not turn to the Holy One
and did not seek out God.

But God is also wise.
The Narrows is humanly and not-God.
And their horses are of flesh and not spirit.
This is what God said to me: just as a gathering of shepherds
is not frightened by the voice of predators —

The Holy One will descend and do battle God’s way
Like flying birds so will God protect us
protect and rescue us, pass over and deliver us.

Return to the One from whom you have turned away
for on that day everyone will despise
their false gods of silver and false gods of gold
which your hands have made for you in sin —

This is the word of God, it’s on fire, it’s like a furnace.

jsg, usa

Prayer on Nitzavim Sedra on 9.11.2001

9/11, Prayer #2
On Nitzavim,
the sedra of 9/11/2001

We are standing today
all of us
the big shots
wives and sweethearts
–and the stranger that is within all of us
before Hashem The Name
–from the hewers of wood
to the carriers of water
all of us

To cut a deal with You
So You will remember the deal You cut with our ancestors
good people
eager covenant cutters.

But not for us alone do You keep this agreement
not for us who are here today
but for those of us who are not here today.

This deal that I set before you this day
(You know which one I mean)
it is not too far from you that you should say
who shall go for us
nor is it too hard for you that you should say
who will do this for us.

It is not in heaven
and it is not hidden
and it is not distant
but right here
under your nose
it is in your mouth
and in your heart
it is sitting next to you on the bench
waiting for the bus
it is standing on the corner
in front of Starbuck’s
watching for the light to change.

that you should do it.

look see:
I have placed before you
the life and the good
the death and the not-good.

Love Hashem
walk like God
do the right things
the simple things and the complex things
figure out what you can for yourself
and be wise together
then you will multiply and God will grow you
and bless you.

But if you don’t listen
and fly away
I tell you
I surely tell you
you will be lost
and your days will not be lengthened
on the land.

So I call heaven and earth together
to witness for you and against you
I have placed life and death before you
blessing and curse.

Choose life
choose blessing
love God
glue yourself to God
for God is your life
and the length of your days —

God promised your ancestors
God promised them
I swear.

jsg, usa

Ki Tavo 1 This Is What It Says

Last week we left, when we ki teitzei’d left our expectations, etc., we were free to come this week, last week we left singular it always feels singular when you make that break with expectations. You think you’re the first the only one to have to push on that way in your courageousness you have to go this alone, this leaving that we all have to strike in order to make freedom.

This week we join with a great mess of similar pilgrims, they all had to ki teitzei they all had to leave their expectations their complacency behind they had to get up off that thing and get on with it – you did – you got up off that thing and got on with it and when you did you arrived at this week in the great swirl the movement of time the flow you entered the flow and you ki tavo’d you came into, you came somewhere, then you became plural, came into a place you could not have predicted you did not expect you could not have imagined because you were bold and went ki teitzei’d by yourself and once you did you become a part of the great freedom walk of human beings you all ki tavo’d and came into something. You arrived somewhere and you were not alone.

O human being, you are strong strong by your getting up off that thing and you believed for a while maybe a long while you could not do it but you could do it and you did it and once you did – you have a whole mess of an army joining you in that journey and you came into something.

Here we all are this week, we became plural in a week’s time and don’t you dare think for a moment that it is not significant. I have been told by the smartest people I know that if they had stayed singular they would have stayed dumb. If they had remained singular they would have remained sad and alone in the rathskeller of the spirit where individuals stew in their uniqueness in desperate and insoluble places, people begin to stink there from their own listlessness and inability to get up off that thing and be someone different than destiny.

Hell, I have been told by the boldest person I know that there is no destiny. Everything is foreseen but free will is given, get up off that thing and make it happen, I have been told.

Get up out of that cellar, it’ll take you a good week, you can make that trip from when you leave singular to when you come into something, you become plural get up off that thing and get on with it.

This is what the Torah says.

jsg, usa

Small alef; Ki Tavo 2

Begin Here:

The Torah say, [Deut.26:3ff.]
When you enter the land,
go to the holy man,
take baskets of first fruits,
go where G*d tells you.
Give your baskets to the holy man,
then – tell him what happened, in brief:

we have been lost, we are coming home.

End the story with gratitude
for having been brought to this place.

Bow down and sit together with the holy ones
and the strangers among you.
Have lunch together.
Set up large stones, [Deut.27:2ff.]
inscribe these teachings,
every word,
on the stones.

Torah say, Shhh — find your silence.
Today you have become a people of G*d.
Live in that for a long time.
Let blessings pour out of you
be a fountain.
After each blessing,
thunder: amen.

You will be blessed in the city and in the suburbs, [Deut.28:3]
through your children yourselves and your ancestors,
blessed will you be in your coming and in your going,
blessed will you be at the top and at the bottom,
the whole journey will be blessed.

You will be blessed among the huts
and other holy places.

There might be some curses too [Deut.27:15ff.]
so –
be careful.


O holy Shabbes Inspiration Ki Tavo
Maqam Sigah
Maqam for entering new land.
trichord: E half-flat F G
Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure called a *maqam,
Arabic cognate to Hebrew maqom, Place

To My Teacher


Surprise me, lift me off to somewhere new
send me on a roundabout way
make it a uncommon journey
one that I might not have taken
if not for you.
Too far out of my perimeter,
and I might not go with you —
Don’t make it too familiar either.

Use your own words, the idiosyncratic ones
the ones that tumble in your head
when you speak them in the wrong crowd –
we all wince.

Don’t tell me too much.

Every once in a while smuggle in an organizing notion
a re-visioning
sneak it past the guardians of equanimity
the first line of defense
then ease past the conversationalists
the ones who speak loftier than I do.

You speak right around them.

My teachers, the owl-eyed Dr. Reines
in his work shirt and heavy boots and the others
sit in faculty Senate. Dr. Lehman who speaks slowly but draws on four,
five civilizations he quotes from memory, Dr. Petachowski
hitching up his pants, Dr. Fish
roaming through the texts of a dozen libraries on three continents, Dr. Marcus
in the front row with his hands cupped behind his ears, Dr. Rivkin
kissing us after class and —
you wiggling your fingers and instructing me to begin over
you are all inside me and a tough gang to penetrate.

Be thoughtful and push your ideas
the best you can through them won’t you
[you are merciless on language].

Be a thinker, a word maven
sweet singer of the unconventional soul
you remember Dr. Mihaly chewing on his pipe
he will be standing in the circle of review
saying this, something
I might have put in his mouth
or he actually said it:
I need meaning
It completes me.

And please
I’m speaking to you now Bonia
a place of special honor for you who
saw me when I came looking — for what?
You would be waiting
sucking air through your teeth
combing your hair and fiddling with your guitar
come and learn with me you are saying –

you will be my student
I will be your teacher.

jsg, usa

Tribute to my teacher Bonia

Spoken at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio
Sunday, September 2, 2012

I am Jimmy Goodman, one example of what has been said about Bonia, one of his creations. When I met Bonia I was nothing trying to be something. I had no notion what shape that something would take.

The first day I met him, he asked me to eat with him in the cafeteria. He looked at my hands while we were standing in line, took my right hand into his and brought it close up to his eyes and looked at my fingernails.

“You play folky folky?” he said more than asked.
“Yes, I suppose,” I said. I knew what he meant.
“For what you want to do, you will have to learn over. You will have to start again.”

It would take years to realize how correct he was. What I did was trust his judgment. The night before that meeting, I spent in Phoenix Arizona playing lousy music in a saloon. I took the red eye to Cincinnati for my interview and that’s when I met him. It wasn’t a romantic existence, it was just seedy.

From his advice, I went across the street and enrolled as a beginning classical guitar student at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati music school. My first piece was Mary Had A Little Lamb, classical style, using all my fingers and with nice harmonies. I am still taking classical guitar lessons, by the way, and I did learn an entirely different style of playing and thinking musically which allowed the music percolating inside of me to express in an different way than if I had never met Bonia.

That’s how it started.

To accompany the music I was hearing within, I began to write stories and poetry and to move them all together into some sort of style that the only antecedent I can cite is Bonia. I watched him, was transported by him, and soon all the borders began to blend and I was writing singing poesying praying with music and that is the journey I have been on these last thirty five plus years since I met him and he changed my life entirely, from the inside out and the outside in.

In that time, I served him as his student, became like a younger brother, never lost track of him, he was like a compass for me and I feel adrift adrift right now — without a moon without a sun — without him. It started with music, but it was more than music I received from Bonia.

A week ago Sunday I was doing three performances/events in California and in between I felt the urge to speak with him. I called him and reached him. I wanted to tell him about a dream I had about him, I often dreamed about him sometimes sleeping sometimes awake.

I spoke with him but the dream was too long and complex and I could hear from his voice it wasn’t the right time to tell it, so I didn’t.

In the dream, I saw him as a young man. He was beautiful, his hair golden and wavy like wheat fields and though I tried to conceal myself from him, he saw me.

That’s what it was with Bonia. He saw me. I could not conceal myself from him. I loved him and his presence in my life will not be replaced. He changed everything, every single thing, for me. He put his hands into my soft tissues and re-arranged everything. He gave me a life.

jsg, usa

the Healing

Bonia and the Healing

After his illness
I ran into Bonia at the grocery store.

He was still recovering
But walking on his own now

I made a deal, he said to me,
If I lived, I’d give my life over to God

We walked outside, both of us squinting into the sunlight
And if you would have died?

I’d have given my life over to God
He said.