Between the Narrows
There is a hilltop in Jerusalem
Where heaven and earth touch
After the destruction the bride began to weep
The ground too
The bride returned as a bird perched at the wall
For three weeks in summer
I sat low in sadness
I planned to bleed
To wash myself clean
This I have been taught
After a river of tears
Expect the messiah
And he was afraid, and said: how dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of G*d (Gen. 28:17). From here you learn that anyone who prays in this place, in Jerusalem, it is as though praying before the Throne of Glory. For the gateway to heaven is there and the door is open to hear prayer, as it is said, “And this is the gate of heaven.”
• Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, chapter 35, English Friedlander pp, 265-66.
And so David said, Jerusalem is built like a city joined together (Ps. 122:3), that is, as a city G*d built, and the Targum Yonatan translates: Jerusalem was built as a city in the heavens to be joined with the one on earth. And G*d swore that the Shekhinah would not enter the city on high until one below has been rebuilt.
• Tanhuma Exodus, Pikudei section 1
The main custom is to sit on the floor (until Midnight on Tisha B’Av). One may sit on a cushion or on a low stool.
• Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Brurah 559:3, MB 11
My [Elijah] son [R Yosi], what sound did you hear in this ruin? I replied: I heard a divine voice, cooing like a dove.
• BT. Berakhot 3a
There were two types of birds at the wall. The doves nesting quietly in the Wall, and the swifts screeching and careening madly for the minute or so it took to speak the mourner’s prayer.
I told the story to Miri, long time resident of Jerusalem.
She said to me, the swifts were not always here. I know an Arab man in the Old City who told me that before the Jews came back in ’67, there were no swifts here. The swifts returned to the Wall with the Jews.
• Aggadat Miri
Behold the gates of mercy an arbitrary space
And none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace
• Eliezer HaKohen
Though the gates of prayer are closed the gates of weeping are not.
• BT. Berakhot 32b
On the day the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, Messiah was born.
• Eicha Rabbah 1:51
July 8, 2013
Mr. B of the Clayton jail called to tell me he had an inmate requesting kosher food. Mr. B generally interviews those who request kosher and he always asks what’s the most important Jewish festival? I think Mr. B generally doesn’t get much of an answer, but this guy gave him a list of half a dozen. Still, he was suspicious.
Oh yes, I know him I told Mr. B. He used to come by the Thursday night group for recovering addicts and he came to the synagogue too. Then he vanished.
Well he’s here and he’s detoxing off of heroin I think.
I hope you’ll give him some good kosher food while he’s coming down.
You know him?
Yes I know him.
I didn’t know him well but I remembered him and remembered when he came around he came with regularity and I found him a job after a while, an assistant cook in a nice restaurant.
When I went to see him I asked, what happened?
Couldn’t stay with it. I messed up.
He was picked up with drugs and later I found out there was a weapons violation involved uh oh and he was looking at serious time.
I’m often surprised by these guys, many of them are smart and seem sincere and sometimes I can’t figure how they get into the messes they get into. With this guy, he missed a basic lesson. I asked him whether they had meetings in the jail house, he said no just Christian. What do you mean? No Jewish prayers.
No I said, I don’t mean prayer services. I know there’s a lot of Christian prayer meetings in prison, I’m talking about AA meetings, NA meetings.
Oh, I don’t know, he said.
I realized then that for him Judaism was his program. That’s backwards.
Sobriety is your religion now, I said, recovery. AA is your religion NA, get yourself to meetings. Make your sobriety the center of your life. Everything else will follow. I don’t think anyone ever said that to him before, he looked so surprised.
I’ll get you a Hebrew Bible I said, in English, soft cover. I’ll get you a calendar. I’ll put together a book of teachings for you. You get yourself to meetings.
I need a Hebrew name, he said.
His given name had no precise Hebrew equivalent. What is it you love?
I work with my hands. I can build and fix anything. I want to fix up old houses.
I told him about Betzalel, the first artisan, and how without him the Temple could not have been built. G*d showed Moses the pattern floating in the sky but without the artist Betzalel it could not have been built.
Betzalel? He said it with a little difficulty.
Yes, you like it? The artisan. The builder.
Yeah that’s right. Let’s pray with it.
What’s your mother’s name?
What’s her name?
Her name was Deborah.
That’s a Hebrew name, you know, you’re Betzalel ben Devorah and now I’m going to chant a holy prayer for your healing in your name and the name of your mother through whom your healing comes.
I sat there in the jail house cubicle separated by the thick glass with the phone to my face him a foot away and I chanted some healing prayers naming him and his mother and praying for his complete healing.
Thank you, he said, he thanked me again. Say it again? He asked. I did. Several more times.
The next time I saw him I had given Mr. B a Hebrew Bible in English translation soft cover and asked him to give it to Betzalel. I put a note on the inside with the page number where Betzalel is mention in Exodus 31 and I highlighted the verses.
I went up to the cubicle. We talked some more. He would be at the Clayton jail longer than he thought and he knew he was looking at serious time. I told him that Mr. B had a soft cover Hebrew Bible in English translation for him.
How do you say it, and he tried to say Betzalel but it didn’t come out right.
In the Bible you’ll be getting they call him Bezalel, you can use that if you like and I felt myself beginning to speak easy English to him thinking he’s not going to get this Bezalel easily and in mid-sentence as I was explaining how he could say Bez-a-lel nice and slowly, he said:
It’s a tzaddi — (the Hebrew letter that is more correctly transliterated as tz or ts though there is no exact English equivalent).
Yes, I said, it’s a tzaddi, knowing he has been studying Hebrew and once again I betray my bias and how wrong I am to assume he has not entered deep into his name into this search he is on for meaning and how irrelevant it is that he is a foot away separated by thick glass we are talking by phones through the jail house window he is a black man and when the keepers of the purse ask me who are the people you see in the prison house are they white are they black are they Jewish how completely irrelevant that is on so many levels and how many of them know what a tzaddi is how many?
Forgive me, I think, I smile a big smile shamed by my bias, yes I said it’s a tzaddi just say it slow and in syllables until it becomes comfortable: B’tzal-El. It means in the shadow of G*d.
Weighty to take a vow to stay away from something that is permitted I take a vow to stay away from meat from saturated fats potato chips how I love potato chips or to take on something I think is right but is not required of me elevating the act to mitzvah status I vow to drive every single person who asks me to the airport any time they want.
Vows are a fence around separation [Avot 3:17] I take a vow in order to help separate from a problem distance or in our lingo abstinence you love those Little Debbie treats? Can’t eat just one? You’re hiding vodka around the house? Cruising the dark streets for white powder? Special problems require special strategies separation willing to go to any lengths with the vow in order to make a fence around the problem separate from it.
It’s serious this vow-taking Maimonides recommends we don’t do it at all let your yes be true and your no be true [Baba Metzia 49a] we are expected to do what we promise if we have to resort to vows something is wrong.
In conversation we say bli neder without a vow used in the sense of without a doubt if I have to take a vow I’m not good on my intention I need a vow to get something done? Do it.
We call these pieces Morning Kook. They were inspired by material I have been learning from the notebooks of Rav Kook. The notebooks are short entries, often with imagery that is startling and evocative to me. While we learn, I am writing poetry. Some of the imagery from the notebooks appears in my poetry.
I took the poetry and made simple musical accompaniment, enhanced by my friends Brothers Lazaroff, who fleshed out the melodies to accompany the poems.
We then took the images of my friend Todd Weinstein and we put them into short video pieces, to honor the sources, to lift up the inspiration of Source and Collaboration.
Here is the first piece: I hope you enjoy. We will be posting them throughout the week.
For the Iowa Ceremonies
You look at each other and say
I love you
When you are sick I love you
I will care for you
When I make decisions
You cannot make
I love you
When you will need me
I love you
I might need you in the same way
I love you.
We will share a house
I love you
I love you
When we are old
I love you.
I love you
Why not marriage –
And a home together
Why not marry?
Family and children and marriage
I love you
We will marry each other.
I will be holy to you
You will be holy to me
All the minutes of our lives.
We will make toast for each other
I love you,
Pancakes and toast
Children and a home
Why not marriage?
We can be entirely happy
As lovers and friends –
Like the first creations
In the garden of Eden
In the beginning.
The Politics of Marriage
It was toast that brought us together
And without the toast
We were finished.
We disagreed on everything
Make one more piece of toast that way
And I’m leaving you.
All I wanted really was toast
The same toast that everybody else had
Or didn’t have
The toast that brought us together
And the toast that drove us apart.
Toast, you said,
Is that what you really want?
Do you promise to love and cherish
Tart up now and again?
Clean the seeds out of your teeth
The detritus from the front yard
Are you going to make that ****-ing toast?
When marriage is trivial
When marriage is not trivial –
It is trivial when you have it
When you don’t it is of the highest consequence.
You want toast?
I married you for your toast.
Why not, marriage isn’t political
Plodding away we are through toast
And leaving our socks around the room
Empty toothpaste tubes
Not enough aspirin for the headaches you’ve given me –
Someone to curl up with on Sunday night
These lowly blessings of life
Passed up passion ages ago
As the enduring legacies of marriage,
Keep the politics in your pajamas
I will –
All the toast I want
Whenever I want it.
The Week I Went to Iowa To Make Marriages the Torah Was Severe
I went to Iowa to marry seventeen couples the first week that the ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court — that the state’s same-sex marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples — went into effect. We arranged a bus from St. Louis, Missouri, the adjacent state to Iowa were the seventeen couples live and where same-sex marriage is banned by amendment to the state constitution. The bus was scheduled to leave from the synagogue at 6 AM. There were four officiants on the bus (my wife and I – two rabbis – did not reflect the balance of the group which included two Jewish couples but we Jews are always, you know, out front on social issues), one officiant waiting to assist us in Iowa City, and seventeen couples who had volunteered for the event. Ed Reggi and Scott Emmanuel put it together and called the day the Show Me Marriage Equality Bus.
Ed had traveled up to Iowa City to arrange the marriage licenses and put the details together. He met a minister (interim) at the Unitarian Universalist Society in downtown Iowa City that had recently celebrated its 100 year anniversary. Ed also found a restaurant that specialized in organic food that was delighted to put together a post-wedding lunch for us at a reasonable price (Devotay), he found a wedding cake artist who offered to donate a spectacular wedding cake from a traditional recipe that featured a rainbow interior (Jamake Dudley), he found the mayor of Iowa City who wanted to welcome us at the marriage bureau (Reginia Bailey), it all kind of fell into his lap the way he told it. The bus was nice too — though not too comfortable — it’s a bus.
By a little after 6 AM we were off to Iowa City. There was a load of media in the parking lot of the synagogue before we left. I am media-shy so I stayed away from cameras and reporters but somebody had to do it and my wife was there early and she talked to everyone. Nobody it seemed had slept much the night before, still the ride was not quiet and sleepy, and if people slept it was only intermittently including myself. By the time we made it to Iowa City, we were all tired but stimulated. It rained lightly most of the way but the ride was pleasant, up [the celebrated] highway 61 a pleasant road (not too crowded) to Iowa City. Our bus driver stopped several times and all of us full of coffee stood in lines for the rest rooms.
When we reached Iowa City, our first stop was the Johnson County government center where Kim Painter, the Johnson County recorder, granted the 17 couples licenses on the spot. Ed had worked this out in advance. The mayor of Iowa City, Regenia Bailey, was also there to welcome us and take pictures. “If you are looking for a friendly place to live, please remember us,” she said. She seemed genuinely delighted to receive in her secret oasis, this Iowa City, in the great state of Iowa.
Our next stop was the Unitarian Universalist Society on Gilbert Street in downtown Iowa City. There was a small group waiting to welcome us at the Church, some Church members and some more media, this is Iowa City and our arrival qualified as a big media event. The Church friends invited us in, after pictures on the street, welcomes all around, smiles and hugs, and we went downstairs to a kind of fellowship hall where coffee, cakes, cookies, and fruit were nicely displayed. We hadn’t stopped for food so most of us were hungry and we gobbled up some good will while many of the couples ducked into a bathroom or a classroom to change for the ceremony.
We then went up into the Sanctuary where the Unitarian minister’s wife served as wedding planner and organized the seventeen couples in a relatively painless authoritarian manner. It was a little complicated – seventeen couples and five officiants – Scott had divided the couples up so we each had three or four couples to marry in this partially public, partially private ceremony.
Each of the officiants had a moment to say something at the podium, the couples then came up and stood between the pews and the sacred space, then we moved up into the sacred space and each couple came up one couple at a time to speak their vows to each other.
Each officiant’s vows were a bit different. I didn’t know the couples I served, we were on the bus together but we met only briefly before the ceremony. We hardly had time to discuss the events, and I was also busy with putting music together as that was my responsibility as well. I had my guitar with me that I imagined I would play a little on the bus, but there wasn’t room for that kind of thing in the cramped seats and my guitar was stored away in the storage compartment underneath the bus anyway.
The wedding planner organized a processional grouped by the officiant in order of the ceremony, it was a little complicated but we pulled it off. I had a head-full of music but thought I would be led by inspiration and didn’t really plan what I would sing or play. In the first group of couples was a woman with a fine soprano voice, she asked if she could sing a song with my accompaniment after she walked in with her partner. She asked to sing “You Are So Beautiful [To Me]” a Billy Preston tune made famous by Joe Cocker. I happened to know it, but I knew it in the key of A. I sat with the singer for a moment and determined that C would be a better key for her so I did a quick transposition and we were ready.
Before she arrived, I opened with a Sephardic love song [in an old Jewish-Spanish dialect] called Una Matica de Ruda (a little bit of rue). It’s an extremely beautiful and tender song. I was feeling some sort of added energy in the room by then that was not common to most marriages I have done. It felt, I admit, a little edgy.
Then the soprano singer walked in and stood next to me. I played through the chord progression once in C and by the second time through she joined me, her voice opened like a human flower and something wonderful happened in the room. For me — I dropped into my skin — we had entered ceremony. Before that, there was a jitteriness in the room. With the song, You Are So Beautiful [To Me], I felt the room settle and she sang the song much slower than we had run through, I pulled the guitar accompaniment down to quiet and it felt to me like a prayer. After that song, everything changed.
Then I sang Going to the Chapel and We’re Going to Get Married made famous by the Dixie Cups and everybody laughed, I think out of tension. I sang one more song after that (a stupid choice) and I am trying to forget the one verse I sang before I stopped. It was time for the vows.
My wife began and said some beautiful emotional words during her time at the pulpit. This was a significant event for her too, she has been a pioneer in our community and elsewhere in so many things and none more dear to her than equal rights. She married the two Jewish couples, who we have both known for many years, and for one of them I came up and chanted the traditional words that couples repeat to each other and those are the words that technically marry individuals in the Jewish ceremony. They both wore beautiful tallitot [prayer shawls] that I helped them put on and chanted the blessing with them: Blessed are You, Eternal our G*d, who has made us holy with Mitzvas and has asked us to wrap ourselves in fringes. They did. They looked great.
When it was my turn to officiate (I was next) I went up to the pulpit and read a poem that I had rewritten for this occasion which I will append to this document at the end. It got a laugh, but it was a serious piece, a little quirky but serious.
The Jewish wedding ceremony doesn’t really have vows. The rabbi acts as a master of ceremony, truly, and the couple speaks words to each other that signifies the entrance into the next stage of their existence, a ceremony we call an act of holiness. The words have to do with the notion that with this ring, you are holy to me.
The way I understand holiness in this context is that there is something entirely the same in every marriage that every human being who has linked his or her life with another human being has experienced. It comes out of a universal hunger for intimacy, reciprocity, exclusivity, and disclosure in the commitment of accompanying each other through the changes of our lives. It is also something entirely idiosyncratic, individual, something unique that only exists between these two people in just this way. It happens only this way once, now. Not either or, but both. It is both universal and entirely individual, mythic and personal, like everyone else who has married and something created uniquely between these two human beings. That to me signifies this notion of marriage as holiness. One foot in the universal pool one foot in the personal pool.
I spoke these words quietly to the couples I served, I don’t think anybody else could hear, it only took a few moments and I realized as I was speaking these words how right to the heart of the matter these words were. I could feel the eyes of the couples I was officiating for burning into mine, my eyes into their eyes.
Then I made up some vows, I put some words together similar to others I have heard, some from poetry I have written, and everything was valid and confirmed — they were married according to the great state of Iowa.
One of the couples brought their son with them, he looked to be about eight years old, he stood up on the sacred space with us and someone snapped a picture of the couple kissing, the boy looking up at his parents, all photographed from behind, my face peeking out between their union. It is a beautiful picture, I love the boy’s attentiveness the most.
I went and sat with my wife to watch the rest of the officiants and the ceremony. With every one, I felt pulled into the story. Many of the couples cried, some softly, some more dramatically. I felt pulled into everyone’s story, though I didn’t know the stories, I felt the sense of Story, the large story, the journey of their lives that twisted and turned its way to this place away from their homes where they found an opening in the atmosphere to breathe into each other just the way the rest of us who have chosen marriage have, just as everyone who has married has, but in the specific sense of where they came from, where they have been, who has helped who has hurt, the whole catastrophe as the Buddhists say felt weighty and profound to me and I entered into each story as if it was a new story. Because it was — new and old. I knew nothing and I felt everything, knew virtually nothing about every couple and felt the weightiness of their unions.
When it was over, I was exhausted. My wife wanted the closure of filing all the documents before we left Iowa City, which I thought was ridiculous but we went out by foot searching for a post office in downtown Iowa City to mail our part of the marriage documents into the county officials. The streets of Iowa City were wide and inviting, the sun had come out, the rain had passed, it was cool in the late Spring Iowa afternoon and everyone we asked gave us good directions. In a couple of blocks we found a post office branch, we bought the stamps, and mailed off the documents. She was completely correct about that closure, it felt good, good to mail those documents right there, in Iowa City, Iowa.
We then went looking for the restaurant, Devotay, on North Linn Street. It was about four blocks away and we intuited the direction. We were correct and everyone was already dug into the buffet when we arrived. We ate and enjoyed the exceptional hospitality of the owners, chef Kurt Michael Friese and his wife Kim Mcwane Friese. It felt to me as if they were celebrating with us.
The rainbow wedding cake, donated by Jamake Dudley, who had appeared in Ed’s trip to Iowa City to set up the event, was a perfect cap to a remarkable meal.
I found an excellent used book store with a record store attached (great collection of vinyl and a knowledgeable proprietor) on the corner and went in and read some poetry from the stacks, then sat out in the sun with my wife until the bus arrived. I slept most of the way home.
I overslept the next day. I was due at the synagogue at 10 AM, I got up at 11, arrived at the synagogue at 11:15. I never oversleep. I had students all day long, and between each I fell asleep in whatever chair I was sitting in. I was exhausted.
I got to the synagogue that next morning in time to teach the portion of the week. We read a different part of the Torah each week, that week was the portion entitled “holiness” — the same title as the wedding ceremony. G*d says, You shall be holy, because I your G*d am holy. I stared into the text and was pulled into it. I also saw the Levitical injunction against men with men and women with women. There was no time to take up all the subjects that morning, there is a revealed literal text and there is for us always a hidden, secret text, so I told my students where I had been the day before and I read them the poem I had read from the pulpit during the ceremony (this is the end of the poem) and everyone in our circle – applauded.
Congratulations on Your Wedding in Iowa
Easy to get married,
Conventional wisdom has it,
Hard to stay married.
On the other hand,
There might be an Iowa
A state in the Mid-West
To condone marriage
Between man and man
And woman and woman.
You might have to find a sympathetic
Judge in the state of Iowa
To give you a license.
You might have to come in a bus
From another state
Missouri, for example,
You might have to leave at 6 AM.
Hard to get married, I say,
Easy to stay married.
You work the politics,
The complexities of another state
And the management of a team of clergy,
You conclude with the optimistic:
Hard to get married,
Easy to stay married.
This is known as a syllogism
Spelled with a y not with an i
from the root word silly
It is counter to conventional wisdom
All wisdom is counter to the conventional
We know this from the Hebrew masters of the nistar,
The hidden wisdom
Which is really real,
As taught by the old masters of Kabbalah
And jazzmen who once blew saxophone
In St. Louis, Missouri –
In years to come
You might look at each other
You will say
Remember how hard it was to get married?
And you’ll fall in love
Rabbi James Stone Goodman
United States of America
The Death of Miryam
We came to the death of Miryam
how she died by the kiss of G*d;
G*d inhaled her soul so to speak
Moses and Aaron and Miryam
with a kiss.
Inhaled into G*d’s breath through the Divine kiss
from G*d’s perspective they were taken like a sweetheart.
What can we make now of the frustrations of their lives
or our lives for that matter?
At the end to have been loved into death this way –
G*d exhaled soul into Adam [Gen.2:7]
G*d inhaled Miryam’s soul.
What’s not integrated, what’s left undone in the story now
from G*d’s perspective –
How could they have passed with more intimacy and gentleness
than with this holy kiss
returned to one being with G*d?
Death of Miryam on the heels
of the mystery rule of the guidebook –
mystery paradox of the ritual of purification
the very preparation defiles;
Followed by the death of Miryam
the removal of the well that followed us
forty years Wilderness wandering;
As she was inhaled into the mouth of G*d
how to mourn sustenance now?
The water that followed us
the well that accompanied us –
And the Wilderness.
We are moving over the threshold without sustenance
the symmetry of the stories that settle –
They may converge
they may not –
at night you understand them you do.
The elders all of them
they may return to us someday
so we remember them –
Sustaining like Miryam’s well of water
like the water
like Miryam herself.
O holy Shabbes Chukkat
D [1/2] E flat  F  G
Every portion has a musical figure,
Arabic cognate to maqom
Mystery rule of Torah
as if it were understood
we might understand
it all –
The little red cow:
how what purifies can corrupt
what corrupts might purify.
We came to rest
at redemption through learning
suggested by the Sefas Emes –
Every soul has a portion
or a point
that is incorruptable.
At that moment we had become a letter of the guidebook
a dot a vowel a dia-critical a mark on the page
we became a letter of the text –
We arrived at partial
opening onto whole.
D [1/2] E flat  F  G
Every portion has a musical figure,
Arabic cognate to maqom