September 7, 2012
At this time of year my work with rabbinical students and rabbis coincides perfectly with the rhythm of the Jewish calendar - turning inward, exploring to find your best self, what makes you full, joyous, a holy instrument. The High Holidays call to us - turn. turn, remember your sacred and most authentic center, return to it, nourish it, so it can nourish you as you move through the new year. Below are some of the writing prompts I share with my students in this season, but they are an open menu for us ordinary folk too, Jews and those of other faiths, and those in search of faith. Sit with each of the prompts below that call to you, give yourself the gift of quiet time just for you, find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed, listen to the neglected voices within, write by hand, 15 minutes today, and again tomorrow...
Preparing for Awe: High Holiday Warm-ups and Stretches
1- Recall a situation or perhaps an image, from this summer or this past year, in which you felt wonderfully yourself, a situation in which some special aspect of yourself was expressed. It doesn’t need to be Olympic gold - though maybe it was a public achievement - but perhaps it was something small, subtle, something private only you were aware of. You felt, this is the "me" I am so happy to be, my best self. Tell the story, describe the situation, letting the details return to you in all their fullness….
Follow-up for 1- Now that you’re done writing it down, reflect on why/how the best part of you came out in that situation. What did you do to make that situation possible? How can you be that fully realized, special “you” more often in the coming year?
2-How have you cared for yourself this year? Make a list of all the ways - things you do every day, things you do sometimes, rarely. Read your list over, notice what you’d like to increase.
3-To whom do you feel grateful this year? How might you let them know?
4- Think of your family and closest friends: are you conscious of ways in which you may have harmed any of them, caused them pain in the past year, fallen short of the mark? How? Choose one person and focus on him/her: what is the regret or guilt you feel toward this person? What do you want the relationship to be like? What can you do to make amends, to bring about change? (repeat as needed)
5- Has anyone sinned against you this year, hurt you? How? What do you need from them to achieve healing? Is there something you can do to help bring about that healing, justice, reconciliation?
Perhaps that won’t be possible; if it’s not possible, how might you help yourself to find inner peace and move on?
6- We struggle not to become overwhelmed by the need for help and healing in our broken world. Decide on one or two specific places/issues/needs where you will commit to spend some time and energy on tikkun in this new year. Reflect in concrete terms on what that will look like for you.
June 7, 2012
Not needing or wanting to say much, so good to be still, to be in nature, simple gratitude.
May 22, 2012
Beit midrash questions for “We All Stood Together”
-What is the pshat of this poem, what’s going on here?
-What is the dilemma the poet is describing, what is her experience of Sinai? How does her experience differ from that of her “brother”? What is the “journal” her brother kept?
-What is the significance of the poem’s title?
-How does the poem speak to your life, your longing, your understanding of revelation?
-The poem explores a tension between “particulars”/”hard data” and “feelings” – how is your Jewish life and practice informed by each side of that tension? How do you mediate that tension in your understanding of revelation, of Torah?
-Are there ways in which, like the poet, you feel “outside the norm” of Jewish experience? How do you find yourself in the Sinai story?
NOTE - when you reproduce the poem for the study sheets you must properly credit it at the bottom - (c) A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition by Merle Feld - revised edition 2007 SUNY Press All rights reserved.
PS - a number of people have emailed me that they can't find the poem on the website - that's because I can't put it on the website - my publisher would have a fit!! But the poem is everywhere - in my book A Spiritual Life, in several prayer books and in many many anthologies - I'm sure you all have it on your bookshelf in more than one place even. So I am inviting everyone to find the poem and then email back to the website where they found it - have fun!
[a few simple guidelines to set up the beit midrash] -
Read the poem with everyone gathered together. Invite those who've come to study to find a partner or a threesome - I encourage people to choose as partners someone they don’t know, don’t know well, would like to get to know better – it sets a tone of inclusion and openness. Each person gets study sheets with the poems[s] and discussion prompts. Tell them how much time is allotted (in this case with just one poem, 20-30 minutes is good) and explain it's a free-flowing not a linear process. You don’t need to move from one question to the next, rather let the poems, the questions and your chevrusa take you on a journey. The goal – finding and deepening meaning.
I like to end a poetry beit midrash by asking participants to reflect a bit on the process they’ve just been engaged in: What was this experience like – with this text? with each other? Do you have some new awareness of yourself? of your study partner? What is special about this way of talking together and where might you want to go from here? Finally, they have the texts and questions to take home, to continue exploring later and with others – a successful beit midrash workshop is deliciously infectious!
I’ve repeatedly been told that participants who had sat at a polite distance from one another, perhaps for years, through this text study suddenly came to see each other as if for the first time. The payoffs often reach far beyond the session itself in the ongoing life of a group or community.
May 11, 2012
On Saturday night May 26 we will be celebrating Shavuot, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. In the past few weeks as many of us count down to Sinai, I've been hard at work preparing for a webinar on May 21 sponsored by the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE), the professional organization of Reform Jewish educators. In the webinar I will lead NATE members through the steps of creating a poetry beit midrash in which a large group breaks off into two's or three's to intensively study a particular text. (more…)
April 10, 2012
On the New Jersey transit train
I pulled my particularity
out of a brown paper bag:
one of four broken pieces of
I proceeded with my dinner.
April 6, 2012
Living as a poet means you are acutely attuned to the voices within, you seek to listen, to discern the words that best capture your own inner truth. But I am a poet who is interested as well in the inner lives of others – ever wider circles of care and love have beckoned me from my private musings, from my cherished writing venues of study and porch. (more…)
March 18, 2012
I often feel I have the world’s most privileged job – I travel between four different rabbinical schools to work one-on-one in ongoing mentoring relationships with men and women who are preparing to be rabbis and cantors. At each school I create an intimate makeshift space where students can sit with me privately, writing and reflecting on the month’s growth, struggle, insight, challenge. Usually we are slotted for a large institutional classroom, and I scramble to reorganize seminar tables and chairs intended for twenty to make instead a little nook – two chairs and a single table on which I place a small vase of flowers and a favorite mug – my traveling companion through the years I've been doing this.
Last week at 7:50am I hurried into just such an impersonal classroom, a dark cavern with heavy blinds drawn, so heavy they disguised the windows themselves - I had given myself this extra time to create a sacred space. Quickly I dragged tables and chairs to one side in an orderly configuration and separated out a single table, (more…)
December 15, 2011
I’ve just spent 28 hours at the URJ Biennial in Washington DC, offering three sessions today – Cartography of the Heart: A Poetry Beit Midrash Workshop; then, Holy Moments Every Day: A Poetry Reading and Conversation; and finally, a poetry reading on the URJ Bookstore stage. The last of the three sessions I thought I’d post here for the enjoyment of a wider online audience.
The program is below – feel free to use with your family, friends, synagogue, in whatever context you are celebrating the holiday this year.
INTRO – So many of my poems offer an opening for introspection and conversation. This year I’ve selected eight poems connected to Hanukah in rather surprising ways. Read each poem which appears in either A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition (ASL) or in Finding Words (FW) – then consider the “frame” I’m suggesting for reflecting on them in the light of the Hanukah candles. Enjoy!
1st night - We All Stood Together – ASL p. 245 – Hanukah is a time for sharing stories – share a story of how you’ve worked, how you’re working, to bring freedom and equality for women.
2nd night – December 25 – FW p. 80 – Children are hungry for stories. As a child who knew no Jewish stories, I found Christmas alluring. Tell a favorite compelling Jewish story tonight – a Hanukah story, perhaps a Biblical story, a story of Israel’s founding, or a midrash, or the tale of a contemporary master. While you’re at it, check out PJ Library.
November 29, 2011
Mama-lings for Amy
1- Love counts for a lot. Children know when they are loved and that knowledge feeds them.
2- There are times when you are too tired or too empty to love them and that's OK. They will survive those suspensions of caring and be none the worse for them. (more…)
November 23, 2011
Last week I traveled to be with old friends for a 25th reunion of our Rosh Hodesh group. We originally came together in the aftermath of a tragedy, slowly found ways of being together, our sharing evolved, and we became a group – no, more than a group, we became a family. This family, this circle of women and our monthly meetings constituted a cherished touchstone in the ongoing rhythm of my life. (We realized of course that though we called ourselves a Rosh Hodesh group our gatherings rarely coincided with the thinnest sliver of moon – simply put, we were a Jewish women’s group and so wanted a category, Rosh Hodesh, to confirm that.)
Over the years some of us had moved away, left the group, new women joined. Former members, continuous members, newer members gathered last week and as I prepared to see these old friends once again I found myself reminiscing, seeking to make meaning. Some particulars, some highlights –