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A new book of poetry with an old soul, a stunning cartography of the heart.
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The Journey to Sinai - part 2

May 22, 2012

Tags: Shavuot, Standing at Sinai, We All Stood Together, beit midrash study, poetry, interactive learning, teaching resources, materials for rabbis and educators

Randi, John, Sharon - beit midrash friends
Yesterday I gathered four old friends around my dining room table to enjoy and model a poetry beit midrash which was being broadcast live on a webinar for Reform Jewish educators in preparation for Shavuot teaching. The session was titled "The Journey to Sinai" and webinar participants listened and then joined in on our conversation about my poem "We All Stood Together." Fascinating that as often as I have led conversation about that classic poem, and as well as I knew the four around the table, this conversation was alive, exciting, deep, new - that is the gift of the poetry beit midrash - one or a few well-chosen poems, some carefully crafted questions to elicit meaningful sharing. Below are the questions we considered - my gift to you for your Shavuot tikkun Saturday night.


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.

Broken matzah

April 10, 2012

Tags: Passover, matzah, Jewish identity, poetry, interfaith relations




Broken Matzah


On the New Jersey transit train
I pulled my particularity
out of a brown paper bag:
one of four broken pieces of
buttered matzah.
Slowly, delicately
I proceeded with my dinner.
(more…)

Poems for the 8 nights of Hanukah

December 15, 2011

Tags: Hanukah, URJ Biennial, poetry, Sinai poem, storytelling, Jews and Christmas, enough, commercialism, freedom, redemption, empowerment

8 faces of Hanukah

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.
(more…)

Passover Miracle

April 14, 2011

Tags: Passover, Pesach, poetry, spring, renewal


Spring, yes! Every day now I am thrilled and mesmerized walking in and out of the house as I pass and linger over the little front yard garden - it seems only a week or so ago there was still ugly dirty ice weighing down branches, unclear if the shrubs had survived this terrible winter. And now everything magically lush, green, restored, with bulbs emerging so quickly it almost looks like time lapse photography. Thank you God, thank you for restoring my soul.

It feels entirely related to Pesach, evokes for me a poem from my new book Finding Words -


Passover miracle


that we find our spring selves again,
shed the thick protective layers of winter
that shield but separate us
from the world out there.

We sit at the seder table
tired, yes, from all the work of preparation,
but hoping to be refreshed,
hoping in spirit to be refreshed.

Sitting at the seder table
we encounter
our younger selves,
wide-eyed, asking questions.

We become each year once again
the four sons, child-like,
spring-like, ready each year once again
to go out from Egypt

with nothing
but a pack on our back,
ready to walk once again
out into the wilderness

in search of our freedom
and our God.

(c)Merle Feld Finding Words URJ Press 2011


May the season and the holiday bring you renewal, insight, courage, as you walk out once again into the wilderness in search of your freedom and your God.