Been very slowed down for quite some time. Bouts of movement and activity happen in relationship to what needs attending to, but I’m generally not in a rush at all anymore. This has been my preferred setting for self since going away on retreat four years ago. My going to ground has been interrupted by emergencies of either a medical nature or life and death related issues for folks in my family or community.
I no longer have the koach/strength or inclination to be industrious or the way most folks who know me knew me. This puts me at odds with most of the modern world and certainly is a really new way of walking on this earth. I’ve never been fast moving, in terms of walking, running or swimming. Steady as she goes, I can walk a long time, if the pace is slow, same with swimming. I’m super fast when I need to be, addressing an emergency or tending to something time-specific.
What is pulling my attention currently is trying to come to terms with NOT doing and not rushing and not engaging so much with others and the world. This current time of Corona Virus and social distancing has been helpful for me in this regard. I lament the reason for needing to social distance, but having the time to be down has been very helpful. I haven’t wanted to Zoom in groups either. I really don’t want to interact with folks in groups in any format. So, in order to interact or move, I’ve chosen to walk with various friends when I can. We walk responsibly and social distance and go to the Arcata Marsh or in my neighborhood, one on one.
It’s more of a challenge to be on semi-retreat and going to ground in the face of the horrors of the last few weeks. It’s critical to remember that this terrible hatred and violence we are seeing is systematic and very old and entrenched. There’s nothing new here. I saw a video interview with Ava Du Vernay by Ellen Degeneres and I found Ava’s point that the difference in this particular situation with George Floyd’s murder was that the cameras were not just on the victim’s face, but that the multiple videos of coverage showed all the people, the murderer as he was murdering, the bystanders as they were by-standing and the man as he was being murdered and begging for his life. I have not watched any of the footage of him being murdered. I cannot ingest those images, but I do believe in hearing about them and learning about them. I don’t watch rape, murder or beating up of other humans. I have no filter and violence impacts my bones and my heart and my breathing.
My bandwidth has decreased and I’m honoring that.
So, how can I support those who are rising up when I am laying down? I do so in my prayers and in my heart, and by emerging from my silence online for over six months. This situation requires a response. I’m not offline completely and I’m not in my cabin in Ireland far away. I’m just on my own personal retreat recovering from knee surgery in December and navigating this time in my life of connecting and caring for family members that are far away and elderly. I’ve not been silent or unconnected to the folks in my life that need me and with whom I have primary ties and commitments to. This retreat of mine has been about increasing the space in between my interactions with others and letting my being expand and breathe into stillness, quiet, being horizontal and in the dark and watching more movies and shows than I’ve ever done. I believe in the power of story and watching how we tell stories and the stories we tell is something that helps me navigate whatever is going on for me. Lately, I’ve been on a French comedy string of films and am now dreaming in French, which makes me très heureuse/very happy.
And, I’ve been grieving deeply and profoundly several tremendous losses in my life which have truly impacted my joy and natural bounce. I’m not alone in this either, even if I’m curled up in my bed feeling my pain, I know it is connected to the grief of all the people who are losing and have lost loved ones in this time of Covid 19 and due to racism, climate change, greed and fear. Many of us are grieving having a criminal, misogynistic, violent hate-mongering leader in charge of our country. I’ve been grieving this since he was elected and I’m still not recovered and sadly the cost to our planet and to all of our lives has been enormous and it’s not done yet. I think of him as a biblical character, as the pharaoh whose heart was hardened by the Holy One and who was ultimately the precursor to our liberation. May this time of liberation come soon, but if it is still a long way off, I know it will still come.
Folks who support “he who shall not be named,” are still grieving. There is not a single person on this planet who isn’t impacted by all the folks dying alone, without family nearby. When souls leave a body, they need escorts and help and prayers or song and when those aren’t present there’s a time of fear and pain and confusion for those who have died or been murdered. When we also can’t gather to remember or say goodbye, this has a huge cost. So, the suffering of this weighs heavy on us all.
All people have guardian angels or energetic helpers to welcome them as they cross over. I know this, I don’t believe it, it is firmament for me. I am not like others in this regard. Death to me is a transition and a crossing. It is an end to this form of living, but not any kind of end. I can and do swim in the waters of death more than most folks. I connect with folks who’ve left this earth and ask for their help and receive it. I’ve written about this before, so if you are here for the first time, check out my post More than One.
I have hope for our planet and those beings on it who are angry, suffering, put-down, being killed and hunted or just alone and sad. How and why I have hope is connected to my expanding the space and time between things and to my perspective. I can grieve and have hope. I can be sad and outraged and still walk with kindness and integrity and tenderness. I can look at the long sweep of history and recall that there has never been a time when people with more had power over those with less and that in the long arc of our time on this planet there has been a slow movement towards the good. This doesn’t mean we aren’t in a downward cycle, but like the water wheel, we will rise up again. Unlike the endless cycle of ugly and hopeful, there is another deeper well we can draw from. In that well are all those working for others, loving others, loving the planet, taking to the streets in solidarity, educating us all about racism and privilege. All the comedians, the artists, the educators, the nurses, the sanitation workers, the UPS drivers, the post office clerks, the grocery clerks, the folks who every day do their jobs and offer a smile or just do what needs doing are who we can draw strength and hope from. These folks, us, we are a far greater force than that other force.
I know this, it is not my belief, it is firmament.
This story is hard to tell, I told it 32 years ago in the way below. I tell it with permission from my son, who it is about.
It requires some introduction. 35 years ago, in 1984, I became pregnant with my daughter. Against great odds and pressure to abort, I chose to keep her and parent her alone. After becoming a single mother I found myself once again in love. The man I fell in love with was a magical, dreamy, mysterious guy who I was with for over a year but who left me within days of learning I was pregnant and had no intention of having an abortion. This was the second time in three years where I found myself loving men who could not truly love me or be with me. After this second pregnancy, I made a one year vow of celibacy and decided to move in with a community who offered me help.
Being pregnant again and alone with a two year old was extremely hard and yet I loved my daughter, I loved being pregnant, and I have always loved children. Being a mother has been and is my greatest joy and pleasure. I chose to move in with a family that I had met while working at a Quaker camp. This family called themselves Celebrations and was involved in adopting, fostering and caring for abused children. They offered me shelter, a cabin on the land they lived on, in exchange for helping them with their family of five adopted children and four others they were in the process of adopting. They also had several older teenagers that they took in. By the time I moved away from this situation (when I married my husband Kevin 30 years ago), there were 20 or more young folks living with these people.
The parents turned out to be liars, dangerous and extremely hurtful to myself, my daughter and several of their children. They rescued these children from great harm, but also did harm in turn. Some of these older children probably hurt my daughter. The environment of this place was chaotic and insane, but I was not alone in trusting these folks. Social Workers, doctors, and many others were fooled. This story, in its fullness, is a book, I may or may not write. Suffice it to say, that I only learned about the betrayal of my trust and the real danger I had put my children in, in 1998.
I moved in with this community when I was just 22 years old in 1986, with my daughter, who was two. I was pregnant, naive, a free young spirit who loved Ha-Shem and I was very vulnerable, idealistic and blind to what was going on. This does not excuse me from the wrong of not protecting my daughter. I live with the shame and bear the guilt for the harm done to her, of which I was unaware at the time. It is a heavy, hard thing to carry, but it is mine to carry.
22 years ago I took a vow to leave this territory mostly out of my life until my youngest son turned 18. He was just a one year old when I learned of the duplicity of these people.
I needed to have a complete boundary around this chapter, this very painful chapter, of my life. My daughter asked me to have a total boundary, to never speak of these people, to never write to them, to never engage with them. I respected her wishes and it was the right thing to do.
I have been diligently working with tremendously good therapists, Rabbis and my husband during the last 22 years on this territory. This work has not been shared with my children, but I have had to deal with this messy hard stuff in order to parent my youngest well. My youngest is now 22 about to be 23, My daughter is now 35 and it is time for me to turn again towards this place to cleanse, to tell the stories that I can tell, to take responsibility and to move towards Tikkun (healing) for my family.
The story below is about the birth of my oldest son, 33 years ago. I wrote it shortly after giving birth to him and have made a few changes here.
Welcome to my world, a very complex and wondrous place, with its share of pain and power and more love than you can possibly imagine. It is also important to note that this son has a very different picture/story to tell about his time as a young boy living and visiting with these people. For him, it was fun and full of woods and wild adventures and mud and forts and all the stuff he loved. There is never only one narrative. The text in italics and blue is the content I’ve added in recently to add context and explanation where I felt more clarity was required.
I am writing to announce the birth of my son Issac Ray on January 13, 1987 and to share with you the experience of his birth and how it has affected me. As most of you know I am now living in “rain green Oregon”. I live in my own beautiful cabin, where I am surrounded by windows on all sides and with a stream in my own backyard. I live in a community called Celebrations whose main focus is the healing of emotionally, physically and sexually abused children. This community turned out to be more of a cult and its leaders were lying, abusive and dangerous, something I did not understand or recognize at this time in my life, when I saw them as “saviors” and heroes. I may someday write the story of my time with these people and the damage it did to me and my family, but at the time of my son Issac’s birth, these folks were my refuge and I saw them that way. Their tribe of children were my charges in exchange for free room and board, which I needed as a single mother on welfare in rural Oregon with two small children. I am proud of my time and work with the children I cared for while I lived with this group. I am deeply regretful of having been blind to how dangerous and deceitful these people were.
There are currently six fully adopted children, five more in the process of adoption and anywhere from 2-10 other children living here at all times. Working with these kids has been and is a vital part of my life and process here. This pregnancy has been different in all ways, shapes and forms from my daughter’s. Her birth was a six-hour beautiful home birth in Boulder, Colorado. It was intense, but blissful and so easy compared to what I had to do to give birth to Issac. I was not expecting the difficulty and hardship that are described here.
This pregnancy has been a level or two harder and deeper for me. I have had to really look at myself and the choices I have made. I have had to examine on a very deep level if I really believe all the things I say and preach and then to see if I can live them. I have had the opportunity here to celebrate the hardest and most painful moments of my life along with the joyous ones. From the beginning, being pregnant with Issac has been a process wrought with much more ambivalence on my part and perhaps on his as well. The questions I have been dealing with had to do with examining if I really made the right choice in keeping him, which on a deeper level had to do with my own feelings about myself and was I worth honoring. Looking at if I had made the right decision in choosing to honor my needs and process over the needs of other people. I believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion, and have supported and helped my friends through them. I myself never felt I could have one.Mark, my boyfriend left me when I got pregnant and my family and my friends all thought I was doubly insane to have this second child. The only folks who I felt really supported me in my choice were Celebrations. This was not strictly true, but it was how I felt. I also was supported by my son Issac’s birth Aunt Cal, the sister of Mark, and by my other sister, by love, Terret.
In labor, I was forced to deal with this internal ambivalence and to see if I could really bring together the airy, psychic, spiritual parts of myself with my physical grounded parts. In other words to give birth to Issac. Sound easy? Well it’s not and it wasn’t. All tolled I was in labor for 42 hours. Twelve is considered long and for those of you who have never been in labor there is no way to really describe what it was like for me or for my friends who were with me through the whole thing. I had to go far beyond all of my own, known limits and very close to death to bring Issac through.
Labor started slowly and followed a start-stop pattern all the way through. I had planned to do labor in a cabin here called the Quiet House after my waters broke. I went to the Quiet House and was joined by my midwives and Donna and Joe, the parents of the children I was caring for, the crazy cult leaders who I thought were holy teachers. My three-year-old daughter never left my side and my best friend/sister Terret had traveled from Colorado to be with me. My god-daughter Sarah, and a whole slew of children and other people came and went throughout the thirty or so hours that I was laboring there.
So far writing this letter has been easy and pleasant and as soon as I started typing about the actual labor things got hard. I think it is going to be a long time before I am able to talk or write about my labor without feeling a little shaky. To date I have never had to do anything as hard as giving birth to him. Anyways back to labor (aaaaaaggggghhhh!!!). To get labor “going” I started dancing wildly, naked, big and in pain, I was a jumping fat woman. We went from this more gentle fun way to much less fun ones. I drank bitter teas, and had a coffee enema, and drank castor oil twice which made me throw up and defecate a lot. All of these things normally would have made contractions really strong and would have made Issac come out. But no go! I was still in the same station (midwives term for stage of labor) after 30 hours. Several times during labor I asked people to leave and let me be alone. During these times I prayed and cried and went through all the blocks I was aware of and on a much deeper level than ever before I came to terms with my Creator and with my life. Around noon on the second day of labor I was totally surrendered and exhausted and ready to go the next level with Issac which meant going to the hospital. By this time I was grateful that one existed and was ready to go there.
NOTE: At this time in my life, I was a true “nature-child.” I believe in home-birth and support women giving birth at home when it is safe and they can. It is not always possible to have a home-birth. My son knew on some level that he would not survive if he was born in a cabin in the woods. He needed more support and suctioning than my midwife had available to her. My body also knew this and would not go forward with his birthing until it was safe to do so, which is why it took so bloody long, because it took me a long time to get it that I needed to go to a hospital. I think in retrospect, part of why there was a problem had to do with a fall I took three weeks before Issac was born. This fall may have separated my placenta a little bit from my womb. Once Issac was born, we learned that he had been ingesting blood and his lungs were full of this blood, which is why he would not have survived without a special Delee suction kit. Something my very inexperienced midwife did not have in her bag.
I had to leave my little girl behind, something I did not want to do. For her, my labor had also been horrendous. She had seen her mommy cry, scream, agonize, fight, dance and be in incredible pain. She increased her crankiness in direct relationship to how close I came to “Checking Out” which means dying. Children get angrier and harder to deal with in relation to how far away their parents move from connecting to them emotionally, psychically and physically. Perhaps they do this in order to pull their parents back into connecting. My daughter, in her three-year-old self, knew I was close to death and for all either of us knew it might have been the last time we saw each other. I am not saying this to be overly dramatic; I went to the gates of death to get Issac and she knew this. I cried and cried over leaving her. It was the hardest thing I had ever had to do, even harder than the labor pains. I also could not take care of her and give birth to my son. Leaving her with Terret was the best choice I had. I knew that Terret would love her up and read her stories and comfort her. I didn’t want to leave Terret either, but I needed Shira to be somewhere calm and safe and not in a fraught and uncertain hospital scene.
In the car, on the way to the hospital I made a shift and went into what I call “priestess mode” which means knowing I am a good person, loving myself, and taking care of my needs by being assertive and clear. Now was not the time to be scared or unsure. It was time for me to survive and to be my most powerful, so Amen and Hallelujah that’s what I did. I also had felt the presence of an angel enter me right before I made the choice to go to the hospital. This angel helped and protected me during my labor and birth experience and I called on that angel and felt its presence with me throughout my ordeal. I felt this angel enter my body from behind. At the time of this experience I did not know that Raphael, who is the archangel of healing, comes into us from behind, and we enter his presence by falling into him. See Angel piece. As I’ve increased my awareness about Jewish teachings over these last 33 years since Issac’s birth, it has been with a sense of “aha moments.” Finding out things like Raphael is the angel of healing and that he came into my body from behind me is just one example.
The first thing the doctor said upon walking into my room was:
“Well, this is a disaster and I had other plans for my afternoon.”
I took a deep breath, prayed and sent him all the love I could. I told him that I really didn’t want to be here in this hospital either but that since we were stuck with each other we might as well try and take the best care of each other that we could.(Remember, I’d been in labor for over thirty hours at this point. The only way I could have had the presence to be calm and not lose it completely and scream at this doctor was because of the angelic presence inside of me and because I was in “priestess-mode”)
The doctor and I managed to take the best care of each other we could. I am getting tired so I am not going to go into great detail about my hospital experience, if you have questions write to me and I will elaborate. Dr. Gentry and I did a sort of dance where I agreed to one medical procedure and then he would agree to do something I wanted. By the time Issac was born Surja, the midwife, was able to catch him. Issac needed a lot of suctioning, due to the fact that my placenta had prematurely separated in one place before he was out, which meant that he had ingested a whole lot of blood and mucus and there was meconium in his lungs. He weighed ten pounds and his head was fourteen centimeters (not the usual ten centimeters) wide! He was and is a great big beautiful being.
He was immediately placed on my stomach and suctioned from there; I sang to him and cried and from the very first moment of seeing each other we have been deeply in love. I am incredibly glad and grateful for his beautiful presence in my life and I look forward to knowing him better with great joy and anticipation. I felt such relief when he was finally out (no kidding!) and I think this goes beyond my physical relief into relief at the completion of a very long hard cycle. Now giving way to a more mirthful one…
His name is Issac Ray, which means gift of laughter and ray of light; I love him deeply and pray that you may all know him, for he is very much worth knowing and he is also a part of the healing of the planet and of us all, as is every new life. Yes, I chose to spell his name with double ss, instead of double a. I thought at the time that the double s sound was closer to the Hebrew pronunciation of Yitzak. It’s made for some laughter and been a mark of distinction for Issac, my doubly super and stupendous (double the fun of the letter s) kind of a guy.
In retrospect I must say that things could not have happened any differently, for on a very deep soul level I have chosen and will continue to choose the path which brings me closest to the Divine. Sometimes, coming so close that the distinction between life and death seems obsolete. I love my life and I want it just the way it is with all its struggles and its joys. My life is a rainbow of colors and feelings ranging from hard to easy and sad to ecstatic.
Every day I continue to grow and change and to reach higher and deeper into myself and Ha-Shem for the answers which bring understanding and direction to my life.
Thank you all for sharing your lives and wisdom with me. May you all be blessed with the coming of Issac-Laughter.
Nicole, Paul, and Papa were in the forest above Boulder, very high in the mountains, above three thousand meters, next to the abandoned village of Cariboo. It was a very dense forest, with aspens, firs, cedars, and pines, and with some oak trees here and there. At this altitude the air is rather fresh and goes to one’s head and makes it spin a little when one is walking. Some of the undergrowth was quite wet; the black, soft earth like a sponge after the most recent rains. In these nooks pierced by hot sunbeams grew an abundance of mushrooms that we were looking for. Papa, in the middle, Paul fifteen meters to the left, Nicole fifteen meters to the right, we combed the woods. From time to time, we called out each other’s name so as not to get lost. The name of each mushroom we picked was sung out, and the forest resounded: “Boletus, Chanterelle, Agaric,” … and so on.
Each had their own back pack and their own basket with two compartments: one side for known mushrooms, and the other for those unknown that would be identified later. The afternoon was marvelously limpid, but more and more hot, and it made Nicole wanted to fall asleep. To walk in the forest when one feels like falling asleep is as dangerous as driving a car when we aren’t very awake. I ask you now to try and see Nicole. A little girl of nine years, a little long in the legs, skin very white, covered in freckles, everywhere, everywhere, red hair, and light brown eyes. She was pretty overall, except for two big buck teeth. You guessed it: she had sucked her thumb too much for years.
While walking, Nicole fell asleep. These things happen, one can even fall asleep standing, like Papa when he was a soldier during the war and he was bored during his guard watch. Papa was just screaming to warn the kids: “Careful! Look closely where you are walking! (The gold-miners had dug many holes, pretty much everywhere.) There are mine holes everywhere here!” So, Nicole, asleep, fell into a large black hole. And then, at the bottom of the hole, there was a great pool of cold water, and she suddenly woke up in the process of swimming in the black water. Looking ahead of her she saw a light at the end of a narrow passageway that seemed to lead to the surface. Nicole walks and walks, and it seems to her that the mine’s narrow passageway is five kilometers long. She is cold, and she is worrying about her brother and her father. Finally, she arrives at the surface in a dazzling sunlight and she yells very loudly: “Papa, Paul, I am here, I am not hurt! Where are you?”
But no one answered. Looking around her she sees that there are no longer any trees or any mountains. She is on a beach of fine sand and there is an ocean that pushes waves and foam in front of her feet. She starts to feel very scared. How could she find herself in a place like Casablanca, in Morocco, when she just fell into a hole or a mining tunnel near Cariboo, in Colorado in America? Was she really in Casablanca? A man sitting on his donkey passed in front of her. He resembled a Moroccan and he was wearing a lovely red jellaba. Nicole repeated the only Moroccan words that she knew: “Oujed, Jouj, Tlata…Zouina (One, two, three…pretty). The Moroccan smiled and responded: “H’lal…Derya zouina…Fin ouah Mamak? (May God be with you, beautiful child, where is your mother?)” Nicole smiles without understanding, she didn’t know enough Moroccan. But she thought of one thing, if this was really the beach in Casablanca, it was enough for her to climb up the hill of Anfa and she would find the house of her French grandmother. Walking, walking in the sun, she wondered what happened and if, once again, there wasn’t magic at work. The magic had just begun.
She arrived in front of a gas station exactly like those in America, with a big oval sign, PEPUCON (PETROPURACONCESSIONE/PURE PETROL TO BUY). The gas station attendant was dressed exactly like those in America and it seemed that he was really GEORGES, a friend, the one who sold gas to Papa, almost every day! But it was Georges! “Georges, Georges, I’ve gotten myself lost, I fell in a hole. How can I get back home? It’s so far away, I’ll have to take a plane.” Georges responded: “But, my little girl, you are two steps away from your home. Your father’s house is at the street corner, look: here is Marine street.” Nicole didn’t understand anything at all; but she kept walking anyway. She walked maybe ten meters when she again fell again into a hole. But this time, she didn’t fall into a cold sea, but into a soft meadow of flowering herbs, once again in the forest of Cariboo.
“How strange,” she thought, “I didn’t have shoes like these… what funny boots.” They weren’t boots, they were hoofs, and there were four of them. Nicole was no longer a little girl but a pretty doe. Of course, she was very surprised, but not too scared. Her Papa had already told her many stories about people who were transformed, and those stories all ended very well. “The first thing to do is to get home and reassure Papa and Paul. Paul, who is a bit magical will help me pull myself out of this transformation, and Papa also. He’ll look in his books and he’ll find a fairy or a magician.”
Nicole had trouble hopping around on four hooves. She had never done that in her entire life. But, she got used to it fairly quickly: it was about jumping while counting by fours. “One, two, three, four,” like when dancing. Pretty soon she no longer needed to count, and she found herself able to run ten times faster than she had with her two legs when she was a little girl. She really liked jumping five or ten meters without any trouble. She thought that it would be easy, with her new doe speed to run all the way there in one fell swoop. It was enough to cut through the forest and go down toward the East, leaving behind her the abandoned village of Cariboo, pass through the town of Nederland and then go down the canyon of the river that would lead her straight into Boulder and to the house of her father or her mother. She set out. All of a sudden, she heard gunshots. It was hunters. So, she had to hide herself until nightfall, so as not to get shot at. As the night fell she heard other noises, other voices, whistles, and then sirens from police cars. She suspected they were looking for her everywhere. A loudspeaker even called: “NICOLE! NICOLE!” But she could not reply. Even though she was human inside, she was a doe and didn’t have human speech. One of the police officers walked in front of her, stopped, and petted her. She didn’t know how to tell him that she was Nicole. Even if he could have understood, he wouldn’t have believed it, because policemen do not believe in magic.
She continued to run and while crossing the village of Nederland a van stopped and a man called “NICOLE, NICOLE jump in the back of the van, I’m going to take you to the home of your father.” It was GEORGES. Now Georges was a magician. He knew all about the transformation of Nicole. Upon arriving at the house of Papa, he opened the door of the van, honked the horn gently, and Paul opened the large gate to the garden, where Nicole came in quickly. Papa was waiting for her also. Everyone was very happy to be finally reunited. Georges, Paul, and Papa brought Nicole into the house and gave her a bowl of milk, some lettuce, and lots of tomatoes (Nicole has always loved tomatoes). Paul said: “Papa, it’s Nicole, I’m sure: look at her coloring, look at her eyes and then look on her neck, she has the same freckles in the form of a half-moon. It’s Nicole, she’s nodding her head “yes,” we must find a way to have her talk. And we have to figure out why she became a doe.”
Nicole put her head on the knees of her Papa who spoke to her gently: “My dear, don’t worry, we will find the counter magic so that you can become again Nicole, the little girl.” Georges said: “we will consult the oracle.” “What is an oracle,” said Paul. “An oracle is when we ask fairies or gods questions—I can only communicate with the L’ENVIROMAGNAT (Environmental Magic of Nature). I have my equipment.” Georges took out a small radio and connected it with a small plug behind the left ear of Nicole, then, he turned some buttons, three little lights of red, white and blue lit up, and he spoke into his microphone. “Hello, Hello, here is Magician 55742 of the ENVIROMAGNAT, Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A. We speak English or French. Oracle, reply to me.” We heard a sweet voice: “ENVIROMAGNAT responds to M. 55742. I can only tell you this. All animal lives taken by men from nature must be returned. The little temporary doe must wait three months and then return another doe to the wild, then she will return to her human form at the age of 9 +3. This transformation is the consequence of the automobile accident that happened last summer in the Sangre De Cristo mountains. The small temporary doe will be able to communicate electronically with her family and with M.55742. Stop and Finish.”
Papa spoke immediately to Nicole: “You heard, you understand? —”Yes, Yes, Papa, you remember the doe that we killed last summer when we were coming back from California, how am I going to have her return to nature? And what are we going to say to mother? And then how am I going to become myself again?”
At this moment, they heard the phone ring, it was Mama: “So, I leave the children for the day with you and Nicole disappears! I should have trusted my intuition; your mountain expeditions have no value for the children.” Papa responds: “Nicole was found, here she is.” “Mama, Mama, I’m O.K., since it is summer vacation, I accepted a contract with the ENVIROMAGNAT to do a film. You know how I’ve always wanted to be a film actress. But, they want me to leave right away.” Mama answered: “give me your father.” There was a long telephone conversation with lots of big words that the children didn’t know. But they understood the end of their conversation: “Fine, fine, alright, but all the arrangements should be confirmed and agreed upon between our lawyers and all the legal charges on your account.”
Everyone was a little distressed by all the events. Georges and Papa spoke for a long time and then arrived at a decision. “Nicole, we are going to send you to Africa, without Paul, where the head of the ENVIROMAGNAT is a great friend of animals—” “Yes, yes” Paul and Nicole cried out at the same time, “Tarzan.”
Two hours later, Nicole, her father, her brother, and George arrived at the airport, where she took a Pan American flight, accompanied by an airline hostess. Over there, Tarzan awaited Nicole. So, during those three months, Nicole was very happy in Tarzan’s jungle. She learned to recognize all sorts of herbs and plants with which she nourished herself. She learned the language of the animals, none of whom did her any harm, even the lions. Tarzan explained to here that the wild animals could not attack her because she had the smell of a little girl, not the smell of a doe, and this protected her. Nicole lived in a beautiful house of branches that Tarzan constructed for her. There was even an elevator, that Tarzan would make work himself, with his superman-like muscles. Once a week, Nicole would call her family to tell them how very happy she was in the school of the ENVIROMAGNAT.
The three months passed too fast and Nicole still didn’t know how she was going to become human again. “Come with me,” said Tarzan, “I have what is needed for your return to human form.” He brought into the house of branches a small sleeping, pretty doe who had just been hurt by mean hunters. Tarzan explained to Nicole that the other small doe was supposed to die, but that Nicole would save her. “Lie down,” he said, “next to her, let yourself fall asleep and when you wake up you will have become once again a little girl.” During Nicole’s sleep, he placed electric wires between her body and the body of the small injured doe. As the electric current passed between Nicole and the doe, the transformation happened. Ten minutes later, she woke up like the sleeping beauty of the woods. She looked at herself with pleasure. She found herself bigger and rounder.
Tarzan explained to her that since animals age three times faster than humans, she was now three years older. The magic of the ENVIROMAGNAT could do many things, but it was powerless to change the laws of nature. Nicole was thrilled. Her teeth had become all strait, because animals don’t have deformed teeth. Tarzan told her that she was very beautiful now. On the other hand, she had become a little magical. She understood the language of the animals. “You understand,” said Tarzan, “now you are part of the world of the fairies and you will live in the imagination of others. The language of the animals is a special gift from the ENVIROMAGNAT. You must use it well during the rest of your life, you might even become, one day, a great scholar. But, you must be discreet with magic powers. Remember all the harm that can be done, even without magic. Now, I’m going to send you back to your home by airplane. I am sorry, but I don’t have a dress for you, but you can dress yourself in these leopard skins. They fit you very well, here is a non-magic credit card with which you can buy all that you want at the airport.”
Before the end of this very day, the new Nicole descended from her plane in Denver where her whole family was waiting for her. Since she appeared so different, the doctors examined her and declared, with great seriousness, that she had a case of “sudden adolescence, because of the climate change.” Doctors always give silly explanations every time that they don’t understand something.
All this story was told by Nicole, in her journal where she wrote all her memories. It’s the reason why her father could write the story of this adventure. If you don’t believe it, you should write to him. Goodbye, until the next time….
My dear friend Reuven died tragically in early August of 2019. His Hebrew name was Reuven Uriah. Born Ronald Moore, he was 61 years old. These are the dry facts, but I want to talk about the wet ones; the ones that make the tears flow and have left so many of us wondering and sad.
I need to talk about how many miraculous events have happened around his death and following his death. These stories are the ones that are a testament to his spirit and to the Holy energy present in everyday folks doing good. His life is also something to honor and speak about. Reuven lived his life humbly and with so much kindness and enthusiasm. He was interested in all things green and growing and all creatures two legged or four legged. He was always into music and loved Jewish people and history. He was full of bouncy energy, like a boy in a man’s body. He was on the spectrum and although he described himself as autistic his brain injuries were also the result of severe beatings from his childhood. These are more wet facts.
Reuven navigated his injuries and his differences with the help of so many folks. Why are some people able to solicit kindness and others not? Reuven’s behavior could be irritating, due to his brain injuries and how they manifested. Nevertheless, he was more interested in helping people than in being helped. He was always singing and dancing and getting folks to enjoy something outside. He would offer to take people on walks in the wilds of Humboldt County, along the cliffs in Trinidad, and in the Redwood Forest. He loved to swim in the ocean, lagoons or rivers. Happiest outdoors, he gamboled about like a mountain goat.
In the Jewish community, he was lucky enough to have a member of Temple Beth El as his landlord for over twenty years. This mensch (good person) gave Reuven a great deal on rent, so that he could live on the pittance he got from being on Social Security Income. Reuven always grew a garden and supplemented his meager food budget with things he could grow. Farmers locally, like Eddie Tanner from Deep Seeded Farm and others helped Reuven as well. He loved Kathy Mullen’s Kneeland Glen Farmstand and many, many others in the local community were generous with him.
Reuven’s own generosity was immense and, even with his very limited resources, he would help anyone, in whatever ways he could. For most of his life he was tremendously physically fit and able. Most folks remember him at a yoga class, dancing on the plaza during farmer’s market or at a local music event, hiking in the redwoods, biking to Trinidad and generally being an example of physical fitness. Mike Reinman and his family were his longtime friends, Osher Zelig Galambos, also a dear companion, and so many others gave Reuven bicycles, food, shoes, clothing, vacations and companionship. Although Reuven was surrounded by folks who loved him, he still felt very alone much of the time.
He was deeply held and loved by two Jewish communities here; the more Orthodox Jewish Community Chabad of Humboldt County and my congregation Temple Beth El. He was also involved in B’Nai Ha Aretz out of Southern Humboldt. Over twenty years ago, I remember driving with him to services in Garberville when I first started wanting to observe where Naomi Steinberg would be offering services. Reuven and I loved the singing, chanting and meditating that was happening there. When Rabbi Naomi became the rabbi at Temple Beth El, Reuven would come with me to services there. He would help me lead services when I was officiating as a Lay Leader. When Chabad came to Humboldt, he began to split his Jewish time between the two communities.
Originally from Flint, Michigan, he grew up poor and battered with his sister Deborah, and brothers Daniel and Joseph. At the age of thirteen he was rescued from this painful home situation when he was offered a full scholarship at a religious boarding school in New York, run by the Chabad community. Reuven felt that being here in Humboldt county, surrounded by nature was part of his healing and integral to his well-being. He loved the fellowship of Chabad that he found here as it linked him to his childhood, the parts that had good memories for him. Reuven was not a traditional guy, he swung across the spectrum in many ways. He loved being able to worship and dance with all people of all sizes, colors, persuasions or religions.
You can hear his unique perspective on life and understand some of who he was by listening to this interview of him done by The Humboldt Lighthouse.
As a volunteer member of Temple Beth El’sHevra Kadisha(Jewish Burial Society) Reuven helped me prepare many Jewish men for traditional burial according to Jewish law. This is not something easily done. It requires tremendous presence, kindness and dedication. He would always say when we were done: “Next time for a Simcha.” A Simcha is a joyful event. When I was leading services at Temple Beth El, he would help me set the tables and make our space beautiful to honor the Sabbath. Creating sacred space with room for laughter and song came easily to him. He was on hand to help build my Sukkah/outdoor sacred structure for the holiday of Sukkoth. He was always there for whatever was needed by me or anyone and it gave him joy to offer.
Losing his physical presence is still something with which I have not come to terms. I keep thinking I see him walking down the road or on his bike. I keep thinking I’ll run into him. But, he’s left our shore for the greater Shore of Heaven, probably late on Saturday afternoon, August 3rd. He was last seen dancing and enjoying himself at the Saturday Farmer’s market in the morning. Someone overheard him say he was planning to go for a walk/swim at College Cove, one of his favorite Humboldt spots. He must have lost his footing while walking, either going down some embankment for a private swim, or just too close to some edge. We will never know where or why he fell, but fall he did and that fall was fatal. He was alone and for many of us, this is the most painful part and certainly everyone’s worst nightmare.
Despite having fallen to his death, along a part of our coastline where folks are not found due to the rocks and tides, Reuven was found. It’s a miracle his body was recovered and how that all unfolded is just one of many miracles surrounding his end of time on this earth. As a Jewish person, miracles are common occurrences. Judaism is full of stories about our teachers, prophets, simple folks and even animals who embody or cross over between this world and the next to bring us closer to Olam Ha Bah/ The World to Come.
Sukkot, a fall Harvest Festival, is a taste of the world to come. There is no door making it open to all who want entry. It is a place of peace and sharing of stories and food and joy.
So, back to the wet story of Reuven’s miraculous water rescuers. There is a local group of kayakers called the Sunday Services group. They ocean kayak on Sunday mornings as their religious service. By chance on Sunday, August 4th, 2019 they headed north towards College Cove. They could have gone a different direction that morning, but they didn’t. They spotted his body in the ocean amidst some rocks in a very hard to get to place. They radioed the Coast Guard and the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff asked if they could retrieve the body. These are trained kayakers and they carry ropes and other things for towing someone in the water in case one of them gets injured, or in this situation to rescue a body.
I was crying so much when I heard this story for the first time that some of the details may not be 100 percent spot on. But basically, the kayakers were asked if they could tow Reuven to College Cove beach where a group of search and rescue team folks could meet them. No one knew who the man in the water was at this point. The kayakers were asked to keep him in the water until the team of rescuers could meet them on the beach. This ended up taking two hours. So, the ten kayakers formed a circle around Reuven and guarded/held his body in the ocean waves for two hours, forming a Holy circle of Shomrim (those who guard the body of the dead). This is extraordinary on so many levels. They knew nothing of Reuven’s religion or about Jewish practices, nevertheless he was given the most sacred circle of Holy attendants. They were his first guardians and they performed this kindness among the crashing waves of the ocean at risk to themselves and in a truly magnificent way. Who gets this kind of escort to the other side? Reuven, that’s who!
Due to the diligence of several of Reuven’s friends, who sought these kayakers out, to try and understand what happened to Reuven, we were able to learn of this rescue. This has been important as members of our community have tried to piece together as much of the details as we could to navigate our pain around his ending. Some email excerpts from the kayakers help illustrate how truly incredible finding and retrieving his body so quickly was.
“This morning we did paddle north for the first time since Reuven’s death. We slipped along the shore line where we had delivered Reuven’s body to the Sheriff. At this moment I was struck by the beauty and peacefulness of this place. This for me was significant as from this place he could continue his journey to be reunited with his community.
We then went on to the place we had discovered his body. You should know that this is an area that we are not able to paddle in and explore very often. It can be quite dangerous because of the reefs and the ocean conditions here. How fortunate that we had a calm day for discovering Reuven.” ~ Mike 8/26/19
“I showed Noah the spot where I first noticed something unusual in color, investigated further, and found his friend. Described the orientation of the body and pulling it away from the reef with my paddle. Then how I yelled for Larry and your immediate call to the coastguard and the method of us towing him to college cove. Then we took Noah to college cove and showed him where and how long we waited with the body. Noah is very comfortable in the water and can now take others to the spot. He also can take people to right above the spot on a trail he claims he, Reuven, and others frequented. This area has a good view of the spot without getting close to the cliff edge. Also, when we arrived at Reuven’s location I placed flowers (from Noah) on the water per his wishes. Everything went well and I feel Reuven’s community can now take over…” ~Bruce 8/26/19
Here’s a link to a video by Eddie Arni of the area referenced above.
The local news was full of the story about this unknown man being found. It took the Jewish community a few days to put the pieces together. One of Reuven’s longtime friends, who had been very concerned about his whereabouts, called the police and made a missing person’s report. Then we were told that the body found in the water was Reuven. The local Chabad rabbi Eliyahu Cowen and some of his community went to the coroner’s office to confirm his identity. Another heroic set of events then ensued.
In the Jewish tradition we do many extremely time sensitive practices around death. We do not leave our dead alone from the time of death until the time of burial. We sit shomer. The word shomer means guard. So, we guard the person with our presence. We recite psalms and make sure nothing untoward happens. Then we ritually wash, purify and clothe the person in a shroud and wrap them in a sheet like a cocoon and place them in a plain pine box, or in Israel, just in the ground without the casket. Men prepare men and women prepare women. When we are washing, we always protect the dignity of the person and cover their genitals and breasts. We recite words from the Torah, specifically the Song of Solomon/Song of Songs, exalting each part of the body. Here are some excerpts that we say.
“….Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields,
His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. 16 His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend…”
And, so in this way, the final body experience a person has is this loving honoring of their body. The quotes above are just a few examples. The whole process takes anywhere from two to four hours and requires three or four people. Because Reuven was found and retrieved by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s department, he was at the Coroner’s in Eureka. In order to sit Shiva we had to arrange with them to have folks in their front entrance be able to sit and recite psalms. The local Sheriff and Coroner and all of their staffs were amazingly kind and accommodating. Search and Rescue folks who are usually volunteers also deserve praise for their service.
When the Coroner’s office was closed we set up chairs outside the building. This huge feat was accomplished via Facebook and word of mouth and the organization of this was done by a local doctor from the Chabad community. Rabbi Eli also helped the coroner find Reuven’s next of kin, because Reuven had been part of the Chabad community and they have connections everywhere, so rabbis were called in Flint Michigan to get the phone numbers for Reuven’s sister Deborah who lives in NY. The coroner could not release Reuven’s body to us until permission was granted by his family. It took hours to figure this out and we were all in shock and mourning at the same time. Once Rabbi Eli had spoken with Deborah, a new set of tasks was set in place which had to do with getting a burial plot for Reuven that was kosher by Orthodox Jewish standards.
As a Jewish Renewal and Reform Jewish woman, this is not a requirement of mine nor of my community, but it was for the Chabad community. Since they also loved and claimed Reuven and had the resources to purchase a plot quickly, they started that process. At first we thought we’d have to send Reuven to the Bay Area, but this didn’t really sit well with all of us who knew and loved him. This was his home, his beloved home. He was not a city guy, he was a country man, a wild earth loving man. So, Rabbi Eli and his community set up a fund and raised enough money to buy ten plots at the Trinidad Cemetery. These plots then had to be roped off and consecrated as Jewish land according to very specific rules. All of this took place in the course of two days, which would take most folks weeks to get done.
Jewish tradition mandates burial within 24 hours of death, which we could not do, because of laws around bodies found not in the care of a doctor when they died. The need for all the local agencies to complete their investigations so Reuven’s body could get taken to a mortuary where we could prepare him for burial was just one part of this process. Then, without ever having done so before, Rabbi Eli and two other men from the Orthodox Jewish Community lovingly prepared Reuven’s body for burial. Temple Beth El provided the casket and shroud for Reuven, who had no money or family to pay for the cost of his burial and funeral needs. Chabad created a fund to cover costs as well and between our two communities coming together in his honor and memory, he was lovingly and traditionally cared for. The same woman who had arranged around the clock sitting shomer while Reuven was at the Coroner’s office coordinated it for us at the Ayres Family mortuary where we prepared Reuven for his final physical journey.
He was found Sunday morning August 4th. He was identified positively on Tuesday by our community. He was released by the coroner on Wednesday late afternoon. He was prepared for burial on Thursday and his burial was in Trinidad on Friday August 8th at 3 p.m. We cannot and do not deal with death on the Sabbath. So, getting him buried before the Sabbath began on Friday evening, August 9th was critical.
There were over 150 folks at his burial service led by Rabbi Eliyahu Cowen. It felt right to put Reuven to rest in the sun at the top of the Trinidad Cemetery. We then could begin to grieve and mourn, having dealt with the very intense details around his dying and getting him laid to rest. Rabbi Eli talked about how we were “tucking him into the earth he loved.” He gave a beautiful eulogy.
What’s critical here is that the Holy One hides these folks, even from themselves. It is thought that it is only because of these 36 humans that the world continues to spin. If we are kind to them, things improve on planet earth. If we are cruel to them or harm them, this is not good for us or the planet.
Because Reuven’s burial happened right before Shabbat those of us who are observant all had to rush home to make Shabbat. See my blog post: Shabbat Structre, Simply Divine Spiritual Technology) for more of an understanding of how the Sabbath is observed. Before leaving the cemetery, we let folks know that a memorial would be held on the following Tuesday at the Arcata Vet’s Hall and that all were welcome. Again, this was organized quickly by the Chabad community and enabled folks from all over, who loved Reuven and were not Jewish necessarily, to come and pay homage to him.
Our Rabbi Naomi Steinberg also organized a series of memorial events for the Sheloshim (30 days) from death observations. We traditionally sit shiva which means we mourn for seven days from the time of burial in the home of the mourners. Since Reuven’s next of kin were very far away, different members of the community hosted dinners or times during the first seven days and the Tuesday memorial was one of those. It was at this event that so many disparate groups of folks came together to honor his life and memory. This is where the kayakers were told to come to learn about the man they’d rescued. It’s also where I heard their story for the first time. Their truly spectacular kindness and efforts on behalf of an unknown body floating among the rocks and waves of Humboldt County is a testament to their goodness and the miracles surrounding Reuven.
It’s taken me three months to write this piece and to navigate my tremendous grief. I’m still sad every day. At the Sheloshim observances we did a joint Chabad and Temple Beth El clean-up/pick-up trash in Sequoia park as a way of honoring Reuven’s memory. Being outdoors and doing good were ways to not only remember Reuven but make our sadness for his loss into something positive for the earth. This is also a traditional Jewish practice around death, to donate your time or money to a cause that would have been supported by the deceased. We also had a final coming together back at Temple Beth El where folks could share again, or for the first time, their memories of Reuven. And this was followed by a potluck meal, which Reuven would have thoroughly enjoyed.
As I sat in services for Yom Kippur and we read the names of all our beloveds who have died during the Yiskor/Memorial service. I cried again for the loss of this man from my life and the lives of all our communities and from his siblings’ lives. I still feel his presence and continue to beseech him to act on our behalf and help us take better care of each other and this earth in danger. If anyone can make miracles happen from across the bridge between this world and the next one, it is my dear beloved brother Reuven. In his absence, we all of us who love him, or who are moved by this story, must commit anew to being kinder to each other and more flexible with one another’s differences and finally to skip and cavort and laugh and honor and protect the earth, and all her creatures, as if she was our most beloved dance partner. As Reuven would insist,
“Next time for a Simcha!”
May you be comforted among all those who mourn and let us say Amen.
This article was originally published over two weeks in the Mad River Union.
The teaching below is one I gave about the piece of Torah that I was born under. It’s called Nitzavim and reflects who I am. My Bat Mitzvah was four days after 9/11. Some of my family couldn’t come because planes were still not flying then. Other members got in cars and drove for days. The Temple was full beyond capacity with friends and family and the larger community looking for a place to mourn and be together in the face of the horrible events of 9/11. On Shabbat, Jews have the practice, which we’ve maintained for thousands of years, in the face of pogroms and horrors, as best we can of praising and finding good and resting from ugliness and violence on the Sabbath. I remember my mother remarking that perhaps this was why we were still around, because we found a way to have joy and goodness despite everything.
I’ve been following Greta Thurnberg’s massive impact lately and was remembering my sixteen year old self. Back at Boulder High School in 1979. a long time ago, my friends and I started a club called “Students for a Positive Future.” We were trying to do what is happening now. Of course, if our movement along with so many others’ who have been trying to do what is happening now, had been remotely effective, Greta and her generation wouldn’t be facing the horror they are making everyone face up to now. As, many of you know, this issue is not new or trending. Scientists have known about this for over fifty years. Spiritual people, tribal people, dreamers, artists and visionaries have known all of this as well for a very long time.
It is not impossible to make change, it is not too late. Nitzavim written thousands of years ago, states that if we ignore doing the right thing, there will be consequences. When we don’t care for each other and the earth, this action brings about the curses mentioned in the Torah in Nitzavim. When we honor each other and the earth, Blessings will ensue and miracles and change. I wrote this 18 years ago. I’ve been advocating what I shared then about this reality for my entire life. I will continue to advocate this way for the rest of the days I’m granted on this earth.
by Nicole Andrée Barchilon Frank/Shoshanah Adamah Cohen
September 15, 2001 ~ Elul 27, 5761
Wisdom, Joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with Joy, Wisdom and Hope or Misery, Greed and Violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.”
Nitzavim is rich; it has a wealth of beauty and delight in it. I was powerfully moved when I learned that Nitzavim was my Torah portion/Parsha; the one I was born under 37 years ago in Paris, France. My whole life has been a journey towards joining the core of my heart to my mouth and actions. The Torah is not just a book to me, but a Holy Living Presence in my life. My birth Torahparsha reflects who I am and who I can be in this world. As Rabbi Mordechai Gafni teaches, each of us has a “soul print,” our own unique essence. Nitzavim is one such reflection of my soul, and sharing my Torah here with you, is my invitation to you, into the heart of my soul.
My choices here today are an affirmation of who I am and how I am choosing to connect to the whole of creation in a covenental way. There are many kinds of relationships and ways of maintaining them. My relationship to my Judaism, profound and deep as it has been in the past, is shifting today. In my lifetime, no one person has insisted that I take on this tradition. This lack of coercion has been a great gift, allowing me to enter into my Judaism without prior wounding or dissatisfaction. No one asked me to observe the Mitzvot or to come into this covenant. It has always been a choice, for which I bless my parents. And yet, I hear my ancestors speaking in my heart. I felt compelled to learn Hebrew, I feel connected to my Jewish family in my kishkas. I have needed to touch the Divine in a uniquely Jewish way. To do that, I have had to learn Torah. Today, I share my Torah with you, with my ancestors and with all those who are here in other than physical form. I am making physical my bond, my covenant, my dedication and my commitment to Torah on this 27th day of Elul.
The great French 11th Century Torah commentator Rashi reminds us, at this point in our biblical story, that we are being bound to Holiness a second time by our presence before Moses on his dying day. Remember that Torah time is different than our time. Moses’ final day was a biblical day. It went on for quite a long time. Rashi quoting Verse 9 states the following about this day:
“YOU ARE STANDING THIS DAY [ALL OF YOU BEFORE THE LORD] –This teaches that Moses assembled them in the presence of the Omnipresent on the day of his death, in order to initiate them into a covenant.”
Moses initiates us into the covenant on his final day. Rashi also teaches that The Holy One is undertaking to make a second covenant with us,
“THAT THE HE MAY ESTABLISH YOU TODAY FOR A PEOPLE UNTO HIMSELF–He undertakes so much trouble (in making another covenant with you) in order that He may keep you for a people in His presence…. because he has promised it unto you and sworn unto your fathers not to exchange their descendants for another nation. For this reason. He binds you by these oaths not to provoke Him to anger since He on His part, cannot dissociate himself from you.”
Not only are we being bound, but also the Holy One is being bound to us. The very nature of creation is woven into the fabric of you and me.
This beautiful weaving is different in Hebrew than it is in English. For many of us it is difficult to connect with the Torah in English. It is only in Hebrew that it has become embodied and exciting for me. Two years of Hebrew studying in between dishes and child-rearing is by no means enough. I’m still a beginner, but a beginner with a deep desire to continue learning. In our tradition, each Hebrew word of the Torah is itself a tree bearing fruit. There is a root within each word and each root has branches. We are invited, once we know these letters deeply, to explore their branches.
The Kabbalists and great Torah Scholars do this all the time. The word Yisrael is often translated as the one who wrestles with the Divine. The Hebrew word Yisrael is often used concurrently to mean the Jewish people or the Holy Land. Shoshana Cooper teaches that if we play with the letters of the word Yisrael, we can get the word Sari-el. She reminds us that our biblical mother Sarah was a priestess in her own time and had the name Sarai prior to joining herself to Abraham’sEl. Women today can claim Yisrael as their name too, because it can mean the El of Sarai. This Sarai El for me is part of the word Yisrael. I am connected through my biblical fore-mothers and forefathers as well as through the action of being a wrestler or dancer with the Divine. There are many ways to refer to Holiness in the Torah. There isn’t one word for the Divine Being. There are feminine words and masculine ones.
The very beginning of this parsha says all of Israel, those who are present and those who are not present, are included for the final binding as they were for the original Holy Sharing at Sinai. The workers and the priests, all of us, those not yet born and those already gone are included. What does it mean when the Torah says all of us are present, even those who are not physically present are included in the covenant? What is this saying about the nature of creation and the universe? The Torah is revealing here one of her deepest mysteries, asking us to enter into a world that is not easily accessible, yet nevertheless present for us.
This task is still not too far away though, “it is as near to us as our hearts and our mouths.” On one level this is simple. It has been understood by generations of Jews. It refers to a different sense of time, of responsibility and of oath taking. The time referred to here is both linear, and circular. It extends forever inward as well as outward. It includes the past generations as well as the future ones. This notion of time is difficult to understand because many people still think of time as only linear and forward directed.
The Torah is not only the first five books of the Bible. The Torah is also considered the body of Jewish thoughts, writings and rulings over time and in time. From the beginning of time beyond our ability to know is Torah. In linear time the Torah includes the knowledge and work of several thousand years. Since ancient times sages and students have been wrestling with these teachings. We have brought these words into our hearts through prayer, meditation and deep thought. We have and still do respond and enter into dialogue with the text. This is the fundamental characteristic of a living tradition. However, despite the wide range of Jewish thought, I believe, there is one Divine code for Jews. It is the one pattern, one DNA, one underlying order to our universe. It is the Hebrew Torah.
That Hebrew Torah speaks not only about relationships in time, but also about our responsibilities in time and across time. In his book Of Water and The Spirit, African Shaman Malidoma Patrice Somé talks about his people’s sense of time and obligation. He points out that, in his tribe’s belief system, he must redeem the actions of his ancestors. If his ancestors hurt another person and that hurt was not resolved or healed in the past, it is likely his life will be affected, and he may be called upon to create resolution. This is a radical concept for many.
This African tribal belief is like many Native American beliefs about time, responsibility and our place on the earth as well. And let us not forget, as Jews, we are a tribal people. Nitzavim reminds us that if we fail to keep our obligations or we fail to follow the teachings, not only will we pay, the earth itself will become barren.
The Torah can be read as an environmental code book. The land must rest, just as we must. Fruit bearing trees are never to be cut down in acts of war, animals are to be treated with compassion and concern. Lack of foresight, vision and respect for our planet leads to ruin. This parsha both cautions us and guides us. It asks us to be both respectful and to use our hearts as guides about how to live.
If I am responsible for the mistakes and woundings of my ancestors then I have a lot of work to do, especially if they weren’t good people. Likewise, I reap the benefits of their goodness and grace if they were devoted to good works and loving-kindness. Conversely, if my great great grandchildren will be paying for my mistakes, then I really want to be careful about what I do. I want to step gently on the earth and work very hard to do no harm. My children reap pain or grace based on my choices.
This parsha describes in detail what will happen to the person who thinks he or she can do lip service to this covenant. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 29: verse 22, we hear of the earth drying up “all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing.” This is the result of not living correctly. This is not some myth, this is the reality of our planet. Those who study and understand the earth, know we are in deep trouble. Too many of us live out our lifetimes as if it were the only one that mattered.
All of this is very close to us, “exceedingly so.” I found Rashi’s teaching on this fascinating. He teaches that even if it were in Heaven or far away, we would be obliged to go seek it and do it. Why are we obliged to seek out the correct path or teaching? This takes us back to our fundamental crossing over or acceptance of the covenant. Being bound to the covenant means it is a part of us, and if we were somehow separated from a part of us, we would need to go looking for it. This teaching also is about Teshuvah as I mentioned earlier. Returning to our center, our originally glorious soul is the way of Torah. It isn’t far away, yet it can seem impossible to reach. Following the correct path means flowing with the current of life instead of against it. It means walking gently on the earth. Being tender with each other becomes an imperative. By doing this, we find that we are connected to Holiness and that we have chosen Life, the honoring of this uniquely complex and beautiful world.
The Holy One has given us a chance to be partners of a sort. Our ways of speaking and being in the world can either be linked to our hearts and leading towards life-affirming choices. Or we can be apathetic, not actively engaged. As Sam and Pearl Oliner’s research shows this is an unfortunate and all too common path. Being a “bystander” can lead to a lack of caring that promotes violence and all the “isms” in our world. We are being asked in Nitzavim to listen to our hearts and to bind our mouths, our expression of self, to the true knowing of our core. Doing this reminds us that we are responsible and capable and that our actions and words have power.
Learning to recognize the Hebrew words and to chant the trope was a completely terrifying and daunting experience at first. My fear of singing goes back to an Elementary school teacher who told me I couldn’t sing and put me in the “B” choir with one other kid. It was too awful and after a few classes full of her impatience and disdain, I gave up. I found my voice again while pregnant with Shira, determined to sing to my child. My voice has surprisingly undergone a transformation while learning to chant trope. With practice, perseverance and help I’ve felt the beauty and the music of the Divine’s teaching flow through me. It became possible to bind my heart to my mouth. By engaging with my tradition and working on my Bat Mitzvah I made a deep connection that carried through from my Lev to my mouth to you!
When I first heard Hebrew as an 18-year-old woman, my whole being was affected. The moment was timeless, as if I were a gong, which had just been struck, the vibrations have carried me through to this day. In The Book of Blessings, Marcia Falk speaks my heart when she says: “English is my s’fat eym “mother tongue,” but Hebrew is my s’fat dam–the language of my blood.”
So, too for me, Hebrew is my s’fat dam. Learning these letters is a way to encounter the source material of my being. This day is the culmination of years of study, of my blood pounding out a steady rhythm of longing for the Divine, for Holiness and for a language that truly speaks my heart. Thank you for being here as witnesses to my process. I am deeply grateful for all of you who have traveled far, both physically and spiritually; for all of you who have helped me to get to this moment and especially all of you who continually support me in my life and choices. I am a very lucky and Blessed woman. I pray that all of you will find the language and messages of your hearts and be blessed with people to share with and be supported by as I am by all of you.
Bibles/Torahs: Kaplan, Rabbi Aryeh. The Living Torah. Jerusalem: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733; Scherman, Rabbi Nosson Editor, and Contributing Editors: Rabbi Yaakov Blinder, Rabbi Avie Gold, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. The Stone Edition, TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, 1996.
Other Works Cited: Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972, Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. The Schocken Bible: Volume I. New York: Schocken Books, 1995., Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. Oliner, Samuel P. and Pearl M. The Altruistic Personality, Rescuers of Jews In Nazi Germany. New York: The Free Press, Macmillan, Inc, 1988; Somé, Malidoma Patrice. Of Water and The Spirit. Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994.
Quotes to put in text: Sherman, Rabbi Nosson & Contributing editors. The Stone Edition TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, p. 501; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733.p. 144; Ibid., p. 144. Ibid., p. 144.;Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972. p. 125.; Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994. p. 21.; Oliner, Sam & Pearl. The Altruistic Personality. 1988; Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. p. xv.
In addition to all of my beautiful friends and teachers at Temple Beth El, I have been Blessed with so many Special Teachers who have helped me find my way. I can only acknowledge some of them here. I hope you will get the chance to experience their teachings: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (May his memory be for a Blessing), Frida Kahlo (May her memory be for a Blessing) Devorah Mann (May her memory be for a Blessing), Emma Goldman (May her memory be for a Blessing) Anne Frank (May her memory be for a Blessing) Etty Hillesium (May her memory be for a Blessing) Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (May his memory be for a Blessing), Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, Rachel Heller, Malidoma Patrice Somé, Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Rabbi Marc Gafni, Noam Heller, Gloria Steinem, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Judith Mohling, June Jordan, Rabbi David Zaslow, Rabbi Shefa Gold, Elie Wiesel, Fatima Mernissi, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Rabbi David Cooper, Marge Piercy, Marcia Falk, Shoshana Cooper, Alice Walker, Ellen Frankel, Rabbi Margaret Holub, Rabbi Jackie Brodsky, Starhawk, Kendra Moshe, Rabbi Marcia Prager, Ross Albertson, Louise Erdrich, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevitt, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Leonard Peltier, Nawal El Sadawi