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Kol Ha-Neshama Voice of the Spirit

Journeys of the Spirit VOLUME 2


Kol Ha-Neshama Voice of the Spirit

Journeys of the Spirit VOLUME 2 APRIL 2011 / NISSAN

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Editor’s Note 3

Paddling on Lake Louise 19

Ben Wecht

Eden Fisher

Love Thy Fellow 4

Exploring the Loire Valley 20

Alex Josowitz

John Schiller

Photo at the wall 5

Kippuri 21

Monica Cellio

Ruth Stock

Faith is a Verb 6

Dialogues 22

Walter Boninger

Michelle F.

Nocturne 8

My Journey with Jonah 24

Kara Ruth Snyder

Bruce Antonoff

Arts Prayer 9

Private Time 26

Harry Levine

Monica Cellio

Sacred Conversations 10 Mimi Botkin

Alpha and Omega 12 Fritz Ottenheimer

Exploring Ein Gedi 14 John Schiller

Grama 15 Eliyahu Enriquez

Finding My Neshama’s Voice 16 Aya Betensky

Is This Just Another Kol Nidre? 18 Harold Marcus

Cover: Exploring Ein Gedi by John Schiller

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editor’s note

Journeys of the Spirit Ben Wecht

Welcome to the second issue of Kol Ha-Neshama, Temple Sinai’s ­literary journal, in which we take on the theme of spiritual journeys … What is a journey? A long trip, lasting days, weeks, months, ­perhaps even years? A passage from one place to another? In spiritual terms, might it even represent the movement from one state of being to another? A rite of passage, say? A learning moment? A lifetime? In this publication, you will find a variety of takes on this simple yet profound question. From poems to prayers to personal reflections to pictures, the contents of this issue were selected to showcase what came to the minds and hearts of some of Temple Sinai’s congregants when asked to contemplate this theme. On behalf of the Neshama Center for Jewish Spirituality and of Temple Sinai itself, I hope that you’ll take something of value from your own journey through these pages — if nothing else, a respite from your own daily journey. Journey on!

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Love Thy Fellow Al e x Jo s o w i tz

Live as if you were to die tomorrow For only love can purge your sorrow. Of all the secret remedies unknown, Only one can cure a heart of stone. Volatile tempers must be put to rest As God’s serenity lays hands on your chest. Envelop yourself in the warmth of a receiving grace It is well worth the look of joy on another’s face. To show another love when hate is all you see, Is a challenge of immense gravity. Halt yourself before speaking words of steel. To the kindness inside, your words should appeal. Yet I warn that not all shall be so easily charmed, And if this is so do not be alarmed. Friends and foes alike may be made whole. Let openness, acceptance, and humility guide your soul. Each shall benefit from the others’ stark wisdom. The synchronicity of all portions is more than the sum. Lift up thine shaded eyes to view an unequivocal truth, That there are no enemies, no raised claw or bared tooth. Lead our lost humanity, side by side, hand in hand. Against the shadowed forces within us we shall stand. Old maxims resound, through bristling air, like bells, To purify the malediction of the darkness’ spells. Words become reality, wisdom turns to wealth. Love thy fellow as you would love thyself.

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As I stood contemplating the spiritual journey that brought me to the Western Wall, I saw these four women. I was living in safety and could choose to return at any time; their journeys and perhaps their very lives were governed by others. I was a tourist making a visit; they live in and pray for and defend the land all the time. I wondered what prayers were prayed by those such as these and what journeys led them here. Mo ni c a Cell i o

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Faith is a Verb W alte r Bo ni ng e r

“Faith is a verb,” writes theologian Kenneth Stokes. Faithing is a ­moving through stages from primitive to mature. Only a few people complete the journey. Mine is still a work in progress. It began when I was seven or eight, the only child of Orthodox parents who was growing up in Hitler’s Germany. “God punishes the sinner” was a lesson that was taught. I would hang my pants in the closet and not pick them up as I saw them roll off the hanger. When right away I stubbed my knee on the dining room table, it was — a-ha! — punishment from God. My parents warned me never to look at the ritual reenactment of the ancient priestly blessing as performed on special holidays. Twenty men on the bima with large woolen taleisim pulled over their heads, arms extended in blessing, chanting an ancient melody. One time I got very brave and peeked. I waited. I waited. Nothing h ­ appened. I never forgot. Yet a few years later, at age 11, when my parents tragically drowned as we were escaping Hitler’s madness, the only reason I could think of why that had happened to two such wonderful people was that it was punishment from God. We had left on our journey on the Sabbath, something not permitted by Jewish law. Of course, I was punished as well and spent much of my life knowing I was bad, while showing the world how good I was.

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When almost 15, after having spent every shabbos with Orthodox relatives, I revolted. “Religion,” I wrote at the time, “is a very personal talking to God. It is not just eating milk and meat from different plates and going to the synagogue to dribble off a few words which one does not understand.” That summer, 1943, I fell in love with Christianity. In order to help with the war effort, I worked on a farm. On Sunday mornings I was given an opportunity to go to church. Wow! Services were all in English. Beautiful hymns were sung. Members did all kinds of nice things for each other. If one was sick, a prayer was said publicly for his or her recovery. If rain was needed, you prayed for rain. (In Judaism you prayed for rain once a year, sometimes even when it had been raining for weeks.) The farm became my home for four summers. After a year at UCLA, I dropped out. That fall I took a bus to Syracuse to attend Yom Kippur services and fasted all day. The next day, Sunday, in church, I took communion. After all, Jesus was a nice man and he was Jewish. All this, of course, reflected the musings of a confused youngster who really did not know very much about Judaism or Christianity. But my enthusiasm for Judaism never waned. After all, most of the happy experiences of my childhood were Jewish — preparing for and enjoying all the holidays, family gatherings, endless rituals, going with my parents to shul. As much as possible I sought to replicate these experiences for my children. They, in turn, have done so for theirs. Not only did I remain an enthusiastic Jew, but I got paid for it. In addition to a full time career as a social worker with the aged and visually impaired, I became a part-time cantor in Conservative congregations, and decades later even a full-time spiritual leader. It was easier just being a cantor; no one asked whether you believed in God, nor were you expected to know the answers to all those questions that are lobbed at rabbis. What it did provide was an ongoing opportunity to dabble in the variety of Jewish thought, to keep on faithing. It became a fascinating journey with some surprising twists.

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Nocturne Kara Ruth Snyder

Acrylic paint and pumice paste

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Arts Prayer Ha r r y Le v i ne

Poets, singers, and dancers, Be our life enhancers. Composers, conductors, and musicians, Magnify our inner cognitions, Painters, sculptors, and architects, Forge our best works yet. As your art comes into being, Exceed our highest dreams. Make it routine, not odd, To reflect our love of God.

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Sacred Conversations Mi m i Botk i n

Bedside chats take on a unique intimacy, inspire close discussion of mundane topics that assume mythic proportions in the twilight as one participant lies in a half-sleep and the other perches on the side of the bed. With my 5-6-7-year-old children, these talks wove a rambling tangle of wishes, thoughts, dreams, events of the day and tomorrows alive with promise and expectation. This afternoon in the premature twilight of the darkened room, by his bed of 52 years, a bedside chat weaves Sheldon and me together in a different sort of verbal meandering, a restless wandering through a muggy, morphine awake-sleep. He struggles to keep his eyes open, to breathe, each movement causing pain. His skin, smooth and paper-thin, creates sand-waves under my fingertips as I stroke his bone-jutting, angular arm.

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We exchange brief snippets of conversation, abstracts of long discussions of long-ago years. Ten minutes creates its own eternity as Shirley stands loving guard over him. Each syllable saps more of his waning strength. This exchange holds one-breath phrases of laughs, memories shared from years ago, silliness, each one laden with unspoken phrases of love and holding onto the past as the present seeps away into memory. Our bedside chat misses the vibrant exchanges, the immutable gentleness of this man, the unflagging chivalry of the Sheldon I have known for decades. This beside chat harkens back to the past. As I stand up from the side of his bed, careful not to jar his fragile body, I lean down to say, “ See you soon, buddy, ” not knowing when or if that “soon” will be. In memory of Sheldon Goldstein

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Alpha and Omega F r i tz O tte nh e i m er

I was created from nothing, and I will end up in nothingness. It started 84 years ago, and it will end — when? … ten years, ten days, ten minutes from now? But during those 84 years, I became aware of, absorbed, rejected, enjoyed, endured, witnessed, experienced, and / or ignored my world, my life. That first sentence about being created from nothing was actually just an approximation. I started from something: a miniscule cell, the fertilized ovum — a miraculous little speck about as big as the period at the end of this sentence. It contained the blueprint, assembly instructions, timer, repair kit, and coordinating computer for the fabrication of — me. The cell was produced by my parents. That was very clever of them, considering that neither of them had ever taken a course or even read a book on microbiology. My mother provided all the building materials the cell required to make a trillion copies of itself, with just the right differences at exactly the right places (example: hair on the outside, brains on the inside, bone, capillaries, neurons and skin in between — but no toenails; not here). Then I was pulled out into the cold world and greeted with a slap. After a good cleaning, I was a pretty decent specimen, considering my micro­ scopic origin.

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These were the amazing first steps in the miracle of my life. Not just my life: the billions of people alive today and the billions of ­people who lived before us share the same biological history. And let’s admit it: every mouse and cat and elephant started out about the same way. Their parents must have been just as clever as mine. All of us — people as well as mice, cats and elephants — have to absorb a tremendous amount of knowledge in infancy. Babies get smarter every day, but they also get cuter. It is nature’s way of persuading parents to put up with infants during their helpless, useless years. The cuteness fades during adolescence. This time it is nature’s way of easing the pain of separation when the youngsters leave home. At about the same time, teens acquire a different kind of cuteness in the eyes of their opposite peers. They fall in love, and everything starts all over again. It is all scheduled in that primal cell. Universal cuteness is a strange phenomenon. Babies may grow up later to be a Mother Theresa or an Adolf Hitler, but when they are toddlers, they are all just — cute. What drives them in different directions as they mature? Life is a loan, not a gift. Our genetic schedule in that little cell sets a limit to the length of our earthly existence. If “natural” death were strictly a matter of statistical randomness, a few people at the upper end of the normal distribution curve would survive 120, perhaps even 200 years of life. Evidently, we are programmed to self-destruct at a certain age, about 100 years, provided that a stray bacterium or a drunken driver or some other random event hasn’t picked us off prematurely. For me, the world will end with my last breath. For you, that will be just another sunny or rainy or freezing day, and you’ll be wondering who’s going to win the World Series or the Olympics or the War du Jour. Good luck, kids! It’s been an amazing life I’ve had, and it’s a ­glorious, dangerous, weird world we are leaving you. Let’s see what you can do with it.

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Exploring Ein Gedi J o h n Sc h i ll er

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Grama E liya h u E nr i qu e z

When Elijah prayed You sent fire And charged him To care For widows and orphans. What I got was asylum. I got angry, Despised my roots, So I became orphaned. In every generation Since the Temple’s destruction Prophets go for broke. They just don’t get — what we deserve. On behalf of Rain (My perpetual pup) The metathesis of Iran I will cease To believe in Weathermen. For Matthue Roth and Naftali Yawitz: Rabbi Yehuda Berg says, “for in You, by Whom the orphan is granted mercy … that one time that homeless person we come across will be the hidden righteous person.” (Hosea 14:4)

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Finding My Neshama’s Voice Aya Be te ns k y

In the early ’80s, in New Jersey, we “converted” from Conservative to Reform Judaism (a story in itself) and started going to Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. At our first Friday night service, we were amazed to find a woman cantor with a beautiful voice, who welcomed us by stepping down from the bimah and teaching the congregation a new song that would be sung later in the service. Lee Coopersmith imbued us with an aura of Shabbat beauty and community that we had been missing before. At these Friday night services I heard familiar melodies and learned new ones and sang with all my heart. People started telling me that I should join the volunteer choir. I was working full-time with two kids and didn’t see how I could fit it in, but after our older son, Daniel, became a bar mitzvah, I joined the choir instead of ­taking aerobics—after all, singing is aerobic too! The choir had been together for 18 years, rehearsed twice a week and was really good, while I had never sung liturgical songs from written music, let alone with transliteration. At my first rehearsal they expected me to leave after the break and never show up again, like the previous newbie, but luckily we were all learning new Sephardic music together, and I stuck it out. I practiced at home every night on my new keyboard. For the first time I was grateful that my parents had

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made me take those years of piano lessons. Another soprano gave me her extra copies of the choir’s huge repertory and clued me in on choir lore. I learned a lot. I discovered that prayers like Oseh Shalom had more than one melody or arrangement, by more than one composer, and you couldn’t just say “I loved the Oseh Shalom,” you had to say which one! I realized that through the music I was experiencing the prayers— I had always loved the Hebrew phrasing and vocabulary, but the English wasn’t particularly meaningful to me. Music took them to a different level. I couldn’t identify this feeling and felt desperately that I needed to share it with someone. I asked a few friends if they knew what I was talking about but ran into a brick wall. Finally I asked my mother (whose father had been a cantor and who had always sung to me) and she said, “Of course I know what you mean—why didn’t you just ask me? I’ve always felt that way!” At Temple Sinai’s choir, and in the Saturday morning group, I’ve found more people who know what I mean. The term “spirituality” has always put me off, and I find the concept difficult; I certainly don’t believe in heaven; but for me singing in a service is like flying—a soaring that aspires to the heavens.

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Is This Just Another Kol Nidre? H arold M arc u s

Is this just another Kol Nidre? Reflection time is here. Will the man I am today be who I am next year? Or will I make some changes when I see where I have been, So that I know where e’re I go, a new me will begin To find a higher purpose as I look out at the world, And a kinder, gentler, better me for all will be unfurled? Is this just another Yom Kippur Eve for all who read this now? Will we be the same next year or will we change somehow? I hope we’ll lend a helping hand or help to dry a tear, So that when the mirror beckons us again this time next year, We can see the face in front of us and give a great big smile Because we’re better than we were, we’ve gone that extra mile. It’s not just another Kol Nidre, our brethren need us all, Their plea is ringing loud and clear and we must heed the call. It’s time to start the change right now; we have no other choice But to come together and to answer with one voice, That although we’re miles apart, we’ll help to ease the pain, And try to make a rainbow out of every drop of rain. My friends, we’re all together on this Yom Kippur Eve, When each of us is asking for another year’s reprieve. Do we live our lives just as we have, as if there’s no need to change? Or do we shake us by the shoulders as there’s much to rearrange? Another year is with us now, we’ve so much work to do. So let’s do it together, ‘cause there’s strength in me and you.

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Paddling on Lake Louise E den Fi sh er

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Exploring the Loire Valley J o h n Sc h i ll er

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Kippuri R u t h S toc k

I would like to forgive the five year old Catholic friends and neighbors who told me I killed Jesus I would like to forgive the French children who examined my head for signs of horns I would like to forgive the Arab men who ruined my honeymoon by invading the Olympic village I would like to forgive the tank driving Syrians who attacked my town on Yom Kippur I would like to forgive the young Arabs who killed the children of Hatzor at Maalot I would like to forgive the Jewish man who told me I was an unnecessary part of my son’s bris; preferred spending time with a woman other than his wife; made me stand in shame for a bill of divorcement, I would like to forgive the misguided young man whose fear of Zionist conspiracy shattered a quiet Shabbat on the street of my birth with the murder of those sworn to protect. So I will try.

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Dialogues Mi c h e l le F.

I walk to work in a cool breeze. Yesterday I started a new relationship with God. I took a simple, perhaps unprecedented step — consciously opened myself to God and asked for help. Jim Morrison’s voice shouting, “You cannot petition the Lord with prayer,” that has echoed through decades of my heartbeat of time, for once had fallen silent. I asked you to help me work hard and well — and you did. Yes, my atheist brother, you may point this out as mind responding to mind. Of course, I tell you indulgently. And how did I come to have this marvelous instrument with so many interesting uses? Dumb luck, you would say. Certainly one possibility. I can’t say I have any more inherent merit, as this mammalian creature born in this time, with these particular endowments, than the blade of grass growing beside the concrete I am walking on, or the ant crawling over it — I am damn lucky to have this body, consciousness, strengths and challenges — to have this opportunity of human life at all. And I choose to go with the part of my mind that whispers, Be grateful, the part that scoffs, Who cares what we will or will not find out when it comes our turn to shake off this mortal coil; I want to fill my days with praise, with wonder, with motivation to fulfill my highest purpose in every moment, to choose the life of focusing on goodness and beauty rather than the death of letting my mind dwell for naught on the ugly, the negative, the broken.

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Don’t misunderstand — this is not willful blindness but a ­conscious choice of lenses. I’m well acquainted with despair, with contemplation of barren wasteland, with belief in ultimate futility. I am aware of its effects on me. The idea of God works well for me, works wonders, keeps me best from wasting this precious gift of time, best helps me choose the path of selflessness, compassion, purpose. It works well for me, while your way, for me, doesn’t work so well at all. I’m tired of slipping into justifying my hidden love of God (or, if you will, the idea of God), I’m tired of forgetting God and remaining the center of my universe and falling repeatedly into the traps that worldview sets for me, over and over again. I want to be with God, stay with God, truly recover from my upbringing and be a recovered atheist, not an eternally recovering one, rather than spending most of my time in relapse or struggling against it. I want to be free, God. Free the captive!

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My Journey with Jonah Br u c e A nto nof f

I went on a journey with Jonah last year. We traveled six months, or perhaps it was seven. I doubt he even knew I was there, but he took me to places I had never imagined. We began from a place where God was predictable. God was limited: He had limited Himself by the laws She had made Herself: the physical laws of space and motion, the moral laws of justice and compassion. We then traveled to a place of tension, a place where God could be truthful or compassionate, but not both. If God promises doom, is our repentance reason enough to break the promise? Truth or compassion, but not both.

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From there we went to what may be our final destination. In this place, God is neither truthful nor compassionate: God is God, unconstrained by our understanding of truth, compassion, or any other moral value. God will do what God will do to move the Plan forward, and we have no way to know if we can influence God at all. Our only choice is to do what we believe is right, realizing that God will do what God will do.

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Private Time Mo ni c a Ce ll i o

Rabbi Eleazar on concluding his prayer used to say: May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, to cause to dwell in our lot love and brotherhood and peace and friendship … Rabbi Yochanan used to conclude: May it be Thy will …  to gird Thyself with graciousness, and may Thy kindness and gentleness come before Thee. Rabbi Alexandri used to conclude: May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, to station us in an illumined corner and do not station us in a darkened corner, and let not our heart be sick nor our eyes darkened! —  Ba b ylo ni a n T a l m u d, B’rachot 16b God, it’s just You and me now. There have been lots of words, lots of intention, lots of voices — but now we can sit down together for a moment. Well, You’ll sit and I’ll stand, since that’s what “­amidah” means. Has it really been more than a decade already? Thank You so much for being there, for welcoming this stranger into Your holy congregation. Thank You for tolerating my bumbling Hebrew and my profound, unanswerable questions and my awkwardness in a new community with its unwritten rules. Thank You for letting me be me in the place I now know I belong.

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It’s just us now in these quiet moments, and I feel my soul finally stirring, thinking about speaking. The mouth has been doing all the speaking so far, and the mind got carried along for the ride, but what of that raw, pure, barely-formed essence You implant in me fresh each morning? It wants to speak with You now. The soul that You have placed in me is pure, a divine gift. And from the moment I arose this morning I’ve been taking it for granted. Please let this day be different. The mind can stop worrying — it’s been more than a decade, the Hebrew comes more easily now, and these are my friends — and You accepted me from the beginning, even if it took me a while to realize that. Yes, it is time for the mind and the mouth to shut up, to let the soul have her time. How do we — You, me, and the soul within me — bring that soul out into the open? I feel she has much to teach me if I could but learn to listen. So please, God, while it’s just You and me here, teach me to hear the song of my soul, and to know what nourishment she needs to thrive, and how to let her out into the world. God, it doesn’t have to be just You and me now, right?

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Copyright Š2011 Temple Sinai Published by Temple Sinai’s Neshama Center for Jewish Spirituality, Kol Ha-Neshama is an arts and literary journal created to showcase the talents and ideas of the Temple Sinai community. Writers, poets, photographers, and graphic designers with an interest in Jewish spirituality are encouraged to submit their work for consideration to the editor at Comments about this issue are also welcome. The Neshama Center is grateful to Amy Kellman and the Program Enhancement Fund of Temple Sinai for generously funding the publication of this issue of Kol Ha-Neshama. Ben Wecht Editor Rick Landesberg Design Kreider Printing Printing Typeset in Arnhem and Hebrew Graphic One E Printed on Rolland Opaque 30% post-consumer recycled fiber

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Kol HaNeshama, Volume 2  
Kol HaNeshama, Volume 2  

Temple Sinai is a Reform Jewish congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism....