L’Shana Tova

This year I was lucky to return to the Mendocino coast for Rosh Hashana services at the wonderful Mendocino Coast Jewish Community, led by the always inspiring Rabbi Margaret Holub. She invited me to do a teaching this year, and I responded with a poem I wrote on the coast about twenty years ago:

The Afternoon Before the Day of Atonement

I thought I was going to see the seals
asleep on the rocks, but it turned out
the cormorant was the real show, wrestling
a twisting length of eel, persistently
untwisting with its beak to swallow it whole.
Then, as I watched, uncertain whether
I’d seen eel or kelp straighten and slide
down the long bird throat, speared its beak
into the surf and did it again,
unmistakably eel, writhing
for its life, no match for the skilled
beak-tossing cormorant. Continue reading “L’Shana Tova”

Words don’t come quickly to me

Yesterday I listened as my favorite spiritual leader, Margaret Holub, struggled for words of consolation after the Pittsburg shooting. She said that words didn’t come quickly to her, and I reflected that anyone to whom words came in facile way after a such a rift in the social fabric would be a charlatan. That online meeting we were a part of was faltering, baffled.

It’s hard to get in touch with grief when the fabric that binds us is stretched so taut that random attacks against schoolchildren, worshipers, politicians who don’t agree with you becomes routine. After all, the unrelenting business of life goes on; you still have to floss your teeth, eat, be somewhere on time.

I think what consoles in these moments is touch, candlelight, song—the primitive ways we come together as human animals in a world that contains darkness beyond words. Taking an extra moment to hold those you love close.

So here’s a song by Aly Halpert:

And last night, thinking about what poem might help, I came up with this:

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

Continue reading “Words don’t come quickly to me”

Sin Buffet

The services at Mendocino Coast Jewish Community Center are uniquely meaningful, thanks largely to Rabbi Margaret Holub. Margaret brings a transcendent spirituality to the services and innovation to the rituals. The singing, the harmonies, the relevance of the sermon, are all a contrast to what I grew up with. This year, I was lucky to attend Rosh Hashana services, which include the blowing of the shofar, a primitive blast of the ram’s horn.

This is something I loved even in the interminable, boring suburban services of my childhood. After then there is “the dreaded and anticipated sin buffet,” which has evolved over the years as an addition to the traditional ritual of “tashlik,” in which you take the debris and detritus of the old year, and cast it into the sea.

For the sin buffet, Margaret collects ideas over time and writes little cards, with cups of panko breadcrumbs in front of each. (Originally she wrote multiple slips of paper for each sin, and put them in paper cups, but as sins multiplied, the presentation evolved, too.) You walk around the table, contemplating the sins listed, take some crumbs from the ones that apply particularly to you and put them in your pocket. Then you go down to to the ocean and toss them in. It’s a way to focus on what you need to work on in the coming year. Here is what it looks like, and some sample sins:









As you can see, there’s something for everyone. I love the idea of reviewing possible sins, and selecting the ones that resonate. And if you don’t see anything that applies to you, you can always choose this one, a cup particularly full of crumbs: