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happy new year

Shana tova

As you may know, the Jewish day does not begin at midnight. It begins at sundown, every day. Each Sabbath begins on Friday evening, and continues through the night, and the following day, and till the sun has gone completely down on the Sabbath day. In much the same way, our new year does not begin in the dark of winter, but in autumn. We will begin the year 5774 according to the Jewish calendar.

This evening we will mark the first day of Tishrei, the start of our New Year. We celebrate the new year for two days, on Thursday and Friday. And since Saturday is our Sabbath, and always a holy day for us, we are about to enjoy a three day weekend. These are our holy days. This is a time when we celebrate life, look forward to the best of all possibilities, but also begin the ten days of soul searching which reach their peak on the day of atonement. This evening we will begin our feast by dipping bread into honey, and blessing our friends, may the coming year be a year as sweet as honey. For us, the pomegranate, which is a native fruit of the land of Israel, represents the fruitfulness of life, and plenty. The fruit is presented on the holiday table on the second evening of the new year, and we share the fruit.

We believe that this was the day on which Adam and Eve were created. And so our holiday also celebrates all of mankind. Though I know that for most of my readers, this is not their new year’s day, I would like to wish for all of us, as part of the family of man, a year of sweetness and peace, and the joy of learning, and love.

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dangling legs

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Nechama looking out the window, as Noga works on the computer

a study of work and rest

inside or outside

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Nechama looks in

inside or outside, hard to tell.
for I’m outside, looking in, this moment,
but limited by the structure that supports me,
to a symbolic space of outside,
an addendum, as it were,
to the nobility of the inside space.

on blackbird’s return

(response to shadows)

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You see,
what could I add at the bottom of such verse…
to let you know I’d been here
and appreciated your words…
to let you know I sat beside you,
as the fire dwindled…
listening to those embers,
in the quiet space…
all the more quiet,
after you’d finished your words.
Even saying I liked it,
would have been an anti-climax.
The dog didn’t wag his tail.
And you didn’t notice
that I nodded my head in the dark.

the hill top boys

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What I love about her
isn’t what most see, when she walks by
that’s the pleasure of our intimacy
both the passion, and the way she makes me cry

she’s crass and she’s rude
and she’s pushy when she’s in a rush
she can be mean too, when in a bad mood
But she’s a sucker… and lost in a crush

I’ll celebrate her birthday all the same
we’ll eat steaks, grilled on charcoal embers
I’ll lift up my glass, and call her name
it meant something different once, I remember

but together we’ve gone, through good times and bad
I see my faults in her reflection
and when I see them, I get real mad
yet still, I feel that old affection

Passover symbolism

The Passover holiday celebrates the liberation from slavery and the aspiration towards freedom. At first glance, there are so many messages, customs, icons, symbols, and peculiar rules, that one could easily get the impression that the holiday is a reflection of the cultural history of the Jewish people and nothing more. I remember hearing a joke once that claimed that all Jewish holidays are different versions of this simple message: ‘The Jews get into trouble, and the situation looks hopeless. God delivers them from the threat of annihilation. Okay, let’s eat’.

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a sculpture of Jerusalem made of matzas, the unleavened bread.

The primary symbol of Passover is the matzah, the unleavened bread that our forefathers ate when they left Egypt. Bread is the symbol of food in our culture. When we sit down to a dinner, we make a blessing over the bread, and that covers all the blessings until our grace after meals. The word bread is often used to mean food. There is something very special about bread. We prepare the dough, and then let it sit. Whether we use prepared yeast or a starter dough that already contains yeast, or just leave the dough out in a warm environment, it is the process of the yeast slowly turning sugars into carbon dioxide and ethanol which makes the dough airy and causes it to rise. Eventually we get a tasty bread which is light to the palate, and easy to digest. But it is not just the work of man. It depends on invisible agents that enable the preparation of the bread. It is an example of faith in what one cannot see. The yeast themselves are produced in cultures, and bread too is seen as a sign of culture, reflecting the culture of the people who make each particular type of bread.

When the Israelites were told to get ready for the exodus, the preparations included matzas, which were unleavened bread, for sandwiches along the way. The matzah were more concentrated than bread, did not spoil as easily, and did not take much time to make. They were also less tasty.

We all know the desire to prepare the future when we’re about to leave a job, or our parents home, or any safe nest that we may have. It may be very interesting to study the process in which these early Israelites turned from invited guests who were welcomed to make their home in the choicest neighborhoods of Egypt, and gradually lost their initial advantage and were turned into slaves. But that is a subject too complex to study here. Let me just say, that there are certain parallel aspects to enslavement that can be seen on a personal level, on a social level, and in the use of narcotics. And in this archetypical story, we are told that we have to cut the ties, and leave light. Take a simple sandwich with you, and know that you will long for the good things at home, but freedom is greater than all that.

The bible tells us that the Israelites were homesick for the watermelons that they loved in Egypt, and the cucumbers, and the meat. But in the process of their liberation, they were forced to give up old habits, and they chose to prepare a social system which had a foundation of justice, social services, and community responsibility for the weak and the poor.