Bob Schwartz

Category: Holidays

The Book of Ruth: Ivanka and Jared, Donald and Charles

It was reported that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shavuot this week, though without much other detail given. It would be interesting to know more, given the connection between the holiday and their own current situation.

Shavuot began as an agricultural festival, celebrating the “first fruits” of the harvest season. It evolved into the holiday marking the giving of the Torah. Among the traditions associated with Shavuot is reading the Book of Ruth.

The Book of Ruth is considered one of the literary treasures of the Bible. It is often referred to and analyzed as a short story or novella. What a story it is. A woman and her daughter-in-law are separated by culture and religion but bound together—forever—by family. When their men die, what connects them is stronger than any force that might tear them apart. It is about loyalty, love and faith above all else, through the hardest times. These strong women are not an ancillary sideshow; they are the main event. They alone assure continuity and the future. No wonder it is thought possible that among the biblical books, this one might have been written by a woman.

We expect that Ivanka and Jared, as faithful Jews, read the Book of Ruth this week, but we can’t know what they make of it. Do they also feel that unbreakable obligation that overcomes the greatest adversity and testing? Before the current events, each of them probably faced some difficulties with their respective fathers. Now the stories of Donald Trump and Charles Kushner are entangled through their children. Those children, Ivanka and Jared, might well believe and say to those fathers, as Ruth said to Naomi, “wherever you go, I go.”

For more about Shavuot and the Book of Ruth, see this earlier post.

Born Mothers

Born Mothers

For K, the MOAM

Those born
With a boundless heart
Give and suffer
Even as they sleep
Or don’t sleep
Vowing to make good better
Cruel less cruel
Children or none
All within reach
And the sound of her voice
Are hers.

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Refugees and the Bread of Affliction

Passover begins this evening. As part of the festival, many Jews will be eating the flat dry bread of matzo at seder tonight; some will eat it for the next eight days. Matzo is known as the bread of affliction, commemorating the hardship of slavery and the hardship of the flight to freedom.

As we break bread—flat or otherwise—we might also remember the plight of millions of refugees around the world. To help ease their affliction, we might also consider contributing to UNHCR.

חַג שָׂמֵחַ

Chag sameach.
A joyous festival.

April Is Poetry Month: Be Foolish

April is Poetry Month. April 1 is Fools’ Day.

Be foolish and write poetry
Writing poetry is a fool’s game
Be foolish and read poetry
Reading poetry is a fool’s game
Pointless like a line without a period
Like a game without a score
Start and never stop
Not in May or December
Not next year
It is always a month
For fools like us

American Freedom Seder 2017: Where There’s a Pharaoh There’s a Wilderness

It is still a while until Passover (evening of April 10), but not too early to recommend holding or attending a Freedom Seder this year. Recommended for all people—even if you’re not Jewish, even if you’re not religious. All that’s needed is faith in freedom.

Freedom Seders are a tradition that began in the 1960s, relating the Passover journey to other struggles—race, gender, justice, war, etc. It may be a long way and a long time from Egypt to the Promised Land. But we can get there.

It’s possible you believe there are some special struggles going on right now in America. Which would make it a good time to gather with like-minded friends and family, brothers and sisters, and as a community share a meal and recall that the struggle is never easy or short (and might include some flat, dry bread), but that there is a better nation at the end of the journey. One hopeful, undiscouraged step at a time.

Valentine’s Day: Radical Love

Radical Love

For K

Hannah, Mary
Radical lovers.
Wives, mothers
Asking not asking
For a birth
Offering surrendering
A life for good.

Hannah says
The bows of the mighty are broken
but the faltering are braced with strength.

Mary says
The princes are pulled down from their thrones
and the lowly raised high.

All is as it should be
All is upside down.

Elkanah, Joseph
Husbands, lovers
Stand dumb
Awed and grateful
To be sharing
The better world.

Revelation of the Magi

Magi

An excerpt from the story of the magi as told by the magi:

And (something) like the hand of a small person drew near in our eyes from the pillar and the star, at which we could not look, and it comforted us. And we saw the star enter the Cave of Treasures of Hidden Mysteries, and the cave shone beyond measure. And a humble and kind voice made itself heard by us, which called out and said to us: “Enter inside without doubt, in love, and see a great and amazing vision.” And we were encouraged and comforted by the message of the voice. And we entered, being afraid, and we bowed our knees at the mouth of the cave because of the very abundance of the light. And when we rose at its command, we lifted our eyes and saw that light, which is unspeakable by the mouth of human beings.

And when it had concentrated itself, it appeared to us in the bodily form of a small and humble human, and he said to us: “Peace to you, sons of my hidden mysteries.” And again, we were astonished by the vision, and he said to us: “Do not doubt the vision that you have seen, that there has appeared to you that ineffable light of the voice of the hidden Father of heavenly majesty.”

Revelation of the Magi 12:4-13:1

Revelation of the Magi is written as a first-person account of the visit of the Wise Men, though that is unlikely. The available text is written in Syriac, with the story originating possibly as early as the 3rd century. Long forgotten, an English translation of it can now be found in Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem (2010) by Brent Landau.

Only Candles Only Stars

 

Stars

Only Candles Only Stars

Let there be lights (מארת) in the vault of the heavens … and they shall be lights (מאורת) in the vault of the heavens (Genesis 1:14-16)

All of the lights
On the candles, trees, houses
Beneficial artifice
The best we can do.
Even the stars
Awakening guiding
Are incomplete.

The light that eludes
In the dark cold of winter
Hiding in plain sight.

Light the Icicle

icicles

Happy Hanukkah. Happy Christmas.


The Icicle

A zaddik told:

“On a winter’s day, I went to the bath with the master. It was so cold that icicles hung from the roofs. We entered and as soon as he did the Unification, the bath grew warm. He stood in the water for a very long time, until the candle began to drip and gutter. ‘Rabbi,’ I said, ‘the candle is guttering and going out.’

‘Fool,’ he answered, ‘take an icicle from the roof and light it! He who spoke to the oil and it leaped into flame, will speak to this too, and it will kindle.’ The icicle burned brightly for a good while, until I went home, and when I got home there was a little water in my hand.”

Martin Buber,  Tales of the Hasidim


“People ask, ‘What is the Buddha?’ An icicle forming in fire.”

Dogen Zenji

Syria: Things Fall Apart

I just checked to see how many posts I’ve published about or mentioning Syria. Twenty in the last four years.

Just when you think it couldn’t get worse, it does. When you think that nobody has “the answer” you are proven right. Again.

The oldest of the posts is Can Israel Stop the Syrian Genocide? (“Can Israel stop the Syrian genocide? On its face, the question seems practically preposterous and crazy….But in a world and region that continues to exhibit madness, maybe moments of crazy wisdom are what we need to break through. Because whatever we are doing isn’t working.”)

Of course, Israel wasn’t about to stop the Syrian madness, and hasn’t. Neither have we or any other nation, and neither are we or any other nation sure what to do—not only to stop the madness but to relieve the ongoing dismal and heartbreaking aftermath.

So we watch. It’s not the first time in our lifetimes, or in history, that good people have stood by uncertainly at the sight of spiraling tragedy and could not act or figure out what to do.

William Butler Yeats wrote The Second Coming in 1919, as the madness of World War I was just ended and the madness of the Irish War of Independence was just beginning. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” As Yeats saw it, one cycle was ending in utter darkness, but there was the possibility of light appearing again in history, as it had before.

This is a season of light for many people, but in Syria it is getting darker every day. We will do what we can, but if we and our leaders can do nothing, we can at least keep Syria in our hearts, right next to a burning light.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?