Measured Extravagance

10 April 2004 - 11:35 a.m.

Ethan Zuckerman and The Velveteen Rabbi are urging us to draw attention to the situation in Sudan. To quote TVR quoting Pirkei Avot:

This may seem too far-away, or too huge and terrible, for us to be able to stop it -- but that attitude as good as guarantees that it will continue. As it is written in Pirkei Avot (The Wisdom of the Fathers), it is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it.

NaomiChana, in her post "On Separating," writes:

If asked what kind of Jew I am -- and people do ask me this, more frequently than I would expect -- I am most likely to answer "observant Reform." This is neater than "Reform, but not just by default" or "mostly liberal by politics, mostly traditional by liturgy" or "basically just a Rambam fangirl," all of which I have considered. . .

In the comments, a Buddhist blogger asked about readings that might help "make Judaism seem possible" for his daughter. Since I spent as much time composing my two shekels-worth as I do on my own journal entries, I figured I'd repost it here as Something Clearly On My Mind:

Dale, if you do a search on "Buddhist Jews" and "Jewish Buddhists" on Google, you'll come across a number of book recommendations and articles. For starters, I think this one does a decent job (towards the end) of pointing out that it's not just cultural/ritualistic traditions at stake but fundamental beliefs in the structure of the universe. (It's certainly possible to "change one's conceptualizations" to suit. . .but one also has to be wary of the fine line between conceptualization and too-convenient rationalization. *wry smile*)

FWIW, I've been in a similar position to your daughter for almost two decades - fiercely attracted to Judaism but ultimately not Jewish. As such, I've come to believe that it is possible to be intensely "emotionally and aesthetically tuned into to a tradition" without being able to belong to it (just as it is possible to be very much in love with someone one cannot marry, for instance) - but I do not believe that to be a waste. It is what is - but it still feeds my spiritual and creative life in innumerable ways. (I imagine this may be the case as well for certain interfaith relationships, but others here may be better able to speak to that.)

(Please understand, I'm not at all saying Judaism isn't "possible" for your daughter - hearkening back to NaomiChana's post, there are as many approaches to Jewish observance as drops in the Mississippi River... It's just that, given my own experience - and that of watching friends with far more compelling reasons to convert to Judaism agonize over the discovery that it wasn't possible for them - not from lack of love, not from lack of study, not from lack of encouragement, but because in the end there were too many opposing elements to reconcile - I felt it important to suggest that your daughter may well be right - but, even more important, that that won't and shouldn't stop her from reading her way through the synagogue library. *smile*)

As it happens, our houseguest this weekend comes from a mixed-faith family (some of its members are Jehovah's Witnesses; he and his father are not), and is married to a Jewish physicist who, as he put it, "observes the holidays that have meaning for her." He and the Beautiful Young Man are currently out gallivanting through the back roads of Davidson County; me, I'm lazing on my sofa admiring the African violets a client sent to me as a "thank you." In a few minutes I'm going to shower and cook up something for my own breakfast, and then go up to my easel, and after that I'm hoping to work on some articles and poems.

It feels so very luxurious not having to be anywhere today!

Last night, easing into sleep, I marked the passages I liked best in R.T. Smith's messenger. From "Hardware Sparrows":

. . .yet they soar
to offer, amid hardware, rope

and handyman brochures,
some relief, as if a flurry
of notes from Mozart swirled

from seed to ceiling, entreating
us to set aside our evening
chores and take grace where

we find it, saying it is possible,
even in this month of flood,
blackout and frustration,

to float once more on sheer
survival and the shadowy
bliss we exist to explore.

From "Twister":

. . .Nervous as spiders
when Isaiah said their names,
we listened to chaos scouring
the earth and prayed
for the angel to leave us
admonished but unmaimed.

And, from "H A N G M A N ":

. . .The world
is less stable than a scaffold.
Then the first spatter of rain
dispels the constellations.

No stars, no names but blurry
night, and I am sentenced again
to earth. I come down counting
my blessings, bone by weary bone.

One year ago, I linked to a Martin Espada poem "in praise of Local 100," which perished on September 11:

Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

(Poetry Daily purges their archives after a year. "Alabanza" is from this collection.)

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