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Tag Archives: judaism

Once Upon a Time, on a Board

This is a small story. It so happened that, for a short time, my wife (I still can’t say “late wife” and suspect I never will) and I were on the board of The Jewish Federation of Brevard and Indian River Counties. My wife and I. That makes this an ancient story as well.

For a short period of time, Lee and I fit that stereotype the world often holds, and holds against, Jews – we were professionals who had our own business and were, seemingly, doing well for ourselves. A stereotype held by much of the non-Jewish world and, in my experience, held onto by many American Jews as well. As a child, in a temple in Charleston, South Carolina, a city with the oldest reform temple in the United States, there too, not fitting the stereotype, we were reminded, constantly, even I, a student of ten years old, that we were not really members – we were there by the grace of the board and my father laboured weekends on the grounds, on the building, to gain entrance for my brother and I to Hebrew school, and for our tickets to the High Holy Days. But, now, now were were in. We were courted. We were voted onto the board. It didn’t last long.

This came to mind as I was party to a conversation regarding a menorah lighting, for Chanukah, in Viera. It could not be held where it has been for the last few years. In a large rotunda in the middle of a shopping area, two hundred people would be too many. It is a hazard. The Christmas tree lighting, we were told, only attracted sixty-five. Maybe that’s because Christmas trees are everywhere. Christmas is ubiquitous. But one has to strain ones neck, squint ones eyes, ask for field glasses to find a menorah.

That same area has a Night of Lights parade, or called some such thing, that blocks the traffic in several directions, detours people over four miles, results in congestion and accidents. I know this as I was stuck in that traffic, detoured, and crawled past the accidents. They have this every year.

And so someone asked if there was not a Jewish Federation which could speak to this. Perhaps talk to the powers that be and ask them to look at this fairly and logically. Here was my reply.

Brevard and Indian River. Jewish Federation. Unfortunately, that group, and their board, are as filled with hate as many other groups. I used to be on their board and eventually resigned in protest.

Here is that story.

We did much, while were were there, and maybe we were on the board for a year, to build the food pantry and make it accessible to everyone. And to promote the yearly Jewish Festival. After, a visible, welcoming group, a group that opens the door to understanding, even if it chooses to hold on to traditions, is less frightening, less mysterious. Create your own narrative so others don’t create it for you.

Then, at one meeting, charity came up, as it often did. This was after a long discussion about how to make the Federation into something that more people would want to join, and donate yearly, to. Yearly memberships were down. I suggested this was because people felt the Federation wasn’t doing anything for them, was not something that benefited their lives or that they could see benefited the lives of others. What were we doing so that people could see their money was being used well?

The discussion moved from that to making calls to past members, instead of just letters. That would do it, was the thought. That would increase donations.

Then, charity. A request to have a fundraiser for a charity in Israel. An open ended charity. No specific plan for the money. They would do with it as they saw fit when the need arose.

I asked if there was not at least a focus for the charity. Medical? Educational? Why did I want to know?

Why? I wanted to make sure the charity, our money, wasn’t going to be building houses in the West bank, or buying ammunition. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be used to shoot Palestinians.

I recall there were twelve people on the board. I recall being stated at intensely, quizzically, unbelieving, by at least four. Then, a reply. “Why? It’s not like they’re people.”

I do not recall what Lee said. (Here I am tempted to say, “She of blessed memory,” as is cuswakemeuptom, but I do not want her laughing at me.) I do not recall because I was shocked and collecting my own thoughts but I remember she spoke at length, angrily, with heart, and tore into them in a way, considering their faces, they were not accustomed. We resigned that night.

At the core, here, I believe is a problem with what it means to be Jewish. And not just for me, but what it really means. Chosen. Not chosen because we are better. Not chosen to hold our noses high. Chosen by God, if you believe in such a thing, because we can do the hard work of bringing Tikkun to the world. Tikkun Olam. To make a heaven of Earth. To collect the shards of kindness into which the world has been shattered and bring them back together to recreate the vessel of heaven. Right action, Buddhists call it. Repair the world. Which is why a Jew should stand up for everyone. Which is why Jews were at the forefront of civil rights, why there are six Jews listed among the dead on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery. Freedom Riders. Which is why Rabbi Heschel marched to Selma right next to Martin Luther King. Which is why we should not be for war. Which is why we should stand against poverty, against violence, disenfranchisement, and hate of all kinds, against all people. Tikkun is worth giving your life for.

This stand, and such is the pity, does not make me welcome in many temples. It often leaves me feeling lonely not just as a Jew in the United States, but also among my own tribe. And while I do not necessarily believe in God, or a god, I hold that concept in my heart. Tukkun Olam.

And that is a story from ancient history.

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Posted by on December 17, 2016 in Culture, philosophy, Religion, Social

 

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Chanukah

Happy first night of Chanukah to 2.2% of the American population, and me too. I have many many wonderful memories of Chanukkah with my family. They had become sad. Watching Inside Out last night actually let me see those, visualise those memories in a different way. They are now blue and gold.

I was told a slightly alternative version of the story of the oil and the eight days. I was told this by a P’nai Or rabbi, David Zaslow of Ashland, Oregon. In it, God has nothing to do with the oil lasting eight days. Everyone prays for it to, but when the temple is quiet, people sneak in and add small amounts of the little oil they have. The poorest of the poor add what they have, and the temple flame remains lit, and spirit continues to shine. It has been said that God works through those who seemingly have nothing to give, so discount no one, take no one fro granted, feel there is no person without worth. Tikkun – the good works that make a heaven of the Earth. Perhaps there is a god who made us, but it is left to is to make heaven. Up to us to answer prayers.

I was reminded of this today by GiGi, Arlene’s Daughter, who said that there was a Santa Clause. He is all of us, everyone. And I remembered this story.

I won’t be lighting anything. I won’t be saying the prayers. That falls to Sef, my daughter, now. I can’t. It doesn’t feel right. But this still means something to me.

Bless you all. May your lights shine even when there seems to be nothing left. And, if it seems out, may the light return.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2015 in Culture, Family

 

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Win a Copy of my Newest Book : Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin

Want to win a copy of my newest book? Of course you do.  Goodreads is holding a give-away for ten copies. Just click on this link.

From the back-matter:

“Whatever ‘the Jewish experience’ might mean to the modern reader, Adam Byrn Tritt’s approach is uniquely his own. He is ‘observant’ in the sense that he carefully observes, as you would expect of a man who is, at essence, a poet. As a self-described ‘Jewitarian Buddhaversalist,’ he is aware that each tradition illuminates the other. This collection of essays and poems provides us with good talk. Conversation is the highest artform, and Mr. Tritt invites us in most kindly, with insight, erudition, humor, and compassion.”

—Wayne McNeill, author of Songbook for Haunted Boys and GirlsImage

Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin explores—in essays, poems, and creative nonfiction—the tension between cultural heritage and contemporary society, between religion and spirituality, between the family you inherit and the family you create. From early-morning wrestlings with God to portraits of three remarkably different family funerals, from Kabbalist chants at a pagan bookstore to the humorous “What Do Jews Do on Christmas?,” Tritt’s writing taps into themes nearly universal in today’s world in ways that will resonate with readers of all backgrounds and faiths—or no faith at all.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Books, Culture, Family, psychology, Religion, Social

 

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Recognizing Kali in a Young Girl

This is the first poem of mine I had ever heard read aloud. I had wondered about my poetry, whether it was any good or not. Whether it was worthy of publication in any way.  I had been reading the works of my favorite poets, Piercy and Ciardi and Millay, wondering if I would ever like my own work as much. No, I was sure. No.

One late night, after a campfire and dinner with friends, driving from Jonesville back home to Gainesville, Florida, the radio on a local station, we listened to a show with a variety of music and poetry and prose. A poem came on, introduced not at all, without a title, and I listened, mind fixed solidly on the words and rhythm. This, this, I said to Lee, this is what I wish my work sounded like. I wish I could write like this.

A stanza or two in, I said this. Lee elbowed me, said, “but,” and I asked her to let me finish listening to it first. She elbowed me again and said, “That IS your poem.” I believe this was followed by an eye-roll.  And, yes, indeed, it was.

And it was as I wanted it to sound. Said what I wanted a poem to say. I had written something I would want to listen to.

And there went my excuses.

Recognizing Kali in a Young Girl

Sitting here by the side of a two-lane
watching no cars go by
and steam rise in plumes
from the gaping hood of my automobile,
my daughter and I on this lonely shoulder
sitting, waiting for help.
Waiting for assistance.

Standing to stare into the engine
in a testosterone ritual predating cars
and trucks and carriages,
carts and wheels,
I imagine an early progenitor of my gender
staring intently into the mouth of a horse
checking teeth, gums, breath,
looking at the legs and feeling he wanted to kick something
but having no tires available
grabbed the beast’s cannon bone with a sturdy hand,
checking for splints.

Bubbling and boiling,
maybe this car will never move again
and I’ll have no reason to sit within its space
confined with hope of forced conversation with the little girl
too old to want to talk with her father
and too innocent to know why.

Turning away from the beast
I look to the field:
wildflowers blooming
tall, short, colored like air and sun,
water and earth, dancing in the wind
with my daughter, swaying and swirling
with my daughter.

The old rabbis have said,
or so the Hassidic recount,
not a blade of grass grows,
not a leaf falls
that an angel does not make it so.
Classes of angels,
Cherubim, Seraphim,
cloud angels and insect angels,
grass angels and tree angels.
Angels, then, for sunlight and rain
and for home cooking and pizza joints.
Angels for taxes and funerals and sex.
Angels for car engines.
Angels for little girls.

And there she is,
crouching among the blooms,
picking iris and narcissus.
Harvesting angels.

(This poem, along with many others, can be found in various anthologies as well as my own book, The Phoenix and the Dragon: Poems from the Alchemical Transformation (Smithcraft Press), available, along with my other books, Tellstones: Runic Divination in the Welsh Tradition, and Bud the Spud, at your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and elsewhere, for you reading needs, whether you like to hold books in your hands or read them on tablets or phones of Kindles or Nooks or, goodness gracious – so many options.  You can find my author profile on Amazon and please find me as well at GoodReads.)

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Culture, Family, Poetry, Religion, Social

 

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3:10

It is 3:10 ᴀᴍ
And I’m
Wrestling with Hashem
Over matters of love
And propriety,
Over poetry
And the small matter
Of whether he exists.
Hashem states
It is of little consequence
And I say, Hashem,
People fight and die,
Live, love, kill and
Become kind
In your name
And Hashem argues
Atheists do the same
But are, at least,
Honest in their motives.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Culture, philosophy, Poetry, Religion

 

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Fifty Years Earlier

If I were born fifty years earlier
I would sit in a café in Paris,
Trade wit, find work writing copy
And critique, adventure in the arts and love,
Drink dark coffee and absinthe.

I would meet people in occluded rooms,
Crowded stations, and hush
Listen carefully, I will only say this once,
Pass small slips with single names,
Hide men in my attic,
Wonder about tomorrow.

If I were born fifty years earlier
I would say the proper brucha
Each morning, listen to my papa,
Go to yeshiva, study Talmud,
Marry whom I was told.

I would look toward the steppes
And one day see the horses,
My small town in smoke,
My footprints and cart tracks behind me,
Hope for a ticket of passage,
Wonder about tomorrow.

If I were born fifty years earlier
I would go to school
In the town with everyone else,
Shop in the markets,
Consider myself a citizen.

I would one day hear the crashing windows,
See the walls built, the paint flow,
The armbands and the army trucks,
Wonder what we had done,
Avoid the uniforms,
Wonder about tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2008 in Culture, History, Poetry

 

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This I Believe

About two weeks ago, riding in the car with my wife, we were listening to about the only station, locally, anyone is likely to find in our car – NPR. After the story about the upcoming political conventions the series “This I Believe” aired another in its weekly essays. I have written for the project, which can also be found in print, and while I cannot say I listen faithfully or find every one of the essays a treasure, a few stand out. I can remember hearing them and (this is the important part as a writer) they had an effect on me. As a writer, I could not ask for more praise or better praise. The sheer beauty of writing aside, if a work is forgotten, if a reader is not affected, then the sound and glory are nothing.

My favorite is by Penn Jillette and is called “There is no God.” As much a fan of Thoreau as I am, I cannot help but wish he had written this. It seems to be what he was trying to say through much of his time at Walden Pond. The essay is transcendentalism without the deism. It is a wonder of words and I am appreciative.

What we heard that afternoon in the car was by Sufiya Abdur-Rahman and is titled “Black is Beautiful.” It echoed so much of what I had written on the topic of the dark and lonely side of the headlong rush to assimilation and the expectation that we should all want to fit into a homogeneity so stark that we should have trouble telling each other apart. I am not a fan of Hyphenated-American-ism but what is wrong with have identities? I guess I am more a tossed salad American than a melting pot American.

I was moved to write Ms. Abdur-Rahman. It was rather hard to find contact information but I managed to do so by looking her up on MySpace. I sent a note to her from her MySpace profile.

Ms. Abdur-Rahman,.

I am writing to thank you for your essay on NPR.

As a second generation American, it has been my belief we need not be like everyone else to be an American. Indeed, it has been pointed out, and I feel truthfully, the differences among peoples are one of the things that have made this the amazing country it is. I applaud you essay for pointing out we can be, and should remain, who we are at our core.

I am Jewish. I was raised in the North and now live in the South. I have taken my children to see the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery to look upon the names of the heroes there and have pointed to the names of the six Jews next to the rest of those who fought for freedom. I have shown them the my parents took pictures of, when we moved to Miami, that said “No Niggers, Jews or Dogs Allowed.” I have explained that giving up our heritage means giving in. And we held on despite my daughter’s high school beatings for being a dirty Jew, the head start teachers command our son should learn to be a Christian so he can “pass” when he needs to, my own difficulties attaining academic posts because I did not attend the right kind of church.

We moved here during WWII. It was my feeling, after having lost two-thirds of my family, that it would be a slap in their faces to assimilate. My parents though, my grandparents, said “assimilate.” They spoke Yiddish. My parents understood it. I can do neither. Now my daughter, 23, and I are relearning what we lost. We have a long way to go.

Your essay brought the importance of that back to us. I applaud what you are doing and bless you for your struggle.

Adam

Adam Byrn Tritt

Did I get a response? You bet. It was quite a heartfelt note back and I shall not share it here. If you want a note from Sufiya, write her yourself.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2008 in Culture, Family, History, philosophy, Social, Writing

 

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