Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sukkot: Fragile Dwelling Place


“The land of Israel is not rich in water
resources. . . For this reason, a special
prayer for rain was inserted into the
[Sukkot] service. Since the rainy season
starts approximately at Sukkot, it was
the appropriate time to pray for rain.
Jews are realists. One prays for rain
during the rainy season, not during
the dry summers. One walks across
water by stepping on rocks . . .”

-- Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way


Hail and Rain just before Sukkot I saw the full moon of Sukkot, Season of Our Joy, rising over the mesa in the east, into the white and misty clouds of hail that had just fallen over Freedom Ridge Ranch and was now falling out toward the Red Hill and Cimarron Mesa.  On the ground by the roses, on the porch, and over on the cabin and barn roofs, drifts of pellet-sized hail lay, melting slowly into the waters running off of the hills and mesas, downcutting into rills, rapids and even falls, as they sang their way down to Red Hill Draw.


There will be no Sukkah at Freedom Ridge Ranch tonight.Double Rainbow Between Storms Rain was still falling intermittently as Tippy and I picked our way across to check the chickens, jumping across a stream and its smaller tributary, both coming down from the dirt tank west of the barn. The other dogs were not the least bit interested in leaving the shelter of the living room. They were shell shocked from lightning, thunder, downpour and then hail. A sudden appearance of the setting sun lit up a rainbow over Freedom Ridge, and then curtains of rains covered it again, until the clouds passed to the east and the moon rose into them.


In the pattern of the Holy Days this year, building a Sukkah was called due to rain. The damage to the landscape, the flooding, the car bottoming out in standing water in Red Hill Draw by the shipping pens, all these things together made the typical Sukkot not only difficult, but unimaginable. Sukkot celebrates not only the Ingathering Harvest, the last of the Israeli year, but it also commemorates the years of wandering in the desert. It is a reminder of the fragility and impermanence of life.  

For so many people in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, this impermanence is very real, as they realize what the floodwaters took, and clean up what is left, much of the stuff of their lives washed away like the stuff of our hillsides, roads and driveways. Normal life will not come for weeks or even months for friends of ours who live in Coal Creek Canyon. There house is high and soggy, but they will not see a return of drinking water and natural gas for a long while. They know the fragility of their dwelling place on real terms this Sukkot.

For us, the damage is in a bottomed out car, washed out roads and rilling and gullying in our harsh but fragile landscape. We’ve come through lightly, really. But on another level, we are also confronting impermanence without the need to build a Sukkah this year. Although this is now our permanent dwelling here at Freedom Ridge Ranch, we are in the midst of completing repairs requested by the buyers of the house up in Sedillo, the beautiful house we both thought would be our last. And we are buying a casita, a small and comparatively inexpensive house on a hill north of the Sedillo house a good ten miles by road.

The casita will be a place for the Cowboy to live while he finishes his degree and certifications in welding and metal technology. It will be a place for me to stay this fall and next spring, as I focus intensively on finishing my coursework so I can take my comprehensive exams. It will be a place for the Engineering Geek to land when he comes up to Albuquerque and Sandia Labs on business, for he has contracts that require his intermittent presence. It will not be home. But we will be back and forth between home and not-home a lot, all of us. And while this is the case, we hope to be completing the additions and renovations that will make the ranch house uniquely ours.

Our dwelling place will be most fragile and impermanent this year. Like our ancestors, who had to wander in the wilderness until they understood what freedom really requires. 

“As Jews moved into exile, they understood
what the Sukkah had always taught them: G-d
is not fixed; G-d is everywhere. After the
Exodus, Israel went into the desert to meet
its lord. Later, the favor was returned by
G-d, who went with them into exile, into
the travail of history. Jews learned that the
Shekhinah (Indwelling Presence) was with them
in times of exile and wandering.”

    --Rabbi Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way

I miss the Sukkah already. The fragrant fall odors of Etrog and s’chach; the moonlit nights in the Sukkah, and the warm Shabbat afternoons. All the delights for the senses, the celebration of the harvest. But this year, with all of our life so impermanent, with our family scattered hither and yon, the reminder of the fragility of life, the shaky nature of shelter in the autumn wind is being delivered another way. Like so many of our friends and neighbors, undone by the Great Southwest Flood of 2013, we don’t need the Sukkah to remind us of these things. Our life is fragile enough. As Rabbi Greenberg reminds us:

“Until the world is redeemed from slavery,
Jews are on an Exodus journey; perforce
they are in, but not really of,the society
and culture they inhabit. Jews can con-
tribute without really accepting the
system. The tremendous effort to parti-
cipate led to Jewish integration into the 
host culture. Then the Sukkah reminded
them to push on. There were miles to go,
on the Exodus way . . .”

-- The Jewish Way

Mother Nature has completed the traditional Water-Pouring, Tevillah, that used to take place on the first night of Sukkot during the days of the Second Temple. She even through in some ice to go with the fiery lighting. And now life itself, and the way it works, is bringing us to a new understanding of impermanence.

Life is a fragile thing, and we shake like a Sukkah in the autumn winds. Yet like the Sukkah, we generally manage to remain standing. Through fire. And water. And ice.
There is a toughness to us as well. It gets us through hard times and makes us too stiff-necked to bow down to what our hands have made.

That is the point of the Exodus journey. Freedom isn’t free. It takes time and an understanding that idolatry is not compatible with our liberty. The adventure has been worth the cost, as we are reminded again each Sukkot what is important and what is not.

Our spirits have a fragile dwelling place, a body that bends and sometimes breaks. But we also have Shekhinah, reminding us that beyond all the fragility, something of us is strong and mighty.

Chag Sameach. Happy harvest!


Monday, September 16, 2013

High Holy Days 5774:Who Causes the Wind to Blow and the Rain to Fall

Ordinarily, on Shemini Atzeret--the eighth day of lingering--at the end of Sukkot, we add t'filat ha-geshem--the prayer for rain--to the Amidah, which is the standing prayer in the daily services.  It is considered bad luck when the rains come early, and make it difficult to dwell in the Sukkah--the harvest booth--as is commanded during the Feast of Ingathering Harvest.

 Geshem continues to be said across the winter until the spring Festival of Pesach is celebrated, when the summer blessing for Tal--Dew--is added and Geshem is retired until the next Sukkot Holiday. This corresponds to the seasons of Israel, wet in the winter and dry in the summer. 

This year. even as the Holy Days came early in the solar year, Rosh Hashanah starting on the evening of the 4th of September, so too did the rains come early. Or in our case, the monsoon stayed late, making holiday travel as difficult for Jews in Catron County, New Mexico, as it was for the Jews of Judea in the days of old when farmers were expected to build their Sukkot on the hills surrounding Jerusalem.

We had planned to attend High Holy Day Services in Flagstaff, at the little Heichal ba-Oranim synagogue, where we had gone last year. I was looking forward to finally being able to join that congregation, now that the house in Sedillo is under contract, and we are able to make the necessary contributions. We have been without a home synagogue for more than a year, and we were looking forward to making a commitment and enjoying a pleasant holiday in a very haimish shul

Alas, it was not to be. As September came, a new and very wet monsoon plume settled over the Southwest. Predictions of thunderstorms and flash floods became a daily reminder that our roads could become impassible in no time at all.

 Rosh Hashanah itself was partly cloudy, but the threat of rain made us decide to stay home lest we not be able to get back should the rains come.  We had a festive meal with all of the traditional foods on Erev Rosh Hashanah, and we prayed the evening service on the porch.
 The next morning, we again prayed on the porch, the sun dancing with the clouds as I proclaimed: Ha-yom harat olam!  This is the day of the world's birth! And the Engineering Geek blew the intricate set of Shofar calls three times: once for Creation, once for Memory, and once for Revelation. The sound of the Shofar rang out across Freedom Ridge, and the horses raised their heads, the dogs barked, and the cows began lowing. The hawk soared and circled on the wind, unconcerned. 

In the afternoon, we did leave for a drive around Big Lake, where the EG and my nephew skipped stones on the water after we cast our bread upon them in the ancient and fanciful ceremony of Tashlich, a casting away of the old and inviting in of the New Year. I have always thought that Tashlich is simply an excuse to take a walk on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, after a long morning service. It began to rain as we drove back along the county road to the ranch. Second day, and thunderstorms near candle-lighting for Shabbat. We missed the Sacred Assembly on the first and second days of the Seventh Month entirely. 

On Sunday after a day of rain, I drove out with the EG behind me in the Dodge Ram in case he had to pull me out. After slipping and sliding down the county road,  I went to Albuquerque for class, and to take care of some business. And on Tuesday, the rain set in there. It rained all day. ALL DAY. A record rainfall. I came home Wednesday, between storms. The road was soft, and there was water in the arroyo, and I drove on the high spots between ruts. Thursday, the rain began in our part of the state, and we knew that there would be no travel to Flagstaff for us. Friday, as I prepared the pre-fast meal, I read about the flooding in Colorado on the internet.

Just before sunset, we invited Yitzak Pearlman to perform Kol Nidre via YouTube.
All vows that we make between this Yom Kippur and the next . . .
Then candle lighting, and the evening service. I sang the parts of the service we could do without a minyan.

 Lightning played across Freedom Ridge as we let the dogs in and began the Al Chet. 
 V'al kulam eloah s'lichot . . . for all these, O G-d of Forgiveness. . . 
and the electric lights flickered along with the candles. A bolt of lighting. Almost simultaneous thunder. And the lights went out, leaving only the flickering candles.  
Lev tahor b'ra-li, elohim . . .create in me a clean heart, O G-d . . . our shadows large upon the eastern wall in the candle light. Sometime in the night, the candles went out and the electricity was restored, but we were sleeping and the next light we saw was a pearly, gray dawn and ragged clouds scudding across the sky, driven by a wet wind. 

We dressed again in white. No leather, no grooming. For the first Yom Kippur day of my marriage, I did not see my husband--Reform Princeling that he is--in a dark suit, starched white shirt and somber tie. As we sat on the couch and read aloud from Climbing Jacob's Ladder: One Man's Journey to Rediscover a Jewish Spiritual Tradition the clouds gathered in the south. "Wind from the South has water in its mouth'\," chanted the EG, as the sky darkened and the rains began.
All that day, as we prayed in the cool, shadowy living room in stocking feet, our tallitot wrapped for warmth and the feeling of being enfolded by Shechinah--the Indwelling Presence--the rains came in sprinkles and soft curtains, now and again hiding the Red Hill.

Morning Service.
"Let us proclaim the sacred power of this day:

It is awesome and full of dread . . .
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. . . 
Who by fire, and who by water, who by sword and who by beast . . ."

Additional Service. And a short walk in the sprinkling rain.
Resting on the porch, still well wrapped.
Memorial Service.

Afternoon Service. The Ten Martyrs.
Eili tzion v'areha . . . For Zion and her cities I mourn 
like a mother in her anguish,
 like a woman who mourns the husband of her youth.  
I mourn the exile of the servants of G-d,
makers of sweet melodies,
v'al dama asher shufach . . . their blood poured out like Zion's streams

And all that day the rains fell, weeping like Rachel for her children . . .
For we did not know, cut off in the sacred silence of that day, that in Colorado, in New Mexico, in Catron County, the flood waters were rising, and in the Blue River Canyon on Catron's border with Arizona, people were lifted out by helicopter and brought out on bulldozers. And it rained. And rained.

Neilah. The Closing of the Gates. 

"This is the house of G-d.
This is the gate of heaven . . . 

El norah alila . . . G-d of awesome deeds, 
grant us pardon . . . b'sh-at neilah . . . as the gates begin to close.
Avinu malkenu . . . let the gates of heaven be open to our prayer . . .
let the new year be a good year for us . . . make an end to all oppression
upon us . . .be our help. 

And the rain stopped. And we stopped to say the blessing for the Rainbow
 as the last rays of the setting sun shone across our valley.
". . . zocher ha-brit . . . who remembers the covenant . . .

Seu Sha-arim roshechem . . . Lift up your heads, O Gates!
Ha-shem, hu ha-elohim. . . 
Seven times and the last long blast of the Shofar.
We thought of it happening hour after hour as the world turned from day to night.
All those at the Wall.


"Blessed is the One who separates the holy from the ordinary,
light from darkness, the House of Israel from among the peoples. . ."
And the candle is extinguished in the sweet wine, the taste of which is on our lips.
And the lamps are lighted.

". . . who brings forth bread from the earth . . ."

Sweet round challah with raisins. 
Cream cheese.

We broke the fast, and eating and drinking, we once again consider the goodness of the ordinary riches of our lives. 
"For I saw how good it is for [man], and beautiful, to eat and drink and know goodness for all his work that he does under the sun . . ."  

We had good holidays. It was still beautiful and filled with meaning that we made, though we missed the beauty of being in the midst of the holy congregation.
But the rains kept us off the roads and in our home. 

We made the best of it and we did well. 

We are soggy, and today I bottomed out the car in the arroyo, and had to have it towed because the box that monitors emissions and engine codes came loose. 
We have rutted roads, a few wash-outs, and full streams.
But no helicoptors or bulldozers.
We have electricity.
We are well.

It's raining again.

The water-pouring of Shemini Atzeret comes a little early.
Blessed is the One who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.

We wanted rain and we needed rain. 
Everything is green, even as the Aspens are beginning to turn gold.
But maybe, just maybe, it's time to build an ark? They need one in Colorado, Northern New Mexico, and on the Blue River.
What's a cubit . . . 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9-11: She Stands


9-11 Never Forget


I will never forget that day. It marked me just as surely as Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg and Valley Forge have marked previous generations of Americans.


9-11 Second PlaneI close my eyes and I see the images: 
A tower burning in a clear, blue September sky.
An airplane flying into a building.
People falling along the side of a building.
Towers falling, one floor into another.
People running through what were once streets.  
Papers falling from the clear blue September sky.
All in silence. Like a dream.


firefightersraiseamericanflagamidsrescueAnd out of the dust and ashes, I see the image: 
She stands.
“Just when you think it might be over
Just when you think the fight is gone
Someone will risk his life to raise her
There she stands  . . .”
I remember this as if I had been there.


Freedom Tower Spire Raised II Twelve years. And the tears still come. 
We are wounded in spirit. 
For a clear September sky still evokes
the frozen images as if no time had passed. 
But through the tears we see another rising
to a new and taller stand.
For Americans still rise to greatness, and there she stands. . .


Freedom Tower Under Construction There she stands.
It took longer than expected.
And we look back and count the cost.
1776 feet she rises,
There she stands. (2)
The greatest monument to American dead
is to rebuild the alabaster cities of their dreams.
Out of the rubble, we raise them up:
higher, prouder, stronger than before.
She stands.

9-11 Flag in Rubble When evil calls itself a martyr
When all your hopes come crashing down
Someone will pull her from the rubble
There she stands.
Both of them--
the flag and the Freedom Tower (3)
we raise to remind ourselves of
who we are
and to what we commit ourselves.



Freedom Tower Alabaster City

“Oh, beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years.
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears. . .” (4)

Click through to see a time-lapse video of the rise of the Freedom Tower. (3)

1. There She Stands by Michael W. Smith
2. My words in the spirit of There She Stands, with apologies to Michael W. Smith.
3. I know they changed the name, but for me, it is and will always be Freedom Tower.
4. America the Beautiful by Katherine Lee Bates.