Tag Archives: meditation

Reflections on a Wall

by David Drimer (Kingston, NY)

Every time I visit Jerusalem, it feels like the first time.

There is a force, a powerful magnet, always drawing me to the Kotel. No matter what prosaic thing I may be doing in the city, it’s always on the fringes of my consciousness. As I wander the streets of the Old City, inching ever closer, the pull becomes stronger.

As much for this reason as for any other, this is the essence of why I make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem every few years.

Finally, I approach the Wall in silence, if not awe. I enter the Plaza and move closer, keenly aware of those around me. Immediately I put my forehead against the Wall, my hands above my head, feeling the heat of the rock. I instantly marvel: “How many tens of thousands – hundreds of thousands – of my Jewish forebears have prayed here in this very spot?” Suddenly, I am – as I once titled a poem – “alone amongst them.”

Candidly, my thoughts quickly turn introspective and soon lead to grief. I unbury my personal pain, the pains of my loved ones, the pains of the world. I consider each in turn. My emotional response is far from unique. As David Wiseman wrote for the Israel Forever Foundation, “If tears could melt stone, the Kotel wouldn’t be standing.”

I bring little notes of prayer to place in the Wall. One is to my mother Doris/Devorah Leah (z”l), the other is to my father Gideon/Moishe Gidon (z”l). What I know of unconditional love, I first learned from my mother. She was sick for a long time, suffering in acute pain daily for many years. I have often looked for meaning in her suffering. I have still not found it. On my father’s 90th birthday, his last, I wrote him a card that said, “Whenever I have a tough ethical decision to make, I think, ‘What would my father do?’” It was true then. It remains true to this day. It’s a hard path. It has cost me. These are the mysteries of life, my road to travel. I consider the totality of their lives and speak my heartfelt prayers to them partially aloud, but sotto voce.

In this quiet period of meditation, I ask for guidance in solving my and my family’s problems, guidance on how to be a better man, a better father, a better husband. I seek guidance on how to best serve the interests of the Jewish community. It’s my career, it’s my calling, my hope is to do it the best I can. My single biggest remaining ambition is to bring my and my wife’s hopes for our Holocaust Awareness Initiative to full fruition. I pray unabashedly for help.

Time spent at the Kotel sobers me up a little. I start to breathe easier and become more cognizant of the peace of the place, more aware of the simple grandeur of this plain stone wall, a literal wreck for thousands of years.  I begin to sense relief. I have put down my burdens.

I finally remember to pray for the Mets to win the World Series. It can’t hurt. (NOTE: It didn’t work; eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.) I don’t bother with the Jets anymore. That ship sailed long ago.

My feelings now drift towards an increasing feeling of serenity and joy. Look at this amazing place. This phenomenal tradition. The spiritual power of this Wall calls people of many religions to dip their toes in the waters of Judaism.

I no longer think of myself as an especially “spiritual” person. Figuratively, I’m the man who blocks the door, while others behind me pray, at least temporarily but blissfully unaware of the looming threat of the outside world. I choose to be alert while others seek transcendence.

But in this place, just before we greet Shabbos, its transcendental for me, as well. It has also been written, again by Mr. Wiseman, “If hopes and dreams could make these stones fly, there would be a wall floating around somewhere in space.”

Eventually – I have no idea how much time has passed – I turn away.  The women of the wall (“My women of the wall”) have yet to emerge. I learn later my daughter went back to pray twice. My wife, who lost her mother just one year ago, finally emerges teary-eyed. I know precisely what she was praying about. But they are tears of joy. Her mother was a remarkable, powerful woman. My wife is the living embodiment of her mother’s very strong Jewish values. Ina Frey/Chaya Tsura (z”l) looms over our lives every day.

We leave, refreshed. Renewed. Reinvigorated. More inspired by our faith than when we entered. We exit the Plaza more committed to our cultural imperatives of Tzedakah (Charity) and Tikkun Olam (Repair the World).

Such is my “tongue’s poor speech,” as the 11th century Spanish Jewish poet Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote, on praying at the Western Wall.

David Drimer is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Ulster County (UCJF) and a co-founder of the National Holocaust Awareness Initiative (NHAIonline.org). He had been national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, (ZOA), and Associate Publisher/General Manager of the Forward newspaper. He had been a longtime executive and publisher at Knight Ridder newspapers and the Economist Group. He was recently named a Human Rights Commissioner by the Ulster County legislature. He also serves on the Ulster County Task Force for Preventing and Responding to Domestic Terrorism.

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Peel Away to Dust

—a pantoum after Psalm 103, verses 6-16

by Donna Spruijt-Metz (Los Angeles, CA)


by making order—and rituals

of passing 

and there’s the fear of it.

By making order I am lifted—rites

of YOUR presence—

the fear of it—

the haunting stop

of YOUR presence

gentling me. Time—and yet

the haunting—stop—

I am blindfolded by my hands

as YOU gentle me—time—

the moving into—yet

my hands

along the walls of YOUR compassion

are absolute—yet 

the ghost persists, spirits me

along the walls of YOUR compassion—

fumbling YOUR fabled kindness.

I touch it, hungry

spirits peel—fragile—

as I fumble in YOUR kindness

YOU lift humiliation, my concerns—

peels me fragile,

frightened desertion. 

Unlock concerns

and dust feels pain.

I remember every desertion, 

going to dust

I am dust and dust feels pain

as I fertilize YOUR fields.

I, willful, mourn going to dust.

Wind passes through us all—moves us on.

I bless, fertilize YOUR fields

tonight, light, buoyed.

A few words from the author on the poem “Peel Away to Dust“–
For years, on most Thursday nights I have gathered with a group of friends to study psalms using a process called ‘Lectio Divina,’ borrowed (and morphed) from the traditional Christian monastic practice. Often these musings lead to poems. The repetition in the pantoum form helped me to express my halting approach towards the holy.

Donna Spruijt-Metz is a poet, a psychology professor, and a recent MacDowell Fellow. Her first career was as a classical flutist. She lived in the Netherlands for 22 years and translates Dutch poetry to English. Her poetry and translations appear in Copper Nickel, RHINO, Poetry Northwest, the Tahoma Literary Review, the Inflectionist Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbooks are ‘Slippery Surfaces’ (Finishing Line Press) and ‘And Haunt the World’ (a collaboration with Flower Conroy, Ghost City Press). Camille Dungy (Orion Magazine) chose her forthcoming full length ‘General Release from the Beginning of the World’ (January 2023, Free Verse Editions) as one of the 14 Recommended Poetry Collections for Winter 2022. She gets restless. Her website is https://www.donnasmetz.com/

And here’s a link to Donna’s debut collection, which will be released on January 1, 2023: https://www.amazon.com/General-Release-Beginning-World-Spruijt-Metz/dp/1643173510

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Meditation and Organic Torah: The Missing Link

by Natan Margalit (Newton, MA)

“Narcissistic navel gazing” was an accusation thrown around a lot when meditation and other forms of spiritual practice started making inroads into Jewish communities a couple of decades ago. Now, a lot of us meditate, and far from taking Jews away from the traditional Jewish emphasis on community, tzedakkah, and social justice, Jewish meditation has greatly enriched our lives.

And yet, anyone who meditates knows that it often is a struggle to connect our spiritual practice with the rest of our lives. I try to meditate in the morning. Actually, I do my own combination of davenning (Jewish prayer) and meditation. It usually isn’t a transcendent experience, but it can get me to slow down, feel my body, breathe, accept myself for a few moments before I start rushing around trying to solve my problems — or the world’s. On a good day, I get a feeling of something that, on reflection, I might call presence, or even Presence. But all that quickly gets swept away once I come downstairs and face the music: The kids need to get to school on time but Nadav won’t put on his clothes and Eiden wants to play baby dinosaur. I’d love to play with them but instead I’m aggravated because I need to rush them off to school and myself off to work. Maybe it’s just the dynamic rhythm of life: a time to meditate, a time to dress the kids, a time to make a living — to everything there is a season.

But I think that’s not the whole story.

We live in a society and economy that kills Presence more than it needs to. Let me go on with more tales of my mornings: some mornings after I come downstairs I can escape the chaos in the house for a moment by doing one of my favorite chores: taking out the compost. Putting the compost on the pile and covering it up with dry grass clippings, I take note of how it’s doing. It’s like cooking — is there too much liquid, or is it too dry? How does it smell? Like rich, plant-nourishing compost or still yucky? I’m checking its progress from last week’s rotting food scraps to fertilizer for our garden, and in a couple months, more veggies for our table. It’s a mundane but also magical cycle that always amazes me. And it reminds me of what most people say when they are asked where they feel spiritually connected: “in nature.” And it’s true. There is something about the patterns of nature that inexplicably affects our consciousness. Perhaps it’s that everything is connected and nothing is wasted. Nature is a set of cycles and patterns that bring us back to Presence and the Oneness beneath all existence. So composting can feel like a continuation of my meditation.

But, most people don’t compost. The default in our society is tossing it. Out of sight and out of mind. And it does something to our spirit as well as the world when we cut off our minds from the natural cycles. Go to YouTube (or the sidebar of the Organic Torah blog) and check out the short video The Story of Stuff. It powerfully illustrates how our economy is all about a linear fantasy that we can take all the resources we want from somewhere, use them up and dump the waste into an infinite somewhere else. This is the Industrial Age worldview that gets us to rush around in work schedules more suited to machines than to people. Family and community take a back seat to production and GDP.

When I compost valuable organic matter (last night’s dinner scraps) instead of tossing “waste” I’m also keeping a bit of Presence in my life. It not only helps reduce the size of the landfill, but it also expands the breath of my soul. OK, but beyond composting, how can we connect more to Presence in our work and daily lives? Where can we start shifting the structure of our lives to include more natural patterns?

I get at least part of the answer when I do my combination davenning/meditation in the morning. When I think of patterns in daily community life, I think of a little quote from the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 127a) that comes right near the beginning of the daily morning blessings. “These are the things of which a person eats their fruit (the yield, or reward) in this world, and the principle (Hebrew: keren, horn) remains for him/her into eternity: honoring father and mother, acts of loving kindness, arriving early to the study house in the morning and evening, welcoming guests, visiting the sick, supporting (a poor) bride, attending to the dead, concentration in prayer, making peace between people. And the study of torah is equal to them all.”

The daily rhythm of saying these words (and the Hebrew does have a beautiful, poetic rhythm to it) reinforces actions that we as individuals can do to strengthen the natural rhythms and patterns of community. The seemingly mundane actions mentioned in the Talmud — honoring parents, visiting the sick, helping out at a wedding, or welcoming guests — recognize the patterns of communal life. These actions, and actions like composting, strengthen those patterns at their most vulnerable and fragile points: the relationship between generations, the cycles of birth and death, and the easily frayed fabric of community. Underlying and emerging from all these actions is the torah. It is “equal to them all” because it enables us to reflect on them together as one interlocking whole. The Sages said about the torah: “turn it and turn it, for all is in it,” because the torah is but another level of the weave of life in which nothing is wasted.

We can do a better job of connecting our meditation and spiritual practice to our daily lives, but we have to realize that the cards are stacked against us. The dominant culture and economy are still operating on a mechanical model that keeps us running away from Presence, away from the patterns that lead us to the One. In order to spread that sense of Presence beyond the sitting cushion and throughout our lives we need a more organic model of daily life. For that, the (organic) torah is a good place to start.

Natan Margalit was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, studied Anthropology at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, made aliya, and studied for many years in Israeli yeshivot. He received rabbinic ordination at The Jerusalem Seminary in 1990 and earned a Ph.D.  in Talmud from U.C. Berkeley in 2001.  He has held teaching positions at Bard College , the Reconstuctionist Rabbinical College and the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Boston.
Natan is Director of Oraita, a program of continuing education for rabbis of Hebrew College , as well as spiritual leader of The Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life, in Western Connecticut .  He is President of Organic Torah, inc. a non-profit organization which fosters holistic thinking about Judaism, environment and society. He has written and taught for many years on Judaism and the environment, innovative approaches to Jewish texts, Jewish mysticism and spirituality, and gender and Judaism. He lives in Newton, MA with his wife Ilana and sons, Nadav and Eiden.
This piece first appeared on Organic Torah’s website (http://organictorah.org/) and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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