Lemkin's House

Last night we had a fantastic multifaith panel after the show Lemkin's House by Catherine Filloux. Her play places Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who coined the term genocide, into an afterlife in a house hanuted by some of the genocides that occured after the Shoah. Particularly in Rwanda and Bosnia - and spilling over into the current turmoil in Darfur. On the panel, I was joined by Rev. Chole Breyer, an Episcopal priest and writer for Salon and Imam Talib, the leader of the Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem. I spoke on three things: Genoicide and critiques of genocide in the Torah, Buber's Eclipse of God, and Pharoah's Daughter as the model of 'rescuer' from genocide. Rev. Breyer spoke about Lemkin 'being the other' and being 'the annoying person we are often afraid to be' and Imam Talib, who is writing a book on Darfur, told a Sufi story about a great Quranic teacher who was asked "If you are such a great teacher, than why is the world the way it is?" His answer is "if not for Koran the world would be destroyed." Law can only help us from falling off the cliff. It takes more than law to make us step away from the edge.

The play is strong and well directed and there are even some nice bits of humor - Lemkin's behind the chair puppet show where he chases two spoons with a knife. This is the type of show that you see and the first thought is that every college student in America should see this work.


Poems for the Days of Awe 5767

Old shul in Asbury Park

Old shul in Asbury Park
Blood of Christ Evangelical Church
The mikvah,
Now baptizing
Rosario Mendes
Fourteen years old
Ninth grader
Good in math
Bad skin
The congregation was dying
Not figuratively
Twenty seven funerals in one year
Rabbi Furst again in the Skylark, again with the black suit, Again with his wife "the funeral shoes, not the good ones."
Yes, the soundtrack has changed, but the ruach hakodesh has not left the building.
The choir still sings Halleluyah,
(now to the thump of an electric bass,
praise music they call it)
And the minister stomps his foot on the stage
the same spot grooms once broke cheap thin wine glasses under the chupah.
Forty steps out the fire exit door,
buried four feet beneath the new bar-b-q grill
lies my great-grandmother's rolled up ketubah.
a string tied around the tube,
red, like the one around Rosario's wet pony tail.

High Holiday Supplement

This year's supplement features
Letters from collection agencies
Medical charts
Death notices
Estimates for sewer drain repair
Letters of rejection
Three thousand moronic op-eds from the Wall Street Journal written by Republican party has-beens with overblown titles like 'senior strategic analyst' at think tanks in suburban Virginia with names like heritage, patriot, liberty, or apple pie. Please turn now to the supplement As we read together,
An advertisement from the British Petroleum Corporation
About one of their fabulous new 'green' initiatives
About how they care
For the planet
For the earth
For the future generations
See, they even care enough to present this ad in the color green
And the language sounds like prayer
Why bother with worn-out hymns?
Clunky psalms?
when you can read committee approved,
focus-group tested ad copy like this?

Tikkun Olam

In the zombie movie
When the teenagers discover the house of zombies
And the smart girl runs to a pay phone and calls the cops
And the cops come
And they eat the cops
And then an ambulance comes
And they eat the medics
and right after they suck out the ambulance driver's brains
the zombie guy grabs the receiver of the CB radio,
presses the button and says in that gravely zombie voice:
"Send more paramedics"
And you remember that one line
And say it over and over again
And as it grows,
To be one of those lines that you say to yourself
It is not about zombies
But about that state of the planet,
How we walk around half-dead, sucking the life out of everything, The earth, The animal kingdom, Our fellow humans.
And you imagine yourself as God, enthroned, on high,
looking out over this accident scene,
"send more paramedics."

Second Day of Rosh Hashannah Afternoon

Avinu Malkeinu
Still ringing through his head,
He flips through the channels,
Until he spots the royal purple and gold
(yes, he's a Vikings fan. Long story.)
Do you sit on that throne on high eating Tostitos from a bag? Drinking Budweiser's from a heavenly tall boy can?
Awaiting a turnover or touchdown?
Letting your gas fly at will?
Have compassion on this team.
They have an aging quarterback.
Their special teams aren't so special.
They are already expecting a losing season.
Answer them.
Do with us charity and lovingkindness.
Simple acts -
A nice wind for a fifty yard field goal,
when the sideline refs bring the chains on the field, let them stretch just a bit, a two-point conversion now and then
Save us.
From the shame of losing,
From the projected failure,
From sneaking a peek at one of those books on male depression with names like Lonely Warrior and The Pain Within, From our lethargy and laziness,
The sense of being worthless that pursues us each yard,
Wraps around our waist and tries to drag us down.
Our Father, Our King
Help us make it into the end zone.

Why Are You Troubled?

A new translation of a work by Solomon Ibn Gabirol
(11th century Jewish poet, Andalusia)
Why are you so troubled and anxious, my soul?
Be still and dwell where you are.
When you think that the earth can fit into your hand,
you won't, my ship caught in a storm, get far.
Better than wandering from place to place
is sitting at the feet of the Holy One;
if you protect yourself from the will of men you'll flourish and surely see the reward for righteous acts.
If your desire is like a walled city,
a siege will bring it down in time:
You have no earthly possession that is forever in this world - so wake for the future generations, awake.

-(C) 2006 Daniel S. Brenner



After the 9/11 ceremonies I met with Dr. Mohammed Essawi and the faculty of Al-Qasemi Academy from Baaka El Garbia, Israel. It was a wonderful hour with an inspiring group of Muslims from Israel who are working on coexistence education. (thanks to Trinity's Rev. Hoke and the AJC's Ari Gordon for making this meeting happen.)

From there, my 9/11 themed week continued with a trip to Montreal to participate in the 'World's Religions after 9/11' conference sponsored by McGill. (I'll post my speech when I finish the edits.) The conference drew about 1,300 folks, and a few more thousand showed up when Deepak Chopra took the stage for a ridiculous power point presentation in which he summed up all of religious and spiritual thought in five minutes or so. But he was funny during the Q & A session. Much more impressive was Karen Armstrong, who spoke with great clarity about the Middle East. I also got to meet Harold Kasimow, a student of Heschel's who teaches at Grinnell. He edited the book on Heschel's 'No Religion is an Island' that has been a great resource for me in this work.


The Bell of Hope

Tommorow morning, the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks I'll be with a group of New York City religious leaders: 
Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews, who are joining together to ring
a bell at Trinity Wall Street, a few short blocks from Ground Zero. 
Apparently ABC Good Morning America will be airing the 8:35 ceremony. 
It is hard to believe that it has been five years. It was all so surreal.
I remember looking down from 28th Street watching the first bellows of smoke rise up, thinking
that maybe a commuter plane had hit the building, and that a few people
might have died. By the time I got to work, one of the towers had fallen. Then I watched
as every Emergency vehicle in the city headed downtown. When the second tower fell,
I left work and began to walk. Some people were laughing, saying how great it was to get
off of work and how they were going to some bar. Then a guy with a radio told me that more
planes were in the air. Noone knew what to do. I ran past the Empire State Building, looking up, thinking that it might be hit. I ended up going down to Chelsea Piers to volunteer in a makeshift triage. We waited all night, with latex gloves, for the victims. But noone came.



Tikve Frymer-Kensky Zichrona L'vracha

I just read the news that one of my most beloved teachers, Tikve Frymer-Kensky passed on to the next world. Tikve, who we once dubbed the red-hot Mesopotamian Momma, was a wondorous teacher. She gathered us on the back porch of her suburban Philly home and told us the Gilgamesh Epic, translating Sumerian terms in a sing-song. Her most notorious moment came when she asked us to draw the outline of an uncurcumsized penis on the chalkboard so that she could make a point about the religious significance of curves. She taught us to see YHVH as a synthesis of goddess and god, not in kabbalsitic terms, but in historic ones. A brilliant scholar and a first-rate teacher is mourned today. May all those who mourn find comfort.

From her bio:

Tikva Frymer-Kensky’s areas of specialization include Assyriology and Sumerology, biblical studies, Jewish studies, and women and religion. Her most recent books are Reading the Women of the Bible, which received a Koret Jewish Book Award in 2002 and a National Jewish Book Award in 2003; In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth; and Motherprayer: The Pregnant Woman’s Spiritual Companion. She is also the English translator of From Jerusalem to the Edge of Heaven by Ari Elon (Alma Dee, original Hebrew).