This is the news. The United States and other major powers after years of delicate negotiations, reached an agreement with Iran. Iran has promised not to develop nuclear weapons; the US and the other powerful nations agreed, in steps, to lift the sanctions that have been crippling the Iranian economy. Its a complex agreement, with many moving parts, but it has the possibility of ending or ameliorating the deep enmity that has defined US-Iranian relations since the fall of the Shah, which could be a potential benefit in all sorts of ways; in Iraq, Syria, the fight against ISIS, for the Iranian people, and changing the basic dynamic in the Middle East. It holds the possibility of being the most positive change in the Middle East in several decades.
Jacob’s angels had direction
they went up, they went down
they were disciplined
they walked the ladder
Mine are irrational
Caught on my pear tree there
glittering in the breeze
they toy with the willful sun
the errant leaf
Some say Jacob’s angels
mirrored his irresolute soul
Tell me, you who strung
those mirrors on my tree
did you intend a metaphor
Life, the rabbi said, is the shadow
of a bird in flight. The bird flies away,
the bird is gone, the shadow is gone.
Mother, wings spread, you wait,
the greeting grown stale upon your lips.
Death does not oblige.
There’s nothing left of me, you wail,
it’s all gone, I’m nothing.
No, I say, surprising both of us,
it’s all here, in me.
At once your whole life’s energy
informs my blood, that woman bond.
How much I bear of you who bore me,
standing in the shadow of your flight,
imprinted with your bright trajectory.
The Palm Tree
FIfty years later they found him
murdered, old soldier-spy–
Bedouins pointed out the “Jew’s grave”
under a tall palm, his skeleton
entwined with its roots, sprung
from the dates in his pocket.
I always thought
I’d meet world’s end
with a song from a high branch.
Oh Lord, let my heart take root,
let my bones arch upward,
let small birds sing in me.
Recently, the New York Times published an article about ISIS outreach to American and Western youth, whose goal is to win the hearts and minds of young people. The article looked at the case of a young woman in Oregon named Alex. Alex connected with ISIS activists on Twitter and, under their guidance, converted to Islam and progressively radicalized her worldview. Her contacts manipulated her into keeping her conversion a secret from her family, and not to contact local Muslim communities who are not affiliated with ISIS.
The two most interesting stories in the American South this past week were undoubtedly the release of Harper Lees second novel Go Set a Watchman, and the final furling of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds in Columbia. Both events were decades overdue.
Go Set a Watchman first. Most of the discussion about the novel has revolved around the changed depiction of Atticus Finch. In To Kill a Mockingbird, set in the 1930s, Atticus Finch was an almost saintly lawyer, upholding the idea of justice for all in a deeply unjust society, and the right of everyone to a fair trial. In Go Set a Watchman, set in the 1950s Atticus is a bigoted 70-year old man, telling his now adult daughter that he doesnt approve of school integration, and goes to a Klan or White Citizens Council meeting now and then.
We are at a Catskill resort to celebrate my parents 50th anniversary. Even in its heyday, the Homowack would not have been up to my familys standards. Its not that it wasnt fancy enoughmy parents gravitated toward rustic North Carolina lodges. It just attracted a different type of guest, those from Brooklyn or the Bronx, where most patrons are more religiously observant and perhaps less refined than those of us who hail originally from Atlanta and Seattle. But we sought a place with kosher food near my parents New York and New Jersey children and grandchildren.
Ths obligation was fulfilled with soup.
No mother’s plaint of unrequited care
survived a fiery penitential brew.
I heard my mother’s voice splinter like bones
against her mother’s aged plucking needs,
but there was soup and there was
the Fifth Commandment.
Now disappointed mothers wait for signs
while daughters dream recurrently of symbols.
Guilt is out of fashion, soup is out of cans,
and nothing else theyknow to do
implies those long and thoughtful hours of tending.
Women get on no worse now than before,
but that they lack the totem of the pot
to charm some warmth between them.
“Come and curse this nation for me” (Balak, Num. 22:6)
“Since God has blessed them, I cannot reverse it.” (Balak, Num. 23:20)
How can I tell you what came over me?
Not that the beast found her voice–
any simple sorcerer can pull that trick–
but that I, the most articulate of men,
lost mine. It was as if a spell seized me;
my mind was perfectly clear, I knew
exactly my mission and, being practical,
I always find for the one who pays my rent.
It was my own mouth betrayed me.
No surprise, then, that I missed the messenger
on the road. There was no messenger.
Not then. Not for me. My thoughts were fixed
on the perfect phrase, the lethal message.
He’s smart, that Jewish God, he’s hard
to get around. But I’ve matched wits with gods
from everywhere in the neighborhood
and bested them. Not Him. Not then, not now.
David Ben-Gurion was an avid and devoted reader of the TANACH throughout his adult life in Israel, and in the process forged an abiding bond between himself and The Book of Books: “Since I had come to this land (Israel) I was shaped primarily by the TANACH. Here, in Eretz Yisrael, I had for the first time understood it in all its depth, and was influenced by it more than by any other book or literature Jewish or non-Jewish alike”.
Among his many essays on TANACH and the Torah, Ben-Gurion dedicated a comprehensive essay to the book of Deuteronomy, which he considered unique among the books of Torah.