Today, I will be sharing some of my recent poems and what inspired them.
There are as many paths to holiness
as slender legs, glowing blessedly
in the cool and vivid light,
a path out of bondage, no place
for rending our garments
over grieving lives we were never
meant to live,
only simcha for garments that bind us
and render us whole.
Let me walk you home
in the banal and billowing blackness,
we arrive triumphant at last.
Every Friday, I observe Shabbat with my friends and classmates from my university’s Hillel chapter. I wrote this poem (and a few others) over the High Holy Days as a sort of celebration of the diversity of Hillel. Our laid-back Friday evening song sessions are often the highlight of my week, and among the regular attendees, I’ve found my niche. As I alternately observe and interact with these students, I’m witnessing a lot of personal growth–both in them and myself. One night, I walked a freshman girl back to her dorm because I wanted to ensure she got there safely. I don’t mention it for a pat on the back, but I mention it because if the roles had been reversed, I would have wanted someone to help me in that respect. On our stroll through the darkened campus, she told me about her aspirations and homesickness. She’d travelled to our university from the deep south and had never met such a large community of other Jewish people. That’s another thing I love about Hillel: we prioritize inclusion. No matter how someone arrives, whether they’re an observant Jew, just curious about what challah bread is, or they took a wrong turn, we’re just glad to see them.
Yom Kippur Poem
Every fast was easy
while I wandered aimless and distracted
halfway between Jerusalem and Olympus,
yet never arriving.
Belonging only to
my own false idols
self-idolatry and desecration,
only cold, cruel questioning:
Who am I? Not
who do You want me to be?
Every fast was easy when
I walked a godless path, but
today’s horizon expands
far beyond a mirror and I pray
may I break that deceitful glass
have another easy fast.
It’s customary for Jewish people to fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Because I have a history of disordered eating (and also because I get hangry), I choose not to fast. It was really weird being around my famished classmates who were sharing fasting tips, and couldn’t wait for the services to end so they could break their fast. In the past, I have tried very hard to justify my eating disorder on a spiritual level, something along the lines of suffering and starvation bringing me closer to God. Today, though, I don’t believe God wants me to suffer. I believe God wants me to take care of myself and that when I am healthy in mind, body, and spirit, I am most useful to Him and to my community. Choosing not to fast is my way of atoning for my past self-abuse and setting a new precedent of self-care.
You, the masterful Artist,
breathing life into life into me.
You set the cosmos into
their intricate ballet.
You plumb the depths of the vast seas,
infusing every pearl with wonder and mystery.
Oh God, who else would create–
who else could create–
this kaleidoscopic, dazzling realm
I am blessed enough
to call home?
Who else but You
would plan so carefully, so artfully,
arranging every last and perpetual detail,
from the flames of faraway suns
to each bristle in the paintbrush
held safely in the hand of the artist
who embodies Your mitzvot?
Oh God, who else would
have the compassion to
place syllables and sounds
on the tongues of ancient peoples,
to coax chaos into language
so that my ancestors could speak and sing?
Oh, God, let me study at Your easel,
let me read at Your bedside,
and God, let me love the world a little better
for You having drawn me into it at all.
When people talk about “finding God,” it brings to mind an event rather than a process. Finding God is only the first step. The real task is to get to know Him. I don’t think I’ll ever be finished finding God, but I know that I am not alone in my search. Imagining God as an artist, a Creator who takes joy in the world He created and the people in it is much more palatable for me than an angry, uncaring, or just plain absent God I’ve previously envisioned. On a much smaller scale, I, too, am a creator, and I imagine that on some level, God and I feel the same frustrations and joys that comes with creating art.
Your hair eclipses your face
as your wisdom eclipses your youth.
Who is like you,
my soft-spoken friend, who
conjures harmonies out of silence?
Your spirit cheers,
timbrel in hand and
you show us how
to celebrate our triumphant journey
towards a future inscribed in the Book of Life
and I will let you be
the first to say amen
Is it weird to write poems about your friends? What if your friends are really cool and inspiring? This one is about one of my friends from Hillel who I really look up to. What can I say? I have awesome friends!