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This Too is Enough

They tell a story of the Baal Shem Tov that when he faced a special problem he would go to a place in the forest, light afire and say a special prayer and God would answer him. When he died his followers forgot how to light the fire, but they went to the place and said the prayer and it was enough. They died, and their disciples went to the forest but they forgot the prayer, and God still answered them. But in the next generation they no longer knew the place. So they told the story and that, too, was enough.

If I am not for me, who?
If I am not for me, how?
If not now, when?
If not here, where?

In the liberal synagogue of Amsterdam
I close my eyes and sway
To the rise and fall of words
These tunes are new to me
The organ alien
Without a book
The syllables lie lumped together
And yet, like the tale
Of the Baal Shem’s place in the forest
These pieces are enough

My lover takes my hand
And we move up close
Through the maze of prayers
And abandoned seats
The curtain opens and closes
On stately scrolls
Reclining like matrons
In their silver hung dresses

At the pull of a rope
The arc winks its massive eye of light
These things are enough
But I cannot accept them
This home cannot belong to me

Let us now praise
The Lord God, King of the universe—
Before our father, our king.
We walked beside the rivers
Of our blessed mother’s land
Snakes wound round her arms
Her hands held out fruit
We stood in her garden
And sat below the leaves of her tree
We looked into her mouth
At the night full of stars

TorAH mishnAH mitzvAH KabbalAH
These words a parade of women
Walking at dawn
By the Dead Sea
I have asked rabbis

I have asked scholars
Why the holy words of our fathers
Should end as female
None of them knew
None of them had noticed
“They aren’t really feminine”
One tells me
“We only call them that
Endings don’t mean anything.”

At the messiah’s dinner parties
No women sing
They lie in back
Giving birth to sons
The shekinah does not belong to us
She floats like a kite
Above the men who wove her image
Lilith does not belong to us
She crouches
Strong in the bed sheets
Of the frightened men who shaped her

God of our fathers
God of our conquerors
Issuing orders
From behind your curtain
Thicker than death
What have you left for us?
Candles and cooking
Obedience
A law of descent—
These broken shells
Are only fragments
Of a land beyond history

And yet
Without words
Without melodies
Without stories
Without a place that belongs to us
With only a memory
As scattered as dust
We will find our way home again
Like the men
With their tale of the Baal Shem’s forest
We will make it enough