Passover Poetry: Studying the Mundane and Holy Terrain

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Merle Feld, 2010
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Image courtesy Merle Feld, 2010.

Living as a poet means you are acutely attuned to the voices within, you seek to listen, to discern the words that best capture your own inner truth. But I am a poet who is interested as well in the inner lives of others – ever wider circles of care and love have beckoned me from my private musings, from my cherished writing venues of study and porch. One such circle I have been privileged to serve since 2005 are the men and women I tend as spiritual mentor on their journey to become rabbis and cantors. Each month I travel between four different rabbinical schools creating an intimate space where students can sit with me privately, writing and reflecting on their growth, struggle, insight, challenge. In addition, at home, I meet with rabbis out in the field for regular phone sessions – we talk, I listen, they write, we share. These students and I, these rabbinic clients and I, are adventurers together, exploring with curiosity and compassion the mundane and holy terrain of their day to day lives. 

There is yet another circle I seek to reach out to, to be in meaningful conversation with – the readers who come across my poems in the poetry volumes I’ve published, in anthologies, on websites, in prayer books, on someone’s refrigerator door. I’ve created Readers and Writers Guides for my books of poetry so as to encourage and inspire others in their own spiritual search through the thickets of their personal experience and emotion, teasing out the themes in my poems which I think can be evocative for readers to mine in their own lives.

It’s no surprise then when invited to guest blog at Jewesses with Attitude in time for Pesach and National Poetry month that I am thinking not only of which of my Pesach poems I’d especially like to share, but also thinking of the next step – how to offer accompanying writing prompts and discussion questions alongside the poems themselves that could enrich your personal Passover preparations and perhaps your communal seder conversations.         

From time to time, especially at the threshold of Jewish holidays, I send my students and rabbinic clients materials to enrich their personal journaling practice and to spark sermons or discussions with their congregants, often drawing on my own poetry as resource. I never just send a poem though – it is always my delight to engage my students and my readers by suggesting questions which help them to make their own personal connections with my poetic text. Below is a sampler of what I offered my students for Pesach this year – two poems and accompanying questions. So pull your chair up to the table and study along with us! I invite you to write your own poems, midrash, reflections in response, to share with friends, family, community.

Passover miracle

for Kara

that we find our spring selves again,
shed the thick protective layers of winter
that shield but separate us
from the world out there.

We sit at the seder table
tired, yes, from all the work of preparation,
but hoping to be refreshed,
hoping in spirit to be refreshed.

Sitting at the seder table
we encounter
our younger selves,
wide-eyed, asking questions.

We become each year once again
the four sons, child-like,
spring-like, ready each year once again
to go out from Egypt

with nothing
but a pack on our back,
ready to walk once again
out into the wilderness

in search of our freedom
and our God.

© Merle Feld, Finding Words, URJ Press 2011

What is the miracle of Pesach for you?  

How do you “shield” yourself, “separate” yourself, from “the world out there”? What threatens you, frightens you? What protections do you feel ready to shed? What is your “spring self” like? What allows that self to come forth and shine?

Is there a younger version of yourself you’d like to engage in Pesach conversation? What might you ask each other?

Are you in search of your freedom? your God?  how? What are you in search of this year?

Leaving Egypt

The night is so dark
and I am afraid.
I see nothing, smell nothing,
the only reality—
I am holding my mother’s hand.

And as we walk
I hear the sounds
of a multitude in motion—
in front, behind,
all around,
a multitude in motion. 

I have no thought of tomorrow,
now, in the darkness,
there is only motion
and my mother’s hand.

© Merle Feld, Finding Words, URJ Press 2011

Perhaps the poet is imagining herself leaving Egypt as a child (though I’ve heard some interpret this poem as referring to an adult sojourner solicitously guiding an aged parent) – how might you imaginatively locate yourself in the “going out” story this year?  Feel free to play with multiple personae, multiple versions of your own “going out” story…

What is hard for you about transitions, liminal moments? Who/what do you hold onto for support?

What is exciting, enlivening about transitions, liminal moments? What gifts do such times of life offer?

Wishing you a joyous holiday, an experience of deepening and lightening.  For many years I had a tradition of calling an old friend on the eve of the holiday with the sentiment, "I'll be looking for you as we all go out from Egypt tonight."  Perhaps think about who you want to call to (re)connect with in this season; who will you “be looking for” as you go out from Egypt this year and (re)claim your freedom?

___________

Merle Feld is author of the memoir in poetry and prose, A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Traditon and a new book of poems, Finding Words. Visit her at www.merlefeld.com to read her blog, learn more about her poetry, books and plays, her teaching and speaking, and for guidance to support your own writing practice.

Learn more about Merle Feld on jwa.org in Contemporary Activists and Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.

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