Noah, Politics and Baseball

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This Shabbat, what is striking about reading the Torah portion chronicling the story of Noah and the Great Flood is not only its message of hope but the coincidence of its appearance this year in the calendar, midway between Election Day and the World Series, 2016.

As Rabbi Rachel Zerin shared in her uplifting comments about the story of Noah and the Flood, we are in the midst of a seemingly endless, toxic, Presidential election season. Our collective spirits have taken a beating. Zerin pointed out the symbols making Noah’s story one of hope in the midst of his experience of the destruction of the world. In spite of blinding torrential rains, as Noah built the ark, he included a window to provide a view of future clear skies. Noah had to have been an optimist to gather pairs of animals to insure repopulation of the planet. Flooding from the 40-day storm lasted 150 days longer. Due to impossible conditions, this extreme “rain delay” kept the people and animals on the ark for 7 more months before they could exit and resume the business of living the future that Noah’s optimism had enabled.

It is difficult to imagine the scene in those final ark-bound hours. I find it just as hard to ignore coincidence of the timing of final game of the World Series just a few days ago. As reported in the New York Times, “If you are going to endure years — no, generations — of futility and heartbreak, when you do finally win a World Series championship, it may as well be a memorable one. The Chicago Cubs did just that, shattering their 108-year championship drought in epic fashion: with an 8-7, 10-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7, which began on Wednesday night, carried into Thursday morning…”

On top of the Cubs and fans’ 108-year wait for a win, rain threatened to postpone or even reschedule Wednesday’s game. The weather held up through the eighth inning.  The Cubs carried a 6-3 lead, six outs away from a cathartic victory. But a double and a two-run home run by the Indians wiped out the lead tying the game. The deadlock held through the ninth inning. The top of the 10th inning was rain delayed for about 15 minutes by a deluge. Once it let up, the Cubs came back strong to score and win the game and the Series. In the case of this modern day miracle, there was no need to simply imagine the scene. Television and social media gave us a front row seat from which to witness the emotions of long-suffering Cubs fans praying, sobbing, chanting, wielding signs and amulets at Wrigley Field and beyond.

Perhaps I am alone finding comfort in this particular constellation of Torah, politics and baseball. Just as travelers, when lost, can always rely on the stars to guide them, I believe that years like these, when the world seems to have lost its moorings, we need to appeal to the cosmic and Divine. I may not have control over much, but I do choose to lead a kind-spirited and moral life and to celebrate the power I have to cast my vote on Tuesday, even if it rains.

God works in mysterious ways. I await, with faith and hope, whatever happens next.

Elul: The Heart of the Matter

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Now, in the Hebrew month of Elul which precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the time to get to the heart of the matter. This is a time of awakening ourselves (aided by the sound of the shofar every morning but Shabbat) to the task of a thorough personal accounting, from the year that is ending, of our deeds, our relationships and our souls.  Elul is also seen as a map to our inner heart potentially serving as the key to the depth and power of our inner heart. The Hebrew letters that make the word “Elul,” aleph, lamed, vav and lamed, are an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs) ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which means “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” This sacred song has been thought of as analogous to the love between a married couple, our relationship to the Divine and our relationship to keeping the Sabbath. I think it can also symbolize our relationship with the self we hope we can become, the marriage of who we have been and who we strive to be.

At the start of of Elul, according to the Zohar we are achor el achor, meaning “back to back.” The work of the month is to be panim el panim, “face to face.” In a year that has perhaps been difficult in our personal and professional lives, our country’s political life and a challenge to hopes for peace and repair of our planet, we are, appropriately, deeply discouraged. Hopeless, that our prayers have not been heard, we turn away from our dialogue with the Divine presence we define as God. But we also turn away from ourselves, in despair, turning our backs on our goals and dreams.

My Elul prayer for us all is that during these strange and dispiriting times that we do not also become disheartened. Instead of losing heart, we must use this opportunity our tradition provides to do an “about face.” May our reflections, re-evaluations and dreams during all the days of Elul and the yamim noraim 5777, provide us with humility, insight and optimism for the year ahead and always.

September 11, 2002: The One-Year Anniversary Revisited

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I don’t believe time alone heals all wounds. The pain of that day still feels fresh now, years later, as we mark the anniversary of the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. We commemorate this anniversary, in public and private ways. In addition to my private reflections, I’ve been remembering my community engagement project, Postcards To God: From Point Lookout to Ground Zero, which brought together over 1,000 people in a landmark program of remembrance and healing to mark the one-year anniversary of 9/11. The project is now permanently housed in the Hofstra University Library’s Special Collections 9/11 Archive.  I co-authored Postcards to God: Exploring Spiritual Expression in Disabled Older Adults, the subject of a scientific research project exploring spirituality and artistic expression, published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work, based on data collected during pilot workshops of the project.

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Margery Winter: Textile Art You Could Crawl Into and Stay A While

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“Jewelry District” 2016 42”/72” Wool, plastic, natural and synthetic hair, acrylic paint, markers

 

I had a lucky introduction to Margery Winter’s intelligent, engaging work last week when I was bowled over by her fiber wall sculpture, presented in a 2-person exhibit with conceptually related work by her husband, Milo Winter, at the charming and intimate ArtProv Gallery in downtown Providence.

My immediate reaction to Ms. Winter’s work was visceral; her spectacular woven, boiled, stitched, painted wall pieces, invite touch and more. I found myself longing to crawl up into and explore the felted folds, erotic and urban nooks and crannies of her cleverly manipulated textile pieces. Inspired by the energy of the Jewelry District neighborhood where she lives and works, Winter captures the area’s “graffiti, crumbling facades, excavations, light and shadows, obtuse angles, linear patches and evidence of those who wander through this maze.” Winter fools the viewer with painted acrylic shadows, creating the illusion of volume juxtaposed with authentic shaped sculptural felt tunnels or actual shadows cast by raised sections of each piece. She is no stranger to drawing and design, as evidenced by her “Spacial Structure,” (1974) a handsome early etching included in the exhibit.

Winter alludes to human presences observed, albeit fleetingly, in her city-scapes. The glimpses of people who briefly inhabit her sculptural urban maps are referenced by strategic and humorous placement of things like an armless sleeve climbing over the top of one piece and flattening to join the grid. Winter’s use of real hair, loose and braided, adds another textural, somewhat dark dimension to her work. In an era of urban violence, with unedited images of terrorist atrocities broadcast regularly in the media, for this viewer, the hair presents a somewhat disturbing reference to trophies of war garnered by scalping.

Screen shot 2016-07-18 at 11.22.00 AM   Winter employs materials and techniques mastered in her impressive commercial career in fashion publishing and needlecraft. She demonstrates her expertise and love (she calls it “lust”) for yarn, fabric, texture, pattern, and color. Her abstract notations chronicling her vision of downtown Providence and modern city life in general, stand on their own as striking, beautifully crafted specimens of the genre of fiber sculpture installation and will hold their own in museum, corporate or private collection.  ArtProv Gallery, 150 Chestnut Street Providence,  401-641-5182 Show Closing July 22!Screen shot 2016-07-18 at 12.11.06 PM

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*Margery Winter with “Around The Block” 43”/82” 2016

Bill Cunningham, Where Art Thou?

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Like many others, I was saddened to learn that the visionary Bill Cunningham,  is no longer with us. I have moved from New York and, subsequently, had stopped hoping he would appear on his bicycle and stop in front of me, enchanted by my cobbled-together fashion statement of that day. Maybe then I would have composed myself to tell him that he was a hero of mine, one of the good guys who inspired us all to try a little harder to celebrate the exquisite beauty to behold even in the ordinary,  if we keep our eyes and minds open.

Bill Cunningham 2“Bill Cunningham, Where Art Thou? A Post Fashion Week Reflection” was originally posted  on September 15, 2013 

New York City

I thought, by now, surely Bill Cunningham would have spotted me on the streets of Manhattan,  especially last week when I was having an especially good fashion day decked out as I tend to be, in a playful combination of vintage consignment shop, pristine dead-stock thrift shop finds and my original jewelry hand-crafted from recycled materials.  My oversize red plastic stop sign tote bag has brought smiles to passers-by (and stopped traffic) and I frequently am asked by passersby where they can purchase various items that I am wearing. I’ve even predicted the “What They Are Wearing” trends way early- for example, all that bright yellow in today’s NY Times Style section? Been there, done that: when last yearI snagged a pair of electric lemon yellow Anne Taylor Loft  light weight wool trousers, apparently a  sample, at my neighborhood Goodwill store. That definitely would have earned me a spot in Bill’s column, but I suppose I was ahead of the curve, and of course, timing is everything.  So you can imagine my utter amazement this afternoon, when I’d  thrown on a sweater over my running pants and hopped onto the 79th Street crosstown bus to catch the last hours on the last day of a museum show I’d been dying to see and suddenly noticed that the lovely gentleman who was sitting down next to me was wearing an unmistakable, distinctive blue cotton jacket. I thought I was imagining this, and tried not to stare.  How could this be happening?

20160303_104240_resizedCould Bill Cunningham actually be sitting down next to me on the bus? It was not supposed to happen this way! He was supposed to be on his bicycle, with his camera!  I was supposed to be wearing on of my great outfits! He’d spot me, be smitten and simply have to take my picture and find out all about me and my uncanny sense of style!  We rode along in silence as I pondered the situation. What could I say? “Mr. Cunningham, I am a great admirer of yours because you are a true visionary who defines fashion because you see it before others do, and I have always wanted to meet you, but just not today…” But I said nothing. I was in the window seat so when I stood to exit  I apologized for disturbing him and mumbled something about being a fan, but I fear my words were muffled by the driver’s announcement of the next stop. What am I supposed to learn from this brush with one of my great heroes, I asked myself?  The lesson, I suppose, is that fashion is in the eye of the beheld.

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Like many others, I was saddened to learn that the visionary Bill Cunningham,  is no longer with us. I have moved from New York and, subsequently, had stopped hoping he would appear on his bicycle and stop in front of me, enchanted by my cobbled-together fashion statement of that day. Maybe then I would have composed myself to tell him that he was a hero of mine, one of the good guys who inspired us all to try a little harder to celebrate the exquisite beauty to behold even in the ordinary,  if we keep our eyes and minds open.

Bill Cunningham 2“Bill Cunningham, Where Art Thou? A Post Fashion Week Reflection” was originally posted  on September 15, 2013 

New York City

I thought, by now, surely Bill Cunningham would have spotted me on the streets of Manhattan,  especially last week when I was having an especially good fashion day decked out…

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Words With (Dead) Friends

WWFI am taking a self-imposed sabbatical from Words With Friends. I stopped cold turkey recently, when I noticed the feature chronicling the availability of  my fellow WWF playmates. While some had engaged in the game just 20 minutes before, a good number were ranked as having last played the game “over two weeks ago.” Whatever the reason for inactivity (reclaiming one’s time, boredom with or recovery from addiction to the game) this broad status included those who might have last played, 15 days before, a year before or, even more chilling, because they were no longer alive.

But what prompted my continued rumination on the macabre, was an incident on Facebook, from which I still have not recovered. It was a post by a dear friend, who had died a year before. Whether his account was hijacked by a hacker, or this was someone’s idea of a joke, the impact was disturbing, to say the least. For a split second, I believed he was back, intelligent, witty, literate and alive as ever. But this post from the grave, complete with his recent picture, left me flooded, again, with sadness for my lost compadre.  I took no comfort in resuming playing Words with my community of virtual wordsmiths.  The sense of “relationships” with former classmates, colleagues sustained only through virtual competition and banter was, suddenly, deeply unsatisfying.

Writing this missive serves to proclaim that, although I have joined the ranks of “last played over two weeks ago,” with friends, some of whom are no longer on this earth, I am alive and well.