Unwalling My Heart in the Walled City

by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert

Yesterday, at one of the many Batei Midrash (“Houses of Study”) in which I study, we looked at Talmud Masechet Brachot 30b. The text includes half a dozen stories of rabbis thinking that other rabbis seem too happy. Some quote biblical verses stressing sadness intended to dampen the rabbis’ joy. Others break expensive objects, to snap the merry rabbis out of their trance and remind them of brokenness.

If I didn’t identify with the parade-raining rabbis before my time living in Jerusalem, I do now. I don’t need to tell the readers of this blog about what is happening ten minutes from my house: the demolitions and evictions in Silwan, the choking of Wallaje by the Separation Barrier, and on and on. I live my life with a near constant awareness of the suffering in this place and punish myself accordingly. By now my friends know not to agree to movie night, because they’ll be subjected to “This is My Land: Hebron” or “The Law in these Parts”. I scowl at the happy people around me: do they not know what is going on? Or do they choose not to know?

I share this not because I am better than anyone else, davka the opposite, as a sort of vidui (“confession”) or maybe a cry for help. I am deeply out of balance, and I am well aware that if I don’t let my sense of urgency give way to a bigger picture, then my days as an activist are numbered. Readers, colleagues, comrades: post your joy practices! Your texts! Share the wisdom that allows you to face injustice with clear-eyes and a joyful heart.

In Jerusalem we celebrate Shushan Purim because it was a walled city. That means the revelry that most Jews indulged in last night will take place here this evening.  I am grateful for this extra day because it has given me more time to meditate on the meaning of joy and open myself up to it. You know how sometimes a weekly Torah reading, or a holiday, gets you right when you need it? Just matches up with your life and pushes you forward? Well, Purim is my holiday this year.

Perhaps my dwelling in such darkness allows me just the opportunity to experience turning things upside down. Rebbe Nachman teaches that true joy comes from sadness transformed. There will be no smashing glasses tonight — I am resisting the urge to dress up as some part of the occupation, as I have in years past (I know, I know). Tonight I am dressing up as an angel, a being with enough distance to know that we silly humans are doing our best. And that we’ll get there…

My dear friend Fedelma offered me her joy meditation from her and my favorite poet, Hafiz:

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.

She likes to picture happiness in this case as a gangly, long armed Muppet with brightly colored fur. Tonight, I will go out to the streets to meet the Muppet.

And since I wrote this blog post instead of taking a disco nap, we’ll see how it goes… wish me luck!

There is Just One Flesh to Wound

by Rabbi Alissa Wise

I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from men’s hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound.
– Hafiz

Tonight and tomorrow, in the Jewish calendar, could quite possibly be the most powerful day for inspiration toward realizing the justice, equality and self-determination we seek for all people. Purim–where we are invited to get so merry and drunken that we can’t tell the difference between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman”.

One of the many explanations and interpretations for why this is the instruction of the day, is from the great Hasidic teacher the Sefas Emes who taught it reminds us that the Jews were saved on Purim not out of merit or deed, but because of God’s love. This is why it is taught that even in the messianic era, when we no longer need to celebrate any other holiday, we will continue to celebrate Purim.

This place — beyond good and evil, blessed or cursed, wrong or the right, morality or immorality — this is the place of ethical power. This is the place of joy we taste on Purim and that we tirelessly work for daily.

Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet knew the same when he wrote:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about language, ideas, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

This is my blessing for us all this Purim — we can taste the sweet pleasure of the dissolution of “us and them” and be in the true unity of our world — the unity that when we taste it we know we can no longer occupy and oppress, hate or hurt – because there is just one flesh we can wound.