“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Rabbi Heschel … Yom Kippur and 100TPC

Polish-American Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 -1972)


It is interesting that the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is being celebrated today at the same time that we are holding 100,000 Poets for Change (100TPC) around the world.  Last night I couldn’t help but think of Rabbi Herschel. I tend to connect well and deeply with those who practice their religions with respect for the mystical. Without mysticism religion is just dry cracker, something without much Life or Light.

Rabbi Hershel lost his family to bombings, Nazis, and the camps. During the war, he lived for awhile in Frankfurt. He was arrested by the Gestapo and sent back to Poland. In the melting pot that was 1950s Brooklyn, we had neighbors from Poland, people who had lost everything but their generosity of spirit. Some were Catholic and some were Jewish.

There was one family I particularly loved. I encountered Rabbi Herschel on their bookshelves when I sat with the children. The wife, a beautiful frail creature whose “shell shock” was clear to me even in my early teens, was none-the-less a good mother, wife and friend. The husband, a cantor and devoted family man, let me read whatever I found in English in their house. What was remarkable to me was that he was also willing to take the time to talk to me about what I read.  He encouraged me to speak my mind. With him, I never had to arm myself as the pretty dolt.

“If [a woman or man] were able to survey at a glance all he has done in the course of his life, what would he feel? He would be terrified at the extent of his own power.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Apropro this discssion, I was surprised (I shouldn’t have been) and charmed when I found Michael Dickel’s introduction to The BeZine 100TPC 2017 event wrapped around Yom Kippur. Here’s the introduction (below) … and when you are done reading perhaps you’ll pop over to The BeZine blog and share a poem and/or read those of others. You’d be very welcome.

– Jamie Dedes


American-Israeli Poet, Michael Dickel

This year, the last Saturday of September, the regular day for the Global 100,000 Poets for Change Events around the world, falls on Yom Kippur, considered the Holiest day of the Jewish religion. Observant Jews around the world are fasting, having spent the Days of Awe leading up to Yom Kippur asking the people in their lives for forgiveness and inventorying their transgressions against Creation. Today, we Jews go to synagogue and ask Creation (G-d) for forgiveness. Another name for Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.

First, the order matters: We ask the people in our lives for forgiveness. Then we think how we have acted against the World. Then and only then do we turn to G-d for forgiveness.

Second, saying sorry is not enough, in our tradition. It is a start. In the Jewish tradition, people must also act differently, that is, they must enact the apology with a change in how they are in the world.

Third, human purpose can be understood—in how I have been taught—as working toward Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam is the repair or healing of Creation. While there is definitely a range of interpretations that could be made on what this healing entails, it certainly incorporates attention to the physical world as well as the spiritual. These two intertwine and interrelate in such a way as to be inseparable. Social Justice, Environmental Sustainability, and Peace—and writing, the arts, music in service of activism for positive change—are very relevant issues to our human purpose, from this view.

And thus, on the Holiest Day of the Jewish Year, it is appropriate to work toward Tikkun Olam, asking G-d’s forgiveness for all we have done that harms our fellow humans, inventorying our own role, and moving forward with action that shows our genuine desire to change and make things right again.

And, further, as the spiritual and the physical are interrelated, so are all of the arts (literature, art, music, dance, stage, film…), so are all three of the themes: Social Justice, Environmental Sustainability, and Peace.

So this year, on Yom Kippur, we ask you to join in with your contributions from any of the arts—share your efforts toward healing and repair of our World. As you do, remember this, paraphrased from the sages:

Do not despair at the iniquity and injustice of the world in which we live. For today, that is, in this period where injustice, racism, and greed seem to have risen to power, do not give up or give in.

It is not up to us to complete the work of Tikkun Olam, but this does not free us from working toward the healing and repair of Creation. That is, although we may not achieve our goals of a just, sustainable and peaceful world in our lifetime, we must continue to make progress, and in working toward them, the healing of Creation will occur, one poem, one essay, one novel, one painting, one sculpture, one song, one symphony, one performance at at a time…

By action, not words alone, will this be done. If ever there was a time when this action is more needed than others, certainly now is one—Resistance! Activism! Peace! Sustainability! Social Justice!

by Michael Dickel (Meta/Phor(e)/Play)

Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration


Later today I’ll post the responses from readers to last Wednesday’s writing prompt, which is usual every Tuesday. Meanwhile . . . 

In December 2015 world events led to a spontaneous eleventh hour special section – Waging the Peace –  in The BeZine, which I edit. This seems a propitious moment to bring to the fore once again those ideas, ideals and experiences shared with us by Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill, Rev. Ben Meyers, Father Daniel Sormani, C.S. Sp., Sophia Ali-Khan, Israeli-American poet Michael Dickel, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi. Thanks to all of them and to Carla Prater, the assistant director of Buddhist Global Relief for their contributions to this collection and their assistance. I’ve included links to each of the features in table of contents for Waging the Peace. It is below the following introductory remarks.

Rabbi SteinBerg-Caudill (the Interfaith Rabbi) is a teacher who espouses a Jewish Spirituality and Universalist teaching for the future brotherhood of all people. When I contacted him about this effort he reminded me of what surely should be foremost in our minds and hearts:

“The Hebrew word for PEACE – שלום – does not imply a lack of strife. It implies instead WHOLENESS, COMPLETION. If one is in a state of peace, he can still be whole in a time of chaos.”

Rev. Meyers of the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo also counsels inner peace with his You are the promise … the one … the hope. Rev. Meyers says:

“I understand and often share the ‘urge of urgency’ over the peacefulness of peace. But this I also know: We live at the intersection of action and reflection.”

Father Sormani, a Spiritan priest who has lived and worked in Algeria and Dubai and is now teaching theology at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, asks What Have We Done that People Can Pick-up Weapons and Kill. Father Dan says:

“We have become our own worst enemy. Whenever we separate the world into ‘them’ and ‘us’, whenever we accept blind generalizations and cease to see a unique individual before us, whenever we forget we are all victims of carefully orchestrated deceit and deception for wealth and power, the force of darkness wins. Bullets will never win this struggle, only the heart and mind will.”

Lest you missed Sofia Ali-Khan‘s letter, Dear Non-Muslim Allies, which made the rounds on Facebook and was also picked up by some mainstream media, we’ve included it here.

We’ve also included a video recitation of Tunisian poet Anis Chouchéne‘s profoundly moving poem against racism and fanaticism. Chouchène speaks directly to radical Islam  … but I think you’ll agree that he ultimately speaks to the fear in all of us.

“Peace we keep an eye on/while it packs its bags/to abandon our lands, little by little …”

Chouchène concludes as Father Dan does, that we must be able to see the individual.

Michael Dickel‘s poem Mosquitoes (excerpt from his chapbook, War Surrounds Us – 2015, Is a Rose Press), is featured. The poem starts out with Israelis and Palestinians crossing the artificial lines that divide to offer one another condolences on the deaths of their children.  This is a favored poem of mine, especially so because when I initiated The Bardo Group (now The Bardo Group Beguines) in 2011, I had in mind virtual crossing of boarders through the arts. (Our mission statement is HERE.) Michael’s poem demonstrates how we are manipulated by the propaganda machine.

We’ve included a short video presentation on the seven steps to peace developed by peace activist, Rabbi Marc Gopin. Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC).

The Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi is Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition, an author and teacher. He is the founder of Buddhist Global Relief.  With permission, we offer the 2015 talk he gave at the New Year’s Interfaith Prayer Service, Chuang Yen Monastery. Bhikkhu Bodhi says:

“Real peace is not simply the absence of violent conflict but a state of harmony: harmony between people; harmony between humanity and nature; and harmony within ourselves. Without harmony, the seeds of conflict and violence will always be ready to sprout.

Bhikku Bodhi goes on to analyze the obstacles to achieving world peace, the prerequisites of peace, and the means to realizing these goals.

On behalf of The Bardo Group Beguines and in the spirit of love and community,

Jamie Dedes,
Founding and Managing Editor of The BeZine.


Waging The Peace
An Interfaith Exploration

You are the promise . . . the one . . . the hope, Rev. Ben Meyers

What Have We Done That People Can Pick Up Weapons and Kill?, Fr. Daniel Sormani, C.S.Sp.

Dear Non-Muslim Allies,  Sofia Ali-Khan

Peace Be Upon You, شوشان – سلام عليكم, Anis Chouchène

Mosquitoes, American-Israeli poet, Michael Dickel, Jewish

Peace Steps: One Man’s Journey Into the Heart of His Enemies, Rabbi Mark Gopin

Waging Peace, Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhist teacher

Poetry as Prayer … a little inspiration from Robert Lax …

Everything that exists
can turn to prayer;
even the water,
even the air.

– Robert Lax
A Song For Our Lady

If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the two short videos included today.

“And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere: all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof rose a fountain.”

– Robert Lax
from his renown poem, Circus in the Sun (about the circus of creation), it was read at Lax’s funeral in New York


“I think it’s a metaphysical concept
starting with Aristotle and flowering in St. Thomas
that God is pure act and that there is no potentía in him
…. Almost everything else in the universe is potentía,
it’s on its way to being pure act”

An excellent – award wining – biography – of Lax

Robert Lax (1915 – 2000) was an American poet who converted from Judaism to Catholicism. He has been called “saint,” “mystic, “one of the great enigmas of American poetry, “a pilgrim” and “a prophet.” His poems where innocent, ecstatic and even whimsical. Over time they became more and more minimalist … one simple word or strings of sounds stretched into long narrow word-cascades that sometimes stopped here and there to puddle.

“Robert Lax’s poems [prove] yet again that the gift to be simple is the gift to be free, that less is more, and that least may sometimes be most.”—John Ashbery

In addition to his poetry, Robert Lax is know for his friendship with the writer, poet and Trapist monk, Thomas Merton, also a convert to Catholicism.

Lax went to school with John Berryman and was mentor to Jack Kerouac. He was friends with and appreciated by the Beats and one of my fave writers, James Agee (A Death in the Family and – with photographer Walker Evens – Let Us Now Praise Men). Denise Levertove and e.e. commings numbered among Lax’s friends as well. He was also close to the artist Ad Reinhart.

In 1962 Lax began his travels in Greece, settling into life as a hermit on the island of Patmos, seen by many as a sacred space. Patmos is the alleged site of the vision of and writing of the Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation. Because of that connection, the island is a destination for Christian pilgrimage.

Although Robert Lax lived quietly in Patmos and did nothing to promote his poetry or himself, people – including the Beats and other poets – came to visit him. He always welcomed his visitors and purposeful or accidental students. He was mentor to more than a few.

If poetry as prayer is a topic of interest, you could do worse than to explore Lax’s life and work. A light read and good introduction to this poet is The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax.  It was written by San Francisco writer, S.T. Georgiou (Greek Orthodox), who went to Patmos in search of some spiritual answers. As good fortune would have it, he met Robert Lax, became friends with him and visited often with him on several trips back to Patmos.  Subsequently, after Lax’s death, Georgiou wrote The Way of the Dreamcatcher, a book about this adventure in friendship, mentoring, the sacred and poetry.

Robert Lax received the National Council of the Arts Award in 1969.

Books by Robert Lax include:


“because yes – he likes to ‘write’ – but to ‘do’ – to do a particular thing – perhaps on paper (perhaps on canvas – perhaps in stone – perhaps, perhaps in a musical score) – a thing that will stand, a thing that will bear (that will sustain) repeated contemplation: a thing that will sustain long contemplation, and that will (in a ‘deep’ enough way) reward the beholder.”  Robert Lax, Love Had a Compass: Journals and Poetry

Once Upon a Sea Green Day, a poem … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

We flew along the freeway yesterday under
a cold coastal expanse of cerulean ceiling.

It reminded me of you and how we dusted
the vaults of our minds to rid them of fear
and the old lexicons of grief and guilt, the
whalebone girdles of unfounded faith and
common conventions, saccharine and sticky.
I thought of that one sea-green day we spent

under just such a sky in a land far away and
how we changed your name then, reframed
your story to tell of hope and not despair.
You sketched flowers blossoming in the dust
of a spring that promised but never delivered.
Now we don’t speak of men but of cats with

their custom of keeping heart and claws intact.
We tell ourselves stories in rhythms that resound
in deep sleep. Soon now the ancient calls to
feral festivals will still and the time’s arrived when
our only play is in the margins, fate hanging
from our skeletons like Spanish moss on old oak.

It pleases me that life’s passage spins into poemed reliquary and
a memory of the pink peau de soie I wore to your prom that June.

© 2017,  prompt, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved


WRITING PROMPT

This particular poem was inspired by the memory of a day when my high school boy friend and I went from Brooklyn to Staten Island and found a obsure Tibetan monestary in the hills there.  The monks were kind (and I suspect patient) and showed us their flower and vegetable gardens and an old well-loved version of the Book of the Dead.  This later was most intriguing to us: a Catholic and a Jew steeped in their respective traditions.

We were young and cock sure and probably our own deaths seemed more hypothetical than real; but we speculated on Buddhism from our positions of profound ignorance. In its way, it was a good exercise. It made us begin to seriously examine the received wisdom of our traditions. For me it was the beginning of an adventure that was to last a lifetime. I did leave behind the grief, guilt and superstition; but here were some aspects of the tradition of my childhood for which I gained a respect that probably never would have evolved without examination.

What about you?  What were the beliefs and enthusiasms of your youth? How have these (religious or not) been modified over time? Tell us in a poem or short creative nonfiction. If you are comfortable, leave the piece in the comments section below or a link to it so that I and others might enjoy it. Thank you!


The recommended read for this week for children, Pizza, Pigs and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by  Jack Prelutsky,  named the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

Pizza, Pigs and Poetry, How to Write a Poem is ideal for children grades 3-6.  He engages by sharing funny stories, light poems and creative technique, not forms. This seems entirely perfect for encouraging – not discouraging – this age group. Fun and funny Pizza, Pigs and Poetry would make great summer reading – and writing – and is perfect for a birthday gift or a gift for some other occasion.


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