Monday, September 24, 2012

The Extraordinary Sarah Lawson

These words were written for Sixth and I's Rosh HaShanah davenning by the talented Slam poet, Sarah Lawson. Find out more about her creation, The Beltway Poetry Slam at,

We have all had the experience of finding
that our reactions and perhaps even our deeds
have denied beliefs we thought were ours.- James Baldwin

If everyday activism is the rent I pay
for living on this planet,
I am not always the most remarkable tenant.

I have broken leases on far too many simple moments
where my beliefs are perched on my tongue
but never seem to escape my lips.

I am learning the difference between
holding the things we believe
in our teeth and having them be
the only language we are fluent in.

It is the beginning of the year
we are all making that long journey back inside our skin
to discover the months we tucked away in there
In this year of unseasonable warmth,
of Spring without Winter,
of Hunger Games and Avengers,
of Occupy Tents and convention floors

It is a time to weave back over the patterns
that have stitched us into this place
and we cannot possibly do all the reflecting alone.

So I asked my friends to help
answer the question of what they believe in-

Their responses; A thing called love, quotation marks, one person’s ability to make a huge difference, the Chicago teachers union,  Unicorns and Spider-Man, our inevitable demise, mermaids, sushi, a childs infinite capacity for joy, peanut butter filled pretzels, God, family, democracy, equality, diversity and that none of these should be mutually exclusive, love. Slurpees, and you.

 I believe in you.

But this year, I don’t want to just declare my beliefs
I want to wear them like my favorite outfit
I want them paved and cemented
The only path on which I can move
through this world.

So when someone asks me what I believe
I won’t just say 'marriage rights and equal access to healthcare
old school hip hop and paying artists for their work
I believe that one day my friends are really going to change
this world, In a woman’s rights to everything
poetry, epic romances and family.'

No, this year, I don’t just want to just hold my beliefs
I want them to hold me too
The way an ocean holds a tide
The way High Holiday prayer books are held-
for some, the comfort of an old friend
for some, a new and scary path.

But my hope for us all is this
May the moments we have not spoken up
now be filled with our music
May the times we are soft be calcified
May we always find the words to say the things
that mean the most to us
and if we cannot find words
let us find action
If we cannot find action, let us find learning.

Let us find that for every crack
discovered in our foundation
that we already possess the mortar
for a new beginning.

Sarah D. Lawson
© September 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Break My Organic Heart

Parshat Ki Tavo
20 Elul, 5772
September 7th, 2012

Drs.Dana Bravata and Crystal Smith-Spangler at Stanford University (takeh), after reviewing thousands of papers on the subject, “did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives…”

Oh boy.

Had they criticized farmer’s markets, had they flown in fruit from Zimbabwe, had they pointed out that kale tastes really, really bad – these researchers could not have angered organic food advocates more.

Personally, I love studies like these. Having one’s conceits busted is good for the soul.

Every great idea, organic farming included, attracts intellectual detritus. It’s just what happens. When we believe in a principle, we will muster every proof we can think of in its support. About half the time, those proofs turn out to be, ahem, complete bullshit. Unless one periodically clears out the false hypotheses, precious pieces of wisdom gather the smell of manure.

My beloved Rav Kook valued atheism. He wrote,“Atheism has the right of temporary existence because it is needed to digest the filth adhered to faith for the lack of intellect and service” (Orot 126)

I hesitate to point out that, just over a week away, are two holidays designed for the very purpose of cleaning spiritual house. When it comes to beliefs – better not to be a hoarder. Time to roll up our sleeves and start scrubbing.