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Carry Me Home: A Testimony of Orly Portal’s Swiria

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“I was a witness to a witches’ ceremony” he said. Photo credit: Alexander Kreinzin

In the summer of 2019, I had the most powerful dance experience of my life with Orly Portal‘s Swiria (סוויריה). I didn’t go back the following year because I’d decided to take on becoming a homeroom teacher and Sundays, the days we had the Swiria course from the morning to the afternoon, were required work days at the school. For two years since, I’d been eating my heart out on the regular. I would see the women that I started with progressing, dancing on rooftops or in the forest during lockdown, performing on the stage, fulfilling the dream that I had come for in the first place.

I asked myself “How could I do it?” How could I have taken this away from myself? For what? Was the task I had taken upon myself worth the dream deferred?” (Especially since what was supposed to be a four year journey as a Waldorf high school homeroom teacher came to an abrupt end after its second year–but that’s a topic for another post.)

And then, on Wednesday, October 6th, I entered the studio in Ein Shemer for the first time after a two-year hiatus. I felt the return home. Already, at the beginning of class, during the stretches, I had tears of gratitude in my eyes. What’s most important is that I am here. What’s most important is that I returned. What’s most important is that I have learned my lesson, to never say “no” again to what is good for my entire being. But rather, to always say an enthusiastic yes, with a full heart, no matter what, with faith that the rest will work themselves out.

After that performance in August 2019, I wrote a piece that I never shared publicly. In honor of my return, it is time for it to come to light. At the end, I have a little surprise. There is a hint in the title.

“Lord have mercy on me,” from my solo to Gil Scott-Heron’s “New York is Killing Me” Photo credit: Tomer Shallom

Testimony (Swarriya/Swiria)*

How do I begin to process what Swarriya סוויריה has meant for me? ובאיזו שפה? (–and in which language?)

Testimony.

 זאת המילה שמלווה אותי כל הדרך. (This is the word that carries me along the way.)

In Hebrew there is no satisfactory translation because it misses a cultural significance.

בעברית הפירוש הוא “עדות” אבל באנגלית, בתרבות של הכנסיות האפרו-אמריקאיות המשמעות היא לבוא מול הקהל ולהעיד על איזה נסים נעשה בחייך עלי יד הכוח העליון. לספר איך הגעת לכאן ומען באת. איך רק זכות האמונה ניצלת.

(In English, it carries connotations of the African American church, meaning to come in front of the congregation and “give a testimony” on the miracles done in your life by the higher power. To tell how you got here and where you came from. How only by the power of faith were you saved.)

My story with Swarriya begins over four years ago [2016] when I saw it performed: The Gnawa trance called me to the stage to dance it; the fusion with Gill Scott Heron’s spoken word spoke to my soul—beats of the descendants of slaves from the east meet voice of the descendants of slaves from the west. I wanted to jump on stage and thus begin the obsession. זרע החלום ניטע. (The seed of the dream took root.)

“It’s your rhythm.”

(She told me once at a workshop in Jerusalem.)

“זה הקצב שלך,”

היא אמרה לי פעם בסדנה נדירה בי”ם.

The story of my rhythm spans decades—from being told I couldn’t dance to being told I was born to dance, to recognizing my own rhythm.

She was always too far, too out of reach, but when Swarriya came for reincarnation, I couldn’t resist. With the help of Ella’s faith, I made the pilgrimage to Ein Shemer.

אורלי אמרה פעם, “תעשו מחקר. תראו מאיפה באנו. המקור של ריקוד היה לסיבה הזאת בלבד, להזמין את הרוחות לעזור לנו. כולכן באתן—בין אם ראיתן את סוויריה או לא, בין אם ידעתן או לא—להתחבר לדבר הזה.”

(Orly said once, “Do some research and look where we came from. The origin of dance was for this reason only, to invite the spirits to come help us. All of you came here—whether saw Sawarriya or not whether you know it or not— to connect to this.”)

On April 30th I sprained my ankle. I couldn’t walk for weeks. I couldn’t dance for two months. I never posted about this. I mourned the performance in between physical therapy appointments. I undulated between hope and despair. One month before the show I was told I could dance again. The 2nd rehearsal day that I returned I entered a trance in the last ceremony and felt orgasmic joy surge through my chest and pour out in tears of gratitude. This is a testimony.

“She’s on it,”

Orly said the week before the performance about “New York” and I started messing up what I knew well. The performances were on Thursday and Friday. I was crying from Sunday, Monday I had a panic attack, and cried myself to sleep קניתי רסקיו לפעם הראשונה.  On Tuesday, I called Ella crying.

שוב אלה בעלת אמונה הרגיעה אותי. אין מלווה יותר מסורה. עבודת קודש היא עושה.

(I bought Rescue for the first time. Again, faithful Ella calmed me down. There is no more dedicated accompaniment than her. What she does is holy work.)

On Wednesday, the day before the performance Orly pulled me out to the front with one instruction: “יש לך מצב.” (You’re under a spell.)

אז קיבלתי מצב. (So, I fell under a spell.)

Like a magician, a conductor, a mad puppeteer, she pulled out of me what I didn’t even know I had in me to do. And yet it was what I’d been waiting for my entire life, only I did not believe I was worthy.

I went from a sprained ankle to a solo. This is a testimony.

I lost my voice the night before the show. I drank zaatar tea and prayed and held my lapis lazuli. I coughed half the night. My voice came back. And on Thursday I sang “lord have mercy” with all my might; I sang of being healed. I learned to appreciate every functioning part of my body. This is a testimony.

“I thought you were going to melt and turn into butter,” the old lady said, “I thought you were going to just, poof, disappear.”

“זה נכון, היית אנרגיה טהורה,” אורלי אמרה. (“It’s true, you were pure energy,” Orly said.)

“I tell you: one must still have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”

~Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“אדם אשר אין בו כאוס

לא יכול להוליד כוכב רוקד.

יש בך כאוס, יש בך כאוס!

יש. יש. יש.”

I confess, I’d never felt so connected before to the continent that was sometimes too proud of its lineage to take in a bastard of the West. But these slaves who made beats with their chains and transformed them into praise songs, I know these songs; my soul has heard them before; they call me home.

Swarriya is more than Gnawa meets Gil Scott, more than dancing, Moroccan singing, krakebs (qraqeb/garagab) and zills. It’s my story. It’s where all of my parts could finally meet. I danced who I am.

“תודה שראית אותי,” (“Thank you for seeing me,”)

I told her after it was all over.

“איך אפשר שלא?” (“How could I not?”)

אני אסירת תודה אין קץ על המתנה שנקראת “סווירה” מאורלי פורטל האחד ויחידה.

 גבולות של האפשרי נפתחו לי. “אני חדשה כאן.”

I am endlessly grateful for the gift that is called “Swarriya” from the only and only Orly Portal.

The borders of possibility have opened up to me. “I am new here.”

אלף תודות לאלה, שאמונתה הבלתי פוסקת החזיקה אותי מההתחלה ועד הסוף.

כמה ראוי היה לשיר את שבחיך בסוויריה. שיבחתי את שמך מכל ליבי ובאושר עד.

ותודה לשבט הנשים שלי, אחיות הטקס ושותפות במסע לכוהנות.

*[Translations were added for the purposes of this blog post. They are not always 100% accurate–because they cannot be, but aim to convey the essence of the message. Also at the time of writing it, I spelled it “Swarriya” vs. the “Swiria” on the work’s website, but there is no one spelling in English.]

“I entered a trance in the last ceremony and felt orgasmic joy surge through my chest” Photo credit: Gil Volfson
Calligraphy Flourishes Collection | Noun Project

At the “after party,” one of the girls asked me, “Do you know any gospel songs?” If there is a way to end a testimony, then this is it:

Gifting Myself

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Me at the artsy Airbnb in Trastevere, Rome starting my birthday with journaling

Late Birthday Musings

It’s been hard for me to talk about my age & now, the next BIG birthday has finally come. The anxiety around it isn’t just the number itself or appearances. It’s the realization that not only is the list of what I want to do in this lifetime still long, my life has felt on hold, esp. as a homeroom teacher. For 2 years I stopped dancing, writing & submitting for publication. The beginning of the past decade was a flourishing, a blossoming. The end stagnation. Slowly, I’ve been gifting myself:

✨Rereading Emerson, then The Artist’s Way, A Return to Love, Big Magic, Refuse to Choose, & more.

✨ New glasses so I could “see” clearly, back to my signature red. New stones, Mexican matrix opal & sodalite.

✨Sang my heart out with Noam Enbar at his Howl workshops and mystical forest retreat to make my voice heard, shed what no longer serves me, show my true colors.

✨Returned dance to my life with Itay Ganot , a shift of consciousness through movement & Ella Greenbaum , a return home to Gnawa rhythms.

✨Started cello lessons and it feels like I was born to hold this instrument in my hands, feel its strings vibrating in my heart.

✨ Reinstated spiritual practices. I’ve gone to energetic healing: “For all the times I’ve stayed, even when it wasn’t good for me, please forgive me.”

✨شعراء بابل משוררי בבל Poets of Babel Поэты Вавилона has made a comeback this summer and it is just as magical as always.

✨Finally submitted for publication after pining away for a book so many years– like the fable of the man praying to win the lottery without buying a ticket (send me good mojo). I’ve bought a ticket.

✨All of this cumulated with magical Rome, remembering that I always have been a traveler at heart.

✨ The biggest development is, after a rollercoaster of 3 years, I’m no longer continuing at the school. This is one of the hardest closing of chapters in my life. Perhaps my most important lesson will be to show my students what that looks like to choose yourself.

For now, I am in the Divine Unknown and grateful. 🔮🧿📿🌈 All I know is, I promise to heed my inner compass, trust myself, bring my fire.

Thank you, Reflections of Love, for the sparkling blessings, colorful wishes, and shiny vibes. 💚✨🌈

Poet’s of Babel’s Comeback I
Rereading Emerson, then The Artist’s Way, A Return to Love, Big Magic, Refuse to Choose, & more.
New stones: Mexican matrix opal & sodalite.
Poets of Babel Comeback II
Link

In addition to my beloved Poets of Babel, I’ve started a new page called “We are a threat to the national identity.” It was an impromptu reaction to this article about the ban of a book (Borderlife by Dorit Rabinyan) in which there is a Jewish-Palestinian love affair. But honestly, this is really the result of years of being asked if I’m Jewish while living in Israel, being called a goy, or a shiksa, being asked if I’ll convert, or even being told I have a Jewish soul (which is supposed to be a compliment but only serves to represent the cognitive dissonance of my existence in this country). The byline goes like this:

“Goy,” “shiksa,” “danger of assimilation,” “a threat to the identity of the nation”–this is what they call us: those who would ban a book because it encourages intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. That was just the impetus for this group, but what it brings up has been on my mind for a long time. *This is a group for people who love people and not nationalities, or are a product of such love. Post your inter-whatever love here.

I hope you all can show support. Let’s get the message out. I want to break the internet in 2016 with our extra-Jewish affairs and our inter-whatever love. There is no box dammit.

Happy New Year!

 

Reading List: Nonfiction Craft Books

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Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies

IMG_7690Here’s a list of books to use when teaching CNF. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a good start. This list originally grew out of a discussion by members of the Creative Nonfiction Collective (CNFC). 

Thanks to Julija Šukys for this terrific list!

__________

  • Atkins, Douglas. Tracing the Essay
  • Barrington, Judith. Writing the Memoir
  • Birkerts, Sven. The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again
  • Bradway, Becky and Hesse, Douglas, eds. Creating Nonfiction: A Guide and Anthology
  • Castro, Joy. Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family
  • D’Agata, John, ed. Lost Origins of the Essay
  • –, ed. The Next American Essay
  • DeSalvo, Louise. The Art of Slow Writing
  • –. Writing as a Way of Healing
  • Fakundiny, Lydia, ed. Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. The Art of the Essay
  • Forché, Carolyn and Gerard, Philip. Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs
  • Gornick, Vivian. The Situation and…

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We are the Music Makers

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For almost 7 years, my friend D.J. Markey Funk and I had been holding on to this idea–until now. Though I did perform it at Cafe Tav (a mobile cabaret cafe), with music, this is a whole new world. Together as Euterpe, “We are the Music Makers” is my first spoken word song. Let me know what you think! Should we do it again?

When you’re finished, check out Markey Funk on Bandcamp. The dude’s prolific.

Because the Poets are Healers

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Murdered BoysNigerian girls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just a piece of what’s going on in the world. 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped, three Israeli boys kidnapped and murdered, a Palestinian boy kidnapped and murdered, burned alive. I live in Jerusalem, so the latter is more poignant; there has been rioting, violence, racist cries for death, ignorance, calls for revenge, and suspicions all over Facebook feeds and in the news. I am also a mother of daughters; I can’t forget–as it seems to be already forgotten– about daughters taken, god knows what is being done to them away from home and in the hands of violent men. And this is just a piece, there is more, always more–

At times like these, I think of the quote by the late great Maya Angelou,

“We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us.”

I think it means that we fail to recognize how easy it can be to go so low. We love to hail the beauty of the world, but there is ugliness, and a lot of it and it is all human. It is jarring, disturbing, heart-wrenching, when I allow myself to think about it. I normally don’t, I must admit. Sometimes, I am afraid that if I let in all the woes of the world it would break me in despair. But when I do, I want to fight the horrors; I still don’t know how. I find solace in poetry; others have as well. I don’t mean be naive. There is a level where poetry clearly won’t do a damn thing to change politics and the minds of murderers. And yet, there is great power in words– poetry is the epitome of that force. Poetry has a long history of documenting the times, telling legends, inciting, enticing, eulogizing; the danger of poetry, the sanctuary of poetry is well known; it crosses all boundaries and rises above–and the poets are healers. When we say ‘there are no words for this,’ it is poetry that finds the words. There is a way to know through the eye/I of the poet.

I want to share with you three poems–written out of that spirit in the midst of hate– that I believe have found the words. Two were written by friends of mine who live in Israel, one by me.

 

Revisions

People

children die every day

 

Revision of life

means revision

of meaning

 

Revenge or honor

killings   No

matter

We live to die

 

The homosexual boy:

Boy bled

in the crook of his father’s arms black sedan’s

back seat–a suspected execution

block–a coffin with seat belts and airbags

Burnt and bound–found

in a forest

 

[ put your heads down!

gunshots and Arabs singing ]

Three extreme zionist religious Jewish boys

deserved what they got

 

Murder takes back seat

to rhetoric

as do point blank

bullet wounds

 

Instead of words

a rocket will be sent from a schoolyard

and a missile returned to sender

They’ll get what’s coming to them

 

Two hundred and seventy six

Nigerian schoolgirls

will not be returned

without a war skirmish

Though their children will

with machetes and machine rifles

nestled in their dark slender arms

 

Hashtags won’t save our generations

A mortar

round in the hand

is a mortar round

in the air

 

People

as we digress

our children suffer

 

We live by the sword

we die by the sword

No meaning changed

by our revisions

-m z friedline

 

[Untitled]

Days, blurred into each other
Like there was no sleep.
The fuzz
of a hundred TV sets
and radios…
remnants
of another forest fire.
Newspaper print
on the fingers
of early-morning travelers,
the serious concentration
of the bus driver…
Another headline
and children, searching for truth
in the faces
of surrounding adults.
Waves of pain
drifting through neighbourhoods…
Sparks of strength
and unison
running through city streets
and a soft, gentle stroking of each other…
a blinding light
calling us all
away from the darkness…

~Louise Harris- Zvieli

 

Stop the Game

I know it’s hard. You are sitting there thinking, those could have been my boys, my brothers, me. You are thinking, summer has barely started; schools just got out today and some are now on eternal break, broken eternally. No one has won the game anymore–if you’re going to stop the game, then *stop* the game, dammit–no one has won, just lost. But what they don’t tell you in the games, is that nations are made from suffering together–more than shared joys. Is this a good thing, or very, very sad? Perhaps it is a part of the human support mechanism–come closer when it hurts. All I know is, the news will be on forever, especially here–there are hundreds of girls missing too–and the news is forever on, forever on, there will never not be news, only, what is news is old, very old, ancient, never-ending and we have to fall asleep sometimes, but the news will outlive us all.

~Shoshana Sarah K.

 

~~~

Moshe Ze’ev Friedline was born in Boulder Creek, California. He is currently studying English literature at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He is married and has a young daughter and younger son. He realized two years ago that he really enjoys writing poetry. He once found himself in an awkward conversation with a bull in a steakhouse.

Louise Harris- Zvieli says she’s just herself.

 

 *Poetry shared with the permission of the authors. All rights remain to the respective poets.

 

LET’S GET LIT: Babbling towards Baghdad (My First Radio Interview!)

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60s chic

 

I know, I know, I haven’t been around. But I’ve been studying poetry, falling in love lyric essay, being awaken at night by the muse. But now that the semester– and my first year of studying poetry– is over I’m getting busy again. Before I could fully get my foot out the door of the university and into summer vacation (and on the same day that I had a test in American Literature!) I had my first radio interview on “Let’s Get Lit” the TLV1 FM program with journalist and author Ilene Prusher. I was so nervous and as soon as I was done, I started obsessing about how I should have said everything differently! But instead of talking about it, how about you just listen and tell me what you think:

Let’s Get Lit: Babbling towards Baghdad

“American-born, Jerusalem-dwelling poet and polyglot Shoshana Sarah brings us inside the world of her multi-dimensional, multi-lingual poetry. She talks about “Poets of Babel,” a Jerusalem group she founded, and reads from her work.

Plus, a short review of Baghdad: The City in Verse, an anthology of 170 Arabic poems, most of them appearing in English for the first time, in a collection translated and edited by the University of Haifa’s Reuven Snir.”

 

 

2013 in review- Now It’s Time to Get Busy

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.