I’m grateful for the existence of this non sequitur genre that was the first language that allowed me to fully articulate what is difficult to express, to Marcela for revealing the gorgeous world of hybrid literature to me, and to my dearest Geula– the best type of friend a writer could have– for the feedback that helped me polish it. It feels like a second birth seeing it out in the world.
Here is a clip from the piece:
I left home before graduation and moved in with him when I was seventeen. My mother called the police and said he was “harboring a minor.” The police car picked me up at his apartment to take me home. I went back the next day. She also took my passport. I reported it as stolen, and he bought me a new one. We went to the courthouse on my 18th birthday and signed the marriage certificate. A month later, we were on a plane to Israel.
The first compasses did not always point north. Early compasses pointed east.
Mother: “You need to ask yourself, why did you decide to marry him, and go to a foreign country with him? Why have you stayed together this long? Do any or all of these reasons still exist? Whatever you have done or not done, or whatever he has done or not done, is it forgivable? Can you move on and stay together?”
Compassare, from Vulgar Latin, “to pass or step together.”
I left him when I was 25—when I met Sasha.
Elisheva: “Some of the things you say sound eerily familiar. I tell you when a man or woman does not feel satisfied it takes on a life of its own. I’m glad about the way he has made you feel. Every woman wants to feel lost in love (or lust) as you are.”
It has a magnetized pointer free to align itself with Earth’s magnetic field.
Mother: “I know this may sound strange to you, but somehow I feel that I am to blame for your present situation. Maybe if I had been a better parent, or maybe if I did not give you money to go out, you would not have met or become involved with this guy.”
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.
How do I begin to process what Swarriya סוויריה has meant for me? ובאיזו שפה? (–and in which language?)
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  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.
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.]
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:
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.”
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.
“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” ~ Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
“Fame in the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That lest infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delight and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred, sheers,
And slits the thin-spun life…
But not the praise”
~John Milton “Lycidas”
I read Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave this semester, which is where the above quote is taken from. Harjo showed me the kind of story teller I want to be. I breathed in her words as my own: “In a fast, narrow crack of perception, I knew this is what I was put here to do: I must become the poem, the music, and the dancer.” This month, saw the three minute video “Existential Bummer” by Jason Silva with the Ernest Becker quote, which immediately caught my attention as one of the best ways I’ve heard the cognitive dissonance of existence put into one sentence. In the video Silva says “we defy entropy and impermanence with our films and our poems.” Then, while working on an assignment and searching for lines inspired by class material, I found the “Lycidas” quote copied into my journal from last year along with the entry below. Though it’s nine months old, I find that I am still, and perhaps will always be, split in two: between my gifts and the blind Fury.
What Does It All Mean?
October 11, 2013
I was walking in town thinking about what it all means. Our energy is borrowed and one day we will have to return it. I’ve been thinking about it every morning and every night. What is it all for, what are these unique creatures; are we just ants, just animals, just leaves on a tree to fall and be remembered in the fall and forgotten in the spring? I want to be known but there is so much to know; I want to be remembered but there is so much to remember. And it will only last for so long and what good will it do me when I’m gone to be remembered? I won’t know anyway. Any memorial can be torn down, any book destroyed and forgotten—and what is it all for? I am entering the best stage of my life so far: thoroughly conscious ignorance, plus on the path of my own choosing, my own making. I was immensely grateful. Now, I am an English teacher and a poetry student; I am a dancer and a performer by hobby; I am recognized as an artist, a poet, an organizer. But I want more and will want more and plan and plan and gather and gather like a busy bee (I was visited by a bee again) and then—I will blink a few times. My daughters will be women; I may see children and grandchildren; I will possibly be honored and surely loved; my parents will depart and I will suddenly remember things I should have said and done, perhaps. There is a future that the movies promised us: sci-fi will be real or the sun may burn out or a dystopia, but all of my generation will pass and the future generations will pass and how long can this go on, and then what? Even with more answers there will always be more questions: can god be proved, is there a power of attraction, what do the charts tell us, what do the cards tell us, what will science find, and what monsters will be created? I will gather and achieve and still ask, what does it all mean, and it will end; the only thing that is sure, the only thing that is sure is decomposition: every story will end.
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.
children die every day
Revision of life
Revenge or honor
We live to die
The homosexual boy:
in the crook of his father’sarms 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
as do point blank
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
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
round in the hand
is a mortar round
in the air
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
Days, blurred into each other
Like there was no sleep.
of a hundred TV sets
of another forest fire.
on the fingers
of early-morning travelers,
the serious concentration
of the bus driver…
and children, searching for truth
in the faces
of surrounding adults.
Waves of pain
drifting through neighbourhoods…
Sparks of strength
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.
Aside from maps and clocks and compasses, I also love lampposts. A clock is time; the human obsession of how much of it is left before we die, how it won’t wait, the only thing we can’t buy. A map is location or dislocation, finding your way or acknowledging you are lost, lost but looking (or conversely following a path predetermined for you). A compass is where we are and how we get where we’re going (our location vis-à-vis the Northern Star). All of it is about the human condition– direction, or rather three questions: where are we, where are we going, how much time do we have to get there?
But the lamppost, it doesn’t take me anywhere. It does not define; it measures, neither time or space nor place. What it does do, however, is light the way from where I am. I’d like to think of lampposts as metaphorical friends on the path of time and spatial travel we call life; or sometimes epiphanies, ‘ah ha’ moments when we are static but suddenly know what is next; a luminous “Eureka!” It’s the light we may use to read the map, mark the spot, set the clock, tell the time, or follow the compass. It may be education. It is clearly literally and figuratively enlightenment that comes at points and appointed times.
You do not take the lamppost with you as a flashlight or a candle. It is not placed in the safety of your own home (except at the entrance of a door or the exit to a garden, welcoming a stranger, signaling entry into a new realm). You come upon them and suddenly, they are before you. You’d prefer to follow them, especially at night, but you never know, on unfamiliar back roads, when they will suddenly disappear when you need them the most. You find them sometimes unnecessarily lit in the day. Some parts of the world, some countries, some cities, neighborhoods, and corners of the earth have less than they should or more than they need.
We take them for granted when they are abundant and lament where light is lacking- we are not just complaining: we are afraid, incapacitated and anticipate imminent danger. We know not what darkness will conjure up, what is lurking in the unseen places…
There is no Bogeyman when the lamppost is lit. We find Narnia when the lamppost is lit.
We have celebrated light since the foundation of the world- “Let there be light!” We have coveted fire since Prometheus’ gift. We have put a candle under a bush. We have praised the sun. We have danced under the moon. We have followed bright stars. We have prayed to be light.
And when all of the lights of heaven were not enough, we scattered light across the earth…