This poem was commissioned by the Women’s Rabbinic Network in honor of Rabbi Sally J. Priesand, the first woman ordained as a rabbi in North America. It was written by Merle Feld, a pioneering Jewish feminist poet, and is featured in Feld’s new collection from CCAR Press, Longing: Poems of a Life.
Let my people go that we may serve You For Rabbi Sally Priesand (HUC-JIR 1972) and Lisa Feld (HCRS 2023) Remember girdles? Remember the anger we weren’t supposed to show, or even feel? Remember sitting and waiting to say Bar’chu as someone counted, Not one, not two . . . The being invisible, the tears blinked back, fiercely. Remember the love, the innocence assaulted, hearing for the first time, those words, and those words, and those, such words in a holy book, demeaning me, you, us? All these years later, I feel the pain, rising, constricting, afflicting. Remembering. Searching for a reason to stay: love is stronger than death. Tears became anger—that word—the ultimate weapon. She’s an angry woman (so we can ignore her, put her down, close our ears and hearts). Blessed be the allies, calling for the first time from the bimah—Taamod! The ones who broke through the tight circles on Simchas Torah and passed us a scroll to hold, to dance with. The ones who said yes, yes, yes. And yes. And we, the wrestlers—I won’t let you go till you bless me. The lust, the longing, to learn, to leyn, to lead, to bensch, to be counted, to be called, to locate our wisdom, to inhabit our power and our tenderness, to build holy communities, fully and richly as ourselves, as Jewish women, as rabbis—I won’t let you go till you bless me. Now, and going forward, now, and for tomorrow, My heart soars, it flies, it bursts. From Sally to Sandy, to Sara, from Amy and Amy to Annie, to Ariel, Deborah, Devorah, wave after wave after wave, I see joyous throngs—there’s Rachel, and Hara, Jen, Jamie, Jessica, Jan, and Kara. There’s Sharon, and Sharon, and Sharon! Too many to name—we’re just getting started! For so long, the world was unimaginable with you in it, now, we cannot imagine a world without you. We bless the work of your hands, we bless the work of your hearts. We are blessed, to be here, still, just at the beginning. Commissioned by Women’s Rabbinic Network in honor of Rabbi Sally J. Priesand
Merle Feld is an acclaimed poet, playwright, educator, and activist. Her previous works include her memoir A Spiritual Life and the poetry collection Finding Words.
One reply on “‘Let my people go that we may serve You’: A Poem in Honor of Rabbi Sally J. Priesand”
How beautiful and moving!