Categories
Poetry Rabbinic Reflections

‘Confessional to the Women We’ve Failed’: A Poem about Reproductive Justice

In response to the leaked draft of the decision of a majority of justices of the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, CCAR member Rabbi Zoe Klein wrote a poem entitled “Confessional to the Women We’ve Failed,” styled after the Viddui, a prayer meaning “confession,” recited just before Yom Kippur. The Central Conference of American Rabbis has long supported reproductive rights and, in the strongest terms, urges the Supreme Court not to restrict abortion rights and certainly not to reverse the groundbreaking and liberating decision in Roe v. Wade. If the leaked opinion is in fact a harbinger of a Supreme Court decision soon to come, CCAR rabbis will grieve; and without delay, we will continue our ongoing struggle for reproductive liberty.


Al cheit shechatanu l’fanayech
For the sin we have sinned against you…

the woman with kidney disease whose doctors say her pregnancy is
life threatening,
the woman who has high blood pressure whose doctors say her
pregnancy may kill her,
the woman with clinical depression and suicide ideation who is criminalized for saving herself,

the woman who doesn’t know for months that she is pregnant
because of heavy spotting,
the woman who doesn’t know for months that she is pregnant
because of an irregular period,
the girl who doesn’t know for months that she is pregnant
because she has only just started puberty,

Al cheit shechatanu l’fanayech
For the sin we have sinned against you…

the woman suffering an ectopic pregnancy who is called “murderer”
on her way to her appointment,
the parents who are told their baby will be born with anencephaly,
without a brain, and are called “murderers,”
the woman who is told there is no heartbeat and is called “murderer”
on her way to the clinic,

the woman who miscarries and is criminalized because she cannot
prove it was natural,
the parent who is told that if born, their baby will live in excruciating pain and won’t survive past infancy,
the girl who is ostracized, shamed and criminalized
while he who impregnates her is free,

Al cheit shechatanu l’fanayech
For the sin we have sinned against you…

the family who doesn’t have health insurance
and barely survives paycheck to paycheck,
the woman living in a rural, remote town who cannot afford
the transportation, hotel and time off for a procedure,
the partner who loses their job for taking the days needed
to travel over state lines for their spouse’s care,
the children who are not taught sex education and are not
given access to birth control,
the families who are not given paid parental leave or affordable childcare,
the woman who religiously took birth control to prevent pregnancy,
but the birth control failed,

Al cheit shechatanu l’fanayech
For the sin we have sinned against you…

the woman who is a victim of reproductive coercion
by a domestic abuser,
the woman who is impregnated as a victim of sex trafficking,
the girl who is impregnated through sexual violence
and then retraumatized by the court,

the girl who is overpowered by a relative or person of authority,
the woman of color who faces racial and ethnic disparity in medicine, and less access to quality contraceptive services,
the Ukrainian woman refugee who was raped by the same Russian soldier who murdered her children,

Al cheit shechatanu l’fanayech
For the sin we have sinned against you…


the mother who is imprisoned for acquiring misoprostol
to end her teen daughter’s traumatic pregnancy,
the mother who is imprisoned for having an abortion in order to better feed and care for her children,
the woman who is imprisoned for terminating a pregnancy
that was not conceived in love,

the daughter who suffers long-term agony from terminating her pregnancy in unhygienic environments, at the hands of untrained individuals,
leaving her to suffer vaginal and rectal tearing, future infertility,
uterine perforations, hemorrhage, sepsis, blunt trauma, poisoning, and ruptured bowel, the daughter who is too scared to ask for help and dies of torturous infection and blood loss from the rusty tools
of a medical charlatan, the daughter who doesn’t have any reason
to trust lawmakers and adults, and suffers excruciating, unnecessary death.

Al cheit shechatanu l’fanayech
For the sin we have sinned against you…

For all of our failures to protect you, our daughters, mothers,
partners and friends,
Don’t forgive us. Don’t pardon us. Don’t lead us to atonement.


Rabbi Zoë Klein is the senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles. She has written multiple novels and short stories, she has written chapters in a number of collections, including The Torah: A Women’s Commentary and Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation, and she has written articles for numerous publications, including Harper’s BazaarTikkun, and Torat Hayim.  Her poems and prayers are used in houses of prayer around the country.

Categories
Books High Holy Days spirituality

What is God’s Relationship to Suffering and Evil?

As we ask big questions during the High Holy Days, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, presents a range of Jewish responses to both theological and philosophical questions pertaining to God, humanity, and the Jewish people. In the spirit of the High Holy Days, we would like to share some of the inspirational responses included in the book, for a thoughtful and meaningful New Year.

I imagine that God weeps at the sufferings of the whole disharmonious natural world. If God does weep with us, it is with a heart that we wrote into the story. We invented God’s heart, our greatest contribution to God’s tale.

I cannot know why suffering and evil exist. No work of fiction is free of it. It is the stuff of timeless story. However, our greatest spiritual resistance to suffering is metaphor and interpretation. To interpret is divine. God breathed that ability into us.

LITFXXX_Page_1A traditional Jewish ritual response to nightmares is called “the Amelioration of a Dream” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 55b). The ritual requires three friends to declare that the dream be interpreted for good. The text explains that all dreams have a hint of prophecy; however, all dreams can be interpreted positively. In fact, the prophecy of the dream lies partially in its interpretation. The dreamer says three times, Adonai shamati v’yareiti—God, I heard what You made me hear and I was frightened. Three friends respond with the prescribed words, “Choose life, for God has already approved your deeds. Repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree.”

We dream, but we are also dreamt. We are written, and within that story, we write. It is said in Torah and our liturgy: U’vayom hash’vi-i shavat vayinafash, “On the seventh day God ‘rested.’” Translators struggle in translating vayinafash, suggesting, “On the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.” Vayinafash, however, literally means God “ensouled.” On the seventh day God rested and created spirits. Out of God’s dark, void chamber before Creation, God suddenly dreamed a dream/nightmare and based on that dream/nightmare, the world was sketched and animated in full color. We are the dream/ nightmare. We have little control over the outcome except to interpret it for the good.

A congregant had a double mastectomy and did not know how to love herself afterwards. She would stand before a mirror naked, seeing herself as grotesque. We sought a metaphor that would help her to see herself in a new light. We imagined her body as a sacred altar and that her breasts were the sacrifices that redeemed her life. Years later she told me that now when she stands before the mirror, she thinks “sacred altar” and has found a love for herself inside that she thought had disappeared. She reinterpreted her nightmare through metaphor.

Rabbi Zoe Klein serves Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA.

Excerpted from Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions, edited by Rabbi Paul Citrin and published in 2015 by CCAR Press.

Categories
Ethics News Prayer Rabbis

No Text is Worth a Life: A High Holy Day Pledge

As we turn to thoughts of a new year and a new start, here is a pledge to refrain from texting while driving. Texting while driving is responsible for a quarter of all car accidents today, and is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. Please share this pledge from the High Holy Day pulpit, or make it part of your personal Rosh HaShanah spiritual preparation. Perhaps be making this verbal oath in a sacred space amidst a community of witnesses, we may contribute to saving lives.

 

Whoever destroys a single soul destroys a complete world.

Whoever preserves a single soul preserves a complete world. – Talmud Sanhedrin 37a

 At this season we ask: who by fire and who by water?

Today we also ask, who by texting while driving?

An epidemic is sweeping our country.

DWI, Driving While In-text-ified causes 1.6 million accidents a year.

Driving While In-text-ified causes 330,000 injuries per year.

Driving While In-text-ified causes 11 teen deaths every day.

75% of teens say Driving While In-text-ified is common among their friends.

Half of young drivers have seen their parents Driving While In-text-ified.

Driving While In-text-ified makes you 23 times more likely to crash.

Driving While In-text-ified slows your brake reaction speed by 18%.

Driving While In-text-ified is the source of nearly 25% of all car accidents.

Driving While In-text-ified is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.

Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving after 4 beers.

Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time.

At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field completely blind.

Who by fire, who by water? Who by texting while driving? On this holy day, as we reflect on our deeds and resolve to better ourselves and the world, we invite you to put your hand on your heart and join us by repeating this sacred pledge:

 

We will not Drive While In-text-ified.

We will use only hands-free devices in the car.

No text is worth a life.

No text is worth a life.

No text is worth a life.

We will not Drive While In-text-ified.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ. שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.

וְתַגִּיעֵנוּ לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵנוּ לְחַיִּים וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם

 Yehi ratzon milefanecha Adonai Eloheinu veilohei avoteinu v’imoteinu shetolicheinu leshalom vetatzideinu leshalom vetadricheinu leshalom vetismecheinu leshalom vetagi’einu limechoz cheftzeinu lechaim ulesimchah uleshalom.

May it be Your will God of our fathers and mothers that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace. Amen.

Rabbi Zoe Klein serves Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA.