Don’t Shoot the Malachi – A Poem for Haftarah Toledot by Rick Lupert


Don’t shoot the Malachi,
he’s just the messenger
and it may not have

been his name because
Malachi means my messenger.
In fact don’t shoot anyone.

It’s uncomfortable for them
and makes the news and
causes arguments about

whether instruments that
shoot should exist or not.
Just listen to the messages.

You don’t have to agree with
the messages, but hear them out.
They come from on high.

They are responses to
what you have given. So
not only should you

not shoot the Malachi, but
when it’s your turn to give
from what you have

give the best you’ve got.
Don’t give the blemished offerings
the sickly sacrifices, the calf

with the broken leg.
The One who sent the messenger
will know the difference.

Don’t shoot the messenger
for reminding you to do what
you promised you’d do.

We children of Jacob
We who came second
after a foot.

We who forever got to
go first just for a bowl of soup.
Don’t shoot the messenger.

That’s the kind of thing
that will come back to
bite you in your foot.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

King David of Thrones – A Poem for Haftarah Chayei Sarah by Rick Lupert


As a fan of subscription television
I’m as concerned as the next person about
who is in line to sit on the throne.

And if this saves you the trouble
of reading it yourself, rest assured
King David’s top pick, Solomon

is guaranteed that spot
despite the chariot infested uppityness
of his brother Adonijah.

What concerns me more though
is how cold King David is and
extra blankets aren’t doing the job.

This is long before space heaters
and a local virgin is brought in to
provide the warmth.

This is all to tell us David is
getting old and the matter of
the ascension is at hand.

But in this post Biblical era
where our most beloved famous people
practically modern kings

are tumbling because they
attempted to get Biblical with
local virgins, I’m finding it difficult to

focus on the Royal election.
Keep driving, oh charioteers.
Warmth is earned by love

or at least warmth.
A king is not entitled to
grab what he pleases

especially not when
it is my subscription dollars
funding the operation.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Waiting for the Sky to Explode – A Poem for Haftarah Vayera by Rick Lupert


I remember the time I was at Disneyland with my beloved.
We were just a year into our love and everything was magic.

So when the voiceover came on in the park and said
anything’s possible, if you believe, I believed.

And then, as if to confirm my conviction, the sky exploded
as it does every night in that place, which is holy to anyone

who has fended off adult cynicism as long as I have.
So it’s not hard to believe the stories of the prophet

Elisha, holy man with a woman’s name, (we were the first
line crossers…) who gave a poor woman so much oil

she started a fossil fuel company and lived comfortably
on the profits all her days. Or the story of the woman

as old as our mother Sarah, who also had a child when
Elisha made a special arrangement with the original

Walt Disney on high. Or later how that child took to death
after a headache, but was immediately revived when

the prophet’s mouth was put on his. It may have been the first
mouth to mouth resuscitation but the implication is divine magic.

I don’t think I laughed like Sarah when I was told a child
was on the way. In fact it was one of the only speechless

moments of my life. But I see the miracles every day.
Something made from nothing, food purchased from

the sale of art, and the astonishment that breath continues
to come in and out of my lungs no matter what I do.

I believe in magic and I’m always ready for
the sky to explode.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

I Still Find Idols Enchanting – A Poem for Haftarah Lech Lecha by Rick Lupert


These are the idols I cling to
despite the ancient encouragement
not to

The large television
The multi-function toaster
the well assembled hand-held
communication device that feels
so significant in my fingers

These are the idols I cling to
despite the initial spark of Jewish –
one guy, breaking them all down

Feeding anything with fur
I think the ancient Egyptians were
really on to something when they
elevated the common house-cat

These are the idols I cling to
despite my admission that I am
but a worm of Jacob

Artistry over solvency
Lottery over hard work
The joke that destroys the
necessary silence

These are the idols I cling to
and the list is longer than the promises
made to me by the Ultimate Promise Maker

The One who told me I could crush the mountains
with Her at my back
The One who lets me say Her.
The one who told me the wind will
carry all this dust away.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Led Zeppelin Has Ruled Eternally – A poem for Haftarah Noach by Rick Lupert


When mountains crumble to the sea
there would still be you and me

“Thank you” – Led Zeppelin / Robert Plant

By these waters of Babylon, which, as best as I can tell,
we will only be wading in for another five minutes.

It feels like we’ve been babbling on for so long
we don’t know how to babble off.

Our jilted lover, the Holy Land, sits like an empty womb
waiting for us to fill her up. She doesn’t know why we’ve gone

or why it’s been so long, or if we’ll ever come back.
There’s just the emptiness and all it probably means.

But like the promise of the rainbow, Isaiah, the Robert Plant of his day,
reminds us this Relationship goes well beyond our own lives.

You may flood or wildfire or hurricane our buildings away
but consider it just a lover’s spat. This is the Love of all Loves

The Love that says Hey remember where that mountain
used to be? I just cleared it away to make more room for

how I feel about you. It’s almost time to start walking south.
Our back is gotten. We’ve got a nation to knock up.

…and don’t let that image get you all out of sorts.
It’s just a metaphor. These are all just metaphors.

You don’t think a mountain really crumbled into the sea
do you? Or maybe you know of one which did

in which case there may be a lot more to this
then you were ever willing to believe.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Let’s Rest Before It Even Starts – a poem for Haftorah Breishit by Rick Lupert


Sela

Eight hundred years before
the common era and we
pick up this beginning in the
middle of a conversation.

Isaiah, talking the talk of
the Prize Fighter. Reminding us
who’s had our backs
(and our fronts) this whole time,
since the first blade of grass
touched the first human foot.

Sela

Let’s sing a new song.
Let’s remember when the Earth
still had that new planet smell,
long before enemies were
vanquished on our behalf
by the One who exchanged
ribs like Legos.

Sela

Babylonia may be lovely this
time of year, but for some reason
this vacation makes us fill the river
with our tears.

It’s a long way home and
the turnpike is on fire.
It’s okay – We’ve got the
double capitalized triple A.
Roadside Service Deluxe.
Available twenty four hours day.

Sela

It’s almost three thousand years later
All I can see is gold.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Learning Trope


When Ronald Rosenblatt chants the haftarah for congregants at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, the 70-year-old West Los Angeles dentist feels a deep connection with his past.

His late father regularly stood up to sing the sacred text at the temple’s prayer services until his death about 10 years ago. And for ages before that, his Jewish ancestors chanted and listened to the holy words. Now, although he is not clergy, Rosenblatt helps to carry forward the tradition for both his family and community, and it makes him proud.

“It’s like I’m supposed to,” he said. “It’s been the most wonderful thing for me. For me it’s like my attachment to my father.”

It didn’t always seem possible. A decade ago, Rosenblatt couldn’t decipher the dots and lines — called trope — that guide the ritual chanting of scriptural passages, such as the haftarah, Torah and various megillot. But when the Reform synagogue’s Cantor Yonah Kliger announced he was offering a class in trope, Rosenblatt decided to take the plunge.

It was a transformative experience. Until that point, Rosenblatt had only learned to memorize a small portion of the haftarah as part of his bar mitzvah preparations years earlier. After studying with Kliger, Rosenblatt found he could chant any part of the text because he knew how to read trope, which is essentially ancient music notation.

“It’s just like a mystery solved,” he said.

For many Jews, learning trope may seem like a daunting task and one best suited to clergy. But by taking classes at a local synagogue — and with the help of books, online resources and plenty of practice — it’s possible for a layperson to learn the system within as little as a few weeks, some local teachers said. Several temples in the Los Angeles area offer trope classes for their adult congregants, ranging from group sessions to one-on-one tutoring. 

Trope readers can provide a valuable and needed service in their communities by chanting at temple services, according to Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot of Temple Judea, a Reform congregation in Tarzana. They also will enhance their own understanding of Judaism and Jewish rituals, she said.

“There’s plenty of people I can hand a CD to and they can do a Torah portion,” Wissot said. “But they can’t do another. They have to come back to me, which means I am in the way of them being able to practice Judaism in the way they want to. … If they have the skill [of reading trope], they can do it for themselves.” 

Most often, laypeople start by learning Torah trope. Some teachers also provide instruction in haftarah and other kinds of trope, which uses the same symbols but slightly different melodies. 

Kliger, who tutors congregants at Temple Emanuel, recommends beginners start by learning the haftarah trope because the markings are written into the text. That’s not the case with the Torah scrolls, where the reader must memorize the cantillation, he explained.

However, Wissot says many people are already familiar with some chants from the Torah, making it a logical place for them to start. Ultimately, the type of trope students decide to learn will depend on their own goals and the needs of the temple, she said.

Kliger says the melodies constitute a very early form of Jewish music that evolved around the same time as Gregorian chants. Trope originally was passed down as an oral tradition communicated through a series of hand symbols. Around 900 C.E., a family from Tiberias, Israel, the Ben-Ashers, codified the symbols in written form.

Today, there are many different variations of trope, depending on the branch of Judaism, geographic and cultural influences, and the individual style of cantors and congregations. The symbols remain the same, however, Kliger said.

Trope has several functions. It indicates the melody of the text; how words are accented; and punctuation, such as pauses and stops between words and phrases. All of this can impact interpretation as well.

“The tropes bring the text to life in a really deeper and richer way. They bring meaning to the words, they accentuate the syntax, the grammar, the punctuation, the melody,” Kliger said. “It enhances everything for the student, and I want them to have that ability and the passion I have for it.”

As an example of how a text’s melody can potentially impact meaning, Wendy Lupul, a volunteer who teaches Torah trope at Temple Beth El of South Orange County, points to an example in Genesis when Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph. While the text simply states that Joseph refused, the way it is chanted opens up the possible interpretation that he hesitated before replying, she said.

Although trope signs may look very complicated at first glance, they can only be arranged in a finite number of patterns. Once one learns these melodic patterns — about 15 in all, depending on the style of trope — the system becomes easy to decipher, Wissot said. 

Lupul says she teaches the patterns by having students sing the names of the trope symbols themselves. Once they have mastered these patterns, they can apply them to the Hebrew text, she said.

Area teachers insist that students be able to read Hebrew before they start learning trope. It isn’t essential to understand the Hebrew, but correct pronunciation is a must, said Kliger.

At Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Encino, many adult learners participate in a Hebrew reading class before attempting to learn trope, said Program Director Elana Rimmon Zimmerman. The temple offers adult b’nai mitzvah classes that start every September and include trope instruction. Members interested solely in trope can also be paired with synagogue volunteers who provide free tutoring, she said.

People decide to learn trope for various reasons, Zimmerman continued. For some, it’s because their children are studying for b’nai mitzvah and they want to study chanting alongside them. Other people may see mastering trope as a way to deepen their understanding and devotion to Judaism.

Principally, though, learning trope provides a way for congregants to connect more deeply with their fellow worshipers and faith, several instructors said.

“What we find is people really want to participate. They want to be able to tap in and be a part of the service,” said Rabbi K’vod Wieder at Temple Beth El.  “To be able to chant Torah not only gives people a feeling of being linked to 3,000 years of tradition, but it also allows them to feel like they have more ownership of their tradition.”

Resources for Learning Trope

Advertise joys of Judaism to others during simcha


Bar mitzvah audiences are no longer what they used to be. No more the simple Saturday morning minyan — a tight cluster of worshippers — who halfway through the service are thinking of the pickled herring and egg salad to follow. Today in many synagogues, the ceremony has all the excitement of the UCLA-USC football game, followed by a groaning banquet table. And the religious demographics are closer to UCLA-USC than Hebrew U.-Brandeis.

It is an interfaith moment, so to speak: A wonderful opportunity to display our theological wares. Today, by the time the frenzied parents have satisfied their social obligations, they’ve included beside relatives, co-workers, the child’s friends and family members — some of whom worship on Sunday, not Saturday.

Given the condition of Judaism in 2008, a bar mitzvah is an ecumenical stew. It’s not only the non-Jews who wonder about the significance and meaning of the ceremony, but even some of our fellow Israelites stare with wonder and, sometimes, awe.

That’s why a booklet of origins, explanations and exegesis is useful. Not only does it highlight the mechanics of the ceremony, but with a touch of subtlety, as well as modesty, it allows us to point out the contributions of Judaism to the overwhelming Christian culture in which we live — a contribution unknown to most of our fellow Jews as well as their non-Jewish friends.

From the world of entertainment to Nobel Prize-winners and from Hollywood to MIT, disproportionately you find the Jew. It is one of history’s puzzling enigmas — there are more Brazilians than Jews, but Brazilians rarely make the headlines.

Although the bar mitzvah booklet cannot explain this mystery, it can, via a description of the ceremony and history, educate and advertise the joys of Judaism, an opportunity we shouldn’t miss. It helps to remind the world that for better or worse, politically correct or not, God has chosen us to carry the light out of Zion.

In addition to a brief history of the Jews, the booklet should go something like this:

Introduction

The ceremony that we will witness today marks the passage of a Jewish girl or boy from childhood into adulthood. From this day on, he is ethically, morally responsible for his behavior — literally, a son or daughter of the commandments. Contrary to the common wisdom, our Bible is jammed with 603 commandments, in addition to the familiar 10.

The youth undertakes a heavy obligation: These commandments, dealing with every aspect of behavior, make the point that Judaism is a creed of deeds that are more important than faith, more important than prayer.

We realize that some of our friends, both Jewish and Christian, may never have attended a bar mitzvah ceremony, therefore we offer this guide to the morning’s activities. It’s full of tradition and still the foundation of our Judeo-Christian culture.

The Service

The bar mitzvah ceremony usually takes place within the setting of the normal Saturday morning Shabbat service, which consists of traditional prayers that go back centuries. The highlight of the Saturday ceremony — the highlight of every service where the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, is read — is the removal of the sacred scroll from its draped alcove.

The Torah is carried by the rabbi or a congregation member around the aisles of the synagogue as the worshippers sing a joyful song of praise and thanksgiving. Congregants crowd around “The Law” to kiss it, to touch it with their prayer shawl or their prayer book. This exuberant procession is also a sign that the bar or bat mitzvah, who has thus far been in the wings, is ready for the spotlight.

After the appropriate blessings, the honoree will read directly from the Torah scroll. Not a simple task even to a student of Hebrew, because the ancient lettering has no vowels.

Besides the Torah chanting, the child — after a blessing — sings a passage from the haftarah, the prophetic section of the Bible. The haftarah is the home of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos and company, who spoke for justice and care for the downtrodden before it was politically popular. After all, it was an era where swords beat love at every encounter.

The bar mitzvah child follows his haftarah performance with yet another tuneful blessing. The challenge of the day, you see, is musical as well as scholarly.

Then finally, after deciphering and reciting passages from a 3,500-year-old language and delivering the equivalent of three arias from “Il Trovatore,” you’d think our young student could take a bow. Not yet.

He must then present an exegesis on the Torah and haftarah he has just chanted.

When he completes this final task, there’s no applause, but everybody grins and relaxes. Once the bar mitzvah child finishes his speech, the normal services are resumed.

Our Blessing

Luckily, we live in the United States, where Judaism flourishes because of freedom. We don’t have to whisper our haftarah. We don’t need a sentry by the synagogue door on the lookout for the mob and the hoodlums.

The bar mitzvah boys that preceded this one in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and other dark times studied in stealth and recited their lessons in fear. But our honoree can shout to the heavens.

Our Passover haggadah tells us: “Now we are slaves in Egypt; next year may we be free men.” Well, today we are free — free to sing the Torah and haftarah with passion, like David the sweet singer of Israel.

Dimly surrounding our honoree are the less fortunate bar mitzvah children of other lands and other times. He sings for them, too.

Ted Roberts, a longtime b’nai mitzvah teacher, is also a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Disney Magazine and Hadassah.

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