Buy the book: yourbayit.org/narrow-places/
Rabbi Dara Lithwick, a member of Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group, is passionate about building bridges between people and communities and promoting inclusion as a fundamental Jewish practice. She is an advocate for LGBTQ2+ inclusion within diverse Jewish spaces, as well as for Jewish inclusion in LGBTQ2+ spaces. When not at work as a constitutional and parliamentary affairs lawyer, Rabbi Dara is active as an outreach rabbi at Temple Israel Ottawa, where she helps lead services and lifecycle events, teach adult and youth programs, and engage in outreach and social action initiatives, and led High Holiday services at Congregation Shir Libeynu in Toronto, the longest standing LGBTQ-inclusive shul in the city. Rabbi Dara is also chairing a Canadian Council for Reform Judaism group to develop a Tikkun Olam strategy for Canada and is the Canadian representative to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Action. She also serves on the JSpace Canada Advisory Board, and on the LGBTQ2+ Advisory Council at CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Rabbi Dara and her partner love chasing their two children around Ottawa.
Here are some glimpses of her work from inside the book:
On Masks and Revelation
Torah begins בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים
In the beginning Elohim created
God was the first to use they/them pronouns
And Elohim said, let us make people, in our own image
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ
And the first people, created in the Divine image
Shone divine light
And didn’t have to hide or mask or conceal their rainbow selves.
Prisms refracting holy hues across the spectrum of diversity.
But once we had skin and sex and then gender and clothes
We organized into roles
That became rigid and unforgiving
All of us, divine light, now hidden, concealed
Under the burden of the masks we wear
To live in our world
Labels covering us
To conceal and protect
And I’m not talking COVID
And the Divine was used
To justify the rules
For the labels and roles
To keep us in our places
But that isn’t the whole story
At the full moon of Adar
We read a tale
Of hiding in plain sight,
About Esther אסתר, the concealed
In a מגילה megillah of revealing.
It opens at a huge party thrown by a joke of a king
Merriment all around
The king sends for his wife,
who was entertaining her own delegation
Vashti was her name, another word play
She turned him down
That woman didn’t mess around
Enter Esther, a replacement queen.
Her Jewishness hidden under her concealer
Until she had to come out
Throw off her mask
To save her people
“It is permitted [for a man] to dress as a woman on Purim.”
Moses Isserles got it,
‘dressing up in masks on Purim,’ he said,
‘a man wearing the attire of a woman,
and a woman wearing the accessories of a man—
there is no prohibition of this,
since what they are intending is merely joy.’
Though I wouldn’t say merely.
We take it to the next level.
On Purim our masks reveal
That masks are just that, masks.
That we are more than our masks.
That we are all Divine light.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהו”ה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם חֲכַם הָרָזִים.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, chacham harazeem.
Blessed are You, Yah, our Elohim, Sovereign of all, knower of secrets.
I need to stop. To sit. To feel.
I am not ready to go to a hockey game, or a movie, or a concert.
Not after this. A churban, a destruction.
Four million souls, officially, lost to COVID. Likely many times more.
A break in the order of things.
Parents and children, grandparents, lovers.
Colleagues and neighbours and classmates.
Memories and smiles and special recipes and stories and love affairs and hair styles and struggles and petty annoyances and languages and sideways glances.
I want to remember them. Life.
Pray for the aliyahs of their neshamas.
Pray for the health of those left here in this world.
Light candles, sit low, cover mirrors. Mourn.
Tell stories with friends and family and coworkers and partners and teachers and students.
Let grief wash over like the ocean’s waves.
In between servings of egg salad sandwiches and rugelach and instant coffee.
We couldn’t do that this year either, couldn’t sit shiva together.
Our tradition innovated as it could, zooming through little screen boxes.
Enabling connection, though not the same.
Need to mourn that too.
As doors open
Before going out
Let’s sit together, shiva
Seven days, the days of creation
In memory, in healing
A liminal space to hold the churban
And then to stand up, walk around the block
May the memories of those lost inspire us to build a better world.
On the First of Elul
We will blow the shofar,
And I’ll read Psalm 27
And if we’re lucky we’ll go for a swim together on Lac St-Pierre
Kilometres of soft water filled with life
And say hi to the family of ducks that we’ve gotten to know (they have developed a fondness for 3 day old challah)
And put on our goggles and spot the beautiful sunfish and wee minnows, perch and trout, maybe even the prehistoric-looking snapping turtle that I mistook for a rock until it swam away
And then come back to the surface and watch
the great blue heron circle us overhead
And dry off and take our dog Zoe for a walk
Eat some lunch
And then drive past rolling fields spotted with cattle
or glowing with corn
Up a steep hill past the Gatineau River
To Écurie Knight Stables
And we’ll go inside to the standing stalls
Where Joey, Sam and Niagara will be nibbling on hay
And Rebecca always uses the pink brushes for Joey –
hard and then soft
And Jake makes sure that Sam’s hooves are clean
And as I brush down Niagara I smile
at how the kiddos are so focused, so calm,
So connected to these beautiful beasts that tower over them
And I help them saddle up
And then we ride
Together in the ring with our instructor
Rebecca a natural trick rider, hands free
Jake in perfect jumping position
I just love being there, connected
Working on trotting with my feet out of my stirrups
Remembering how once as a young girl about Rebecca’s age
I rode bareback on a horse named Prince
In a field, where my great grandfather once had a cottage
Holding on to Prince’s mane
Laughing in delight
That’s what I pray I’ll be doing
The First of Elul אֱלוּל
The New Year of Animals
The month whose letters stand for Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li
אני לדודי ודודי לי
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine
Connecting, and, hopefully
Buy the book: yourbayit.org/narrow-places/
From Narrow Places: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art of the Pandemic Era was published this month by Bayit and features the collaborative work of our pluralist Liturgical Arts Working Group over the first eighteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic.