R. David’s website

Buy the book: yourbayit.org/narrow-places/

Rabbi David Evan Markus, a member of Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group, brings extensive experience as pulpit rabbi, lawyer, public official, educator and nonprofit leader.  He is rabbi and music director of Temple Beth El of City Island (New York, NY); past co-chair of ALEPH; faculty at the Academy for Jewish Religion, and faculty in spiritual direction for the ALEPH seminary; and blogger for multiple platforms (AJR Faculty BlogMy Jewish LearningThe Wisdom DailyThe ForwardJewish Week / Times of Israel.) A fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, David publishes widely on governance, management, liturgy and spiritual development in Jewish contexts, and has an active spiritual direction practice specializing in clergy development.  By day, David presides in the New York courts in a parallel public service career that also included presidential campaigns, all branches and levels of government, and graduate faculty in government and public administration for Fordham and Pace Universities.  David holds dual ordination as rabbi and mashpia (spiritual director) from ALEPH; a Juris Doctor magna cum laude from Harvard Law School; and a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which named David a global “Innovator in Public Service.”

Here are a few glimpses of his work from the book:


We don’t build our sukkah with nails
Pounded to secure the ceiling thatch.

We don’t build our sukkah with roof shingles
And sustainable solar panels for midnight light.

We don’t build our sukkah with weatherproof siding
To whisk autumn’s wind-whipped wetness safely away.

We don’t build our sukkah with an elephant
Thirstily lumbering toward her watering hole.

We don’t build our sukkah with the finest jewels
To bedazzle the eye with reflected stars.

For now only the unsturdy, unquenched and unsafe.
Only the dark, the dry, the unadorned and unbeautiful.

No hanging harps on our thinned willow branches:
Instead we’ll beat them leafless to the ground.

Better what is than what we pretend — a sukkah of
What is, even if, this year, mostly a wistful dream.

David Evan Markus

Nails pounded to secure the ceiling thatch – Schach is not attached permanently (Shulhan Aruch O.C. 629:13). Roof shingles – Schach is organic, grown from the ground (O.C. 629:1). Wind-whipped wetness safely away – The Sukkot festival wouldn’t be joyful if we had to dwell in a sukkah amidst rains (B.T. Sukkah 28b, O.C. 639:5). An elephant thirstily lumbering – Our ancestors decided we couldn’t use an elephant for a sukkah’s walls if it might wander off (B.T. Sukkah 23a). The finest jewels to bedazzle the eye – Such luxuries are vanity compared to wisdom (Ecclesiastes [Sukkot megillah] 2:8-13). Hanging harps on our thinned willow branches – Exiled like our ancestors too sad to sing of Zion; they hung their lyres on willows (Psalm 137:2). Beat them leafless to the ground – Hoshanna Rabbah custom of beating the lulav to the ground (B.T. Sukkah 43b; Mishneh Torah, Shofar Sukkah v’Lulav 7:22).

Passover of This Pandemic Year

Long ago, at this season,
the journey toward freedom began.

After darkness and death, liberation’s light
shined through bloodied doorways.

Under the first full moon of spring, our ancestors
walked out of the house of bondage.

Under a desert sky full of stars, they dared to look up:
infinite potential at last!

Into the future they pushed, destination unsure,
led forward by promises they barely believed:

The end of suffering and fear, the holiness
of equal dignity, the human right to be free.

On this Passover night, we renew history’s call
to keep these promises – for us and for all.

This sacred night rouses us to release the bound –
here and everywhere.

Exactly one year ago tonight, that same first full moon of spring
rose over a world transformed.

Plagues swept through the land.
Darkness and death returned.

Bondage took new forms –
global lockdowns, quarantines and digital goodbyes.

Bondage took old forms stubbornly strong –
racial injustice, cruelty and lies that enslave.

With tonight’s first full moon of spring,
we yearn again for a just and righteous freedom.

And like our ancestors before us,
we feel weary and worn, unready and unsure.

This Passover mixes grief and joy –
and our ancestors have been here before.

They turned mourning into dancing.
They turned bitterness into resilience.

With our ancestors at our backs and eternal promise before us,
let us open to Passover’s light.

May the full moon of freedom shine on us,
and all who are bound, and all the world.

David Evan Markus

אחר / After

יסורי לידה לא יכולים לשמוע
את מילות הראשונות של הפעוט.
מאגמה המוטלת לאדמה אינה רואה
השתילים שישרשו באפר.

מי ישמע נחמו נחמו עמי
במקדש טמא שעדיין עומד, או
צדק צדק תרדוף
לאחר המירוץ הוא ניצוח?

אבל לחישה תשמע במקום
שבו היה הבית אשר נחרב:
ממעל גג נפול יופיע
שמים עצומים מלאים בכוכבים.

בגלותנו מבטיחות ונוסטלגיה
יתחיל את חזרתנו הפנימית ביותר
לא למקום בו היינו אלא
לאן שנועדנו להיות.

אז אבן מאסו הבונים
היתה לראש פינה של מחר.
שקרים יפרו את האמת.
מחאות יעוררו מדיניות.

בת שנות אלפיים
עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו
שחייב להתחדש כמו ברית
בין זמן לנצחיות

הוכרז על ידי יסורי לידה,
רעדה סיסמית מהאדמה,
תקיעת השופר,
ותפילת הלב.

Birth pangs can’t hear
The toddler’s first words.
Earthbound magma can’t see
The saplings that will root in ash.

Who will hear comfort, comfort my people
In a defiled temple that still stands, or
Justice, justice you will pursue
After the race is won?

But a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the temple was destroyed:
Above a felled roof will appear
A vast star-studded sky.

Our exile from safety and nostalgia
Will begin our innermost return –
Not to where we were but
To where we’re destined to be.

So the rejected stone will become
Tomorrow’s cornerstone.
Lies will fertilize truth.
Protests will inspire policy.

Even after two thousand years,
Hope will not be destroyed
But must be renewed, a covenant
Between time and timelessness

Announced by birth pangs,
A seismic shudder from the ground,
A shofar blast,
A prayer of the heart.

David Evan Markus

Comfort, comfortIsaiah 40:1, for the seven weeks of comfort after Tisha b’Av. Justice, justice – Deut. 16:20. A whisper will be heard – Yehuda Amichai, “From the Place Where We are Right.” Felled roof – For Sukkot, the destination of the journey from Tisha b’Av. Rejected stone… – Ps. 118:22. After two thousand years – From Hatikvah. Shudder – For even angels will shudder at Unetaneh Tokef. Shofar – Seven weeks after Tisha b’Av.

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