THOUGHTS ON WANDERING AND THE POETRY OF THE JEWISH SOUL
The Hebrew word for both Wandering and Migration is "nedida." The Jewish people, conquered and driven out of their ancient Jewish Kingdom, wandered for thousands of years over the globe. The Almighty's promise of return fulfilled, we have come home rich in cultures and colors of all the nations of the world and bringing with us amazing tales.
Birds carry sacred meaning in the ancient Jewish texts. The Messiah is said to reside in the nest among young fledglings. Born of the winged cherubs that guard the Gates of Eden and are the source of prophecy, the voice of holiness emerges from them. Wings outspread, they were carved on each side of the Holy Temple ark.
Today through the process of ringing we follow the extraordinary lives of migrating birds. We share their histories of migration with our own. About 540 species, 500 million birds, pass over the land bridge of Israel twice annually.
In the Torah portion read on Shabbat Shira, Moses and the Children of Israel sing their gratitude, "By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of bondage." On that Sabbath morning, the Almighty chose my spark of soul to join with a girl infant to be born. My birth was a traumatic memory of a spirit reluctant to enter the material world, but my father's eye penetrated the veil of time and blessed me with the Hebrew name Shira, granting me a remedy - the lucidity of lyrical purpose that would guide me through life's upheavals.
Shira is both poem and song. What is their significance in Jewish tradition? Our sages write that these are the deepest and most powerful expressions of joy of the spirit. The Hassidic masters speak of the soul, when caged in the temporal body, engaging in unceasing prayer and poetic song in longing for the all-embracing source of celestial radiance.
With the Torah, which holds the key to the secrets of our existence, the Almighty wove a bridge of sacred Hebrew letters and words over the deep chasm between man's mortal limitations and the Almighty's celestial radiance. "And Moses spoke in the ears of the congregation the words of this poem." This Torah bridge is called Poem, the root of all poetry and the true genius of the Jewish people, unlocking the maze of our minds and opening up vistas of uncharted human experience.
I experience the words of Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and scholar, "The poet is visited again and again by flashes of lightning." I plumb the inner layers of my soul, striving to put words to this song.
SHIRA TWERSKY CASSEL
Zev Labingers paintings share the poems' bird-flight and spiritual sense of self and family.
"This is a beautiful and deeply moving work and I hope and pray it will find its way into the hearts of readers."
- Esther Cameron, author, poet, translator and founding editor of The Deronda Review.
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I write of my mother's family. Exiled from the Land of Israel after the fall of the Jewish kingdom and the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem, they settled in Spain and, together with a large Jewish community of philosophers, poets and artisans, created what has been called The Golden Age. After several hundred years they were forced to flee the Inquisition to Portugal and then to Venice where they resided for a century. Unending hatred and violent oppression brought them to Poland where for 200 years they were leaders of the large Jewish community. But always, the dream of return home to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem was in their daily prayers. This dream was realized in the 1920's.
I write of my father's family, direct descendents of King David and the founder of the 18th century Hassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, they represent a great dynasty of the Twersky-Chernoblyl Hassidic leaders. For more than 250 years the saintly Grand Rabbis of this dynasty brought their spiritual teachings to uplift the downtrodden Jewish communities of Russia, the Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
They, who offered only peace and blessing, together with the Jews of the Ukraine suffered violent pogroms and oppression for centuries. Following the Bolshevik revolution and the Petlyura massacres great numbers fled to the Western countries, United States and Israel.