III. On Uncertain Grounds

I dreamt the world was flat
And all the people equal.
I spied no hills or valleys.

The sky was paved with glass;
Fake wind came from a fan,
But no one even noticed.

Riding conveyor belts
To school, to work, to death,
The people all are happy.

The furniture of faith,
Austere and angular,
Will take no rounded shapes.

The table and the lamp,
The altar and its horns,
The cherubs’ hammered wings—

All point to the jagged path,
The sharply chiseled edge
That hidden knowledge brings.

Towers of arrogance
Cast extended shadows
Over the narrow streets.

They darken the nearby harbor
Where flocks of grazing boats
Float on murky waters.

At night they send out beams
Of multi-colored light,
Illuminating nothing.

The empty shell remembers
The life it once contained,
The animal inside

That moved and carried it,
That ate and slept and suffered
The destiny of flesh.

The empty shell reflects
Rays of the setting sun,
And shimmers in the water.

Built of darkened bricks,
The road desires order
Although the earth resists

By shifting and subverting,
With tree roots pressing up
And sinkholes pushing down.

How shall we pave the way
To civilization
On such uncertain grounds?

The palace is off-limits;
I labor on its grounds,
A junior caretaker.

Inside, the candelabra
Glows with sacred light.
The chosen guests arrive.

I cannot comprehend
Such transcendent visions.
I pluck the weeds outside.

                                        —David K. Weiser



How I wish
I could have brought you
to that charming street
in a far away city
where there stood
quaint dwellings with stone
of myriad pastel
roses, pale
gold, blues,
and windows placed high
at pleasing angles.
You would have admired
the architecture,
inviting you in,
now only a vague
impression of what
was seen while I slept.
It brought me little
apparent meaning
except for the awe
how such an edifice
is made to stand
and thrill the viewer,
who sleeps, before
the substance dissolves
into something other.

                              —Reizel Polak



It all goes back on itself,
The room, the window, the hills of Judea,
All girdered in Calder's stabile.
The hills, the land, layered generations,
present and past, gone yet here.

He is Place, in this place and not,

Life is with Him,
His image is us,
His being our becoming.
A camel, they say,
Is an animal designed by a committee.
Is our world made by a committee of two,
Him and us?

                     —Michael E. Stone



Imagining a luminous order of voices
While around you the whole shebang is falling to pieces,

Joining word unto word till they make a line
While dodging the various projectiles that come flying,

Laying line upon line till they make a poem
While the wrecking ball crashes into the wall of your home,

Placing poem beside poem till they seem
To mount up and mean, as in that dream

Where rainbow pastel butterflies bore aloft
And carried through the air an enormous wooden raft,

Or like those cells that converge and build to fruition,
A choirs’ choir, polypolyphonic, yet not without resolution:

For building is the only fortress still secure;
Building, you move toward an own-made future,

Though on the deck of a boat that is drifting down
Toward the drop. Your eyes are to the Should-Have-Been,
To the Precedent of Past. To the Midnight Sun.

                                                                      —Esther Cameron


Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image….its head was of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of brass, its legs of iron, its feet part of iron, and part of clay. —Daniel 2:31-33

Have we not all some clay in our feet,
Some more and some less, as nature decrees?
She plays dice with our genes, never deigns to please.
Our dream of perfection is but a deceit.

Flawed are our hearts, some more and some less.
Too often for us, as for Nebuchadnezzar,
Our power, possessions and pride are our treasure,
Subjecting our conscience to painful distress.

Our towers of science, our temples of art,
The fences of law defending our homes,
Our dear-bought democracy’s golden domes:
Such triumphs seal over flaws in the heart.

But the weakness of some is the weakness of all.
Those structures erected through so many ages—
Talk of their passing saddens, enrages:
They tremble, they totter, but are they to fall?

                                                                   —Henry Summerfield



Democracy: too weak the lamp it hoists
Within its vaunted castle’s walls to show
Our larval vices smear with graft the joists,
A process little seen by high or low
(Though maggots can metamorphose into flight
And rise, like fireworks, into public sight).

The portcullis being raised for an election,
The plebeians reach the bailey—not the keep,
Where corporate donors buy themselves protection—
Bad laws, high profits the reward they reap.
Voters succumb to smiles and “no new taxes“—
Against their weakness there is no prophylaxis.

Autocracy: its searchlight laser beam
Burns where the ruler thinks he sees a foe:
One people working to one end his dream;
Who next will disappear no one can know.
Each year adds stories to the Babel-tower
That tempts the fate of overweening power.

The General Secretary, the Caudillo,
The President for Life, untrammelled King,
The Führer and the Generalissimo—
Folk pray to end the terror that they bring.
The growing tower sways on its weak foundation
Of muzzled speech, chained court, and hard privation.

Human nature will not allow perfection,
But man need not abide an earthly hell;
Every tyrant may confront defection.
A government can serve—sometimes serve well.
Camus declared that we must fight a lie
To save the quarter-truth that we live by.

                                                             —Henry Summerfield



The fruited plains are condos now,
And God’s grace has been shed.
The amber grain waves used to bow
To breeze: Today, instead,

Their genes adjusted, no slight breeze
Can bend them—they fight back.
And purple mountains’ majesties
Have all turned black.

It seems there is no brotherhood,
Nor shining sea, of late,
America no longer good,
Obsessed with being “great

Again.“ And as for spacious skies—
Who looks up anymore,
His twitter feed, a land of lies,
And truth, become a bore?

But I remember Beautiful,
And Truth worn as a crown,
And leadership once dutiful,
And brighter hues than brown.

Was that “America“ a dream,
Bred on the backs of slaves,
For all, not fair, but to redeem
Before we’re in our graves

And feeding worms who’ll turn the lands
For future waves of grain
To sate new souls who’ll try their hands
At America again?

But such a hymn means hope, and I
Will fight to make it true,
Then leave it, plus the spacious sky
And fruited plain, to you.

                                       —James B. Nicola



Cast from bedrock, nourished by it,

Stone, building or shattering,
At its side flows the life-giving spring,
Waters of Torah in its veins,
Source of its strength.

Touchstone, attracting, connecting,
Will give no space to the obstacle…
Like a mighty cliff it will stand in the breach
Stone to stone, hand in hand,
A steady and unified wall.

Twelve precious stones
With human hearts
Story upon story,
Milestone, house for the people,
I was glad…for we go to the house of the Lord…

                                                                         —Daniela Barth
                                                                             tr. EC





And there are the numbers of the children of Israel
Six on one not-outstretched
Let us make bricks
And bake them to a black
On each one ten handles
Engraved in the smoke
We'll go up to the red heavens
Into silence


On the fourth of the month of Ziv
The day of the counting of souls
The eve of the holiday of salvation
Which G-d granted me
I will come with my voice and my blood
With my Senir and my Carmel
With my Tabor and my Galilee and my Negev
To take straight aim
To count wandering bullets
To empty out magazines of bitterness
And to weep for the light in the faces
Of radiant soul-candles
That went out before their time


Our way
Is not that of a bride
A pure moon in its fullness
Not chaste as the sun
Full of scaffolding like a wall
Ascents and descents
Battles and distances
Circles and lines
The terrors of armor are dismantled and rebolted
Warming and scalding
Shining and going out
One more ascent and one more ascent
A nation I'm dreaming

                                   —Araleh Admanit
                                       tr. EC



‘Tis easier to destroy,
but I’d rather build
relationships through words
remembering the good of others.

We can join forces,
hey you! Can you hear
on the other side?
to build a house.

Yes! easier is to throw a brick
or a stone and to shoot.
While it takes guts to gather
the burning sparks.

You try to throw us out
from the family of nations.
Yet we are part and parcel of humanity
in spite of your words.

You have put your sentiments
to sleep,
when you throw rockets
but we are alert and awake!

We have built a country
that you are bent on destroying.
We won’t wait your permission
to continue building.

You have tried murder with the bear hug
and we have proven we can bear war.
Did you forget we offered you peace
and even gave you cities, why oppress them and us?

You spread lies with public relation stunts
blaming us for all problems of the world.
We will yet see countries coming to their senses
and realize that it is better to solve actual problems.

Nothing will come from your fake towers in the air,
with bombs against civilians or with military campaigns.
We have built a fence as a first line of defence
and know that our foundation is stronger than yours.

                                                                            —Hayim Abramson



My great-uncle Zeke has returned to Jerusalem after a lengthy sojourn in the Negev where he went to live after retiring a few years ago. We met at a small cafe near Shuk Machane Yehuda. He was there when I arrived, already sipping soda from a tall glass.
“I’m so glad to be back in Jerusalem,
he said, smiling. Newspaper in hand, I stared dully at his pleased expression. The news was dismal that day, rockets raining down, an Israeli soldier stabbed. How could he be happy? From the depths of my depression I could only mumble, “When will it stop? What can we do?“
My uncle, always a serious thinking man, took my questions to heart. “Would you like to hear my plan for peace?“ he asked.
I leaned back and noticed the metallic threads in his sky-blue kippah sparkling in the sun. He still had a full head of hair, but I hadn’t remembered the kippah. He stroked his beard for a moment. Then he explained: “We must start now to build the Third Temple in space.“
This announcement, I must say, took me completely by surprise.
‘Space?“ I asked, somewhat stupefied. “What do you mean—’space’?“
“Outer space,“ he said brightly. “We must start now to build the Temple in space. We can place it in orbit to pass over Mount Moriah once a day. Much of the technology is already in place and the rest we will develop.“
Somewhere in the back of my mind I recalled a section of Talmud devoted specifically to a discussion of air rights. Just how high does a piece of real estate go? Maybe Uncle Zeke was onto something. After all, he had worked as a space agency consultant for years. Before that he had had a short but notable career in what ultimately became the cornerstone of an entirely new focus in quantum theory. His groundbreaking paper posited an idea considered aberrant at first, but finally accepted and recognized with accolades. Uncle Zeke was always light-years ahead of his colleagues and the world at large.
“Our cousins are afraid we want to replace their mosques on the Temple Mount with the Third Temple,“ he continued excitedly. “If we went public with an official outer space plan, they could rest easy. The heart of the conflict would fade away.“
Uncle Zeke’s enthusiasm began to melt my grim mood and spark my own imagination, which can also be a bit wild at times. “Yes,“ I agreed. “Other nations, too, can contribute to the cost of the project. What about the U.N., or private philanthropists?“
Uncle Zeke carried on: “And all together, lifting our eyes to the heavens, we can put this conflict over small pieces of land on planet earth into perspective!“
He lifted his glass in the air. “Jerusalem is the heavenly city; it extends upwards,“ he said. “Now that it’s possible to build the Temple high above the Temple Mount, it is fitting and proper to do so.“
That evening I pondered Uncle Zeke’s Peace Plan as I sat on the balcony with my after-dinner coffee. The night was chilly but clear. The bright lights of our holy city obscured the heavenly lights of the firmament.
I thought of the two traditional approaches to the Third Temple. According to Maimonides we must build it any way and any time we can. Another opinion holds that it will descend from heaven onto its appointed place on Earth. It seemed to me that Uncle Zeke’s plan for peace resonated with them both.
                    —Batsheva Wiesner




I build muscles
Moving bricks
Hoisting beams fabricate

My fingers nimble
Collecting threads
Precious metals assemble

My brain
A warehouse of supplies
Count the cedars
Weigh the copper calculate

My heart
Cannot measure
The yearning create

And I
Have built up my confidence produce

I cannot wait
Will not wake up yet again complete
To find it’s not been re-built yet (or finished)

                                                               —Mindy Aber Barad Golembo




Blueprint of the house
the dream
the placing of electric outlets
in the southern bedroom.
Cement, marble, gold,
tiles, wires, mortgage.
How long I delayed, how long,
how many delays, from circumstances beyond my control.
Longing I
The exact amounts
of materials needed
I long
and sing.

It took time for us
to pinpoint the exact location.
The determination that the time had come
engendered the seeking,
the focus.
at Nayot in Ramah, (1)
buds of beauty appeared,
king and prophet in rare harmony.

The son
will build,
will realize the materials,
will conscript the people
to build the full height.
I have indeed built
a house for Your dwelling,
a place for Your abode,
an eternal establishment.(2)
Will it endure?

The stone of Israel
assembles at his head.
bricks upon bricks
shining like sapphires –
moon shining toward them.
From the eddying
of tongues and souls

—Tziporah Lifshitz
13 Kislev 5780
translated by the author and EC

*Understanding – Hebr. binah, which is related to the root BNH (build).

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Behold, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, of the tribe of Judah.' (Exodus 31:1-2)

Bezalel erected a tabernacle of dyed goatskins;
King Solomon constructed a temple of cedar-wood;
And Jerusalem arose as a sacred city of polished white stone.

But the sages built a sukkah,
Four cubits high and four cubits wide,
Of cloth woven from verses.
Their fingers and minds pulled needles,
Sewing together a phrase from here,
An expression from there;

And behold their brocade, which makes the sukkah's walls;
How it shimmers
With threads of black and golden letters.

Their fabric—thin as paper,
Yet sturdier than bricks,
And stronger than tempest-winds.

Bezalel's tabernacle was plundered;
King Solomon's temple—burnt;
And Jerusalem—twice razed.

But the sukkah of the sages still wanders with us,
As we gaze through its roof's lattice
At the stars.

                       —Yakov Azriel



On the rubble of a building site
five crows watch a cat
who eats yogurt, dipping a paw
into a plastic cup,
calmly licking its creamy-coated paw,
its back to the birds.

Maybe the crows and the cat
are like the lamb and the lion
and prophetic days are here.

                                           —Ruth Fogelman

To Section IV