“If I Ever Stop:” An Autumn Poem

Since it’s the autumn equinox, I thought I’d take the opportunity to (re)share why my Kesem/MMFC name is Autumn. The leaves undergo a tremendous change during the autumn season, and they look beautiful while they’re changing. I chose Autumn because I wanted my name to remind me that change can be beautiful. This is also the reason behind the name of my website, my Instagram (scatteredleaves322), and my Twitter handle (@scatteredleaves). I also chose “Autumn” because it was a theme I wove through my second-favorite poem I’ve ever written (below), which I read as a speaker at my college graduation in 2006. The poem also focuses on change, and it’s dedicated to the wanderers, everywhere ❤

If I Ever Stop

if I ever stop wandering…
then I’ll be lost,” you said.

it was three in the morning
when every
word
bears false importance.

sentences drifted through our lips
like cigarette smoke
we spoke like it was the last time
and maybe it was because we were students
living in a universe-city
where brilliance thrives
on crowded streetcorners

you were going to write a road novel
you didn’t have a driver’s license, but poetic license was enough
you built your own road out of paragraphs
and we gathered free verse like wildflowers
blooming stubbornly in gritty spaces

“remember?”
“nothing is free anymore,” you sigh.
we’re so old, and I travel alone these days
filling jars with wind and colored leaves
in relentless autumns of discovery

you left the universe behind
and lost yourself in the city
where they toss people out like yesterday’s news

they sell ragged stanzas
and false importance
on the corners where life used to bloom
we never knew we’d have to pay
for free verse

the pages of your novel
are stark with winter now
I try to wrap you in a dusty book jacket
but you brush the words from your skin
forgotten lines and question marks
fall like feathers

“breathe,” I whisper.
your warmth hovers
like a sentence at dawn

when you’re ready to wander again
search for me between the wrinkled pages
I’ll be there
with an open jar
of autumn.

Thanks to everyone who rides the winds of change with me, from one season to the next. Happy Equinox, to one and all.

With everlasting love,
Autumn 🍁🍂

Creative High Holiday Offerings

For my friends and colleagues who are preparing and want to add something new…or for those who simply enjoy reading original liturgy, here are some creative offerings.

Rosh Hashanah

A Shofar Offering – Shofar’s Cry: Sarah and Hagar Speak
This is an interpretive Torah experience for Rosh Hashanah, incorporating Hagar’s story from the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and the Akedah, which we read on the second day. This is designed to be read aloud by two people, each taking one of the parts. It would work well on Zoom as well as in person. Please feel free to use it with attribution.

A Haftarah Offering – Hearing in our Hearts: Hannah’s Story
This is a prayer from the perspective of Hannah, whose story we read in the haftarah on Rosh Hashana. If you’re in the same place as me this year – praying with Hannah – please know that your prayers are mine as well. May the Womb of the World hear our longing this year, and may the new year bring new life to us all.

Yom Kippur

Yearning to be Known – UnknowableUnknowable with visuals
God is unknowable, but here’s what I know: God yearns to be known. This is a poem about God. It’s meaningful for year-round, but one of the lines is “God is asking for our forgiveness on Yom Kippur.” I’m using it as an entry point to the Amidah.

A Forgiveness Prayer – Held in the Brokenness
This prayer focuses specifically on repeat mistakes – the things we find ourselves returning to, year after year, no matter how we try.

A Different Kind of Vidui Vidui for God (2021)
My friend, Geo, and I were both struggling with the concept of more repentance this year, despite having many things to repent for – so we dug into the pain and co-wrote a new Vidui for God. Bold move? Yes. But as Hila wrote, Jewish rebukes of God have a long history. Thank you so much to Ritualwell for publishing ours.

“The High Holiday season can be an intense time of self-reflection, as we look inward to see where we have missed the mark this past year. But after a year of pandemic, fires, hurricanes and global instability, how harsh must we be toward ourselves? Don’t we need a larger dose of compassion than self-flagellation this year? A Vidui for God (2021),” Heather Paul and Geo Poor turn the tables on this traditional prayer and boldly demand that God hold Godself accountable for the ways in which God has let us down. While this Vidui may appear sacrilegious to some, it is situated within a long history of Jewish rebukes of God, from the ancient prophets onward, and can help give expression to our deepest frustrations in our relationship to the divine.”

At Any Time

A Caregivers Prayer
I’m using this to honor caregivers – especially those working in medicine over the last two years – during Yizkor. It would also work well as part of a misheberach.

Illuminate the World: A Peace Prayer
I’m using this along with Oseh Shalom after the Amidah.

Prayer for Entering Recovery
I’m including this in my written materials for personal reflection – because you never know who needs it.


I would love for you to use any of my original liturgy and poetry. If you are not sharing people’s names for attribution during the service, because it feels stilted or it breaks up the flow of the experience, I would appreciate having my name listed in any written materials, ideally along with my website: scatteredleaves.net. I would also love to hear what you end up using! There is nothing more rewarding for me as a liturgist than knowing that my liturgy made an impact. Thank you!

Unknowable


God is unknowable
but here’s what I know:
God yearns to be known

God is sitting alone in the schoolyard
wearing black and listening to death metal
God’s not sure why
it sounds like a prayer

God is writing a poem
about us and isn’t sure
what’s missing
God is writing a letter
but can’t find an ending

God is refreshing God’s Twitter feed
God is liking posts on Instagram
God has 6 million unread emails
God’s connection is unstable

God is stuck in traffic
God is in the hospital waiting room
God is singing at a campfire
God is pulling an all-nighter
in the university library
God is sighing, buying fruit
in the grocery store –
even organic doesn’t taste
like the Garden

God is grieving
God’s own inability
to heal all who need healing
God is trying to remember
that when someone is suffering
God’s Presence is enough
No one wants to be
alone in the end
not even God
God is asking
for our forgiveness
on Yom Kippur

God’s not sure if God
believes in us but can’t
stop searching for us anyhow
It’s the world’s longest game
of Marco Polo

“Can you hear Me now?” God asks
“Did you call My name?
Or was it only the echo
of My own voice?”

Maybe we are God’s echoes
Maybe God is inside each of us
Maybe we are inside of God

Maybe God is unknowable
but there’s one thing I know:
God yearns to be known


This poem is also available on Ritualwell.

Voice from the Void: 30 Scatteredleaves Creations from 2020

Sometimes words bang on the doors of me, begging to be let out. Is it a striving desperation to make meaning out of madness? To tame an untamable experience by shaping it with narrative?

Several weeks ago, my classmates and I encountered Rebbe Nahman’s texts about The Void – and the silence within it. For many of my classmates, facing that silence led to more silence. But for me, it just made the words louder. I write constantly. Sometimes the words rush from my fingers faster than I can type them, an unstoppable flood pouring from the rock Moshe hit with his stick, when he couldn’t find words himself. It seems the harder it is to find the words, the more the words find me.

Chaim Bialik writes, “It is that very eternal darkness that is so fearsome – that darkness from the time of Creation…Every man is afraid of it and every man is drawn to it. With our very lips we construct barriers, words upon words and systems upon systems, and place them in front of the darkness to conceal it; but then our nails immediately begin to dig at those barriers, in an attempt to open the smallest of windows, the tiniest of cracks, through which we may gaze for a single moment at that which is on the other side.”
Perhaps writing is one of my attempts to create a penimi from a maqqif (something I can grasp within that wish is ungraspable). A way to crack a hole in the darkness of the void. A way of finding God in a place that appears empty, so that I can chase the next void, and the one after that.

With that in mind, I share a list of things I created within the void of 2020 – rituals, poems, prayers, and videos. This is not a comprehensive list. I only included the creations I felt I could publish or name in this space or elsewhere. The list doesn’t include all of my school writing (one of my classes had weekly reflection assignments) and it doesn’t include every private ritual I created for people who needed them. It also doesn’t include the virtual programs I built. But it’s a start.

I’m grateful for all the words that found me in the emptiness, but I pray for a 2021 that is full – full of inspiration, full of healing, and full of hope. Blessings on your journey, beloveds. See you on the other side.

Published on Ritualwell:

  1. Prayer Before Starting IVF
  2. Postponement Prayer (also published in When the World Turned Inward, Vol. 2)
  3. Virtual Memory Circle
  4. Hearing in our Hearts
  5. God’s Lament: A Letter to Daughter Zion (from Reb Shulamit’s class)

Videos:

  1. What Have We Lost?
  2. History of Loneliness
  3. History of Languages
  4. Looking Behind: A Monologue from Lot’s Wife
  5. Light and Darkness

Published in the Forward:

  1. ‘In the Torah, name changes signify moments of transformation.’ In the lives of transgender Jews, they are just as powerful

On my blog

  1. Nahman’s Dancing Circle, Chayei Sarah, and Pixar’s Inside Out (reflection assignment for Reb Elliot’s class)
  2. Get In, Get Real, and Grow (reflection assignment for Reb Elliot’s class)
  3. Letter to Rebbe Nahman (reflection assignment for Reb Elliot’s class)
  4. Shelters (in Place): A Pandemic Sukkot
  5. Holding the Shattered Pieces
  6. Grief in the Book of Ruth: Ruth’s Letter to Mahlon (from Reb Shulamit’s class)
  7. Silent and Sacred: Parshat Shmini for 2020
  8. Letter from God to the Ones Who Struggle: A Reinterpretation of Song of Songs (from Reb Shulamit’s Class)
  9. Alone Together: Parshat Vayikra
  10. Where Are You?

Publishing in 2021, but written in 2020

  1. Letter from Vashti to the New Queen of Shushan (publication set for February, I hope) 
  2. Prayer for the Covid-19 Vaccine
  3. Havdalah for Letting Go 
  4. Mezuzah Ritual for Moving into a New Home

Papers for Biblical Civilizations class

  1. A Tale of Two Floods 
  2. “To Teach and Enlighten:” The Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges
  3. Three Contemporary Prophecies written in the style of the prophet, Ezekiel
  4. A Contemporary Apocalypse in the style of the Book of Daniel
  5. Bringing Biblical Life and History to Hillel 

Illuminate the World: a Peace Prayer

God, You scattered the divine sparks 
so that we may find them in each other,
but sometimes, we forget to look. 

We are Your glittering fragments,
Your shards, Your stars. 
We stand here before You, 
ready to gather the sparks, 
ready to illuminate the world
like One holy campfire. 

We may be scattered, shattered
but we will glow together, grow together,
we will see each other’s shine

and maybe then, dear God,
we will finally be ready
for peace. 

Barukh Atah Adonai, mevarech et kol ha’olam b’shalom 
Blessed are You, God, who blesses the world with peace.

Elevating Voices: Creative High Holiday Offerings

A Shofar OfferingShofar’s Cry: Sarah and Hagar Speak
This is an interpretive Torah experience for Rosh Hashanah, incorporating Hagar’s story from the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and the Akedah, which we read on the second day. This is designed to be read aloud by two people, each taking one of the parts. It would work well on Zoom as well as in person. Please feel free to use it with attribution.

A Haftarah Offering – Hearing in our Hearts: Hannah’s Story
Some prayers are spoken and some are silent. Our Amidah, our private prayer to God, is distinctive. It is whispered because it is based on the prayers of Hannah, who was infertile. Hannah ached so desperately for a child that she couldn’t voice her pleas to God. In Tosefta Brachot, the rabbis said, “Hannah spoke in her heart,” meaning that her lips moved, but sound did not escape them.

We read Hannah’s story on Rosh Hashanah. There are times when it hurts too much for me to hear it, and there are times when hearing it makes me feel less alone, and reminds me that this suffering links me to generations of ancestors who dealt with the same thing.

I was thinking about how the words of her prayers aren’t written in the text and I realized it’s because we know them by heart too. Every person who has struggled with infertility, who has miscarried, who has yearned that deeply: we know.

If you want to use this in your shul for the holidays, you’re welcome to, with attribution. The quoted pieces are from 1 Samuel. If you’re in the same place as me this year – praying with Hannah – please know that your prayers are mine as well. May the Womb of the World hear our longing this year, and may the new year bring new life to us all.

Letter from God to the Ones Who Struggle

after Song of Songs

O you who linger in the garden,
a lover is listening; let Me hear your voice.

The first time I created you,
we were alone together
in My garden

I separated light from darkness
sea from sky, and sky from the branches
who reach for her
But when I created you,
we were One.

Like an apple tree among trees of the forest, so is My beloved among the youths. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to My mouth.

Oh how you longed for My fruit
when it was forbidden
Now I long for you
And I must seek you
wherever you roam.

“I must rise and roam the town, Through the streets and through the squares; I must seek the one I love.” I sought but found him not.

I sent you away from My garden
separating one from One
I have followed you ever since
across the sea and through the wilderness
into the Land that I have shown you
into The Place you did not know

“Whither has Your beloved gone, O Fairest Of Women?
Whither has Your beloved turned? Let us seek him with You.”

My love for you is boundless
You who return My love and you who turn from Me
You who struggle, and you who draw near
You who doubt, and you who dream
all of you are part of Me.

I opened the door for my beloved, But my beloved had turned and gone.

You wrote your love for Me
on the doorposts of your house
and then you closed the door behind you

I sought, but found him not; I called, but he did not answer.

When you call out to Me from your narrow place
I will always answer, even if you cannot hear Me

My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to pick lilies.

Our love began in a garden
It will grow there too
You’ll find Me among the lilies
waiting, always, to love you.

Where Are You

“Where are you going?” She’s checking my bag.
It’s not supposed to be an existential question.

“Where are you going?”
The security guard catches me off guard.
Am I on my way there or on my way back?
Am I leaving or arriving?
Am I returning?

“Where are you going?”
I left the rain last week and arrived in the sunlight.
When I landed, tears arrived too,
my eyes and heart unused to piercing brightness.

“Where are you going?”
I’m going to snowy branches and a frozen lake.
I’m going to a fireplace, a sanctuary,
warm hugs and warmer hearts.

“Where are you going?”
I’m leaving the community
that reminds me where I come from.
I’m going to the community that reminds me who I am.
Life is in flight, community is fluid, time is an illusion,
and distance means nothing at all.

“Where are you going?”
I’m going toward myself, I’m going toward growing.
I’m going away, I’m going to, I’m going, going, and gone.
I am in flight, I am landing, I am bringing
too much baggage for carry-on.

“Where are you going?”
I don’t know, I don’t remember,
nothing is certain but
“You are flying out of Gate 19.”
I am ready for take-off.