About this book
This volume of contemporary liturgical poetry is both a poetry collection and an aid to devotional prayer. Open My Lips dips into the deep well of Jewish tradition and brings forth renewed and renewing adaptations of, and riffs on, classical Jewish liturgy. Here are poems for weekday and Shabbat, festival seasons (including the Days of Awe and Passover), and psalms of grief and praise. Open My Lips offers a clear, readable, heartfelt point of access into the Jewish tradition and into prayer in general.
Those who wish to begin a prayer practice in English but don’t know where to start will find this volume offers several starting points. These poems could be used to augment an existing prayer practice, Jewish or otherwise — either on a solitary basis or for congregational use. For the reader of poetry unfamiliar with liturgical text, they can serve as an introduction to prayer in general, and Jewish prayer in particular. And for the pray-er unfamiliar with contemporary poetry, these poems can open the door in the other direction.
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Barenblat’s God is a personal God—one who lets her cry on His shoulder, and who rocks her like a colicky baby. These poems bridge the gap between the ineffable and the human. This collection will bring comfort to those with a religion of their own, as well as those seeking a relationship with some kind of higher power.
Satya Robyn, author of The Most Beautiful Thing and Thaw
“You enfold me in this bathtowel/You enliven me with coffee,” writes Barenblat in this collection of accessible and compelling prayer-poems that manages to locate the sacred in the quotidian. After reading these poems, one realizes the ordinary moment is filled with hidden light, and inspiration isn’t as far away as we often assume.
Yehoshua November, author of God’s Optimism
Truly beautiful—moving, ethereal, grounded, accessible and profound.
Rabbi Wendi Geffen, North Shore Congregation Israel, Chicago
Rachel Barenblat has achieved a remarkable feat with her latest collection.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, author of Whistling Past the Graveyard
Rabbi Barenblat’s poems are like those rare cover songs that bring new insights to familiar rhythms and melodies. Her interpretations of ancient liturgy turn up the volume and realign the balance on our tradition’s greatest hits.
Rabbi Elana Zelony, Congregation Beth Shalom, San Francisco
Praise for previous works
PRAISE FOR 70 FACES
“In the poetry of 70 Faces, Rachel Barenblat continues the work of translation and commentary that has occupied her for years as the Velveteen Rabbi. She is as young as our century and as old as Judaism. Her poems have the classic cadence of the scriptures and the fresh wonder of a new mother. These are old words for the modern mind. This is ancient wisdom we can feel and know.”
Pastor Gordon Atkinson, author of RealLivePreacher.com and Turtles All The Way Down
“Rachel Barenblat’s Torah poems open the doorway into sacred text so that we can walk
in and make it our home. She invites us to bring all of our passion, doubt, humor,
humility and chutzpah as we encounter these ancient words and bring them to Life. Through Rachel’s skillful, joyful, playful and profound poetry, the Torah opens her
secrets to us and invites us into an intimate conversation with Truth.”
Rabbi Shefa Gold, author of Torah Journeys
“These poems are so out there, so radical, and at the same time so gentle and inviting. Barenblat manages to do work that has passion and truth behind it, without ranting.
I love the simple and confident way she deals with the akedah — and I love the final poem in this collection — gliding right past heart- break into renewal, which is what her poems all seem to do.”
Alicia Ostriker, author of For the Love of God:
the Bible as an Open Book and The Book of Seventy
PRAISE FOR WAITING TO UNFOLD
These rich poems will carry you into the great timeless miracle and mystery of unfolding littleness, nonstop maternal alertness, beauty and exhaustion and amazing, exquisite tenderness, oh yes.
–Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Fuel and The Words Under the Words
The intense observation of the poet and the intense observation of the mother unite in a celebration of what is new and newborn, what is intensely felt and cherished and what is lost and mourned. Rachel Barenblat’s poems are easy to enter into, and they carry both the uniqueness of her persona as poet and serious Jew and the universality of love that has made us all. There’s a subversive wit here too,—a changing table that’s also a throne of glory, or the baby chewing on his mother’s tefillin—that speaks to a newly emerging sensibility about what is reverent and what is holy. It’s in the everyday as our best American poets have taught us, and as Rachel Barenblat teaches us in a new way too.
–Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and the lowercase jew
In these remarkable poems Rachel Barenblat traverses the world of first-time parenthood with insight, generosity, rare courage. She shares first innocent awe, then unexpected darkness as a winter of the soul claims squatter’s rights in the nursery, and finally, aching, yearning, growing toward hope, a relearning of holy presence in small things. New parents will be astonished that someone has found words for their deepest secrets, parents long past these early months will gratefully nod: yes, I remember, this is true.
–Merle Feld, author of A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition and Finding Words
About the Author
Rachel Barenblat holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She was ordained a rabbi by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal in 2011. She received a second ordination from ALEPH as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012. Selected as a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow in 2013 by Clal (the Center for Jewish Learning & Leadership), Barenblat served as co-chair of ALEPH.
Barenblat is author of 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia Publishing, 2013), and Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016) as well as several chapbooks, among them the skies here (Pecan Grove Press, 1995), What Stays (Bennington Writing Seminars Alumni Chapbook Series, 2002), chaplainbook (Laupe House Press, 2006), See Me, a chapbook of Elul poems (Velveteen Rabbi Press, 2014), and Toward Sinai, a chapbook of Omer poems (Velveteen Rabbi Press, 2015.)
Since 2003 she has blogged as The Velveteen Rabbi, and in 2008 her blog was named one of the top 25 blogs on the internet by TIME. She is perhaps best known for the (free, downloadable) Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach, which has been used in homes and synagogues worldwide.
Her poems have appeared in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies, among them Phoebe, The Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, The Texas Observer, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry (Bloomsbury, 2013) and The Poet’s Quest For God (Eyewear Publishing, 2014.)
You can find her prose in The Women’s Seder Sourcebook (Jewish Lights, 2002), God: Jewish Choices for Struggling with the Ultimate (Torah Aura, 2008) and Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education (Avenida, 2014) among other places.
She serves Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, Massachusetts. Find her online at velveteenrabbi.com.
Psalm for the Three Weeks
It is easy to offer praises
when all the world is green
and gold, when the thrush
trails off and on, at ease,
for long sweet minutes.
Oak and birch and maple
once ravaged by caterpillars
have grown new leaves,
pale like spring
through the crescent moon
now waning will take us
through Av, through August,
days that loll like lions.
I don’t want to remember
destruction, I want to skip
ahead to the birthday
of the gleaming world
and ignore the way that
anyone has ever felt
disowned or distant or alone.
But if I forget the losses
of my friends in the places
we call home and holy
may my poems dry up
like an empty creekbed.