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Oakland, CA

 My name is Ariel Root Wolpe. I am a Jewish musician, artist, and community organizer. I love figuring out spiritual community and transforming people's hearts through music.

Shattering Our Broken Stories


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Shattering Our Broken Stories

Valerie Wolpe

This past Shavuot I was invite to speak at the Sermon Slam at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. The theme was how we can find healing in a shattered Torah, in a shattered world. When Moshe broke the tablets at Sinai, the Torah says "asher shibarta," which you shattered. Resh Lakish interprets this to mean that God said, "Yasher Koach Sheshibarta," thanking and congratulating Moshe for breaking the tablets (Shabbat 87a). This teaches us that there are times when the shattering of Torah is actually its foundation, that there are moments when our stories and texts must be broken.

This prompted me to contemplate the tropes in our society that need shattering, and I honed in on a particular story that is crying out to be remade. To support the "slam" vibe of the evening, I wrote the sermon in a spoken word form often utilized at poetry slams. Here is a video of my slam, with the words below:

Have you heard about Rabbi Joseph and the Sorcerer?

Well one year, in Saltzbug, on the eve of Yom Kippur,
three Jewish maidens disappeared,
and then the next year, three more,
until the town arose in a frenzy, begged their rabbi find
the source of their women’s decline. 
he went in search of a great rav
who could travel long distances in a moment *snap!*
who sight was unbound by time
and he described a most heinous crime - 
a sorcerer had turned the women into asses.
as they neared his home, 
they could hear them braying from their lonesome stalls
stamping their hooves against the walls
praying with desperate donkey calls. 
The great Rav uttered a sacred name
and the sorcerer dropped dead, the donkeys turned back to ladies
and returned to the synagogue as they began Kol Nidre. 

Isn’t it nice when it turns out our way?

There is another tale, about a wizard wedded to Lillith, versed in dark magic
who captures a beautiful queen from her bed
spreads her long legs, and takes her for himself. 
or as the book puts it, “plucked the flower of her beauty.”
But never fear, the king and his soothsayers fashioned a trick
the curse was flipped
the wizard slipped, and fell to his death.

oh that reminds me, that in the first story,
the sorcerer transformed the asses to maidens at night
and ravaged them, out of earshot, out of sight. 

which conjures up a contemporary scene,
you might have watched on your tv screen
where a young lady whose parents have died
in fact, she believes only she has survived, 
marries a Lord with an evil mind and wicked games, 
and after she takes his name
he rips her dress and bends her over
forces her brother to watch, who cries in the corner. 
another dramatized rape of a show,
running short of ideas of where to go.
Is this the best magic that hollywood knows? 

We know, 
that these are not just tales - there is a real crisis
from world-wide women imprisoned for reporting their rape
to the horrors of women escaped from Isis, 

to 1 in 5 american women sexually assaulted in their life, this
is our world. But you probably know the statistics
they haunt me when I look at my sisters and realize their risks
and i wonder back to my Jewish tales. 

Were they also angry that God missed her cue - 
that only magic and sacred words could subdue
the demons that haunted their lives?
Our ancestors must have identified with the damsel in distress
shamed, brutalized, and oppressed by
the countries of their exile. They cried for mercy but only 
a powerful Rav and prophetic dream
could offer a scheme to redeem their losses-
God is cut from the scene. 
probably smoking cigar behind the screen
wondering when shell get her big debut
God, don’t you know we already signaled you?

Instead, we’ll fill our plots with spells and magic,
to turn our endings a bit less tragic.
And in real life, use new sorcery to change our reality
we send out energy and transform our mentality
cast up hands and reconstruct our
Because its these stories themselves that make rape real
as we portray sex as something to steal
sexual violence as way to entertain, an erotic appeal.
we need to reveal these fantasies
as toxic, forceful fallacies 
that gift each generation a fresh ordeal. 

Come, help me shatter these tropes to start anew
imbue each other with respect for women
violent urges - subdue 
trust and love - pursue
It is upon us all to undo what we’ve been handed,
it is upon us together, and it is upon you.