Compassionate Judaism

The Holiday of Nonviolence: Shavuot

by mgopin on May 14, 2013 · 7 comments

This amazing portrait of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, painted by William Blake in 1795, captures perhaps the most dramatic women’s story in the entire Hebrew Bible. It is a story that is associated with the holiday of Shavuot because of the mention of the importance of the harvest for the story and for this ancient holiday. This is a book I urge everyone to read, and read about

This is a tale the tragedy of drought, loss, death and homelessness, in other words the most common tale of forced emigration. But the story is unique in its description of undying devotion and selflessness and the unforgettable bond between two women suffering, and the heroic determination of Ruth to rebuild their lives.

What strikes me as important about their behavior and their relationship is how completely bereft it is of anger and violence toward others. Naomi has plenty to be …




I feel the humility of Matsah as I eat it. It has no breath, the breath has been sucked out of Matsah. It does not breathe as bread breathes. It is made in the blink of an eye, and yet it is so thick with life and sustenance it miraculously lasts forever, and gives nourishment in any barren impoverished environment. It sits in my stomach, as if it will never leave, it sits in my stomach so much so that I knowing that if God forbid I give it to a small pet it could kill the poor thing. Matsah in some sense is close to death, it is a companion of death. Without breath it is dead, and yet it gives life to the servant and the imprisoned and the refugee who are dead, and who are in need of resuscitation as they are on the run. …



I remember sitting very peacefully in the synagogue on Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, just five days after my disastrous Yom Kippur fast day, which fortunately I completed despite serious exhaustion. Fasts, as anyone who does them knows, are deeply personal affairs, struggles that pull you right into yourself and away from global concerns. But following the rhythms of life, Sukkot takes you right back from the exalted and highly personal inner reality of Yom Kippur. Sukkot pulls you into reality, into identity, human identity and Jewish identity, and the tension between them.


In the ancient world, Jerusalem was apparently a place where people of many nationalities gathered around the holiday of Sukkot, and it seems for that reason that the question of ‘Israel and the nations’, for lack of a better phrase, seems to come up quite a bit in the ancient rabbinic liturgy, the choices especially …


Swept by Vision

by mgopin on October 1, 2011 · 1 comment

This is a poem that I wrote in honor of my daughter Lexi’s Bat Mitsvah. Many who heard me recite it at the Bat Mitsvah wanted me to make it available. Here it is. 


August 31, 2011


Wrapped in blankets,

And swept by vision,

Her eyes on fire with dramas unseen,

She told a tale,

Like ancient bards and mystics.

She breathed in her words,

And her eyes spoke of places

Far away and never conjured before,

Her massive shock of little curls

Dramatizing the contours of her serious face.

She was four.

She was in the middle of telling a story

To me in her bunk bed,

At darkened bed-time.

Without warning she jumped to the end of the bed,

Curled up in a ball.

There was a rainbow,

And it was in the room.


Years later I saw a thick rainbow,

In Arlington,…

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I grew up in a world of blessings and curses, and I mean a world of radically elaborate blessings and curses. I speak of course of the Yiddish world, the world of Jews from Eastern Europe. It surrounded me and was in the air all the time. The incredible creativity in describing problematic people attests to the chief complaints about women and men. The sheer number of names for a useless person, a shlemiel, a shlemazel, a shmendrik, a pisk malocheh, and much worse, all very colorful. Jews never held anything back in their criticism of each other, which naturally psychologists might see as internalized persecution.


Some people I knew had a very hard life with bitter disappointments and losses. They used to call many people “chaleria”, which later I would learn meant roughly, “a piece of Cholera”. Many people were requested to …


Compassionate Judaism

by mgopin on June 17, 2011 · 1 comment

Coming soon on this site: Marc’s second blog, which will be called Compassionate Judaism and be about exactly that. Check back!…

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