The Jerusalem Post
 

Spoken Word Torah

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To the Places that Scare Me: In Honor of Azriel

 

This one's in honor of my dear departed friend, Azriel Cohen who passed away this Sukkot. He was a masterful artist and entrepreneur of the spirit, forever birthing new and powerful pieces of art and facilitating experiences that inevitably opened the minds and hearts of everyone involved. One of my favorites was his Travelling Jerusalem Cafe. An experiential artistic exploration of Jerusalem's cafe cultures, in both East and West Jerusalem. The show recreated Jerusalem's cafe, featuring fabulous mural-sized paintings that Azriel had created while sitting in cafes on both sides of Jerusalem's great cultural divide. 

 

 

 

Azriel always urged us to break through our narrow cultural blinders and encounter the 'other' (whether friend, enemy, or animal) with openness and curiosity. He said, The very things that you’re scared to explore are probably waiting for you with incredible horizons, like open seas in the time of the explorers centuries ago.”

 

Thus, I decided to take up his invitation and to make a pilgrimage to a place that scares me. In his honor. To leave behind my usual Anglo Jerusalem haunts to seat myself in a cafe in the Arab Quarter of the Old City....and to attempt to craft some art from that unsettling place.

Azriel, as you encounter the unknown horizons of the after-life, may you relish in the journey with joy and relief and gratitude for what was.

*

 

To the Places that Scare Me: 

 

Today is my pilgrimage day

to places that scare me.

 

I spill in all open and determined

through the “New Gate” of the Old City

- the gate of Sultan Abdul Hamid. 

 

 

Realizing that in the thousand times I have come

to my beloved Ir Atika 

never once

have I entered this gate

or paced these streets

where the signs speak Arabic and I,

I am speechless.

  

 

This time, I will spend my quarters in the Arab quarter.

I will stew in all that fruitful

discomfort of being

an Orthodox Jewess

in an otherwise Arab cafe.

 

I will sit here unsettled on this sweaty wicker

and drink in memories.

I will do my darndest to be bold & creative

amidst a street-full (and heart-full?)

of suspicion and dis-ease.

 

And I will wait for the poetry.

 

*

And as sure as smoke rises 

from the hukah and her nectar

I remember...

 

The wind-blown drive to a Rainbow Gathering

circa 2003.

How Azriel, with some girl friend or another

watched wistful out the window

whispering to the passing animals.

 

When all of the sudden

“Wows cows!” he

exclaimed

as we came upon a small speckled herd. 

And my heart jumped from hearing

the explosion of

simple poetry

through his spacious smile.

 

That poetry that somehow always dripped from his sleeves

like the patient muse that always seemed to

guide him

gift him

torture

level

lift

and birth

him.

 

How I will cherish the

matchbook of memories he left me

- good enough to light up the dullest of my days.

 

Urging me to greet the places that best scare me

to make a cafe of my discomforts

and to drink deep. 

  

*

I bless Azriel to greet the dark expanses

that stretch out before him

like an explorer merging with the sea. 

 

 

 

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