Sunday, October 28, 2018

Washington's "Letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island"


tourosynagogue.org

Nearly thirty years have passed since I visited Touro Synagogue; I was packed full of life at the time, younger, nearly nine months pregnant with my first child. This morning I heard (hat tip to Fr. Dane Boston) part of George Washington's letter to the Jewish congregation at Touro and found it beautiful and moving. Touro still holds its precious letter from George Washington, in which he embraces all in liberty and hopes that we citizens will walk in light and be useful, "with none to make him afraid." It is a fine thing for us to read today. We all know why; today Pittsburgh is near us all, and the Tree of Life Synagogue still stands in its midst. The taste of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is on our tongues. We have once again (again!) lost a portion of our brothers and sisters to evil acts.

Yet the ideal, perfect Tree of Life still flourishes--the tree that is rooted to so many true and good and beautiful concepts, that has sprung up as multi-layered symbol and a source of flowing life in many cultures. Tree of Life is a not uncommon name for synagogues because, root and branch, it is tied to Eden, to God, to the beginning and to the end, to the Torah, to rabbinic writings, and to that lovely, hard-won substance, wisdom.

Here is the letter, worthy of being a leaf on the marvelous Tree.

* * *
 Source, photographs on this page: tourosynagogue.org                    

Gentlemen:

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

* * *

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. -- Revelation 22:2 (KJV)

Friday, October 26, 2018

The dead man in the huckleberries

Source: CNN, courtesy Scott Mitchell Leen, Chihuly Studio

Travel and illness are both estranging, and I've managed quite enough of both of late. Yesterday I felt like myself again and promptly wrote a poem about a visit to the Chihuly show at the Vanderbilt estate, Biltmore. I found this surprising because I no longer write many poems where the "I" is so clearly related to me. Lately I've written two long series of poems that ostensibly have nothing at all to do with my days, though of course that's a feint, a bull's red flag, a dropped handkerchief. Maybe the little poem was just grounding me--hey, I'm back in my life!

After that, I worked on a forthcoming novel. I had a dead man to tote to another part of the manuscript, and then I--poof!--turned a long passage of description into a scene starring the main character interacting with various things, including the hair of that aforesaid dead man.

The dead are heavy but portable. Sometimes they make more sense in one place than another. This is true in life also, but we don't get to choose. Although I do know a few people who carry around the dead in urns. On a mantlepiece, the dead are strangely magnetic. They provide a kind of focus to a room. Not the fashionable kind that house decorators desire... This seems wrong, of course. The dead are already magnetic without being physically present in a room. They follow us whether we will or no. They crowd around as we grow older. We ignore them most of the time, but now and then one becomes vivid.

Here they are, getting in the way of my blog post.

Possibly signaling for attention?

This morning I shall go take a look at my dead man, lying where I planted him in a patch of huckleberries, somewhere in the northern precincts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. If he is not content to lie there, perhaps I shall move him again.

* * * * *

Despite getting so little work done (North Carolina, hurricane Florence, northern New York, a retreat at Mons Nubifer Sanctus, etcetera), I have a number of pieces of good book or book-related news but shall save them until some time after the next Rollipoke goes out, as Rollipokers get the news first--that's the deal. So if you're the sort of person who likes to be on tenterhooks, go right ahead.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Marly has been indisposed with an unpleasant malady. Back, she hopes, in a week.