Category Archives: Read the Spirit

In connection with, matters of the spirit, religion, philosophy, the soul’s yearnings.

Ode to a Shattered Pomegranate

OH boy is the universe a joker! Can’t be a total coincidence that not five hours after I attend a meditation class that focussed on the sense of hearing, I broke something I treasured for the delightful sounds it made.

Rabbi Aaron Bergman led the class, and prior to the meditation we studied the Shema, Judaism’s most important prayer. One simple sentence, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, is followed by the V’ahavta which instructs: You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul…” Among other concepts, Rabbi Bergman drew a link between the first word hear and the instruction to love with our heart, mind and soul. When we hear someone cry out in pain, we should feel their pain; when we hear joyous sounds, we should allow ourselves to experience that joy within our entire beings.

Then came the meditation, sitting quietly aware of the sounds cascading around us: children running in the hall, the drip drip drip of water on the roof, the sounds of breathing, shifting in our seats. Afterward we discussed the emotions stirred up by the sounds we heard. Someone worried that the dripping water might signal a leak in the roof and thus an unexpected expense. Another was distracted by the sounds of the kids running in the hall; someone else was delighted by their laughter.

I have a keen sense of hearing and like nothing better than to be in a completely silent house. Football blaring on the TV instantly drains me of energy as I try to tune it out. There are many sounds that delight me as well, which brings me back to last weekend’s cosmic joke.

Some years ago I bought a delightful little ceramic pomegranate made by Israeli artist Yair Emanuel. I loved everything about it. Glazed in deep shades of red and crimson, it shone even in dim light. Cool and smooth, it fit perfectly between my cupped palms. Best of all, when I shook it, it rattled! A real toy for grown-ups! I loved the muted sound it made, and reveled, keenly aware of the tension between the pomegranate’s fragility and the clay stone banging around its interior. How had the artist inserted that little bead of a noisemaker? I wavered when I saw it. Why spend money on such a useless trifle? But it wasn’t useless at all. Every time I held that glazed pomegranate, I did so with pleasure. Every time I shook it, I laughed in delight. I truly did hear its sound with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul.

And then last Sunday,in a moment of distraction, I brushed against the pomegranate; it shattered on my desk. I heard the sound of it cracking deep inside as if something within me was breaking as well. Mad at myself for having been so careless, I was also bereft that something so small, that had given me such great joy, had vanished in a moment of carelessness. What a reaction for a trinket you may think. But don’t. All of us this week hear again the shots that took Martin Luther King’s life and mourn with heart, mind, and soul all that might have been. I have my priorities straight; I know the difference between broken things and broken people.

Sweeping up the shards of the broken pomegranate, I heard Rabbi Bergman’s words anew. I had taken such delight in this small work of art because I responded to its unique sound with every fiber of my being. Last weekend’s mishap taught me to be more careful with precious objects. It was also a reminder to turn outward the God-given capacity of listening with my heart, mind and soul to those whose path I cross.

Song and Spirit: To Sit and Tile a While

I’ve gone only twice, but I’m beginning to love those Wednesday mornings. It’s a perfect loop: artistic creativity, getting to know an ever-expanding circle of women, an ample nosh, and best of all the knowledge that each of our creations will be sold to help those in need. The site of this wonderful Mobius strip of goodness is the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, Michigan. More on the Institute in a moment.

So what are these Wednesday mornings all about? Making glass mosaic tiles, something I’ve never done before.  I love it.

I love the bits of color and figuring out how to fit the various shapes into some semblance of visual cohesion. I love hearing the stories of the other women at the tables—the kind of intimate clothesline talk of kids and family, stories about work and relatives. And faith. I learn about Mary’s Mantle, “a safe haven for expectant mothers,” where one of the women at my table works.

“Grout is forgiving,” someone assured me my first day when I murmured that I wasn’t sure how my first tile was going to come out.

This led to a conversation about forgiveness—and how great it is to be involved in a kind of art making that comes with its own forgiveness!

And, they were right! When I saw my first finished tile, all those disparate shapes hugged together by dark grey grout, it did look pretty good.

I haven’t yet tried anything representational, choosing to stay within the safety of abstract  and more linear designs. Long-shelved quilt patterns return to me, eager for a second act.

Meanwhile, the veterans of these mosaic gatherings are creating hummingbirds that shimmer in flight above mosaic trumpet flowers, delightful butterflies, vases filled with flowers, sailboats, teapots and more. See more on Song and Spirit’s Art in Action page. 

There are mosaic tiles featuring crosses and Shabbat candlesticks, maize “M’s” on fields of blue and white “S’s”set off by green. From the same humble materials—glass bits, glue, tile cutter, paintbrush—jewels begin to rise to the surface, no two the same, just like snowflakes, fingerprints, human beings. 

And it’s the needs of human beings that lie at the center of this entire venture. The tiles are sold to help support the mission of the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, which is dedicated to promoting greater understanding among people of diverse religions, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The center and its many programs are run by three extraordinary individuals:  Jewish troubadour, Maggid Steve Klaper, a professional musician; Brother Al Mascia, OFM, a Franciscan Friar whose Care’avan is a lifeline for parents and their children living at or below the poverty line; and Mary Gilhuly, Song & Spirit’s co-founder and Art Director who runs the Art-in-Action tile program. That’s the brief rundown. The longer and more deserving story merits more words than I can use here, so please please please, do your heart and soul a favor visit the Song and Spirit website and learn all that they do

Attending a weekend conference, Mary heard a recitation of a human being’s basic psychological needs: love and belonging; power and competence; freedom and choice; fun. She turned to her seat mate and said, “That’s what we do at Song and Spirit!  That’s what our tiles do for people!” She was exactly right.

I can’t wait for next Wednesday to get here.

It was Fifty-Years Ago Today…..

Basements are the modern-day equivalent to the genizah. Genizah, (Hebrew root g-n-z) originally referred to the act of putting away or hiding. The word eventually developed to refer to the actual place where things were deposited, which I think is a perfect example of synecdoche.  Genizahs are temporary holding places for Hebrew texts, prayer books, scrolls, anything containing God’s name until the time that they can be buried. Yes, we Jews bury our holy books. Amazing concept to treat a document as lovingly and respectfully as we do a loved one whose earthly purpose is no more.

Back to yesterday and the basement where I was tackling dust bunnies that had grown to Harvey-ian dust rabbit proportions. Decades-old tins of Kiwi shoe polish, metal skewers for shish kabobs, loose screws (so that’s where they all go when I am distracted!) I opened a cabinet door and fell down the rabbit hole of time: the cards we received when Elliot was born; photos; letters from and to my mother and other relatives; a caricature a college roommate did of me freshman year; a letter from my paternal grandmother to my mother after my parents divorced in which she referenced the weather, a boy I was dating, fabric she had

bought to make me a dress, commenting that she had so many slips of papers she would, “have to find a new hiding place for them, but then I’ll forget to look for them.” Makes me smile to realize I had done much the same thing: hidden away her letter, forgotten it, only to find it again.

The greatest finds were my schoolwork from third and fourth grade. Stacks and stacks of spelling tests, math tests, geography and science tests.  Cotton seeds are planted in late spring. The early Georgia Indians were buried in mounds I wrote in not too badly rendered script.  Each week’s exercises were stapled together and placed into a construction paper folder whose covers we decorated with the theme of the week. My father’s signature appears in the lower left hand corner. The coming week’s menu was vintage cafeteria: Pot roast on Monday, fried chicken for Wednesday. Of course fish sticks for Friday. I don’t know what “Pop Eye” salad* was, but loved the reference to Thursday’s dessert: “Red Tokay Grapes.”  Never had peach cobbler as good since.

The piece de resistance was an example of early Darvick fiction. Titled Kitty in the Garden, it was sweet and subversive. “This little kitten is looking for a mouse. He looked in the garden.  He looked in the house. He didn’t find a mouse. Kitty’s master told him to stay in the house. He went outside and found a mouse. He ate it.”                              

                         Signed: Debby Berkowitz, Jan. 6, 1964                                         





* On a whim I looked it up.  Sheesh. You can find anything on the internet. Including a school cafeteria recipe for Pop-Eye Salad. If only John Dunne had had access to Wikipedia. He would have known where to find the past years and who cleft the Devil’s foot.


His Lens/My Pen #5: What the Waves Can Teach Us

2013’s final His Lens/My Pen image was taken in Laguna Beach, California. It was a cool January afternoon. Martin and I found this spot at the end of a neighborhood street. One after another after another, the waves crashed against these boulders, insistent, intrepid, interminable. Looking at the notch they had worn through sheer rock, I realized that’s what we have to do in life: never cease moving forward, never let barriers keep you from getting where you need to go.

If you’re new to this His Lens/My Pen series it’s pretty simple. My husband snaps the shots and I write the words.  Go to and enjoy some of the images you may have missed. Join in this week’s discussion: recall a time when you have worn through sheer rock to get where you needed to go.

This images, and others in the series, are now available as 5×7 greeting cards at my new Etsy Shop — TheInfinitePeacock.  Check it out!




Looking Back … at some memorable stories

I feel like I’m in one of those tea cup rides at the amusement park. Time is the teacup and some unhand hand keeps turning the steering wheel ever faster and faster. Can the end of 2013 really be a fortnight away? Is it really going to be 2014? I have my 2014 calendar. The little countdown thingy on my son and his fiancee’s wedding page tells me there are 96 days to go. It’s time to start reading the book for January’s book club meeting. Are you like me in wondering where the heck did this year go?

Well, I know it went somewhere and I have the columns to prove it. Thought that this week I’d share a few of my favorites from 2013.

Dust Pan Memories—a dust pan cobbled together out of a broomstick and an old oil can holds more than you think it might

Retelling the Passover Story—celebrating the Exodus in Sedona’s red rock country

Cellular Memory—who knew the memories that could be unlocked in a yoga pose?

Nuit Blanche—inspired by a sleepless night

Heart to Heart to Heart—one of my favorites all year

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother—a happy birthday toast to my brother Daniel

One Walk; Two Insights—that pretty much tells it like it is

I Love Leo’s

Boston had Cheers. Detroit and environs has Leo’s Coney Island, a restaurant chain whose Greek salads cannot be beat. Not in New York. Not in Chicago. Not in LA.

Not nowhere, not no how.

It’s not just the food of course. Leo’s is the place where you watch the kids you drove to soccer practice become waitstaff and then young adults who come home on break and nab their favorite booth with their high school friends to catch up. Leo’s is where you see friends you haven’t seen in years, or since last week. Sometimes you see a local celebrity — Mitch Albom or a sports star (shows you my bent; I spot the authors, not the hoopsters.)

Nothing changes at Leo’s and that’s what makes it so good. You know the waitresses by name; they know exactly how you want your salad; you can count on the buzz of conversation around you and the intermittent cries of “OH-pa” and the nearby flash of warmth that ISN’T menopausal as another order of saganaki cheese goes up in momentary flames.

Yet within that sameness, you are keenly aware of the passing of time. I see fellow synagogue members with whom I’ve worshiped for years. Folks get heavier, older, wait to be seated while holding on to a walker or their younger daughter’s arm. Or holding in their arms a new grandchild. The three-generation tables are the ones that always make me smile. In come the guys putting up orange traffic cones for the latest road renovation and the plaid-skirted girls from the Catholic school a mile over.

Last week, my daughter Emma and I were there for one last Leo’s lunch before her flight back to the BIg Apple from the Big D.  We have been “lunching at Leo’s” for going on 16 years. At least.

After we placed our orders—two small Greeks, extra peppers (her), hold the peppers (me), grilled whole wheat pitas for us both—in walked a mom I carpooled with when our girls were in nursery school. I knew her right away. She didn’t recognize Emma any more than I recognized her daughter, but it was great to catch up for a moment. Was she also thinking of the day our girls played beauty parlor and Emma came home missing the middle part of her bangs? One week, I bumped into one of Emma’s grammar school friends who was there with her mom. I had a momentary pang of envy upon learning she had graduated from nursing school and has returned to the Detroit area. She lives a ten minute walk from our house. If only….

Leo’s is a classic American success story and maybe that’s what I love as well. Brothers Peter and Leo Stassinopoulos arrived in the 1960’s determined to make the American dream their own. Family recipes in tow plus heaping helpings of hard work and determination. Forty-one years and forty-nine restaurants later Leo’s Coney Island isn’t just a restaurant chain, or the place where everybody knows your name. Leo’s is an institution. Our institution.  Meet you there for a Greek salad any day. 

Like (FB)  if you love Leo’s!

Blazing Sechel! Debra Darvick welcomes Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West!

Comic books were anathema in my house when I was a child. My mother sniffed at them so sniffily that whenever I bought an Archie comic book, sneaking it into my room like the contraband it was, guilt trumped pleasure every time.

Only one comic strip was lauded in those days—Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy—because Bushmiller was her father’s patient. Before Maus, the term graphic novel most likely brought to mind In Cold Blood or possibly Lady Chatterly’s Lover, both of which were on our bookshelf.

So when Steve Sheinkin’s The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey crossed my desk, I had to stop my nostrils from flaring and quiet the voice of inner Mom-scorn. Subtitled A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West, the three-book Rabbi Harvey series would have made even my comic-disdaining mother open the front door wide with welcome.

Because Rabbi Harvey rocks!

Sheinkin combined his two childhood literary passions—a book called 101 Jewish Stories and a collection of Wild West adventures—into the persona of Rabbi Harvey. Rabbi Harvey keeps the peace, settles disputes and outsmarts the bad guys in the fictional frontier town of Elk Spring, high in the Colorado mountains.

The rabbi’s adventures are built upon classic Jewish texts and teachers: Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the Baal Shem Tov, Talmudic teachings and Pirke Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers. It’s whimsical; it’s wonderful; its wise and wacky with equal amounts of insight and sight gags. Time and again I marveled to be reading texts I have studied for years transposed to dusty corrals and cornfields. From wisdom gathered across the centuries, and filtered through a passel of delightful characters, come issues we continue to struggle with today.

Each chapter begins with a dilemma that Rabbi Harvey soon rides in to solve. Stagecoach bullies, ruthless outlaws, a thieving traveling salesman and more are all vanquished by Rabbi Harvey, who carries little more than the smarts beneath his 10-gallon hat. In a chapter called “Stump the Rabbi” the setting is the most popular event at the yearly Elk Spring Fair. For five cents, Rabbi Harvey promises to answer any question. A most poignant dilemma closes the chapter. The issues raised by the Elk Spring challenger predate the Shoah (Holocaust). Rabbi Harvey’s answer, in the form of another question, evokes it.

“Something has been bothering me, Rabbi.
Yes, Albert?
Slavery, the Civil War, stealing land from the Indians…How could all these things happen in our country? I don’t understand  Where was God?  

“Rabbi Harvey thought for a moment. Then he responded with a question of his own.

“Where were the people?
This got to them both to thinking.”

In Sheinkin’s hands, the Chasidic tale The Chicken Prince comes to life anew. A boy named Asher assumes the role of the Chicken Prince, taking up residence beneath the dining room table. Asher disrobes and begins pecking for corn from the ground. Rabbi Harvey approaches his distraught parents and offers his help. Before they know it, the rabbi has also disrobed, joining Asher beneath the table where they both start clucking and pecking for grain. Then one day, Rabbi Harvey shows up with two shirts and asks Asher if wearing a shirt would get in the way of his being a chicken. Asher agrees that it would not. Pants, socks and shoes follow and soon enough Asher trails the rabbi out from beneath the table.

The Wild West ending is even better than the original. Although the link above offers one lesson to this parable—Am I limiting my potential because of my self-perception?—Sheinkin made me consider the Chicken Prince from a different angle. Perhaps this tale is also about how we perceive others. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov could just as well have been reminding us that when it comes to those whom we think are different or limited, we must first get down on their level, see and experience the world as they do, and then and only then might they feel safe enough to join us in ours.

Pirke Avot asks, Who is wise? And answers, He who learns from every man. I won’t claim to be wise, but I will say that I am delighted to learn from Rabbi Harvey, my new and completely guilt-free comic book hero.


Street-smarts, common sense