Moments for Psalms

      This week I went to the Income Tax Authority to get 3 tax forms for my 3 employers. Below the ledge on which I filled out my request I found a small white Book of Psalms. Hands had rustled it’s cover worn.  

     Under the other ledge for filling out requests lay another well-used Book of Psalms, this one black and clean. I wondered if someone had lost these books or if the Income Tax Authority, perchance, had strategically placed this reading material for the anxious public waiting in line for assessment. I was #175.  #132 had not yet been called.  That’s  a waiting period of  6-10 psalms, I calculated, in Jerusalem’s temple of calculations.

     I gave both books to the young woman handing out the queue numbers and directing people to a working photocopy machine on the 2nd floor. (Tip: Whenever you go to the Income Tax Authority, take photocopies of your last salary slips. The in-house photocopy machine is often out of order.) The young woman didn’t know who owned the holy books which led me to believe she had not placed them there. She suggested I leave them on the counter above her desk, confident their rightful owners would return.

     Years ago when I was waiting for my get ceremony to begin at the divorce court of the Jerusalem Rabbinate, I looked around the room for reading material.  The tables were empty, save for one Book of Psalms. I opened it randomly and began reading.

     A week before the visit to the Income Tax Authority, I was present at a medical procedure carried out on the body of a person I love. The officiating doctor joked while he worked and before I knew it, we were walking out of the treatment room as another patient walked in. For the first time in my life, I felt the need for Psalms. I wanted to pray and thank and beseech and bless, but there was not 1 Book of Psalms on the 4 tables in the hospital waiting room. Magazines on design and home, fashion and food lay scattered around the waiting room, but the moment called for something more. I wanted lines of poetry with no specific connection to 2012. I sought rhythms that had survived  centuries and styles. I needed words like the ax that cut through “the frozen sea in us.”

     Yesterday I walked along the beach in Tel Aviv at 8 in the morning. Heavy gray clouds like mountain ranges invaded from the west. White waves rose like loud chords on the turquoise water. The sandy beach was nearly empty, save for a man facing the water doing Chi Quong. I walked to stand behind him, put down my purse and imitated his movements. Two or three other people joined the silent group. The waves became violent  and the clouds darker. Winds picked up as we moved our arms and torsos in a stationary backstroke. I cleared my mind of thoughts about the night before, the breakfast to come, the afternoon visit. I became rooted movement in a whorl of movement, a stone in a storm.

      Another moment, I thought, for Psalms.



About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
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12 Responses to Moments for Psalms

  1. Jane A says:

    I know I’ve told you this before, Judy…but it bears repeating — I love your writing, as often as you write I will be happy to read… love that you joined the chi kung movement- what a beautiful image.


  2. estherhecht says:

    The beautiful photograph and the scene on the beach evoked the German movie Cherry Blossoms, a meditation on art, life and death.
    Last night I attended a musical memorial to two members of our synagogue (Beth and Ezri Uval, husband and wife) who contributed so much to the congregation, as wonderful human beings but especially through their musical abilities. Among the performers were two young women whose singing, some of it taken from the liturgy, was so beautiful I felt my spirit come alive in a way it usually doesn’t. It made me wonder at those who would ban the singing of women. This was clearly an expression of the divine in the human being and an appropriate moment for Psalms.


  3. tzirelchana says:

    Hi Judy
    This is lovely.Only in Israel where King David’s words follow us through life. Best


  4. Judy, you’re a modern psalmist, using impeccable words and images filled with beauty and meaning. It is always a joy to read you.


  5. Shosh says:

    I love the “heavy grey clouds like mountain ranges.” And the rest. Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing and private moments.


  6. Rachel Bar Yosef says:

    Years ago, when I had carpal tunnel surgery with only local anesthetic, I gulped, “Yipes, some music, fast, to make this pass!” and started humming under my breath the first thing I could think of, Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. I always feel self-conscious, as a chozeret bitshuva, that it isn’t Tehilim that’s my vernacular, but music. But of all the music in my “repertoire,” look at what I dafka landed on!
    Thank you for this beautiful piece.


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