With an open mind

Sermons, essays, articles, arguments and thought pieces from a Liberal Jewish perspective.


Sermons and Thoughts

Trencadis: The mosaic of the Jewish People

09 February 2021
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein Parashat Yitro

Last week Kabbalat Shabbat and with this evening’s service we have consciously used a more diverse musical setting to the Askonormative playlist. We have included music from the secular Tel Aviv promenade of Beit Tefillah Yisraeli to the Abuyadaya community of Uganda. To conclude this service, we will sing Ein Keiloheinu to a Ladino melody.

Some of these tunes and cadence are difficult for our Ashkenazi tongues but we are committed to embracing the wealth and breadth of Jewish music. We should do this for its own sake and in celebration of the growing diversity of Jewish heritage within The Ark Synagogue.

I often wonder what would have happened if our story, our Sacred Text had not been based on the Land of Israel but in the Lake District or Japan, Africa or Argentina. What might our image of Jethro, Zipporah and Moses, and their sons Gershom and Eliezer, have been then. If medieval biblical commentary had not been primarily based in what we now know as Spain and Portugal, Germany and France, Italy and a sprinkling of Middle East, would our understanding have been different. This was after all, Zipporah and Moses’s household: Mixed and blended, a combining of identities and potentially physical appearances.

During my gap year in 1988, I spent a few months on Kibbutz Hasolelim, an areligious community near Nazareth. Spiritually dissatisfied, I occasionally hitchhiked into Nazareth on Shabbat morning and found myself drawn to the Church of the Annunciation. The Church was established over the site where Catholic tradition understands the House of Mary to stand and where the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she would bear Jesus. There were also thought to be a number of early churches there. Located around these remains is a grotto below the main Sanctuary. It was cool, dim and quiet. I used to spend some time there before going for coffee in the busy Nazareth streets on Shabbat morning.

As well as this sacred space, there were the most incredible collection of tapestries from all the Catholic communities around the world. Each depicted Mary holding a baby Jesus. There was Mary dressed in a kimono, a kaftan and a poncho – all the traditional female dress of the nation or people stitching the tapestry.

Coincidentally, I was listening to William Parker the free jazz double bassist, multi-instrumentalist, poet and composer’s latest album. In the piece, “A Great Day to be Dead,” the words include, “Walking down the path is Moses talking to Alice Coltrane and Betty Shabazz, going down to the river where hope never dies.”

The album is called, ‘Trencadis – a selection from Migration of Silence into and out of the Tone World.’ What a name in itself! I had to look up the word ‘Trencadis.’ It is also known as pique assiette, broken tile mosaics, bits and pieces, memory-ware, and shard-ware. It is a type of mosaic made from cemented-together tile shards and broken chinaware. Catalan modernism revived the method in the 20th century. Moses talking to Alice Coltrane and Betty Shabazz, a perfect example of the possibilities of Trencadis.

Who were Jethro, Zipporah and Moses, Gershom and Eliezer and the girls who were not mentioned by the Torah? We only have the accounts of our Sacred Texts and our interpretation of them. They are us and they are every family, household and individual that choose them as our ancestors, our heritage.

Let us celebrate, how good it is, how sweet it is when sisters and brothers come together in harmony (Psalms 133:1).

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