My neighbor says anything we plant
in September takes hold.
She’s lining pots of little grasses by her walk.
I want to know the root goes deep
on all that came before,
you could lay a soaker hose across
your whole life and know
there was something
under layers of packed summer earth
and dry blown grass
This summer, I am working as an organizer at a farm workers' union. I came for three months, charged with beginning a new project that would defend workers against wage theft. This is work that I'm familiar with, that I love. It's the focus of much of the work I did before I went to rabbinical school, it is a big part of the reason I went to rabbinical school at all. This summer has been in flashes tremendously uplifting. I've gotten to return to my home state and organize on issues that I know and love. I have gotten to be part of a network of committed activists and organizers, working for migrant and worker rights. I've met tremendous people and together, we have begun to organize defense committees, have succeeded in reclaiming unpaid wages, have heard countless stories of workplace abuse and strong declarations for the desire for justice. With all that, I recognize that my work is profoundly and ultimately limited. What can I expect to accomplish, after all, coming across the country to work for just three months?
Jews just observed Tisha b'Av, the 25 hour fast period commemorating the destruction of the Temple in 70 and the subsequent exile from the land. It's a marker of collective and personal disorientation, the recognition that nothing is permanent. Nothing is permanent, yet we have held that space for collective mourning, remembrance and struggle for two thousand years.
Less than a week later comes Tu b'Av. Traditionally, relationships begin and marriage is proposed on this day. Linked both with Biblical story and Temple practice, functionally, Tu b'Av offers the opportunity to long for and honor partnership, relationship, commitment, love. With this pair of holidays, Jews ricochet between destruction and creation, the possibility of eternal exile and eternal partnership and love. We carry within us both the willingness to open ourselves to impermanence and the desire to establish ourselves.
And so summer work. Summer work puts me in an Ecclesiastical frame of mind: all is folly, all human work is insubstantial, anything I create will blow away like wispy clouds in a blue summer sky. And yet. Like Shihab Nye writes in her poem Last August Hours Before the Year 2000, I insist that there is something substantial stowed away in my labors. I work because I believe in the movement, because I want to plant myself in this work every free moment I get.
Even discrete and temporary actions plant seeds of possibility, even my summer flailings might yet take root. As a summer worker, as a student who will all too soon return to her perch at Hebrew College in Boston and pour herself into books and discussions, I must simultaneously hold the possibility that the work I did this summer will disappear, while believing that work done in love just might yet stick around.
Photo credit: Peter Orság (user:Peko) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons