Return Address

This original poem was written by Dr. Rick Chess in honor of CBI's Centennial Celebration held in 1999.

House of Israel, where the milk is
a high-holiday veil cascading
in front of the ark and the honey is hard
candy scooped up from the bema by children.
Where a still voice stirs
the sanctuary illuminated
by etrog-light of late afternoon.
Pick it up, the prayerbook, cup it to your ear,
and you might hear the silver
tongue of Germany, the golden lip
of Spain, the green heart of America
may beat inside you, inside the house of Israel.

And our dues speak to the clerk
at the power and light company,
telling her about the revelation.

House of Israel: Abraham's tent
is the men's club, the table of periodical
advice for keeping the heart
strong, while the kitchen is stainless
Sarah and Hagar's sorrow lies
along the dim wall near the water fountain.

And our parking lot listens to the wheels
of a skater, going over and over again
the story of the nose-ring.

This is the house, the house of Israel in Asheville.
Because you are a member,
when you answer the phone at home
the eternal flame says hello.
Because you are a member, when you mourn
your countenance is
blue velour, your lying down
is oil poured on stone, your rising up is God's abode.

And our answering machine speaks in a small voice
its compact message, the hours of worship,
as if it were a sonnet of unrequited love.

The door to the House of Israel is not always open.
The light of the House of Israel does not eternally burn.
The water of the House of Israel does not ceaselessly flow.
The prayers of the House of Israel are not continuously sung.

And our roof is the wing of a jet,
our floor the dry floor between walls of sea.

Like Jerusalem, the synagogue is your burden, your privilege.
It is the return address on the envelope of your prayer.