Chain Link Fence/ Holocaust/ Jewish Images/ Partners/ Rosh Chodesh/ Signs from G-d/ Torah
Chain Link Fence
Arching westward, looking out,
9 year old hands pressed to a chain link fence,
Surrounding a building in downtown Baltimore,
The only Jewish institution
I'd ever set foot in,
An alien prison,
With jagged, Hebrew bars,
And hostile, unknown inmates,
On the outside lay freedom,
Normalcy, my true self,
Grade school, gentile friends,
Writing little stories, singing with CCM,
I thought that'd be enough,
When I refused more Hebrew School,
After my bat-mitzvah.
I thought Judaism had failed me,
But I couldn't escape it.
New Episcopal grade school, graduating CCM,
With a desperate, failed attempt at a concert,
Being the outsider,
Judaism crept back in.
I found no relief from it,
Until I gave in.
Unlocked old, rusty doors,
And allowed prospects of community to
Wash over me,
On the other side of that chain link fence.
I face eastward.
With 19 year old hands,
But the same alien elements chaining me.
And this time, I ask,
Is that secular life enough?
Those survivors who find the courage
To teach others about the Holocaust
Are the ones who really survived.
I sit and wonder
How piles of dead bodies
Shaved down and marked off
Really piles of meat
Can jolt someone back to life.
How lines of Nazi henchmen
Slashing away at human life
Can equal anything more
Than mankinds' tyrrany.
I sat in hell for seven years
(Also known as private school)
I watched girls with bleached blond hair
Methodically giggle about boys.
They tied ribbons in their locks
To distinguish themselves from the rest of us.
I gave up fighting to reach the surface
They could all see through me
And standing all alone
The panic rushed through in torrents.
Perhaps because the Jews suffered together
I am a halfling.
My father's parents
Were smuggled past German U Boats
From Italy to America.
Not the same thing.
A survivor's story jerks at the heartstrings
Of a Jewish community.
Playing us like
A meleancholy tune.
Still, I can't understand my connection.
I am not connected.
My grandmother doesn't know
If the pogroms drove her family
If we are even from there.
In 7th grade we read
"The Diaries of Anne Frank."
None of us focused on the Holocaust.
My classmates were disgusted
By Anne's exploration of her own body.
I was relieved
That I wasn't alone.
How Anne delved into her womanhood
Both in body and soul.
She claimed that all people were good
She claimed that "this too shall pass."
I wonder if her optimism dissipated
As she died in Bergen-Belson pneumonia striken
In her sister's arms.
I can imagine no better way to die
Than in my sister's arms.
In the summer of 2003
One year after my high school graduation
A survivor came to talk to us
And like Ghandi or Mother Theresa she preached
Letting go of the past.
Creating the world
Before it can destroy you.
I had to leave
Realizing I was not Anne Frank.
While some can rise from the ashes
Of creamated bodies
I cannot stand alone
Among my generation
Cannot give tzedakah, tikkun olam
For the past paralyzes me.
As if my middle school ribbons are anywhere close
To yellow stars stabbed on Jewish clothing
After seven years my class accepted me
The Nazis never gave reparations to the Jews
Thank G-d Germany was forced to.
How is it that we have the same demons?
That as an assimilated Jew
I still feel the pain of the Holocaust
Coupled with my own?
Why can't I move on
As survivors themselves demand?
Is it because they stand together
While I still stand alone?
The bruised femur
Like quivering Sinai
In Moses' grasp.
In small Medditeranean towns.
To yellow-belled kosher cheese factories.
Like aging bones.
The stench perforates
Like a wispy scarf
Back to quivering Sinai
And Moses' time.
The other day, I lost 2 socks in the wash,
One emblazened with the images of Chanukah,
One with the initials of my college,
I placed their partners on my suitcase,
Like desert wanderers.
The other day, I lost faith in G-d,
Or Judaism's interpretation of "Him,"
I entered a world of crosses and commercialism,
But inside my head,
I remembered songs from Hebrew School.
The wilting voices of children,
Confident in following the steps of older generations,
I locked it up in my mind,
Waiting for it's partner, the faith, to come back.
After Shabat services, I went to the laundry room,
Scored my hand along the edges of the dryer,
Benneath my sight lay the 2 socks,
Chanukah menorahs and Washington initials,
How easily they rolled up with their partners,
And the 2 bundles lay contentedly, side by side.
After my panic attacks, I went to BCI,
Mostly to sort out my feelings on Israel and antiquidated laws,
Instead, I was confronted with my secular life,
The sidesteps I took around Christianity and materialism,
The gentile friends,
Who soothed all of my worries away,
Years of writing camp,
In place of Hebrew School,
My fellow BCIers had been engrossed in Jewish culture,
Whereas I had only watched from the sidelines.
But I found my voice through scanty Jewish knowledge,
And strong opinions, gaining instant respect,
And my friends from home wrote me,
Missing me, wanting to draw me back in,
I must find a way to live both lives, I realized.
Let them partner each other in a peaceful dance,
Let them lie as contentedly as socks, side by side.
We walked out to the campsite,
In a stream of light, I'd like to say,
Introducing ourselves as daughters of our mothers,
Woomen, standing alone,
For once commended by the bible
Rather than chastized,
To take upon this night for ourselves.
We sang "Hiney Mah Tov" by the fire,
Substituting achim with achyot,
Brothers with sisters,
Emily fed me chocolate,
And although it's heretical of me to say,
I wanted to be Diana,
As if the stream of candlelight surrounding me,
Fed the light of the moon to my soul.
We wrote out a month's lifetime on a peice of paper,
I burned away thoughts of abandoning
Half lives shrouded by
Obsessions over others,
Promises I can't keep.
Some of us wandered away
Once the candles were blown out,
But others stayed,
Linking hands, thinking up contemporary tunes,
And for the first time since coming here,
I didn't feel alone,
Singing "Indigo Girls" together,
"The closer I am to fine,
The closer I am to fine."
Signs from G-d
What is a sign from G-d?
A burning bush, blaring out a decree?
A booming voice, punishing Hebrews-
You can't be different- no false gods,
No female cults- no women of importance,
No lying with your fellows of the same sex,
Strict rules of kashrut, or else you're out?
Or what is a sign from G-d,
A resurgence of writing as therapy
After a mental breakdown?
The kindness of friends,
Who know when to call?
Or write, with soothing words,
New words, of liking life,
Rather than running from it.
Inviting you to a community,
A community you treasured for
A whole year, but,
A community you wanted to leave,
For not being "Hebrew" enough,
But maybe is G-d's true sign,
At Beit Midrash, our study session,
They spread the Torah over our knees.
10 of us, a minyan,
And asked us to interpret it.
Years and years of Hebrew School flashed through our minds,
We jolted back, as if electrocuted,
Scared that we might brush our fingers,
Against the ink.
But I couldn't help leaning down,
To see the cracks portrayed in the old paper,
No vowels, and those funny little squiggles,
Only found in scrolls.
I'd not been so close since my bat-mitzvah.
I could not read a word in front of me,
So why the connection through the columns of text?
We all sat and mostly agreed,
That the Torah was not the direct creation of G-d,
But we all breathed a sigh of relief,
When it was rolled up and moved away.
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