By Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)
“You a Jew?”
“Yes, I believe I am.”
“Never met a Jew before.”
This from a sparkling, fresh-faced girl of nineteen,
a future film actress, I’m sure, on her day off
from the fundamentalist camp by the lake.
With the weight of my ancestry
pressing down on my back,
I felt the instant spokesman for my tribe.
Shouldn’t I be wearing a yarmulke and sporting payos?
Shouldn’t I be blessing this fair maiden in Hebrew?
“Ask me any question you like,” I said,
my ancestors from the Holocaust
rolling over in laughter from their graves.
“Do Jews believe in heaven?” she tried, innocently.
“No, St. Pete,” I said, using humor to shield my ignorance,
“but I respect your beliefs,” I added unnecessarily,
trying to extinguish the fires of the crematoriums
while posing as the even-handed poster child
for a religion that was as new to her as it was to me.
The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.
3 responses to ““You a Jew?””
I understand, Mel. When my son went to preschool many years ago, one of the other mothers told me, as did your young woman, she had never met a Jew before. Those first impressions carry so much meaning. Your poem captured that moment of awkwardness and awareness.
My favorite thing about your writing is that I can picture the moment as though it were playing out in front of me. This is no exception.
Mel, I really relate to this! Having been brought up in a very non-religious home, I often feel like the expected spokesperson for my faith, and feel like that title is thrust upon me as opposed to voluntarily adopted. I enjoyed this very much, and got chills at the end!