I Never Asked

by Natalie Zellat Dyen (Huntingdon Valley, PA )

My bubba taught me to knit European style, yarn on the left.
What hands had guided her hands,
Which now guided mine?
I never thanked her for that gift.
Or for filling empty jars with cinnamon cookies.
Al heit shehatanu. For the sin of ingratitude.

My bubba could have shared memories:
Of a long-ago village
Of lost traditions
Of melodies sung by her father, the cantor
Who passed on the gift of his voice
Before dying on the passage from old world to new.
But I never asked her to sing those songs.
Al heit shehetanu. For the sin of not asking.

So I must speak for her.
“I remember my own grandmother,” she would have said,
“And you will probably live to see your own grandchildren.
So right now, between the two of us, we share two-hundred years of history.”
And if I had looked into her eyes,
I might have seen her great-grandparents, her great-great-grandparents,
And all who came before.
But I never looked.
Al heit shehetanu. For the sin of turning our backs on the past.

Natalie Zellat Dyen is a freelance writer and photographer living in Huntingdon Valley, PA. Her work has appeared in The Willow Review, Global Woman Magazine, Intercom Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and other newspapers and journals. Links to Natalie’s published work are available at www.nataliewrites.com.


Filed under American Jewry, Family history, history

3 responses to “I Never Asked

  1. Your beautiful poem of repentance, in touching anyone who connects with your words, is the deed that erases the sins. It’s a personal Al Heyt that should be chanted in shuls. Yishar kohekh! And happy new year!

  2. Natalie, what a beautiful writing this is. I absolutely know that your grandmother knows its words and smiles on them…and you. Repentance is a wonderful thing when it is heartfelt. It cleanses and in that, it repairs. What a wonderful family you have had, you have, and you are. Thank you for sharing. I’ve enjoyed the read very much.

  3. Natalie…As you know, my heritage is Irish/English/Italian,..but those of both the Jewish and Christian faiths share the same Old Testament history. As such, this poem has touched my heart. I felt the same way about my much older aunt…and other relatives. It doesn’t matter who or what our families are…guilt andrepentance in not acknowledging and listening to our relatives and forebears crosses all cultures and religions! Great poem…valuably poignant message. Thank you for writing it!

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