Category Archives: poetry

My Father’s Holocaust

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

My father escaped the Holocaust,
but suffered for it, and when, as a kid,
I pointed out he never actually
spent time in Auschwitz or Dachau,
he stared at me, “Same thing,” he said.
“You’ll see,” he added. When I pressed
him further, he said only one word: “Family.”
I didn’t see, the Holocaust becoming 
just one more historical fact.
I began my own very secular career.
Then I saw a picture at a lecture
given by a famous art historian.
Thumbprints of dirt, blood, ink, 
mounted upon rows of stripes
in different colors, an abstract
suddenly becoming very real— 
a line of prisoners awaiting the 
morning roll call in the freezing cold.
I looked closer at the thumbprints
and could see my father’s face.
“I am here, remember me, never forget.”
A generation later I am still safe, still free, 
but the picture still haunts me.
“I escaped,” I said to the thumbprints.
“Oh, no, you didn’t,” I heard my father say. 
And finally I understood his words.

Mel Glenn, the author of twelve books for young adults, is working on a poetry book about the pandemic tentatively titled Pandemic, Poetry, and People. He has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. You can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Pesach

by Simon Constam (Toronto, Canada)

Who today asks 

down to the last detail,

as the Haggadah wants us to do,

down to the revi’it of wine, 

the kezayit of matzah, 

whether in the absence of children 

the afikoman ought to be hidden? 

And we rush over the business about it being us 

in Mitzraim. 

Our people were slaves in Egypt,

isn’t that enough

someone always asks. 

And someone always says that there are natural explanations 

for all the plagues.

And someone always mentions the Palestinians. 

And at least one kid always asks, aren’t we done yet. 

“Call down thy wrath upon…” begins then

and some of us and always the guests shift uneasily in their chairs. 

And Eliyahu 

disguised as the cat

no longer comes in 

when the door is opened

as he used to when I was young. 

Grandfather (it’s always a surprise to know that is me)

is a baby boomer who’s going to live too long.  

Here it is early April and he’s already been out on his motorcycle.

To some this is mildly embarrassing. 

But he’s still needed, 

the only one with even a smattering of Hebrew, 

one of only several now who can remember 

how Seders used to be. 

Simon Constam is a Toronto poet and aphorist. Since late 2018, he has published and continues to publish, under the moniker Daily Ferocity, on Instagram, a new, original aphorism every day. He also sends them out to an email subscriber list. His first book of poetry, Brought Down a book of Jewish poetry, was just published by Wipf and Stock Publishers. He can be reached at simon.constam@gmail.com

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Funerary Blues

by Simon Constam (Toronto, Canada)

As idly as she possibly can, she asks

where we’ll be buried. She says we ought to,

as a couple, even past the end, stay married.

But her long-dead first husband she already has

placed in primary honour in the family plot.

His name is raised on the gravestone.

What place might I take there and which one not?

Perhaps I ought to be in a nearby grave alone.

Or should I think about Jewish burial somewhere else?

She could remain with her once and greater love as

I am not jealous of a presumed hereafter. 

But oh, what will my children, learning this, be thinking of? 

And, alas, she and I, on another matter, we’re also in disarray

as she favours cremation and I favour decay. 

Simon Constam is a Toronto poet and aphorist. Since late 2018, he has published and continues to publish, under the moniker Daily Ferocity, on Instagram, a new, original aphorism every day. He also sends them out to an email subscriber list. His first book of poetry, Brought Down, a book of Jewish poetry, was just published by Wipf and Stock Publishers. He can be reached at simon.constam@gmail.com

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What My American Grandmother Said

by Herbert J. Levine (Sarasota, FL)

That she had come to this country from the Austro-Hungarian empire at age two,

that her mother ‘s Viennese relatives were cousins of Theodor Herzl,

that her step-mother felt jealous of her good looks,

that she had become a Suffragette at age sixteen and raised money for the cause selling flowers on the Boston Common,

that the grandson of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had been smitten with her appearance as Isaiah’s wife at a play at the West End YMHA,

that he had asked her to marry him on the spot, saying “my grandfather the poet loved your people,”

that she had replied, “Well my father doesn’t love yours,” 

that she married an American-born man twelve years her senior,

that she and her husband embraced whenever they met one another in whatever room of the house it was,

that it took her seven years after she married at nineteen to realize that she could get on top,

that she had gone every Sunday night to the Ford Hall Forum to hear visiting intellectuals who lectured on every topic under the sun,

that she had practiced saying, “every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better,” as one of them had advised,

that her sister who lived upstairs once said, “Rosie, what are you constipating to do?”

that there was nothing more beautiful than the sunset seen through her kitchen window,

that she lived as a widow forty-two years after Hyman‘s death, half of those working for the Federal government,

that the buses she took to work were designed for making friends with her neighbors,

that if you don’t own a car, it’s very important to befriend people who do,

that rush tickets at Symphony Hall were half-price for Friday afternoon rehearsals,

that there was nothing better for the spirit when visiting historic sites than saying “I love America!”

that it was important for young people to cultivate a sense of intimacy – she had been reading Erik Erikson at the time –

that she would never live long enough to use that bottle of one thousand buffered aspirin that I bought her,

that she left to her children and grandchildren her love of the sun and the moon and the stars and the sky

that she would spend her money before she died, which she did not, 

that I should say at her funeral that every morning she recited the Twenty-Third Psalm, but not until after she had eaten her bagel.

Herbert Levine is the author of two books of bi-lingual poetry, Words for Blessing the World (2017) and An Added Soul: Poems for a New Old Religion (2020). He is currently working on a humanist and earth-based prayer book: Blessed Are You, World: A Siddur for our Time. This is the fifth of his family portraits shared on the Jewish Writing Project. To learn more about Herb and his work, visit:https://benyehudapress.com/books/words-blessing-world/

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An Invitation

by Linda Laderman (Commerce Township, MI)

Invited to a friend’s grandson’s Bar Mitzvah I am divided,

directed to sit behind a gauzy white screen in the balcony.

My Siddur lies on my lap open to a random page.

Ancient words in a language that still feels foreign to me.

Yet I stand on command, a stranger in my old house.

Near the end of a long hardwood pew by the exit

I watch a round-faced woman, young enough to be my

granddaughter, hair hidden under a shiny black sheitel.

A bevy of blue ribboned ponytails nestle their restless bodies

close to her. In a meditative moment she stands and presses

her back against a wall. Eyes closed, she rests her fingers

in the sliver of space between her breasts and burgeoning belly,

then turns and gazes at the five fresh faces looking at her.

Each one returns her gaze, leaning toward her like a chain of flowers.

She pulls a fistful of candy from her pockets & passes pieces

of the sweets down the row, then beckons her girls closer.

Locking arms, they rise and follow her out to begin the long-skirted

walk home. Too late to catch her eye, wishing I could have told her how

I once sat & fished rock candy from my mother’s pockets, my tight

ponytail pulling at my forehead. I think of what it is to want and not want,

to separate from what is given. Boxed & bowed, waiting for me to open

the lid to take what’s there, a package I have been unwilling to unwrap.

After the last prayer is recited, I hurry down the stairs. For a minute,

I imagine I have time to catch up with the mother and her five Shana Maidelas.

 Linda Laderman grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where she has wonderful memories of walking to services and sitting in the balcony with her mother and grandmother at the old B’nai Jacob Synagogue. She earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Her news stories and features have appeared in media outlets and magazines. She returned to school in the 1990’s graduating with a Master’s of Liberal Studies and a Juris Doctor degree from The University of Toledo. Her memoir piece, “Grandmother’s Warning” was published in the summer 2021 edition of the Michigan Jewish Historical Society Journal, and later reprinted in the Detroit Jewish News. Her poetry has appeared in The Jewish Literary Journal, The Bangalore Review and The Sad Girls Literary Blog and is forthcoming this spring in The Scapegoat Review, The Write Launch and Beyond Words Literary Magazine. Linda currently lives in the Detroit area. For the last decade, she has volunteered as a docent at the Zekelman Holocaust Center, where she leads adult discussion tours and is a member of the Docent Advisory Committee. 

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After school refuge – 1963

by Annette Friend (Del Mar, CA)

Leaving behind
the petty fights and fires
taunts and turmoil
of 7th grade in Newark, N.J.
I’d set my walking compass
to Linda Telesco’s house.

A large oak towered over
the rickety porch, roots
eating into the sidewalk.
Furniture too large for the living room.
A gold brocade couch covered in plastic.
Jesus hung from a cross
directly over a scratched dining table.

We were best friends.
Craved the same crazy TV shows.
Reading was the outer limits of joy.
Gossiped about boys whose hair
seemed to grow longer each day,
and our teacher Mr. Ransom
who sneered at our grim pronunciation
of his beloved French.

I was only a generation from my parents’
Yiddish accents, wallet was “Vallet”
Vacuum cleaner, “wacuum cleaner”
Linda still salty sweet
from the oceans her parents
crossed from Sicily
before World War II.

We pulled out the Ouji board
clandestine in her closet
to connect to the spirit world.
Mainly the actors from our favorite
TV show “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

Her crush the exotic Ilya Kuriakin.
Mine the suave Napoleon Solo.
The pointer would glide
letter to letter guided by our fingers
or perhaps the spirits
while we inquired about their favorite colors
flavors of ice cream
when and where we could possibly meet.

Sometimes she’d cry afterwards
as she stared at Jesus on the cross.
Scared she was doomed to the fires of Hell
because she contacted spirits
and liked boys way too much.

I never wanted to go home
where the fires from the Holocaust
still burned every night in my parents’ eyes.                   

Annette Friend, a retired occupational therapist and elementary school teacher, taught both Hebrew and Judaica to a wide range of students. In 2008, she was honored as the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Jewish Educator of the Year from San Diego. Her work has been published in The California Quarterly, Tidepools, Summation, and The San Diego Poetry Annual.

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A Brief History Of One Jew

by Gerard Sarnat (Portola Valley, CA)

15 years ago, we flew south to be around during our 1st grandchild’s birth, then stayed a decade which included our eldest’s #2.

5 years ago, my wife and I returned home up north that night #4, of eventually 6 grandsons, arrived at a nearby hospital.

Every Friday, when both family tree branches are in town, as well as friends, we now gather at our younger daughter’s welcoming house for Shabbos.

Although meditation may offer inklings or glimmers of some higher spirit, I am a hand-me-down true-blue once-hostile Stanford community atheist.

But since others seem at least sorta believers, it’s become much easier to hospitably sit back eyes closed while enjoying my Israeli son-in-law’s gorgeous chanting.

Perhaps particularly since those Hebrew words oy remain absolutely Greek to me. Plus who could ever get enough of multi-millennial traditions 

Such as three generations lighting candles, drinking from the grape, breaking bread, drumming together on this week’s most festive well-appointed table?

Gerard Sarnat won San Francisco Poetry’s 2020 Contest, the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award, plus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for handfuls of 2021 and previous Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry’s work has appeared in numerous journals and publications, including Hong Kong Review, Tokyo Poetry Journal, Buddhist Poetry Review, Northampton Review, Texas Review, Vonnegut Journal, Brooklyn Review, San Francisco Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and The New York Times, as well as in books published by university presses such as Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and University of Chicago. He’s authored the collections Homeless Chronicles, Disputes, 17s, and Melting the Ice King. Gerry is a Harvard-trained physician who’s built and staffed clinics for the marginalized, as well as a Stanford professor and healthcare CEO. Currently he is devoting his energy and resources to deal with climate justice, and serves on Climate Action Now’s board. Gerry’s been married since 1969 with three kids plus six grandsons, and is looking forward to potential future granddaughters. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit his website: gerardsarnat.com

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Elegy for a Man I Hardly Knew

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

I had met him just once

a week before his sudden death.

I hardly knew him at all,

an afternoon’s conversation, 

no more.

We had spoken for hours,

and I felt there was a connection,

saw him as a possible new friend.

(You know now difficult it is for older

men like me to make new friends.)

So, even though I barely knew him,

his sudden death shocked me, and

I felt compelled to attend his funeral

where I heard the usual — the 23rd Psalm, 

“turn, turn, turn,” and a few desultory speeches

—ending with the Mourner’s Kaddish.

His life was described in twenty minutes.

Surely, a human being rates more time.

Surely, there is more to be said about a life.

Was his soul in a hurry to get to heaven?

Did the rabbi want to prevent excessive 

crying over the casket?

If the soul hovers at the grave site, as rabbis 

say, waiting to hear words of praise, words of 

sorrow, before making its journey to higher realms,

then perhaps I could see the need for such urgency.

But maybe I was being momentarily insensitive

taking notes in effect for my own demise, not

understanding why the funeral was so truncated,

or why my friend’s soul wasn’t allowed a final communion

with all the mourners at the place of his eternal rest.

Shouldn’t all souls be granted this indulgence?

Mel Glenn, the author of twelve books for young adults, is working on a poetry book about the pandemic tentatively titled Pandemic, Poetry, and People. He has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. You can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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When I Think About Prayer

by Rachel R. Baum (Saratoga Springs, NY)

We did not belong to the synagogue my grandparents attended

On the High Holy Days I stood next to my father

Surrounded by anonymity in dark suits

He mumbled the Hebrew fussed with the slippery borrowed tallis

As I followed the dots and lines of text with my finger

My father elbowed me “Look at that” he stage whispered

A diamond ring my sister would call a third eye

Dangled from a well-dressed woman’s finger

“I’m her” he teased, knowing how the benediction he bestowed

On any female with enviable money, talent, beauty, would be

Hurtful to my sister and me, and then “Read! Read!” he insisted

Though we both knew we were there to gossip not to pray

Real prayer was the cluster of swaying bearded men

We were observers gazing from the rim of an alien civilization

Although we rose for the silent Amidah

We vied to be the first to finish and sit

My mother admonished us for our whispered disregard

She turned the pages of the Siddur

As she would an album of photographs

Reciting the Hebrew from transliterated words

We left early to avoid the rabbi’s sermon

The Bema a distant stage with its costumed Torahs

An usher collected the pledge envelope

At the tollbooth of a sanctuary door

At home, another yarmulke was added to the drawerful

That my father forgot at shul to remove and return

Evidence of our yearly pilgrimage

Marking the passage of time and of faith.

Rachel R. Baum is a professional dog trainer, former librarian, licensed private pilot, kayak angler, and Covid Long Hauler. She is the author of the blog BARK! Confessions of a Dog Trainer and the editor of Funeral and Memorial Service Readings: Poems and Tributes (McFarland, 1999) Her poems have appeared in High Shelf Press, Ariel’s Dream, Drunk Monkeys, Wingless Dreamer, New England Monthly Poetry Digest, Poetica Review, Bark magazine, and Around the World anthology. To learn more about Rachel’s work, visit: https://rachelrbaum.wixsite.com/my-site

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My Grandfather’s Prayer Book

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

Detached cover.

Brittle, yellowed pages.

Partially erased, Hebrew letters.

His crumbling prayer book is mine now.

Stooped over in his living room, dovaning.

His white, short-sleeved shirt and shock 

of white hair; his thin, willowy frame.

The cigar stub between his lips.

The Bronx.

Roasting brisket and a shelf of pills. 

A Yankee game on the television console. 

Red geraniums.

A pale, florescent light.

Narrow, sickly-green vestibule 

with a picture of his youngest son,

killed in World War II.

We play checkers.

He nudges a checker to another square. 

Tobacco-tinted fingertips.

He doesn’t let me win. 

Now, I hold his prayer book

in my hands by the yahrzeit plaques,

by the tarnished and the yet to be tarnished, 

by the lit and the yet-to-be lit.

Rick Black is an award-winning book artist and poet who runs Turtle Light Press, a small press dedicated to poetry, handmade books and fine art prints. His poetry collection, Star of David, won an award for contemporary Jewish writing and was named one of the best poetry books in 2013. His haiku collection, Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, has been called “a prayer for peace.” Other poems and translations have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Midstream, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Frogpond, Cricket, RawNervz, Blithe Spirit, Still, and other journals. 

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