Anniversary

by Jacqueline Jules (Arlington, VA)

Eight years after
the seven-day candle in the tall red glass,
I light a small candle
and consider your existence
in a realm beyond my knowledge.
If life on earth is only one stage in a series,
you could be safe in an ethereal cocoon,
preparing to emerge with splendid wings in Eden.
I’m ashamed to say
your transformation into something better
brought little comfort to me in the beginning,
as I decried my status as a caterpillar,
a frightened worm, vulnerable to a large and hungry bird.

Living without you
was never as difficult
as living with your death.
The burial of a face
that still smiles at me in photographs
seemed, at times, slightly less credible
than spaceships landing on my lawn.
If I believed in death before,
it was the same way I believed in another universe
and other life forms—somewhere out there—
I wasn’t prepared . . . .

To light a candle every year in place of going out to dinner,
seeing a play or planning a party. This summer
would have marked twenty-five years together.
Would we have gone dancing? A little circle
of light flickers on the ceiling, waltzing with the shadows.
I smile. You are dancing for me,
whirling in the endless light of memory.

Jacqueline Jules is the author of many Jewish children’s books including Never Say a Mean Word Again, The Hardest Word, Once Upon a Shabbos, Sarah Laughs, Miriam in the Desert, and Goodnight Sh’ma. Visit her at www.jacquelinejules.com

“Anniversary” appears in Stronger Than Cleopatra, a collection of poems about going forward in the face of loss. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. For more about the book, visit ELJ Publishing at http://www.booknook-eljpublications.com/store/p4/Stronger_Than_Cleopatra.html

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Arbeit Macht Frei

by Sarah Lamstein (Newton, MA)

Too weak for work
I go to the showers.
Death cradles my skull like Leah,
who stroked my thin hair
on a barrack’s shelf.
Skeletal, she picked at lice.

Leah, I am clean.

“Arbeit Macht Frei,” a poem from Sarah Lamstein’s new poetry chapbook Breathless (https://finishinglinepress.com/index.php?cPath=2&sort=2a&filter_id=1773&osCsid=1991mtbm3me2vfeesi6ddoa8c6), was submitted in response to Janet Kircheimer’s Jewish Writing Project post on her film about poets’ responses to the Holocaust.

Sarah Lamstein’s children’s books include Annie’s Shabbat and Letter on the Wind/A Chanukah Tale. She lives in Newton, MA.

 

Website: www.sarahlamstein.com

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Why Fathers Are Unreasonable

by David E. Marshall (Modi’in, Israel)

To you now swimming
in the sea of your mother’s womb
Where do I begin in telling you
about life, this earth, that moon?
Shall I crush your innocence with Genesis
in one bedtime bible story blow?
What about tennis, Beethoven and photosynthesis?
These are all important things to know.
Isaac trusted Abraham and so you will with me,
Exact a trust so strong that it cannot be unbound.
Together we shall climb life’s tree
And scrape our knees on knowledge yet unfound.
And when your dreams are grown and you leave home’s gate
Tell me that you’ll know no father’s love was ever so great
as mine.

David E. Marshall has made his home in Modi’in, Israel for the past 20 years. Originally from Sharon, Massachusetts, he is a first generation American, the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany on his mother’s side and of a student refugee from Iraq on his father’s side. He holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an M.B.A. from Northeastern University.

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Healing Service, Working?

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Families come
to pray, to heal.
God, I am asking you for help.
Please hear me now.
Cries heavenward,
cast on a rising tide.
Will they be received?
“My friend has cancer.”
“My sister has Lyme Disease.”
“My mother’s at the beginning of Alzheimer’s”
“My brother just discovered a lump.”
“My husband just died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
“My brother is not well.”
Everyone’s equal in the eyes of God,
equal in pain and loss.
Human beings join hands today,
hoping with renewed fervor,
that their prayers will fall
on welcoming ears,
and their suffering will be eased.

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 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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The Language of Poetry and Cinema Meets the Language of Grant Writing

by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)

Writer and child survivor Aharon Appelfeld stated, “After the death of the last witnesses, the remembrance of the Holocaust must not be entrusted to historians alone. Now comes the hour of artistic creation.” I am producing BE•HOLD, a cinematic performance film that explores poetry written about the Holocaust, with director Richard Kroehling. The film showcases poetry written by survivors, their descendants and modern poets, both Jews and non-Jews, grappling with the Shoah and its aftereffects. The poems are presented by poets, survivors, actors and people from all walks of life, along with music and interviews, to create a deep well of voices responding to evil.

My parents were born in Germany. In 1936, my mother was six years old when she was backed up against a wall at school, and kids threw rocks at her because she refused to say “Heil Hitler.” Her parents got her out to a Jewish girls’ orphanage in Amsterdam, the Israelitisch Meijesweishaus. There were one hundred and four girls. Four survived. My mother came to America with her parents and an older sister. When my father was sixteen, he was arrested on Kristallnacht (two days of rioting sanctioned by the Nazi government on November 9 and 10, 1938) and sent to Dachau. My father’s parents, his older sister and younger brother were murdered in Auschwitz. My parents lost over ninety-five percent of their extended families in concentration camps. I want to make BE•HOLD to honor my family, those who survived and those who did not, and to honor all the murdered, all the survivors, their descendants and those who fought against the Nazis.

The team making BE•HOLD is Richard Kroehling, a two-time Emmy Award winning director who filmed “A. Einstein: How I See the World” with William Hurt for PBS, and Lisa Rinzler, a multi-award winning cinematographer who has worked with Wim Wenders and Martin Scorcese. I met Richard at a conference less than three months after my father died, and we discussed our mutual love of poetry. Two weeks later, we decided to make a film. We talked for almost a year about BE•HOLD, discussing our vision for it, poems and poets we wished to film and ways to raise funds. I was observing the traditional Jewish year of mourning for my father, and many times this film felt as if it were a gift from him. It gave me a goal, something to focus on.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “Poetry is the shortest distance between two humans.” Richard and I are driven by the possibilities of expanding the limits of what is purely literary and purely visual, and we believe that the language of poetry and the language of cinema can be brought together for profound and powerful results. We watched them collide and were there to capture on film what happened. During each filming, a poetic moment took over and the results were different than what we had planned for and always more than we expected.

Grant writing is new for me, and I am trying to wrap my head around the idea of quantifying art. I’m still not sure I know what funders are asking for after writing grant proposals this past year. I understand that funders need to know where their money is going and that a project they fund will be a success. It’s different than creative writing. In a poem, if I know where I’m going, know everything I want to say, there’s nothing left to discover or surprise me in my writing. This is what I’d like to do: meet with a potential funder and say, “I can’t give you a pitch. I’m not a fundraiser. I’m a poet, teacher and filmmaker, and here’s why I’m passionate about BE•HOLD and why the film matters.”

On grant applications, I complete sections such as: log line, short and long description of the film, summary of content and objectives, narrative treatment, timeline, director’s vision, then upload a producer, director and cinematographer bio and filmography, upload the progress reel, fill out the budget form, list monies raised, funding sources and describe marketing and distribution plans. The next question asks what kind of metrics will be used to show that the film is a success. I understand why most of my artist friends don’t apply for grants.

Trying to make a film that is doing something new is difficult. There are so many people applying for grants from the few organizations that give them to filmmakers. But, I continue to fill out proposals and raise funds. Richard and I believe in BE•HOLD and that it offers a new approach to Holocaust remembrance. We also believe that the film imparts the ongoing relevance of the Shoah: that the past is not simply in the past, but rather a vital part of the present and future.

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us (2007).  She is currently producing BE•HOLD, a cinematic poetry performance filmhttps://www.facebook.com/BeholdAPerformanceFilm.  Her work has appeared in journals and on line in such publications as Atlanta Review, Limestone, Connecticut Review, Lilith, Natural Bridge and on beliefnet.com.  She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and received Honorable Mention in the String Poet Prize 2014. 

This essay is reprinted here with the kind permission of  The Best American Poetry Blog http://thebestamericanpoetry.typepad.com/the_best_american_poetry/ where it first appeared.  

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What Happens to a Hebrew School Dropout?

by Beth Leibson (New York, NY)

My 11-year-old son, Ari, is now a Hebrew-school dropout.I am aware that that’s the name of a comedy act and a line of T-shirts. But, for me, the phrase is not a punch line, but a punch in the gut.

I imagine my response was just like parents whose kids drop out of high school: disbelief, sadness and helplessness followed quickly by a healthy dose of Jewish guilt. “Where did I go wrong?” “What did I do to cause him to reject my contribution to his heritage?”

I realize the situations aren’t exactly comparable. My son, Ari, won’t face difficulties getting into college or landing a good job—at least as a result of this decision. He won’t be walking the streets of New York stopping strangers and saying, “Dude, can you spare a kippah so I can cover my head in synagogue?” On the flip side, there’s no GED equivalent for the bar mitzvah (though an adult bar mitzvah is an option).

My goals for the after-school Hebrew-school program were modest: I knew he wouldn’t become a Judaic scholar, conversant in Jewish history or fluent in Hebrew. I just hoped he’d have fun being Jewish, make a couple of friends in the tribe, and possibly gain enough of a sense of Judaism that he could accept it—or reject it—with some knowledge base.

I suppose I could force Ari to go to Hebrew school. But I worry that it would backfire, that he would end up resenting his Jewish heritage.

When I was growing up, my household changed when my mother married her second husband. My mother was agnostic, her new hubby Orthodox, which made for an interesting combination. The family that had been only loosely affiliated with Judaism started to keep kosher and attend synagogue weekly. And my sister and I ended up at a Jewish high school. I felt like I was being force-fed Judaism as a result of my mother’s second marriage—and it gave me heartburn.

Of course, the effort backfired the minute I moved out of my mother’s house. While I retained a strong sense of Jewish identity, you would never know it if you watched my behavior when I was in college and my early 20s. I avoided synagogue and any Jewish event where my grandparents weren’t in attendance. I ate on Yom Kippur, a traditional fast day, and enjoyed sandwiches during Passover, the week when most Jews eschew leavening. In my late 20s, I married a non-Jew and did not ask him to even consider converting. Although I did warn him that any kids I might have—purely theoretical, mind you—would be Jewish.

My sister has stayed away from all things Jewish. To the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t set foot in a synagogue in the past decade, aside from my daughter’s bat mitzvah. This year, when I invited her to our very low-key seder, she told me it was “too Jewish” for her and her non-Jewish husband.

Eventually, in my 30s, I came back to the fold, drop by drop. I added elements as the whim struck, taking a deli-line approach; I picked what was fun or meaningful. I ventured back to synagogue on the High Holy Days, then branched into very occasional Friday night services. My then-husband and I took a trip to Israel and upon our return, he began—of his own accord—the process of converting to Judaism. And once we had children, the process accelerated. The kids thought challah was yummy, so we started to eat it every Friday night. I liked the notion of celebrating freedom, so we had seders at Passover. Of course, we did it in our own style, sitting on the living room floor with bowls of leavening-free chili in our laps.

Then my daughter, who has always identified herself strongly as Jewish, learned the Sabbath prayers at Tot Shabbat and asked that we say them—and provide grape juice—every Friday night. She’s still at it—and now lights the candles for Ari and me every Friday night.

Do I worry too much about Ari and Hebrew school? My daughter says yes; it is his life, she avers. I don’t disagree. It is his life—but I am his mom.

I want to send him into the world with a well-stocked box of life tools. That includes certain skills, such as the ability to tie shoes, use a pair of scissors, design and prepare an assortment of nutritious meals, balance a checkbook and, these days, safely traverse the Internet. It includes some basic habits, such as twice-daily tooth brushing, regular use of “please” and “thank you,” and proper tipping. I also want my children, my son, to have certain psychological tools, such as confidence, hobbies, a sense of humor, an ability to find joy in life—and a sense of who he is and where he comes from. I worry that Ari won’t have a clear sense of who he is and where he comes from as a Jew. It’s as though he’s missing the Phillips-head screwdriver in his toolbox.

What we do, the little steps that we take—or don’t take—every day contribute to our identity. Is Ari denying who he is? After all, renouncing religions is much simpler than “passing” for a different race; it is eminently doable and sadly common.

I’m not giving up on Ari. He will continue to have challah and grape juice every Friday night—and to watch his older sister light the candles. He will continue to celebrate freedom on Passover, throw sponges at the rabbi at the Purim carnival and seek forgiveness around the High Holy Days.

I know my kids are getting mixed messages about being Jewish since their father and I divorced. In my home, we celebrate the holidays, march in the Israel Day parade and generally identify ourselves as Hebes.

My kids say that they are often asked, “Are you half-Jewish?” I know that choosing Judaism means, at least to some extent, picking Mom over Dad—a position neither child (nor I, on most days) relishes.

Judaism is a journey, and everyone takes an individual path. My daughter is taking what seems like a pretty straight line thus far, sticking to the major highways. I took my own spiral approach to identifying as a Jew, pulling away and then cycling back. And Ari will take his own path, though I do worry that he’s wandered off into a field for a nap.

The good news is that he asked to attend the synagogue’s Purim carnival this year—and then put in a plug for a chocolate seder, negotiating the details with his acne-phobic older sister. I am hopeful that this means Ari will wake up from his Hebrew-school nap, grab his well-stocked toolbox, and make a life for himself that includes the joy and pride of being Jewish.

Beth Leibson is a New York-based writer and editor, and author of the book I’m Too Young to Have Breast Cancer (Lifeline, 2004).

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal and on Jewishjournal.com. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the Jewish Journal and the author.

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God, Jewish and Otherwise

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

God, Jewish and otherwise,
tell me this:
Some poor people
decide to get coffee
at a small café in the heart of Sydney,
and by some accident of time,
they become hostages and victims, some dead.
Some poor students
decide to attend class
at a small school in the heart of Pakistan,
and by some accident of time,
they become murdered and maimed, some escape.
Tell me it’s part of your plan.
Tell me it’s not for me to know why.
Tell me it was destined to be,
and I will tell you,
I have to believe it’s sheer randomness,
the luck of the draw, the flip of the coin
because I cannot for the life of me
understand how you could allow such evil
to grab your poor creations by the throat
and squeeze.

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 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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