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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Mazal tov, mazal tov!

November 22, 2021

Dear JWP contributors:

We’d like to thank each one of you for helping us reach our thirteenth year—our Bar Mitzvah year—and for trusting us with your work since the day back in 2008 when we opened our doors and invited writers to share your stories and poems with us.

The first JWP story appeared on November 5, 2008, and since then we’ve had the pleasure and good fortune of publishing 465 stories and poems which have come to us from writers spread across the globe (Canada, Israel, France, Australia, Gibraltar, South Africa, Spain, Germany, England, and, of course, the United States) and from 32 states (from Alabama to Wisconsin), all of which have helped us explore what it means to be Jewish.

When we look back at the past thirteen years, we find ourselves amazed (and, quite honestly, inspired) by the way each writer has made such a sincere effort to understand Jewish identity and Jewish life today. The diversity of voices, the depth of insights, and the strong desire–some might call it a compulsion–to explore the many aspects of Jewishness in so many ways, and from so many perspectives, well, it’s quite simply breath-taking.  

So, before this month ends, we’d like to pause for a moment to offer our gratitude to all of the writers who have helped deepen —and expand— our understanding of Judaism over the years. Your stories and poems have provided us with a stunning kaleidoscopic perspective of Jewish life and culture, and, in the process, have made us more sensitive to the multitude of different voices that are part of being Jewish today. 

Each writer has a different voice, of course, a voice that might sound different than those we may be used to hearing. And when we listen closely to each story, each poem, we can hear the sound of a key turning to open a writer’s heart and receive in return a precious gift—a deeply personal understanding of what it means to be Jewish. 

For all that we’ve learned from each other over the past thirteen years, and for all that I hope we’ll continue to learn from each other in the years ahead, thanks to each contributor (and to our readers, as well), for joining us in this project, which was created to help each of us explore the nature of being Jewish. 

May all of you continue to find joy and meaning in the words that appear on your pages each day. 

B’shalom,

Bruce Black

Editorial Director (and Founder)

The Jewish Writing Project

jewishwritigproject.wordpress.com

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Unwanted Element

by Michal Mahgerefteh (Norfolk, VA)


“Whenever a mortal man uplifts with arrogance his heart,
scholar or prophet, all his gifts shall soon from him depart.”
                                 

The Talmud

Black kippah, black hat and black jacket are your refuge?
You stand on the bima in a white tunic shouting to my chaverim,
“Avoid her Shabbat meals.” In my still soul I feel like a dumb lamb led to the altar.

But against me you have no prayers that separate me from the Circle of David,
decompose my Sephardic essence nor ostracize me from the house of God.

Slowly I understand; your power magnifies littleness. All you do is blow ash 
on the golden cherubim, smearing the name of El Elyon. The Talmud teaches 
that our personal growth and spiritual maturity is an ongoing effort: 

“God caused not His presence on Israel to rest, ’til their labor had shown
of their merit test.” Please understand we are not black or white, we are
cloaked in fabric of many colors.

Michal Mahgerefteh is an award-winning Israeli-American poet, the author of five poetry chapbooks, managing editor of Poetica Magazine, and an active member of The Poetry Society of Virginia. Michal is currently writing her next chapbook, FishMoon, forthcoming May 2022. If you’d like to read more of her work, visit her website: www.Mitak-Art.com

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Davening in the Dining Room (5782)

by Carol Blatter (Tucson, AZ)

This year there was an absence of the beautiful aromas which were usually emitted in our kitchen and throughout the house during Rosh Hashanah. There was no chicken soup, no matzah balls, no kugel, no brisket, and no honey cake. Why? I would be dishonest if I said that I had a good excuse. I didn’t.

I found myself less engaged in cooking this year. I wasn’t ready. After the deprivation of social contacts due to the Covid virus for more than fifteen months (and now with the Delta variant), I had lost my usual energy and enthusiasm for the start of this holiday. So we just had an ordinary meal. The sweet tastes on our tongues, the tasty, tangy flavors, and the familiar tastes of combinations of traditional foods we enjoyed with our parents and grandparents at this high holiday were absent.

***

Lights emanated from the two candles I lit just before sundown. With my husband at my side we said the high holiday prayers which ended with a traditional blessing for reaching this season:

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season. 

Although our traditional holiday foods were absent this year, we kept our holiday, Rosh Hashanah, the day of remembrance, as it was meant to be observed. We remembered our traditions. We remembered to recite the blessings for wine and bread (challah) before the meal. We remembered to engage in prayer and song with kavanah, with intention, with our rabbi this year (again) virtually. We remembered to reflect on our blessings; we have many. One of our most important blessings is being together as proud, loving mates of fifty-two years.

***

Over the past two years we have learned to pray wherever we are. We have learned to create a holy space of our own here at home, not the holy space in synagogue which we would have preferred. Our dining room is very warm and attractive with traditional furnishings. We have a gold-framed picture of  a rabbi with a long gray beard, with his black head covering, and wearing his white tallit. We have many items of Judaica on the mantle of our fireplace including a unique menorah made in a form called potichomania, an eighteenth-century art form created by Leona M. Fine with reflective colors and designs of blue, greens and golds.

What we lacked was being present in our synagogue. Even wearing our prayer shawls and kippot and wearing dress-up clothes— I wore a very elegant white dress with white cut out designs all around the bottom and my husband in a long-sleeve, light blue shirt and tie with dark pants and a dark blue blazer — it was still difficult to re-create or imitate the aura, the ambiance, the awesome feeling of praying in a holy place, a space designated for prayer, a place of solace, a place of reverence, a place set aside for those moments in our lives when we need to be in touch with God. 

In synagogue we pray to the east facing Jerusalem so we prayed to the east in our home. If we were in synagogue we would have seen the Torah scroll rolled out onto the Torah table. We would have had an opportunity to be called for an aliyah, an honor, and ascended to the Torah using the fringes on our tallitot to touch the ancient words of our Torah’s teachings. 

****

With or without COVID, we will never forget who we are. We are Jews. We are the People of the Book. We are the Chosen People, chosen by God to be a light unto the nations. We are linked to thousands of years of Jews who came before us. We will continue to recite our prayers, to observe our customs and traditions, and hand them down to our granddaughter who we hope will hand them down to her children and then to their children and their grandchildren.

***

And together we prayed for a year of good health and peace in the new year 5782 for all Jews around the world. 

Carol J. Wechsler Blatter is a recently retired psychotherapist in private practice. She has contributed writings to Chaleur Press,Story Circle Network Journal and One Woman’s Day; stories in Writing it Real anthologies, Mishearing: Miseries, Mysteries, and Misbehaviors, Pleasure Taken In Our Dreams, Small Things, & Conversations,The Jewish Writing Project, and in101words.org; and poems in Story Circle Network’s Real Women Write,Growing/ Older, and Covenant of the Generations by Women of Reform Judaism She is a wife, mother, and grandmother of her very special granddaughter who already writes her own stories. 

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Opposing Perspective

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

An educational administrator in


     11 million were murdered by the Nazis.


the Carroll Independent School District


     6 million Jews were slaughtered.


in Southland, Texas,


     1.5 million children were killed.


advised her teachers recently


     The Nazis came to power legally.


that if they have a book


     The earliest victims were people with disabilities.


about the Holocaust in their classroom,


     People around the world knew of the camps.


they should also offer the student


     Dachau was the first concentration camp.


access to a book from an “opposite perspective.”


     Eventually there were thousands of camps.


Of course, if such a book were available,


     The Nazis believed they would rule 1000 years.


it would never find the light of day,
having been burned and scattered 
among the ashes of the murdered millions.

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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Furniture

by Steven Sher (Jerusalem, Israel)

Before proposing, Grandpa Sam

bought furniture and Grandma Anna,

pragmatic, agreed to marry him.

That’s what passed back then for love,

the young torn from their families and homes,

fleeing Russia before the next pogrom.

A couple needed a proper bed,

a table and chairs, a dresser and sofa.

They even believed that sturdy

furniture would prop up any failings

in their feelings, that they could build

a life around it and six kids.

Sam died before I was born. Named after him,

I don’t put too much stock in furniture.

Anna outlived him thirty years,

the stern and proper widow

always sitting straight and proud

in an upholstered high back chair

before the family when we gathered

every week around the solid table

Sam had bought so many years before.

Steven Sher’s recent titles include What Comes from the Heart: Poems in the Jewish Tradition (Cyberwit, 2020) and Contestable Truths, Incontestable Lies (Dos Madres Press, 2019). A selection of his Holocaust poems, When They Forget (New Feral Press), is due out in 2021, while his prose will appear in New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust. For Flowstone Press, he is editing an anthology of Oregon poets. Steven lives in Jerusalem. If you’d like to read more about Steven Sher, visit his website: steven-sher-poetry.wixsite.com/writing

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The Hebrew Lesson

by Chris Farrar (Columbus, OH)

2:40 Friday. Workshop running over. Hebrew at 3:00. Enough time? Barely.

Sign off Zoom. Run, quick quick like a little bunny. What Mom used to say. Why thinking of that now? No matter. Bathroom. Glass of water. Snack? No time. Mow lawn? Ridiculous. But the grass! Tomorrow, tomorrow.

Get head into lesson NOW!

2:59. Sit down at machshev. Open Zoom. Which button? Four of them in front of me on the masach. Not obvious. What ferkakte engineer designed this godforsaken interface? “New Meeting”? Lo. “Schedule”? Lo. “Share Screen”? Absolutely lo. Ah. Process of elimination. “Join”! Ken, ken, ken!

Let’s see. Drop down box: “Meeting ID or Personal Link Name”. Move cursor to down-arrow using achbar. Will I see it? Sometimes there, sometimes not. Aha. “Ronit’s Personal Meeti”. Rest missing. Not problem, barur as the nose on my face.

Zoom wants password for Personal Meeti. Pull mikledet toward myself, type in password.

Ronit appears, smiling. Sits in white chair, blank wall behind. Shalom Chris!

Shalom Ronit!. I know what she’s going to ask, what her first she’elah will be. How did the week go for you? Same every week. Hate the question, never remember what I did.

Before can ask, I turn it around: Ech avar lach hashavua? Ha! How you like them apples Ronit?

Laughs, answers, tells me about her shavua. After this, no escape. My turn.

For once, not hard to answer. Remember, Ronit? Told you about spiritual writing workshop? Just got out of sednah al ktivah . . . ruchani? ruchanit? Oops. Noun-adjective agreement. Ktivah, “writing,” noun. “Spiritual,” adjective. Masculine or feminine? Ruchani or Ruchanit? Lightning-quick decision. Sednah al ktivah ruchani, I say. Wrong! “Ruchanit” she says. Should have known. Universe gave clue, I ignored it. This workshop all women, except me and Michael. Of course ruchanit. Men spiritual? Ha! Laugh inside at own joke. Linguistic joke. Appreciative audience of exactly one.

Conversation moves on. Lots of things to talk about from the sednah. Diane’s mother Jewish, child during sho’ah, hidden by Polish family. Elise in California, watching sun set, listening to my recording of kaddish yetom. Ruthie, the menaheletprofesorit be universitat Sewanee, new writing prompt every meeting, terrifying. Write a new and fresh ktivah every day? Help help help! Michael scratching his asshole. How to tell her in Hebrew? Rapid mental review of vocab. But who teaches “asshole” in language class? Wild guess: hu hitgared et pi hataba’at. Scratched the mouth of his ring? Seems awfully fancy. Success! She freezes, stunned. Hu be’emet amar et zeh? Ken, I answer, he really said that.

Pace picks up. Makshiv or sam lev? both same thing: pay attention. Decide makhshiv. More elegant. Slightly. She uses new word: tmichah. Quick, the root. t – m – ch.  Same as tomech, he supports. So, noun: support. Got it. Use it in my answer. Move on. Words following words, sentences following sentences; thunderstorm of meaning, each word  a raindrop pattering into place, perfect, distinct, blending together into magnificent whole.

Can’t believe can do this. Mind working like computer – meaning, tense, gender, mood, click click click. Would pass the Turing test – listener would think I’m human. Oh. Am human.

4:00. Shavua haba, ota sha’ah? she asks. Ken, I answer, next week, same time. Goes on my calendar. Need to continue. Not truly fluent. Fluent is not thinking, fluent is just talking, all on autopilot. Will be fluent some day? Perhaps. Will thrill go away? Maybe. Talking is just talking.

But talking in reborn language of reborn Israel? Nothing compares to thrill of that.

Lesson ends, exhilaration lasts rest of day.

Chris Farrar grew up in southern California, earned a doctorate in linguistics, and worked in technology marketing and, eventually, in data analytics. His first novel, By the Waters of Babylon, follows twelve-year-old Ya’el as she’s deported to Babylon after the siege of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The novel is available on AmazonBarnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple Books. If you’d like to learn more about Chris and his work, visit his website: christopherfarrar.com.

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Slow Burn

by Arlene Geller (Yardley, PA)

none of Solomon’s wisdom was imparted

when my father forced religion on me 

like a too-tight outfit 

after my grandmother died

before this loss, he was unobservant

holidays spent only over food

overnight, he became a Conservative Jew

and a faithful synagogue member

my Jewishness had been a protective cloak

I donned at my discretion

now his sudden threats and punishments 

plunged me into the realm of Gehinnom

coerced to go to synagogue

I dressed in my resentment

endured the hard pew

the incomprehensible ancient language

people shuckling and dipping

like wind-up toys in synchronicity

like the flames of candles

and I ignited

                          glowing

                                             burning slowly

Arlene Geller has been fascinated with words from a young age. She has parlayed this passion into a successful career as a writer, editor, wordcrafter, poet and lyricist. Her pieces have been published in newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as sung by choirs in commissioned works. If you’d like to learn more about her work, visit her website: arlenegeller.com

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Open, Thou, My Lips

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

Three steps backward,

three steps forward,

I bend my knees. 

I struggle to part my lips,

to recite the words,

to offer praise. 

Let me taste rain.

Let me hear windchimes at night.

Let me inhale jasmine.  

How grateful I am,

a temporary resident

amid night stars. 

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. 

If you’d like to learn more about Rick and his work, visit his website: Turtle Light Press

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