The Shul is Dark

by Chaim Weinstein (Brooklyn, NY)

The shul is still, dark.
Blood-red velvet drapes
Hide cold hard-oak doors
Slide open, reveal
Lonely Torah scroll:
Knitted mantle frayed,
Blushing, embarrassed,
Like town urchin or
Forlorn orphan brought
To Magistrate’s Throne.
Old Jews’ prayers rise
Like illusory
Flickering flames high
Above the gold-hewed
Menorah, curling,
Wispy bony smoke
Rising to gray grime
Of low-hung ceilings:
Here the journeys end

Chaim Weinstein taught English for more than thirty years at two inner-city junior high schools in Brooklyn, NY. “The Shul is Dark” is based on a short story that he is currently working on, one which has long haunted him.

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6 Comments

Filed under American Jewry

6 responses to “The Shul is Dark

  1. Chaim’s lyrical, beautiful poem brings me back to my father and (Father’s) house. The spot-on portrait of an old shul brings memories of the old and forgotten hymns back into my head. I can see the old men bending and praying and can hear their fervent prayers rising to heaven. I may have drifted somewhat away from my roots, but this lovely poem takes me back.

  2. norman

    Good stuff–moody, evocative

  3. Jules Trachten

    The poem packs a lot of pent-up emotion. This reader doesn’t know where it is going, but he wants to move along with it. Horror? Nostalgia?Keep going.

  4. shifra hanon

    moving-has chaim’s signature

    wonderful imagery

  5. Irv

    This is either an extremely deep theological poem combined with a plaintive & painful (though imaginative & captivating) descriptive picture of a forsaken synagogue with its few remaining Jewish congregants demonstrating their imperishable faith , OR the poems uncanny ability to revive a nostalgic memory of the vibrant and special feeling of the Synagogue of our youth— AS it might seem to us today in its neglected and deserted condition.
    Though it appears paradoxical, it is probably both, but my leaning is to the former, more profound comprehension for its dominant interpretation. In poetry logically clashing language can coexist smoothly, and coherently within imaginative planes.
    The very first line furnishes us with the basic metaphysical tone– ‘shul’ is a much more emotionally charged word than synagogue as its significance & sacredness clings to the soul; ‘is’ is the nub term for the mystery of human existence and its ultimate inscrutableness; ‘still’ in this context reflects (for me) a kind of cosmic godlike quietness before the- ‘dark’ with its roiling chaos, through divine intervention becomes the newly created light . ‘Dark’ also reveals the negative attitude of present day young Jews toward religious belief. The poem asks them to open the ‘cold hard-oak doors’ and ‘slide open’ their mind to ‘reveal’ ‘the lonely Torah scroll’ of their soul to receive the spirit of the ‘Magistrates Throne’ (G_D). Just as the poems’Old Jews’ in deeply devotional ‘prayers’ that appear as ‘illusory flickering flames’ is transformed from the ‘wispy bony smoke’ of unbelief and the ‘gray grime’ of the travails of life with its ‘low -hung ceilings’ of unexpected disappointments to the exalted & hallowed ‘journeys end’ .
    I throughly enjoyed probing and penetrating this welcome, serious, & stimulating poem. Just one comment, I believe the last line ‘Here the journeys end ‘ could be understood as “Hear the journeys end “with that special transcendent spark within all of us.
    Chaim Weinstein has the potential, the sensitivity, & the gift to become a major poet.

  6. Agnes Posner

    I find it beautiful and it reminds me of shuls in Hungary and in the Bronx.

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