When the Gaza war began in November 2012, American Jews’ lack of an embracing moral language, a language that could acknowledge all viewpoints, sufferings, terrors, humanity, became painfully obvious. To speak of the civilians dying in Gaza was, to many American Jews, to attack Israel and deny its legitimate rights to exist and defend itself from missiles. We seemed to have no language in which we could speak both of Israeli families huddling in bomb shelters as far north as Jerusalem and children crawling through Gaza rubble. Indeed, to judge by the anguished, enraged Facebook and Twitter exchanges I saw, we didn’t even have a language in which we could acknowledge and address the feelings and perspectives boiling among American Jews.

Poets can’t protect families from bombardment, negotiate cease-fires, resolve disputes, make peace or establish justice. But we can expose and stretch the limits of language, and challenge ourselves and our readers to imagine more honest, compassionate, embracing tongues in which to address this unspeakable tangle of fear, injustice, and brutality. The following poem, written during the war, was one attempt. I hope that its shortcomings will provoke other, better efforts to create the language give American Jews need to speak with (rather than screaming at) one another about this distant conflict with which we are so intimately involved.

November 2012

The injustices are obvious; so’s the shame.
Rights and wrongs – don’t bother arguing.
Argue with me later, when people aren’t dying.

Missiles fall on Israel. Gaza is burning.

Victims perpetuating victims’ pain, bombs, shelters,
rights and wrongs. Don’t bother arguing.
In the womb of Holocaust, Naqba was brewing.

Missiles fall on Israel. Gaza is burning.

History is generous with nation-forging flames.
Rights and wrongs – don’t bother arguing -
harmonize our anthems of inalienable yearning.

Missiles fall on Israel. Gaza is burning.

We share a God, one God, water sources, sacred texts,
rights and wrongs – not worth arguing.
This is not God’s doing.

Missiles fall on Israel. Gaza is burning.


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