Is it Good for the Jews?

Hineni – by Mark Weiss, Oil on canvas-48"x36" Used by permission of the artist.
Hineni – by Mark Weiss, Oil on canvas-48″x36″ Used by permission of the artist.

“Is it good for the Hebrews?” Moses’ mother asks, shushing 
her boy before he strikes out enraged by the overseer’s brutish

behavior. And is Prince Hamlet’s impetuous dagger–
having left the loquacious, all-too-human Polonius to stagger 

downstage, while we unconcerned, applaud the murderer– 
not dangerous (does anyone wonder) for the Danes? A shanda fur 

di Goyim, my mother says, as Madoff dupes both Hadassah 
and the Dems. O, Weinstein, bedding your shiksa goddesses

while Wikipedia dubs you Rapist/Felon/Jew, is collective sin
the victim or oppressor’s weapon? Dirty laundry or desecration?

the critics argued as Roth’s Portnoy neither balanced nor tipped    
the scales. On the other hand, here I sit, bookish, ill-equipped,

as Tevye would say, for this farkakte world, tracing my tree
back through Tysmienica, one hundred percent (23 and Me

reports) purebred eastern European Jew. One-fifth of Nobel
Laureates, and less than one percent of the population we tell

our exceptional selves, trotting out Einstein, Kafka, Proust, 
Koufax, as if ordinary was our ancestor’s shame. Be a credit 

to your race, Mary tells baby Jesus. Is it good for the Jews?
my grandmother asks before navigating Atlantic Avenue.

She marches ahead, intrepid as Moses crossing the Red Sea.
Take my hand, I cry out, arm outstretched. But she is eighty

years dead, so I step off the curb. Hineni, I call. Wait for me.

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Richard Michelson’s books include Sleeping As Fast As I Can (Slant Books, 2023), More Money than God (U of Pittsburgh Press), a finalist for the Paterson Prize, Tap Dancing for the Relatives (U of Central Florida), and Battles and Lullabies (U of Illinois). He has received the National Jewish Book Award, was the recipient of 2016 and 2023 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowships, and served two terms as Poet Laureate of Northampton Massachusetts.

Photo credit: Ellen Michelson


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