The Life of the Jewish Soul Sucked Out

The Jewish soul walks into a synagogue, finds the sanctuary
and sits down among the musty pews,
picks up a siddur and pretends to read Hebrew.
It’s looking for something to feel holy,
what it knows is inside, but wanting to suck
the outside in to feel real.
But there is nothing to suck in except the closet smell
of dead grandparents.
There are no real grandfathers anymore.
There are no real grandmothers anymore.
The soul looks around for someone to be with.
Everyone is either a busy rabbi or a busy rabbi’s receptionist.
The soul is not sure what they are so busy about.
The soul wants to shove the letters of Torah
into its trembling mouth, ride a roller coaster on Mount Sinai,
argue the Occupation with Moses, and have a schnaps
with the Ba’al Shem Tov, whose faint humming
echoes in the buzz of the Eternal Light bulb.
The soul remembers when it belonged,
how the key of A minor unlocked its heart and fed it stuffed cabbage.
When “Tumbalalaika” and a campfire meant family.

For the soul, it’s all gone,
the life of the soul sucked out of the sanctuary
and into the gift shop, where it fingers mezzuzot made
in a shiny Holy Land, a new land
that doesn’t look like a grandmother or grandfather.
The soul sees a mob of knitted covered heads spitting
and shouting, Kill,
a shitstorm of bowing to walls, sous chefs cutting stone to build a third Temple,
cooking up a Jewish soul shopping center.
There goes the Left, the secular Jews,
the Reform and Conservative Jews.
So long pretty Jerusalem, women’s rights, people for peace.
The soul sees an old man’s olive trees on fire,
Palestinian grandmothers and grandfathers muscled out of their homes to the curb.
It browses the books in the gift shop
and stares at a menorah made of bullets.
Remember when we sat up till midnight talking Marx and eating blintzes?
We sang Sabbath songs and partisan songs for hours until we knew what to feel.
And when we sang, it was then, and only then,
that we belonged.
The soul sees the cantor riding his mourner’s solo like a sideshow,
the letter Vav a bent cigarette hanging from his mouth.
The soul has had enough.

It goes outside to find the tree grandmothers and tree grandfathers,
who smell old and strong and holy
and who sing to the soul and after awhile,
they sing it to sleep, its belly full
of noodle kugel.

The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the poem or to download the PDF version.

Tikkun 2018 Volume 33, Number 1/2:4


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