Where I Come From, A Poem

WHERE I COME FROM by Rivka Liron Bat Cohen

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I come

from a people

with a warrior gene

a history of victory

a tendency toward miracle

perpetual David

against perpetual Goliath

a nation of soldiers

an enemy of empire

I come

from a people

where peace is imperative,

a beginning and an ending

an idea we work for

shaped by diversity

embracing difference

loving unity

I come

from a people

with a language

concentrated in one country

spread throughout the world

in houses of worship and houses of man

studied in it’s original form

spoken in partnership

with foreign dialects

breathing familiarity in to tradition

decoding, recoding, and recording existence

I come

from a people

of pioneers

inheritors of our own destination, our own destiny

reality builders

risk takers

tilling territory, toiling in history

working old soil with new hands

I come

from a people

with a code

a guide to improvement

a lesson in connection

a written relic

a living document

shaping ethical landscapes

speaking to individuals

addressing nations

I come

from a people

a spiritual nation

an indescribable inheritance

a disputed definition

a tribe of millions

thriving on questioning

seeking out truth

a symbol of singularity

an echo of eternity..

A Nation of Our Own

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In the period between 1935 and 1938, Entjudung (removal of Jews from Germany), although not official policy, was a strategy used by the SS to rid the country of it’s Jewish population. Organizations meant to increase emigration to British Mandated Palestine were encouraged by the SS and articles in the Jewish press encouraging Jews to stay in Germany were suppressed. The SS divided Jews into two major categories: assimilationists and Zionists.  The assimilationists encouraged German Jewry to remain in Germany and pursue recognition as Germans while the Zionists urged their communities to get out of the country.  

Those who chose to listen to the Zionists were lucky, because in the coming years, what would be known as the “Final Solution” was to take place. Six million Jews would perish and those who chose to leave would escape the tragedy of what was later to be termed “The Holocaust”.  It is strange to imagine what the Jewish world would look like if all of us had listened to the Zionists.

The Jewish people never do well when we imitate other nations.  German Jewry attempted to remain in Germany as “Germans with a Jewish religion” while the German people would never accept them as anything other than Jews.  In Biblical times, we asked for a king so that we could be like “all other nations”.  Although some of our kings had redeeming qualities, overall the institution of monarchy did not prove positive for the Jewish people.  When King Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with the other nations,

(Here’s the text from Isaiah Chapter 39 of the interaction)

ב  וַיִּשְׂמַח עֲלֵיהֶם, חִזְקִיָּהוּ, וַיַּרְאֵם אֶת-בֵּית נְכֹתֹה אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף וְאֶת-הַזָּהָב וְאֶת-הַבְּשָׂמִים וְאֵת הַשֶּׁמֶן הַטּוֹב וְאֵת כָּל-בֵּית כֵּלָיו, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נִמְצָא בְּאֹצְרֹתָיו:  לֹא-הָיָה דָבָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-הֶרְאָם חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּבֵיתוֹ–וּבְכָל-מֶמְשַׁלְתּוֹ.  {ס} 2 And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them his treasure-house, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. {S

the Nation that Hezekiah attempted to make an alliance with and showed the Beit Hamikdash to, the Babylonians, would eventually destroy the temple and send us into exile.

Today, the Jewish people face a difficult question, but one that by now should be easy to answer: Do we act as the Jewish people or do we act to appease and strive to become like other nations?  History has shown that when we refuse to accept who we are, nothing good comes of it.  It has also shown us that when we choose to appease other nations with our actions, it is an exercise in futility.  When thinking of the Holocaust, we like to say “Never Again”, but we need to begin to look at the details and realize that there are steps that need to be taken in order to prevent another catastrophe.  Israel, our nation, should strive to actualize it’s potential as the Jewish State and not try to be the mini-me of the United States.  It should make decisions based on what is best for the nation and not what is best for the governments of other nations. Jews should strive to reclaim their cultural identity and embrace it.  Maybe it’s time that the we, the Jewish people, took a hint from the messages that hundreds of musical artists and writers have been telling us for years, and finally be “True To Ourselves”.

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War against the Jews: 1933-1945. 10th Anniversary ed. New York City: Bantam, 1986. Print.

A Lesson on Sukkot

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“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hand.

They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see;

they have ears, but cannot hear, noses but cannot smell;

they have hands, but cannot touch, feet, but cannot walk;

they can make no sound in their throats.

Those who fashion them,all who trust in them shall become like them.”-Psalms 115:4-6

 

As I flipped through the pages of my Siddur on Sukkot, this particular psalm stuck out to me.  There was something about it that was haunting, something relevant, something real.  I wanted to analyze it.To know what it meant.  To connect it to my reality.  

Walking home with my friend Davina, my thoughts became clear as we discussed the passage.  

What are the idols that people construct and worship today? Are they statues made out of gold and silver, or are they something more subtle?  The idol of today is hidden behind advertisements and ideas of glamour. The idol of today is what to get next and how to get it. The idol of today is what to buy and what to wear. The idol of today is materialism.  

In a society that worships objects, do the people themselves become objects?  In a world that is so focused on items, are people defined by what they own?  How many  define themselves based on the new brand name that they wear and the car that they drive? By worshipping items, our society has become one that labels it’s people by what they buy. A man must have the latest basketball shoes.  A woman must have that brand name purse.

On Sukkot, we forsake our homes to live in temporary structures.  We leave physicality behind and enter into a dwelling place where our experience is largely shaped by our company and not by the comfort afforded by our normal abodes.  On Sukkot, we leave the trappings of materialism and enter into a reminder of what is truly important in life.  We realize that our houses are only temporary.  That everything could be swept away in a second. We realize that we must not identify ourselves by the clothes we wear and the things we own, but by our actions and the way that we impact others.  Only then can we truly break free from the shackles of idol worship.

 

Chag Sameach ve Shana Tova Am Yisrael

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exile, a poem

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How do you wake up a sleeping nation 

When it’s pillows are made of the finest silks

They sleep with the enemy

wrapped in luxury

shrouded in darkness

Chasing dreams that can’t bring them satisfaction