Jew-ish – Alexis Drutchas

I sit with your book in front of me, push pages right to left,
a foreign act in these hands removed. As a child I complained
carelessly of Hebrew School and quit, severing a birthright
without misgiving, my ancestor’s alphabet slowly slipping ⎯
a boat whose anchor disturbed drifted further from shore,
it’s grounding a mere haze.

On High Holidays I too still atone, throw bread in the river,
feel pangs of hunger to remember. During Hanukkah my home breathes
fried oil, candles are lit, barucha-ta leaves my lips. On Seder
I dip into red wine, recalling blood and bones of our people passed.

I think back to Aunt Rose and Uncle Al, the comfort of their home
the way it smelled of horseradish and pain. As a child I belonged
at their table, saving a seat for Elijah, scrambling for the afikomen.
Why on this night do we recline, I asked. Why unleavened bread?

I walked to Temple tonight because I felt far away from you.
The Cantor began her melodic chant and I was still misplaced…
wondering what she was saying, and if translated would I agree?
Was I right all those year ago to give up the study of you?

I spoke to a Rabbi of my struggle, his response buried grief
in the marrow of my bones… knowing where to buy brisket
does not make you Jewish. Does the tradition of a people
mean nothing without accompanying faith and devotion?
What if I do not believe, but still believe in us?

Does the blood of Jewish history not course through my veins,
calluses and heat from tortured years in the desert.
Am I not branded with the same barcode of hate ⎯

Gold rings and fillings stolen, trains packed with people
like cows, families lost forever. My surname twisted
from Feinberg to Farlon for the sake of assimilation,
the promise of this New World.

I may not follow your prayers, or your rules. I have lost faith
and returned, and lost it again. But the noxious gas of Germany
still moves through these lungs. The history of my ancestors,
their lives and struggles lived still claws at my own life,
screaming over and over again ⎯ we survived.
We survived and you belong. You still belong.

Alexis Drutchas is a Family Physician in Boston. She writes a great deal about intersections of identity.

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