Issue #3 // Ok Here’s a Good One // Josh Elbaum

My dad came home from college a bright-eyed atheist
just in time to inform his parents he’d be spending
high holidays on the couch reading comics
My grandmother, who had witnessed
her entire family murdered
for observing a tradition her child was refusing,
burst into tears, inconsolable
my grandfather took his son aside & explained:
       we don’t go to Temple because we believe in God
we go because we are Jewish

I have heard this moment recaptured so many times
I can mouth the words like scripture
always laugh along at the end:

This is how to be a bad Jew and still write about it

at 13 tricked into chanting mystery syllables
with the promise of awkward slow dances

Every Spring sit in a circle & drag
exodus from stained paperbacks

& so what if we skip everything
but the plagues & the wine &
whatever dead relative’s name we carry?
I don’t pretend to like matzo, or gefilte fish
or this guilt we are all so skilled at inheriting, but
back in the day the oil burned beyond its body
back in the day we earned our freedom by lice & boils & darkness
back in the day we had to watch our necks, Joshua, you should be grateful
back in the day they tried to kill us/we won/let’s eat
salt from tears of the fallen
& do it all again next year

My people
a shop window shattered and spread
across oceans like seeds someone expected
to grow into mosaic
we tell the same tales so many times
you’d think our memories broken too
you’d be mistaken

To be a Jew
to be both lambs blood & the angel
the Dead Sea & its crossing
to be the memory of a memory of a dream of a dream
of a bush that burned for a man who needed a new ending
& I don’t believe in that god, exactly
& I don’t believe all that shit happened, exactly
& I don’t believe we owe the dead our tongues, exactly
But I light candles on anniversaries
& I don’t trust a man who tells me
it’s safe now – we can all stop telling
the one about the Genocide now

My Grandparents married because
they were the only people left
in this world they could recognize
after the war

& what is religion but a familiar face
we find upon the body of a god we cannot forgive?

& what is a person but the border
between the stories they contain & the stories that contain them?

& what is a psalm but history
repeated so many times it wears away into melody?

so tell me if you’ve heard this one:
a people are slaughtered because they are forgotten to be people
a book is burned but the flames still sing the names of dead kings
an atheist teaches his son how to pray


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