Sunday, March 17, 2013

Always Jewish, Lately Palestinian

I wrote this poem more than 20 years ago and have revised it many times since. It is in my book Wild Once and Captured (available on-line). A video of me reciting this poem and two others can be found here.

I am Jewish because the love of others made me so.

I am Jewish because I grew up on the south side of Chicago where even my public school seemed Jewish.
I am Jewish because my grandfather was oh, so Jewish;
I felt it then, I feel it now.
I am Jewish because in my grandmother’s kitchen nothing would rise,
but of everything there was plenty.
I am Jewish because angry Irish boys felt my Jewish nose at the end of their Catholic fist.
I am Jewish because the South Shore Country Club would not let us in
(though Marx also warned us against joining clubs that would have us).
I am Jewish because my Dad once slugged a guy who cussed a Jewish pitcher for the White Sox.

I am Jewish because the Jewish god is not diminished by my disbelief.
I am Jewish because Emma Goldman and Hannah Arendt were Jewish,
and so was Karl Marx and so was Groucho and Jesus, too, for that matter.
I am Jewish because of the Maccabees and Masada and crusader violence
and Spanish inquisitors and Cossack pogroms
and the ghetto and the death camps
and because I also planted trees in Israel.
I am Jewish because Jewish workers fight in labor struggles and because Jewish people resist racism and because, like all the world’s poor, poor Jews endure.
I am Jewish because we are commanded to remember when we were slaves in Egypt,
and I do.
I am Jewish because being Jewish means never using violence against another
except when life, itself, is directly threatened;
that principle must never be compromised.

I am Jewish because I am a child of Abraham;
Palestinians, therefore, are my brothers and sisters.
We are all children of Abraham.
I am Palestinian because Jews, too, have been homeless.
I am Palestinian because we have a future together or none, at all.
I am Palestinian because Palestinian yearning is so like Jewish yearning.
I am Palestinian because Jews have been uplifted by the love of Palestinians.
I am Palestinian because peace in Arabic and in Hebrew bestows the same gift.
Although Sarah and Hagar are our separate birth mothers,
I am Palestinian because we all live in the embrace of one mother,
and will return to her.

If you summon one of us for cruel judgment, there will be no telling us apart.

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