This piece is part of our Wit­ness­ing series, which shares pieces from Israeli authors and authors in Israel, as well as the expe­ri­ences of Jew­ish writ­ers around the globe in the after­math of Octo­ber 7th.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

April, 2024 

I believed I was as Amer­i­can as Apple Pie,

loy­al to the Yan­kees and in awe of 

Ben­jamin Franklin, his light­en­ing rod, his fight

for Inde­pen­dence,

On good days, the shtetl would rise in me with pride.

My moth­er born west of Kiev, father from anoth­er town

where roost­ers roamed the dirt roads.

Her sis­ters were let to a pit out­side of town,

their Ukran­ian neigh­bor a new own­er of the fam­i­ly candlesticks.

My father board­ed a ship

to escape hunger and pogroms. In this country.

he stood awed

by a table spread with food.

He flew to cel­e­brate the birth of his grandson, 

born at an Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ty. Years lat­er, hov­ered over

his grad­u­a­tion, lux et ver­i­tas in tiny print, 

Nathan Hale, class of 1773.

Edu­ca­tion our deliv­er­ance out of Egypt, our

escape from bondage.

Passover brought out the shtetl in me. I loved 

helzel, the stuffed neck of a chick­en my moth­er made,

the singing of Dayenu. It was enough, we believed. 

We’d wan­dered in the desert for forty years 

for a reason.

This year an alarm rings loud and clear.

Stu­dents at uni­ver­si­ties spew venom 

from the riv­er to the sea,

the ring­ing in our ears shrill, the trail of suf­fer­ing real.

We are who we did not think we were anymore,

damn Jews.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

Sup­port the work of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and become a mem­ber today.

Har­ri­et Shenkman was the Poet-in-Res­i­dence at the JCC of Mid Westch­ester. She earned a Ph.D. from Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and is a pro­fes­sor emeri­ta at City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her poet­ry awards include the Women’s Nation­al Book Asso­ci­a­tion Annu­al Writ­ing Con­test in Poet­ry and the Women Who Write Inter­na­tion­al Poet­ry and Short Prose Con­test. Her poet­ry appeared or will appear in Union, the Raynes Poet­ry Com­pe­ti­tion Anthol­o­gy, Evening Street Review, Third Wednes­day, Jew­ish Cur­rents, Jew­ish Mag­a­zine, Westch­ester Review. Oyez Review, The Alexan­dria Quar­ter­ly, Com­stock Review, The Berru Poet­ry Series, Yet­zi­rah, The Mar­bled Sigh, and in two chap­books, Tee­ter­ing and The Present Aban­doned. Her new poet­ry col­lec­tion, Won­der Wheelis avail­able from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.