The Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards on the Jewish experience were established by Nedda Fratkin, Marvin Rosenberg and Violet Ginsburg in memory of their mother, Anna Rosenberg, née Davidson in 1987.
Anna Davidson Rosenberg 2016 Award Winners First Place As Foretold and Retold to Sara’s Therapist by Ellen Sazzman (Potomac, Maryland) Second Place The Tzuba Hills Sunset Hike by Marjorie Thomsen (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Third Place the first time i peed in the river jordan by Pinny Bulman (Bronx, New York)
1st Honorable Mention My Father and I Observe the Passover Exodus by Ellen Sazzman (Potomac, Maryland) 2nd Honorable Mention R U OK by Aviva Siegel 7 (Denver, Colorado) 3rd Honorable Mention smelling salts by Pinny Bulman (Bronx, New York) 4th Honorable Mention rock by Pinny Bulman 9 (Bronx, New York)
Finalists sinkholes (yam hamelach) by Pinny Bulman (Bronx, New York) Yerushalmi by Simon Constam (Canada)
Bronx, Née Warszawa by Ted Eisenberg (North Caldwell, New Jersey) Flashback by Ricky Rapoport Friesem (Israel)
When You Enter (Ki tavo) by Miriam Jacobs (Atlanta, Georgia)
The Woman In Gold after Gustav Klimt by Tali Kuhel (New York, New York) Shiva by John Klingler (Washington, DC)
Leshon HaKodesh by Mara Koslen (Sebastopol, California) Phantom Limbs by Michael H. Levin (Washington, DC)
Afterlife by Michael H. Levin (Washington, DC)
Steel Joy by Michael H. Levin (Washington, DC)
The Gathering by Beth Mills (Palo Alto, California)
Apples and Pomegranates by Ilene Millman (Hillsborough, New Jersey) Ruth On Ruth by Ruth Resch (Ashland, Oregon)
The Foundations by Ruth Resch (Ashland, Oregon)
At St. Joseph’s Oratory by Gina Roitman (Canada) Holiest Night by Marjorie Thomsen (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
The 9th of Av by Tiferet (Twilla) Welch (Canada) Beit by Tiferet (Twilla) Welch (Canada)
Ellen Sazzman As Foretold and Retold to Sara’s Therapist “Sara, use the mix.” Mama, fresh from Florida, sets down the orange cardboard box adorned with gold lettering: Matzo Ball Mix. Her weapon rests on my milky Corian counter next to the recipe I cut from the New York Times before the quickening failed to happen. I tell her I’m going to make them from scratch. “They’ll be hard as a rock, not like mine.” I watch her follow the 4 step recipe on the back of the box: Blend 2 eggs and 2 T vegetable oil with a fork. Add matzo ball mix. Stir with fork. Refrigerate. “Simple.” (Follow 4 day schedule for sex around ovulation cycle.) According to the NYT directions, I carefully measure boiling water, chicken fat, salt, nutmeg, ginger, grated onion, chopped parsley, paprika, matzo meal. (Take temperature before getting out of bed every morning.) Stir over low heat until mixture peels away from sides of pan. (Feel ovum losing its grip, falling fast. Record the flow.) Stir in all 6 egg yolks until incorporated. (Those yolks swirl into unfertilized froth.) Beat egg whites until stiff, fold into mixture. Refrigerate (stiff, cold, sucked down the drain, eggs smashed to bits). “See, Sara, it’s easy like riding a bicycle, you never forget.” Since when does Mama know anything about bike riding? “Practice makes perfect!” (Easy was supposed to be sex, breeding, not bleeding.) After 20 minutes we remove metal mixing bowls from the refrigerator (maybe it was 2, identical twins) and form dough into walnut-sized balls (size of an 8 week old embryo). 1
“Look Sara, make nice round balls.” Mine fall apart. (The whole world crumbles in my sweaty fists.) “Sara honey, you have to wet your hands with cold water.” I shape new 1 inch spheres (no new eggs) and we drop them into 8 quarts boiling water. (Old ones drop to the rhythm of the tide.) Simmer 20 minutes or until fluffy and float to the top. (They blossom and breathe or capsize in the amniotic sea.) “So Sara, I guess everybody has their own recipe.” I thank her. “Now I’ll show you how to keep that brisket in the oven moist and tender.”
Marjorie Thomsen The Tzuba Hills Sunset Hike is unexpected and I’m wearing a dress, one slit blown open when the rare eyebrowed thrush whistles his simple song. My heels are not for meddling with this trail, nor for convincing my brother to turn back. As always, I’m carrying fear and time in my purse, small and compact, zippered and there. My brother holds the gloss of his life in a satchel, tucked near words of Maimonides; both men have their reasons rooted in discipline and passion. My brother knows the oldest olive tree here and coaxes me through electric blue sage, fanciful snapdragons. The tree speaks to him, its stamina and vigor beckon on many dusks. Tonight the branches reach and swipe a lodestar from the sky, promising replacement later. My brother tells me the tree was a journeyman its first five hundred years. Now it’s an expert at enticing the sinister sylvan owls to misbehave.
Pinny Bulman the first time i peed in the river jordan the warnings against leaving the raft seemed ridiculous drifting slowly past a group of boys waist-deep, splashing an older couple eating at a card table set in the river tablecloth’s edge skimming the water’s surface it didn’t burn not like that time peeing in the dead sea except for the guilt, who was i to mark this biblical threshold religion’s watering hole but i often find myself in these in-between places that seem to be drying up in this part of the world everything evaporating until all that’s left is one side or the other until then i’ll stay right here submerged in the cool shaded current the honey buzzards overhead dotting the valley sky motionless as the distant hills that once skipped like lambs in a moment of letting go. 4
Ellen Sazzman My Father and I Observe the Passover Exodus “… [T]he law speaks distinctly of the four different characters of children: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask.” —The Four Children of the Haggadah
I point with newly arthritic fingers to thick blocks of Hebrew prayer in the Haggadah. We mumble Kiddush to the hiss of oxygen tanks, then sip sweet purple wine. In the crowded dining hall of Hebrew Home we stumble along in motley formation with the seder’s strict progression. You are attired in a polyester dress shirt worn to transparency. Withered arms tattooed with plum bruises stick out from short sleeves. Your navy tie, dribbled with grease, lies askew. “So where’s your brother, the big doctor?” you ask. I retell last year’s news – your son has died. We pretend to wash our hands again and again as if to rid them of regrets – the doctor I never became or even married, the confidences I meant to share with my brother. You try to chew the parsley, spring’s symbol bathed in tears, but the food’s too tough, your bite gone slack. You choke – no longer able to swallow the loss of eyesight, of years spent peering into timepiece inner workings, of a son’s respect, the first-born who refused to honor the covenant, just a few visits for the sacrifices his parents made. I slap your back to staunch the coughing. Your chest quieted, you glare at me – I am no Miriam. I couldn’t save my brother. You recline in your seat but this is no different than any other night when you slouch in your wheelchair, as your tablemates lean toward the safety of walkers, their hips and minds already broken.
Who amongst this group can ask the Four Questions? It is the duty of the youngest. Still we were all children once and some have returned. Together we chant Mah Nishtanah. “Why isn’t your brother here?” you ask. We intone the ten plagues, the last – slaying of the first-born, and drip wine from our cups onto the plate to make our own red seas. We sing Dayainu. You bleat off key: “It would have been enough if God had brought us forth from Egypt.” Enough already. I have not answered your question. I know now I have questions of my own. They’re not simple. Why couldn’t I be the wise child or at least the wicked? I pray it’s not too late in the story for examination, debate, reconciliation.
Aviva Siegel R U OK Phones buzz, texts like night gnats in the white-stoned Jerusalem apartment we are renting. A shooting at Sarona Market, Tel Aviv where 24 hours ago we ate olives, falafel, chocolate rugelach. my daughter perched on a stool at the noodle bar. Today, two Palestinian men dressed in dark suits and ties order lunch, stare straight at mothers, fathers, children eating ice cream and fire homemade Gustav submachine guns. Six people wounded, four people dead, a mother sprints away pushing her baby in a stroller, Run, run. Where my boys licked fingertips sticky from sugar and jet-lag, shards of splintered bone, white slivers feathered against black stone floor tile, scuffed sneakers and the sweet long gone from my tongue.
Pinny Bulman smelling salts yom kippur turned sour early afternoon the sweat-stained air grimacing at the perfunctory efforts of the AC compressor fan whose on/ offs marked a slow unending passage of pages, an ironic comment on life’s brevity the old men would look around for victims pull out their small glass bottles of smelling salts and in the absence of fainters wave us kids over unsuspecting cackling with glee at our muffled shrieks quickly averted noses unaware that their dentured fasting breath had a pungency the salts could only dream of until evening when the wind would shift rustling the old men now shuffling up to open the torah ark in their sneakered feet, ready to run and the stink of our final desperate prayers rose straight up to the sky like an ancient sacrificial offering to a noseless god.
Pinny Bulman rock no one was hurt and the graffiti-covered window anyway needed replacing and it was at least only one rock and it could have been a random act and yet i no longer remember the size of the rock or the pattern of glass shards on prayer books, the colors they reflected in the suddenly uncensored early evening light of the fading sabbath it’s the nervous excitement that stayed with me of a personal kristallnacht a connection to lives of tattooed numbers fragile as windows of a history i can point to and say mine.
Pinny Bulman sinkholes (yam hamelach) we were told suntan lotion wasn’t necessary here the earth’s lowest point but there was nothing to protect his young skin from the sandpapered sea so we walked the salty shore looking for relics found an eroded bottlecap to bury inside our hand-dug hole for a future era he doesn’t yet know the way things evaporate how even dead waters can recede like hairlines the newly naked ground suddenly opening wide like a newborn’s mouth gulping in air for that first startled wail.
Simon Constam Yerushalmi Today I seem to have the face of a man I briefly stared at, on a bus on Rehov King David, in the fall of 1969. I wear the same clothes, dark jacket, dark shirt, rough tan trousers, dust-scuffed brown boots. . The mirror shows me, grizzled, unkempt, stocky, stoic, almost seventy. My face is the face my grandfather wore. My parents, aunts and uncles swore the resemblance is uncanny. My history is clear. I was one of Titus’ captives marched through Rome in chains. I collected all my things in a sack to flee from Ferdinand and Isabella along the Jew-choked roads. I missed my fate in Kielce and Bialystock. I hid in the forests by Kishinev. I was a soldier in Babel’s army caught in the gaze of my Cossack captor. Once, I was dazzled by Jabotinsky. I walked for days to hear him dream. I trusted history. And then I spent the war in, and somehow outlasted Bergen Belsen, I sit on a park bench and look into the faces of strangers as they pass and every once in a long while I recognize myself. I have the face of a man I briefly stared at, on a bus on Rehov King David in the fall of 1969.
Ted Eisenberg Bronx, Née Warszawa The Nazis grayed her hair, lay in rolls of her stockings, seeped into the blue veins of her legs; when her feet swelled on stairs, they battered her from the risers; Photographs, pressed by rosewood and glass, surfaced for air, one look before anonymity; she searched parks for child’s play, instructing, You be the one to change the world; And left me among masks, gawking at skin (once human), in pictures from the camps, to heal the lesions, quiet the word-shit of mouths; stanch the ooze of sentiment.
Ricky Rapoport Friesem Flashback The underground parking lot was grungy, with a menacingly low ceiling, a cement floor puddled with leaks from the overhead pipes and a dolt manning the exit barrier which had jammed shut when the lights flickered and died. The guy sat there, helpless, as the car horns blared, echoing in the confined space, and the occupants vented their frustration in a blast of curses and threats, until, finally, one intrepid soul stormed out of his car, put his shoulder under the barrier, heaved it to an upright position, stood aside, and with a jubilant sweep of his arms, motioned the traffic to resume its flow and I drove off, shattered by the realization that I would have done nothing to escape my fate, had I been there, back then, with them.
Miriam Jacobs When You Enter (Ki tavo)
you see them, living in tents, their lifetimes’ wages vanished in a flash of fire. They haul water from the leaden, asbestos rivers to wash garments, bathe children and wounds, boil for rice. Perhaps till now you did not understand chance, its delicate character. You studied Victorian novels and acne, holding a mirror to your back. Decades tumble inward with all their plans and furnishings you want to say to your young self, that girl wrapped in reflected light. Instead, you pass without her noticing into the displacement camps, into heat-blasted rubble, into contingencies as they are really lived, the weight of promise the yoke that sets you free.
Tali Kuhel The Woman In Gold after Gustav Klimt Coming up for air with vanilla smooth young hands bent into a creamy diamond. Her bob of black hair is no halo and fleshy cheeks crave more than platters of crackling meats passed from gloved hands as delicately sliced animal fats are daintily dabbed from reddened lips. The men in choking ties and harrowing brows size each other up over sloshing crystal goblets and sneak eyefuls of breasts between bites of brisket. Here, bodies are only protected by layers of cloth. She gathers her dress into a fistful of seams and escapes to the next room, among stacks of gold tooled books. Greek tragedies press up against a family Torah with prophecies of milk and honey that flow like her skin into the gold swirling around her. At any moment dishes could shatter on the floor and rows of puffed chests with hidden fangs tear the house apart. Stealing breaths in the library, she is never familiar enough to be protected, never opaque enough to blend in.
John Klingler Shiva My neighbor, every day I watch him trudge to his jewish high-school, always smiling underneath his kippah. Every Chanukah his sister makes her special chullah and drops a loaf, secular and steaming in the cold winter air, by our weary doorstep. I cannot help but think, as I see the him wear his hat, as I taste her careful bread, that my life could be different. Somewhere down the bloodline, I’m told, I was a jewish boy, orthodox, sitting in temple: Yom Kippur - I atone for my sins Rosh Hashanah - I start the year again. I light the candles and say my prayers, struggling with the Hebrew as my brother stifles his laughter. This version of myself, the jewish boy, never comes to be. Instead, his great-grandfather marries a Catholic girl. To his family, he dies, and on his wedding day they sit shiva. His shiva is, deep down, my shiva, a prayer for my dead beliefs and my infertile judaism. My neighbor, he’s going to Israel. We talk as he packs his bag; it’s his first time, he says, but he already feels some sort of connection to the land of his people. He doesn’t expect me to understand. And I don’t. But deep inside, an unborn jewish boy nods in agreement; he feels the same way. 16
Mara Koslen Leshon HaKodesh As you speak Leshon HaKodesh you lose yourself in the ancient rhythms of words in calligraphy you see the aleph-bet spill like kestrels across prayer books traffic signs and your mind at night there is choreography to your speech as you talk on your cell phone to your boss and move like a hurried dancer across Tel Aviv all the while questioning what the world would be like if you did not exist while simultaneously having another thought you don’t even know you are having: Is the man behind me going to blow himself up? You walk a little faster past the discotheque pizza parlor café where nothing looks out of place where everyone looks effervescent and young And incapable of dying. 17
Michael H. Levin Phantom Limbs a family tree
At dusk they rise from misty ground -dim shapes that drift ethereally, attached, yet not: the former limbs of cancelled trees cut off at joints, of stumps sawn down, who rise at dusk from disembodied ground. Attached yet not, one trims precisely reeds for his bassoon, starched concert collar sepia-brown: fingers round stops that make no sound. One trundles his way through freezing slop, trusting in luck (though crowned with sleet) to mute surrounding enmity. Three sisters straight as saplings crash cadenzas towards three different fates, while refugees -attached, though not -- form silent ranks of drowned-out pleas. Behind, grey hosts of those unknown trudge forth and peer elliptically. At dusk they rise from ancient ground, by time dispatched: ancestral eyes which still can see; vestigial branches that still veer and sway. Attached yet not -felt absence linked familiarly, these phantom limbs accompanying me. 18
Michael H. Levin Afterlife I, the root, was once the flower Under these dim tons my bower. Comes the shearing of the thread. A saw is wailing overhead. — From a notebook meant to be found when the remains of Miklos Radnoti (1909-1944) were excavated from the pit
The death he dreamed occurred at last. All deaths he feared came finally to pass. The world shrank to a shattered tree, embodying dire certainty. Yet calculated faith that words are life pushed patient tendrils towards the light, where now they flash jeweled facets adamantine fire.
Michael H. Levin Steel Joy for O.B.: Petrograd 1922 —Maryland 2016
The scars that date to Luga now are still; big hands that bowed the cello, silently at rest. Those other scars -- from famine, father, Siege; blind GPU arrest, two camps, an airless aftermath -re-forged: cold-welded in a steel determination that the Headman must not win. That song and blood ties, pulses in a secret heart, would not be waived. And so all guests were family at your table’s toasts: both those who haltingly dropped by for fear of being marked, and we who came there later, late in life: the welcome shifted to a foreign land that was not strange -- was home, because you dreamed it all your days. Your bear hugs and irreverent joy among pink redbuds and magnolia flowers a coda to the dark hard times. A middle finger raised. An endless chord. 20
Beth Mills The Gathering Names, Shattered by war, Wasted by illness, By age, By sorrow. These serve me. The distant and studious Talmudic scholar, Shot by cossacks On the streets of the shtetl. The corporal Beside a broken building, With his sniper's bullet, And his sheets of glass. The airman, Spiraling to the desert floor, In a sudden flicker, Of light gone wrong. My grandfather, Forty years In the post office, Felled in a single, convulsive twist. And then, When I was seventeen, Grandma Khane, The day before she died, Reciting poetry she had learned in Russia, When she was a girl like me. 21
These, And others, A hundred years of names and faces, Lying amidst dust and headstones. I reach out, And gather them into my hands.
Ilene Millman Apples and Pomegranates Every seventh year in Israel is a sabbatical year. The land has a rest, and the people relinquish personal ownership of their fields; whatever produce grows is considered communal property.
In New Jersey, at the farm down the road, the apples are ripe, ready for picking: Pink Lady, Molly Delicious— and the child atop my son's shoulders is ready too, laughter rising on the wind, past her ears and into the trees. She reaches out touches the faces of full red moons— pulls leaves and orbs toward her, arms encircling a longing. A gesture as old as Eve— this reaching, this keeping— but what do we, what do I own really? Not wealth, not my children, nor even days passing out of sight like stars through the course of clouds Near Jerusalem, the pomegranates are also ripe, ready for picking. My daughter stands beneath her tree, murmurs a prayer. The wind moves lightly over her yard as if from breath and her hand-lettered sign waves in branches overhead. These fruits are free it says—unowned— their sweetness not for our feast alone but for themselves and for the air to lick begetting wonder.
Ruth Resch ruth on ruth I in frail asthmatic haunted voice I sang my first hebrew, the encounter between boaz and ruth as he speaks his covenant with her, the stranger. “and ruth fell on her face and bowed herself to the earth.” my heart cried to her. I spoke nothing of my desire knew it but barely myself to sing emotion not just hebrew certain phrases of tenderness there humanity strength ripped open some vulnerability I thought blessing but in the singing felt prayer the heart of the heart of the ruth story love, love challenging love.... heedless of boundaries.
II my father's sister spoke to me, child of jewish-christian parents, amiably, “I don't much care for your parents. but, you, you are the granddaughter of my mother.” my uncle, white tallis, face glowing, sang hebrew blessings I didn’t understand gave me wine and bread as if I had always been and knew everything. the heart of my story love, love challenging love… ...heedless of boundaries.
Ruth Resch The Foundations the foundations of love in oneness have been torn asunder in my life time tearing at the earth ripping up whole landscapes trees waterways homes of bears birds plankton and whales my heart rages in anguish my heart holds ancient lineages of trees elephants soil and mountains against the reckless capacities of thoughtless duality I am but one to stand with my wild desperate foundations enveloping holding I am but one to stand with whatever radiance I have to offer
Gina Roitman At St. Joseph’s Oratory for Khatereh in Isfahan
On the lip of a cliff, its dome, an unblinking eye beseeching heaven, the Oratory stands as silent as Brother Andre’s heart its stones polished by decades of feet shuffling from room to room, Its walls reflecting the flap, flap of flames cupped in blood red glass. What can surpass the wonder of a Moslem and a Jew pondering St. Joseph as he looks down upon the wooden sticks that hang like hope from iron grates? They flank the trays of banked candles row upon row, reaching to the feet of the man who taught Jesus how to shape wood like the crutches that hung in hope beside flickering candles, hundreds of candles, winking, whipping the air into a frenzy of faith inside their glass hearts. How fragile the flames. 27
It makes us want to believe that as Moslem and Jew, we too can throw away our crutches and embrace.
Marjorie Thomsen Holiest Night We’ve waited all day to walk the boulevard to synagogue, to practice our ritual of seeing—cupola against sky, the mighty dahlias, our city privy to domes and yellows. Everything, in its own way, vows to make beauty year after year. We speak of sun, how its nature is unknowing of burden, sin, prayer, despite its responsibility. We anticipate the melody of Kol Nidre, how the cellist will solemn the air so we can begin to separate this year from last; our atonement awoken by the music’s slow moaning. We’ll unsnap a Psalm from its page, say it aloud with a fist knocking our heart. After, on the temple steps, let’s moonbathe under its waxing, stand on the threshold of awe and awe, welcome the wisdom that comes with darkness.
Tiferet (Twilla) Welch The 9th of Av ”My soul praises you, Adonai, [God], and all of my being praises your holy essence.” —Psalms.103:1, Siddur Eit Ratzon, Translation by Joseph G. Rosenenstein , 2010
My soul awakens, Within the minor key. Rapt notes coaxing, The Blessed’s Precision knife’s edge.
Excise all sullied offerings, Those blinding passions reoccurring, On HaShem’s bloodless, Yet not painless, Alter. Then cover my nakedness, Draped in a garment of consecration, That I may arise worthy, in concert With those circumcised of heart, And on my lips, In sanctification, A renewed and Holy song. “Bar’chi nafshi et Adonai V’chol k’ravai Et sheim kod’sho.”
Tiferet (Twilla) Welch Beit The home of a voice cracks open. From its renewed place Of an old beginning, A blessing arises. The diaspora of One Life reuniting, The exiled now returning With nods of recognition. Two lovers in their t'schuva, Not so strange strangers Welcomed at the threshold, Gently gathered in.