Lintels – A Poem for and from Passover


This is the bread of affliction


It catches in our throats and

Alarm rings like a test but it is not a test

Like a fork, a gold-wired ambulance

Stopped at the border between


Gates of the Old City and

Ringing, humming, singing:

Oh, now we are sons-of-freedom!

We live between



And pre-

Trauma: for now

Triggers twinkle in

Ear drums

Ringing: for


See how it is deadly                                                              quiet.


O Seraphim, remember:

How you rejoiced?


O Burning Ones, recall your

Ululations: exaltation as their chariots

Rimmed golden floated like skeletons of torqued horses


On the softly brushing lips of sky and its reflection:


No longer slaves!


Laughing: together we sang as their bloated bodies turned

Our tears into Manna

The salt into seashells.


Israel, you cried: Wrestler of god, and our

Song would have


Carried onward toward

Absolution but for one

Insistent reprimand in a still small voice: my children, also.

Nascent nation, the voice grew angry but remained quiet,

Somehow, your behavior befits slaves. 


Would that your song were

Exclaimed anew: now


As we recline:

Raising glasses as full as our



O Burning Ones, sing that we may rest

Unblinking: assured of our escape from a

Redux burning. Our flesh tingles still of


Cattle cars, ash, of barbed

Hyssop whips and wires.

Incant to us: Water.

Leaving the bowels of the darkest night, had we a choice but to

Drown our foes?

Red the sea runs, O Seraphim, and you must

Exclaim that we have no choice. You must.

Never again!


Water, O Burning Ones,

Indeed: how are we to ensure

That our First-born Sons float

High above the riverbed of history’s slurping, but by ensuring that Ishmael’s


First-borns Sons, the

Egyptine hordes of our enmity,

Are mollified, muffled, mashed into the

River: submerged?


Tell us how! Tell us why we cannot swallow this bread, why it tastes like rust

And repetition, like rust and repetition. Why does

It now taste like rust and repetition? Why, it does


Taste like rust and


Deadly                                                                                                               repetition.


*An acrostic.


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A Definition of Oppression as Witnessed on a Sherut

On the “sherut,” the clunky, odd yellow transits that shuttle back and forth between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (and elsewhere). It’s a trip it make often- I may have moved to Spring Hill, but I am a Jerusalemite at heart- so I probably ride between four and eight Jerusalem-Tel Aviv sheruts a week. The sheruts sit ten, and I’d say, by rough estimation, that at least half of the seats are generally filled by Palestinians and African refugees. I learn a lot on some of these rides, just by listening, when I’m not too busy bestowing upon my thumbs a healthy dose of future-arthritis (like now…), and am so grateful to know Arabic (in addition to the Palestinian passengers, many of the African refugees are from Sudan). Usually the interactions are congenial, sometimes tense, sometimes surprising, sometimes moving. I was caught off guard by what I heard this time, though: just after I boarded, two Palestinian men did as well. The driver, also a Palestinian, said something to them and, flustered or frustrated, they got off the sherut in a hurry. I thought that I had understood the words, but I wasn’t sure- they didn’t make sense to me. Why would he ask them that? And then, another Palestinian man came to board, and the driver asked him the same question: “Ma’ak tasreeh? Do you have a permit?” This man said, yes, yes I do, and produced his permit from the folds of his green, Palestinian Authority ID (which is actually issued by Israel: yet another way in which the Palestinian Authority has about as much authority as a series of City Halls). The ugliness of the moment hit me deep in my chest: on one hand, Israel controls all of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, free movement in this territory is granted only to some and denied to others (this brilliant info graphic breaks the classifications down in a way that is both concise and galling). With that, many of those denied freedom of movement are so desperate for work- a desperation also intrinsically correlated to the system of occupation and discrimination that rules here- that they enter “Israel proper” (scare quotes because there is no real border- it’s a border only for Palestinians) every day, risking arrest or execution. They have virtually no choice, but are forced to live with what I imagine is a heavy sense of fear or at least paranoia that they will be caught and fined or jailed or worse. And it is a variant of this fear that I imagine motivated the driver of this sherut, to check his passengers’ IDs. A psychological, practical and everpresent checkpoint of fear. And that is as clear a definition of oppression as I can think of on this gorgeous Friday afternoon.


Posted in Israel's Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Justice, Justice. Slide Show, Slide Show. Now, Now. Polite, Polite.

In the court 

with the jesters

there are gestures

for the guards

subdue the angry man

they say

they say

why is he so angry

All tongues cluck

We are discussing


Pretty slides

Campy, even

Ancient history

Moving, even

There is no politics involved here

Here there is no politics

Just the view

If his child was arrested

It must be because

he did wrong

If his house was destroyed

It must have been because

he didn’t have

proper paper permission

If his land was disappeared

It was only part of

Spring cleaning

Services for all

If his existence is being disappeared

It’s not intentional

There is nothing political about this

Nothing personal about this

Nothing at all



[Today, the Jerusalem Municipality "heard" opposition to the Kedem Center planned to be built in the middle of Silwan, in association with Elad and the City of David. It was farcical, comical, tragic, enraging. The Palestinians who there were alternately furious and laughing at what amounted to an absurdist theatre of "justice." The guards were called because they kept speaking up during the charming presentation of slides from around the world, showing other places in which tourist sites have been built atop ancient ruins, as if the issue at hand here was really the ancient ruins. Not ruining the lives of living people. The Authorities couldn't understand why the discussion couldn't be held more civilly. They talked about "values." What about the values of Kavod HaAdam, of respect for human beings? I shouted out. One more time, a man sternly waggled his finger at me, and you're out of here].

Posted in East Jerusalem, Poems, Silwan | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

BREAKING NEWS: Hillel International Revises Campus Guidelines*

The student-led initiative Open Hillel was initiated to question Hillel International’s “Israel Guidelines,” and has taken root on campuses like Swarthmore, Vassar and, most recently, Wesleyan, and is making additional waves on campuses around the country like Berkeley and Harvard and elsewhere. Today, in response to the Open Hillel initiative and related pressures, Hillel International has undergone a dramatic change of heart and has decided to change their guidelines from an archaic, narrow-minded, free-speech stifling, Overbearing-Donor-pleasing set of restrictions to a series of guiding principles that align with the Jewish values of peace and justice that Hillel is committed to nurturing on campuses around the country.*

The initial guidelines that drew powerful and principled opposition from students around the country as “monolithic,” “censoring,” and “exclusive,” were as follows:

Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:

(A) deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.

(B) delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.

(C) support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.

In a striking gesture of humility, constituency-orientation, and willingness to change, and following in depth consultation with members of Open Hillel and Policy Analyst Professional Consultant Advisors and Former Hillel Campus Presidents Affiliated with The Leftern Wall Guideline Revision Group Ltd. Inc., Hillel International has suggested the following Revised Israel-Palestine Campus Guidelines for consideration. (As a first step, they requested that they be published on The Leftern Wall and opened to comment and critique).

Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:

(A) deny the right of Israelis and Palestinians to exist and live in personal and collective safety, security, freedom, equality and peace, regardless of border-arrangements or lack thereof.

(B) demonize Israelis or Palestinians — or African Asylum Seekers or Orthodox Christians or Mizrahi Jews or Filipino Migrant Workers or any other national, religious, social, ethnic, racial or identity-based collective of human beings.**

(C) support violence -defined as an act aimed to kill, or severely harm, physically or spiritually, another human being or human beings- against Israelis or Palestinians or any other group. Examples of violence include: blowing up buses, opening fire on buses, shooting rockets at civilian-populated areas, dropping bombs (or white phosphorus) on civilian-populated areas, night raids, arbitrary detentions without trial, murdering kids as they try to gather weeds, murdering a families, including children and infants, as they sleep, torturing children, and so on. Examples of violence do not include: Harshly worded critiques, soldiers’ testimonies of abuses they witnessed, advocacy of economic boycotts, divesting from corporations, et cetera.

Hillel International realizes that they do not have all the answers, and that there are areas that they may have overlooked, or values-points that may need tweaking, in their new guidelines. As such, and as the beginning of the process of turning over a new leaf, as it were, Hillel International invites readers to comment, question, challenge and support the updated guidelines here on The Leftern Wall. So, what do ya’ll think?

[And if they are so moved, readers can also get in touch with Hillel International, congratulating them, as it were, on their bold decision. Or get on board with Open Hillel, who may need to keep doing the amazing work they are doing, if Hillel International gets cold feet, as it were.]

*Neither the title of this piece, nor any of the claims made about Hillel International’s actions, decisions, etc., are true, except, unfortunately, the original “Israel Guidelines.” But here’s hoping, huh? Congrats to Wesleyan. Yashar koach Open Hillel. Onwards.

**Following a simultaneous audit of Introduction to Logic 101 and Introduction to Politics 101 at Fleaglebump College, ND, Hillel leaders began to question how one can “demonize” a State:

“You know what I think, Rick?”
“What do you think, Tom?”
“I think that the monopoly over the use of force in the given territory in which you reside is… demon-like.”

Additionally, Hillel leaders have recognized that the word “delegitimization,” has ceased to mean anything whatsoever.

Posted in To American Jews | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Oy Vey: The Days When The Right Wing and The Leftern Wall Align

So. I subscribe to a mailing list called World Jewish Daily Morning Update. Mostly for the right-wing Op Eds and the charming framing the WJD gives to current events, such as:

Screen shot 2014-04-02 at 5.13.37 PM

Today, though, it was with a sigh and a grimace that I read their smarmy header:

Screen shot 2014-04-02 at 5.10.32 PMWhy a sigh and a grimace? Because, of course, they’re right. Peace Process to Nowhere. Obviously, we’re not seeing things from the same perspective, like when the right wing opposed the Prawer Plan because it gave to much to the 40,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel (otherwise referred to by my colleagues on the nuts- excuse me, the right-leaning end of the spectrum, as The Arabs, sometimes THE ARABS, sometimes just Them) it planned to forcibly evict from their homes. But they’re right. Actually, Peace Process to Nowhere is a fairly gentle way of framing this entire enterprise of trickery and exploitation.

Here’s The Leftern Wall Daily Morning Update headline for the day:

Politicians to Process Ways in which the Process Process Can Continue to Be Processed in Order to Achieve an Extension on the Process’ Process.

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“He Tried to Terrorize the Wall.” The Army Kills Another Kid.

This morning the headlines came in slow like a corkscrew twisting into my chest, each word another rotation, sinking in, and in, and then: Pop. Open.

My God what is the name for this sickness: We shoot and kill people in order to defend the Wall. The symbolism overflows. Fuck symbolism: a 15-year boy was murdered. And still: This Wall. “The Wall was built for security only” — a claim which crumbles as quickly and fully as the wall itself ought to, when faced with the damaging force of Facts. Fact: The Wall is more than twice as long as the border. Fact: Tens of Thousands of Palestinians enter Israel-proper every day ”illegally,” through, over and around the Wall. Fact: The Wall has taken on security needs in and of itself. “Damaging the Wall/Fence/Barrier” is an offense that can punishable by death. The Wall is not there to guard us. We are there to guard the Wall. And we will kill to guard the Wall.

The headline on +972: IDF kills Palestinian suspected of vandalism.

Youssef -his name was Youssef- ‘s family: He was foraging for local plants.

IDF Spokesperson [In Hebrew]: He tried to sabotage the fence.

The Hebrew: ניסה לחבל בגדר

L’khabel, לחבל.

Same root as M’khabel, מחבל.

M’khabel: The Hebrew word for Terrorist.

He tried to terrorize the fence. The Wall. The barrier. So to be a terrorist, according to the army, one need not target human beings. One can become a terrorist against the Wall itself. Or by foraging plants too close to the Wall. Or by being Palestinian too close to the Wall.

And the Wall is everywhere.

IMG_0115Update [March 21st]: My linguistic analysis/interpretation has been called into question:

…”But the linguistic/political analysis clearly comes from someone whose Hebrew isn’t native. Nobody said he was a terrorist, they said he was suspected of “sabotaging” (LECHABEL) the fence. MECHABEL (terrorist) indeed shares the same root. Sometimes they use that wording too easily, but this time they didn’t. The word they used is the same ones for “sabotaging” anything. [See] a recent example of how a Yesh Atid MK accused Likud members of an attempt to “LECHABEL” the peace process. Does this mean he called them TERRORISTS, or said they are TERRORIZING anything?

I appreciate the challenge, and the opportunity to strengthen and expand my argument, for the Hebrew speakers out there, as well as the linguists and activists curious about how/if language shapes reality (as some argue):

(1) My Hebrew is indeed not native, which, in fact, might be what enables me to see certain nuances of language that are lost on native speakers. I know well that they weren’t explicitly saying הוא היה מחבל וניסה לחבל בגדר، (”he was a terrorist who tried to sabotage the fence”) but language shapes reality, and whether or not we realize it (and whether or not the army itself realized it in this case), the act of invoking the root ח–ב–ל has, I believe, a profound impact on how the story is heard (מטען חבלה, מחבל, ניסה לחבל).

And (2), let’s say my read is too strident, a possibility which I am open to, but still not convinced of: the word “sabotage” is itself an extreme, and violence-connoting word. It has echoes of war and destruction, and there is something far less shocking or disturbing about killing a “saboteur” than a vandal, or, say, a kid who may or may not have taken his frustration out on an inanimate object that actively oppresses and represses his entire people. Is a saboteur so different than a terrorist?

  • Google translate gives us:
    terrorist, saboteur, destroyer
    Update II [March 29th]: According to Btselem’s research, the circumstances of Youssef’s murder- and yes, that is what it was, unequivocally, a murder- were even more horrific than I had imagined. He was killed in an “armed ambush at a point in the barrier known to be crossed by youths, who pose no danger whatsoever to anyone, for the purpose of harvesting plants.”
    Good lord, help us.

Posted in Israel's Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

An Inter-Action

8something AM. Rain. On a sherut. The guy behind me, to his girlfriend: “Everyone in Tel Aviv are faggots. They’re all cocksuckers.” I am caught off guard, it’s early. There’s rain. It takes me until we arrive at my stop, and then I turn to him and say: “Hey, cutie, try to cool it in public places, yeah?” Smile. Wink. Depart.

An amazingly worded lock in Sheikh Jarrah, reminding of the obligation to speak out in every day culture as much as in high politics

A well-phrased lock in Sheikh Jarrah, reminding of the obligation to speak out in every day culture as much as in politics

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