Bio Note: September brings many beginnings: the new school year, which I no longer mark with the same excitement and ambivalence as during my 60+ years in school; the beginning of autumn, the second best season of the year; the dawning of the New Year, at least according to the Jewish people. Rosh Hashanah will begin the evening of September 6th and Yom Kippur will be observed on September 16th. Though Yom Kippur is also called the Day of Atonement, my poem is a reminder—perhaps to myself—that there are many ways to express one's awe in the presence of life's manifold mystery.
Rabbi Schevelowitz’s Rosh Hashanah Visit
When my father spotted the rabbi walking up our street, he sent me to the door to say, My dad’s not home. This wasn’t how I learned to lie— I was pretty good already.
Yom Kippur Dancing
I insist on a seat on the aisle, and don’t care how far back, long as I can get up and waltz away whenever I want, lay my prayer shawl neatly on the chair and head to the Men’s, or outside for air where I can check my phone— that’s the kind of Jew I am, tired of the old stand up, sit down, stand up again, and assess all you must atone just from the pain you feel in your knees. I find a seat by the skylight window almost behind the stairs up to where the choir used to wail when this was a church and the music came from on high, like a visitation, and here where the builder needed to bend the place a bit to the east and create an aisle that hardly anyone can get to, this, the rush hour of the liturgical year. And into this space comes the dancer. She’s 10 or 11, not dressed for the holiday, but neat enough—long t-shirt, yoga pants— perfect for some serious praying, someone so young— She hides her eyes for the Shema— then folds her hands neatly into the Veyahavta and moves them into fists over her chest— loving God with all her heart; some gentle pounding, then, for Al Khet. Though she’s surely got nothing much to atone, she willingly takes on man’s entire blight. Then, cartwheels, as appropriate, to Avinu Malkenu, using the wall as a barre to plie, then leaping into scissors and landing in a split, dramatic, but surely not showing off. Suddenly, I don’t need so much to leave, but watch from the corner of my eye, as her mother keeps her eye out too, she shouldn’t get hurt or carried away. But she carries herself how I hope an angel might, silently driving right, then left, and right to the heart of the ancient chants. What are my hollow prayers, compared to this, this whirling, twirling, joyous atonement alive?
Originally published in The Moon Magazine
©2021 Alan Walowitz
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell her or him. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL