Not much of a poem for Holocaust Day

I think about those people who want so much to seem good but do the bidding of evil. I know about them, because I grew up with them - yet never felt I knew them.

Esther Cameron ,

Esther Cameron
Esther Cameron
INN:EC

On Holocaust Remembrance Day it was announced
that the proceeds of the diary of Anne Frank
will be donated to an American-based organization
that sends Arab youths to spit on Israeli soldiers and curse their mothers
and films them if they display a twinge of resentment.
Yes, it's true. Read Edwin Black's Financing the Flames.
That book was loaned to me yesterday by a neighbor
down the street in Maale Adumim
(across the Green Line, technically a settlement,
it was founded on a rainy night in '75
by a few families who faced eviction,
though now it has grown big and most people think
it will never share the fate of, for instance, Amona).
Before I went to sleep last night (I slept 
well, and hadn't cried while reading
that book and one of the long wrenching laments
in Uri Zvi Greenberg's poems Streets of the River),
I thought about the people who donate
to organizations like the New Israel Fund,
these people who want so much to seem good
while doing the bidding of evil.

I ought to know them, for I grew up among them,
a dark-haired child brought at the age of six
to a Midwestern town full of blond children
who had all been to kindergarten together.
It was a liberal town, known for that,
though there wasn't much in the way of unlabeled kindness.
Once two girls cornered me and said they wanted
to ask me a question: "Are you Jewish?"
Decades after, when I'd been Jewish for a while,
the same city I had kept returning to
because of my parents, considered becoming
a sister city to Rafah, a stronghold of Hamas
before the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza.
Those who wanted this, organized a meeting
in a church belonging to the denomination
in which I'd been confirmed at the age of nine.
It was a new church, heavy modern concrete,
unlike the New England primness of the one I'd gone to,
but the faces thronging the large semicircular
auditorium (sanctuary I guess)
turned up listening to three lady activists from Gaza,
Muslim, Christian and Jewish, dressed in street clothes
(I wonder what the Muslim woman is wearing now
and if the Christian woman is still alive)
ecumenically slander the state of Israel –
I looked around at these faces, all suffused
with a conviction of purity, and recognized
the congregation of my childhood. 

Of course these people weren't Jews, they were just the neighbors
so many American Jews have gotten so friendly with.
I grew up among these people, yet never felt
I knew them. And I don't know if this poem
contributes at all to the understanding of these people
or their Jewish friends and neighbors, let alone
those Israeli Jews who donate to the NIF.
Maybe there is no need at all to explain
why people who want to seem good do the bidding of evil.
Evil is strong after all, to do its bidding
is the line of least resistance, while to seem good
is something many people want for some reason (maybe
that is the thing that requires explanation) though
not all of them are willing to pay very much for it.

Just now the siren wailed and I stood at attention
praying for those who are still alive and willing 
to pay the price of loving and helping the good.
For our soldiers first of all, who stand to be spat on,
cursed and pelted, who do the work
of defending us under threat of war crime trials
abroad, and of military discipline at home,
if they fail at all in courtesy toward the foe
and who were lectured today by their own commanders
that they could turn into Nazis if they don't watch out;
for our brave settlers in Judea and Samaria
who do the work of keeping the Israeli heartland
from turning into another hell like Gaza,
having sometimes to contend with a government
and an army, even, under pressure from abroad,
and in particular for Rabbanit Yael Shevach,
widow of Rabbi Raziel Shevach who was
teacher, mohel, shochet and I forget what else
in the tiny 'settlement' of Havat Gilad
(named for another 'settler' who was murdered),
mother of six orphans now, she spoke to us
with head held high, of how she made the decision
to bury her murdered husband in the Havat Gilad,
plant their first grave in the land they held. She opened
the Torah ark, and we saw the scroll,
splendidly encased, which they had brought in
thirty days afterwards; it seemed to shine
with his continued presence in the land.
We saw the grave. A stone platform in the shape
of the Star of David, above it a wooden roof
in the same shape, the grave made like an altar
of stones, square though unhewn (such stones are found,
the guide explained, in the region), overlooking
the mountains of Samaria, and around it
a space for those who will come when they have lived out,
with Heaven's help, all their years.

For her, for them,
for the young farmer in the hills south of Hevron,
his face lined deep with the strain of watching
his sheep at night (they had been stolen once);
the government could stop the stealing but doesn't
and he knows that the brothers and sisters for whom he strains
to hold a piece of the land of Israel
see him not as hero but as cause of trouble.

Yes,and for Baruch Nachshon in Kiryat Arba—
I'd seen his art in many living rooms
but never understood until I saw it
in the synagogue that takes the place of a living room
in his home in Kiryat Arba, how his multifoliate
art of many colors blossoms out of danger,
like, for that matter, the verses of David's psalms
which perhaps no one really understands
who has not touched a mezuzah in Hevron.

And for all of us I pray that we may carry on
to hold the fort of the good, in particular
this land, that has become a kind of touchstone
of human sanity, standing in for the planet,
to resist whatever pressures we are under
to deny this land, to mute its voice that wants
to rise through us and sing to the world the song
of wisdom, of the law of love and justice
that builds the house of humankind on earth
menaced now by fire on every hand
but founded still in the eternal Will.

Yitgadal ve-yitkadash for those who perished
in the great burning for which we grieve today,
yitgadal ve-yitkadash for that will-to-good
in so many souls that has been twisted and turned
against itself, and may it find the strength
to turn back again, speedily and in our day,
and turn to teach the nations a pure language
that will not call good evil and evil good.
to serve HaShem with one mind . (And say
Amen.)








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