A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
was taken from us on the Shabbat,
the most joyous of the holidays,
the only holy day even God Himself
celebrates, the emulation of Eden,
the day of completion. Before
they could perform the service, before
they could take their seats and begin
the prayers, before the ark opened
and the Torah revealed,
before they could rise and sway
and chant their portion, the book
opened like wings in their steady hands,
though they know the blessings by heart.
I didn’t know them, but I knew them
in the way we know those raised,
no matter where we originated,
in the same beliefs our ancestors
inherited all the way back into
those mysterious origins,
those stories of creation and exile,
of miracles and complicated kings,
of commandments and wisdoms—
“welcome the stranger”—
spread across the millennium.
We suffer the same persecutions,
celebrate the same triumphs, chant,
in the same order, the blessings,
hour after hour, holiday after holiday,
generation after generation,
Torah portion after Torah portion.
Before that week’s Torah portion,
A minyan plus one was taken.
When they would have once again
heard the story of when Abraham,
our first Patriarch of Chutzpah,
approached and argued with the Lord:
“Will you sweep away the righteous
with the wicked?”And He was answered:
“For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
And so, as on other days, on that day—
He did. He allowed the wicked
To sweep away the righteous.
And when the Lord had finished
speaking with Abraham, He left.
And took a minyan plus one.
And Abraham returned home.
Author’s note: This poem is dedicated to the eleven victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, PA on October 27, 2018. A minyan is a quorum of ten adults over the age of 13 required for traditional Jewish public worship. The poem is called “A Minyan plus One” because there were 11 victims. The poem was translated into Hebrew by Hagit Grossman.
Copyright 2018 Philip Terman