Poem | Jewish Penicillin

you have to pass the torch
the doctor said
to the sole family chef
who uncharacteristically
was in a hospital bed
instead of caring
for someone else who was

with the calendar marching
loudly
towards rosh hashana
and family expectations
she said, appropriately,
there’s no one
to pass it to

but then began
the same wise guidance
that had shaped the lives
of my sister and me

parsnips are the secret
touch of dill and parsley
but not too much
sweet baby carrots
onions and celery
chopped
good sized chunks


chicken with bones
plain breasts won’t do
make it the day before
refrigerate
skim the fat
for clear soup


then matzoh balls
a little bowl
of cold water
dip your fingers
between each one
roll like play-doh
when you were little
pot must be boiling
cover tight…


eleven years have passed
since she died
i took a vacation day
amid this lurking virus
the day before
the sundown of
the first seder
on a working remotely day
why waste a day
you’re home anyway
it’s just you and your son

but I had to be focused
in phoenix
and do as she did
in st. louis park
and her mother did
in st. paul
and her mother did
in russia

scooping out
fluffy knaidles
with the wooden handled
slightly warped
soup strainer
she brought
on the ship
to america

and in the midst
of this war
the tradition
retelling the story
how we became free
and the bouncing soup
and his
can I have another bowl
brought a wave
of peace
and wellbeing
to the 2 inhabitants
of apartment no. 2069


Rebecca Bender, who wrote this poem, and her father, Kenneth Bender are co-authors of the biography/memoir “Still” (NDSU Press 2019), winner of the Independent Press Award (Judaism category), and a finalist for the Midwest Book Awards (Religion/Philosophy category) to be announced in spring 2020. Telling the inspiring tales of five generations of a Jewish family on three continents, it contains universal themes of perseverance, community, faith overcoming challenges, and trying to live a good life, with tradition as a guide. “Still” is available through NDSUPress.org and Amazon.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Poem | Jewish Penicillin

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Poem | Jewish Penicillin

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