This Passover or The Next – Book Excerpts

Book Excerpts

* Yes We Have No Bananas
* Sweat Lodge

This Passover or The Next, I will Never Be In Jerusalem

By Hilton Obenzinger


Yes We Have No Bananas

“Yes, we have no bananas.”
That’s what they sang as my father clung
to the rails of the steam ship
pale from the depths of steerage.
Ellis Island has no bananas?
No bananas in this, the Goldeneh Medina?

In Lublin he wanders through the woods
with his friends to picnic.
Pounced upon by thugs- “Jews!
Out of our woods, you dirty Jews!”–

they were chased back towards the ghetto
until he grabs some acorns, fires
them back, cracks some heads:
“I’ll teach you to beat on Jews!”

“Yes, we have no bananas”
was what they sang
on the Lower East Side.
“Apple pie & coffee” was all the English he knew.
“Apple pie & coffee,” he said
& others they laugh, these Americans,
they call him a “greenhorn,”
& they sing “Yes,
we have no bananas,”

as he wanders the garment district
looking for work,
eating apple pie & coffee
day after day in the automat. because he saved my life.

Sweat Lodge

Hot – my lungs on fire, my hands, knees,
burned alive, hunched in an oven-
scalded, crouched, naked, crowded with others
knee-cap to knee-cap,
sweat-lodge hot rocks so close my scrotum retreats.
I slap my shoulders to cool them as the sweat-lodge
leader prays,
“Grandfather, remember our Indian brothers & sisters
in the White Man’s jails,
Grandfather, help us to remember the four colors of man,
help us to remember Mother Earth and all our relations….”

He splashes more water on the rocks we inhale
as excrutiating steam.
I slap & squirm as each takes a turn for prayer.
Now comes my turn to pray….

What can I say?
Should I sing Shma Yisroel?
Hear, 0 Israel… that we are one among many?
Perhaps I am of that lost tribe now found.
By chance I came to Yurok land, landed
a teaching job sure, Indians, why not?
far from New York, far from myself, just
passing through,
now to find myself in the heat of a struggle
of all Indians, all people.
It was just an accident.
I needed a job, that’s all.
I didn’t realize it would come to this!
To be a jew naked in an oven, alive with fire!
Is this the Goldeneh Medina?
So much has been torn in the name of gold
that only silt remains, scars
to which I came with flowers in my hair, almost a fool,
but it is everything that we’ve known before,
massacres that have come before.
I am the evidence of Eastern Europe.
By accident I fell in with Indians
to become American, become a Jew
reaching to yank the thorn in my refuge.
No, I don’t want to be Mojave, not Sioux.
I want only to share justice,
to exhanle the steam of the honor of peoples,
of all our relations.

The rocks wait for my prayers.
What can I say?
I don’t even believe in God!

Finally my heart opens plain words
after all my inner jumble, & I gasp:
“Help us to work harder to free all
activists from the FBI frame-ups.”

The sweat-lodge leader splashes more steam.

Aiiee! I am not Jew, they are not Indian!

We are all hot breath!

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