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avanim fall 2008 the jewish literary magazine of columbia university

avanim fall 2008 Cover art by Dana Kresel, 2008


Table of Contents On Bridges by Miriam Manber, BC ‘10 Lady in Red by Naomi Schachner, BC ‘10......................................5 Baker’s Choice by Sandy Susser, BC ‘10 Cesaria, Winter ’06 by Marley Weiner, GS/JTS ‘10.......................7 What’s your Emergency? by Chanel Dubofsky, Staff adviser Auras by Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11.......................................................9 Rosh Hashanah by Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09 A Different Perspective by Dana Kresel, GS/JTS ‘09.................10 A Conglomeration of Things by Sara Zielinski, BC ‘11 Goat Love by Renna Khuner-Haber, BC ‘08/JTS ‘09...................11 Raphael by Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘10 Repetitions by Allison Caplan, CC ‘11.........................................12


Daydreams of Contemporary Sarai by Gabriella Theisen, GS/ JTS ‘08 Yellow Rose by Batya Weinstock, GS/JTS ‘10.............................14 A Harlem Love Song by Shai Silverman, GS/JTS ‘11 Equilibrium by Allison Caplan, CC ‘11........................................16 In Her Place by Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11 A Welcome Distraction by Dana Kresel, GS/JTS ‘09..................20 Liberation on the Euphrates by Ilana Cohen, GS/JTS ‘12 Untitled by Alisa Koyrakh, BC ‘12.................................................23 Employment Application by Brandon DeShields, GS/JTS ‘12 Inner Reflections by Dana Kresel, GS/JTS ‘09............................24

‫ שיר בלילה‬/ Night Song by Yavni Bar Yam, CC ‘09

Kotel by Alan Feder, CC ‘09............................................................28 Mirror by Jonathan Billig, GS/JTS ‘09 Dew on Dill by Renna Khuner-Haber, GS/ JTS ‘09....................29



Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09 Editor-in-Chief Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11 Literary Editor Allison Caplan, CC ‘ 11 Layout Editor Caity Sigler, GS/JTS ‘09 Art Editor Dana Kresel, GS/JTS ‘09 Noga Benmor-Piltch, BC ‘11 Organizational Editors Alexandra Polsky, CC ‘08 Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Chanel Dubofsky, Columbia/Barnard Hillel Tzedek Coordinator Staff Advisor Editorial Board Ilana Cohen, GS/JTS ‘12 Jon Billig, GS/JTS ‘09 Miriam Manber, BC ‘10 Ray Katz, CC ‘11 Rebecca Srulowitz, BC ‘12 Sabina Goldstein, GS/JTS ‘12 Shira Schindel, CC ‘11 Layout Team Caity Sigler, GS/JTS ‘09 Deborah Samuels, BC ‘12

Avanim, a project of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, is a literary magazine committed to the expression of Jewish experience through the publication of creative writing and art. This is now our third issue, and as we continue and expand this project, we encourage you to contact us with any feedback by emailing

Avanim and Columbia/Barnard Hillel acknowledge a generous gift from Larry and Judy Polsky as well as the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation whose ongoing support has made this publication possible.

Letter from the Editor


In an essay in The New York Times, “The Ambition of the Short Story” (October 5, 2008), Steven Millhauser brings up a line from William Blake’s Auguries of Childhood: “To see a world in a grain of sand.” Millhauser was addressing the modest pretensions and “petite virtues” of the short story compared to the sweeping novel trying to capture all of life. The pieces in our magazine are all short (in part because of the word limit), but I think they share a lot with the grains of sand Blake is talking about. The title of our magazine, Avanim (Stones), is borrowed from a piece by Lawrence Weiner that stands in the entrance of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem: WET SAND AND SMALL STONES LAID OUT IN THE SUN TO DRY (ALL MIXED TOGETHER). The pieces that follow explore a whole range of Jewish and less-openly Jewish topics, from mixed identity and finding a job to the joys of a broken leg. All of these pieces, like the grain of sand, have much to reveal, and when mixed together and laid out before you here, all the more so. While some things stay small, we’re also excited that some things in Avanim are getting bigger. We are putting out more issues a year, having more events, and getting more wonderful people involved with putting out the magazine and excited about Jewish art and writing on campus. Look out for upcoming Avanim-sponsored workshops and submit to our Spring ‘09 issue by sending in your own grains of artistic wisdom to avanim.magazine@ Enjoy, Aaron Rotenberg Editor-in-Chief


On Bridges All the world is a narrow bridge. Ropes twist sinuously, linking past to future In an endless helix of eventualities. Stretching, reaching, grasping At a roughly-hewn ideal, We tripped and fell eleven stories. You fell, and she fell. After the ticking ceased, I fell, unnoticed.


When we sat together, Our backs pressed into the gravestone, You were beneath us: bruised, shattered, tainted. Eventualities yield truths. As I walked that tightrope My toes become cracked and raw. Anger yields to a dull smear of crimson. It sinks into the fibers of the bridge, Mixing with tears to make me slip. The most important thing is not to fear. The bridge flutters far above me, a red ribbon receding into the sky. I fear the eternal rush of air around me.





Baker’s Choice


This morning I watch your chest rising, leavening dough. You are fresh and wholesome, waiting for my molding. I will play Socrates to your Plato, And Greece will be astounded by our philosophic velocity, Ricocheting across the hard surface of the carpeted bedroom floor. “Peanut,” you’ll call to me (I am tiny, so small); “I am so going to get laid tonight.” and through the coarseness all will see you mean, “Darling,” (I’m precious, so whole), “I believe in your delusional personal endeavors.” And you will do a hand flip, a somersault, and a cartwheel in mid-air; Suspended by a wire that is tenuous at best. Yet I will believe your every flattering word. And though a baker must beat the dough down, I will let you blossom gently in our dark room, Praying once again for the harsh finality of a first kiss. Alone, I can hear the light drifting from your eyes to the floor, Permeating the space with an unmistakable sense of je ne sais quoi. As if you could fool me – I know not to believe you. And I instinctively sense you nudging powdered sugar, Delicately sprinkled dewdrops, off of your extroverted shoulders.




Meanwhile, the vivacious water of my artistic fountain Is dithering by the bath towels, themselves unwilling To embrace the anonymity you require, For when our names will pose side by side. And though I can taste your displeasure at my signature recipe’s refusal, And your cajoling aroma is already shouting for attention – Your lies have left streaks upon my bath towels. You seem to think that fluorescent light and seashell shaped soap Are the ingredients for purity, for bread. Scoffing at my dolled-up croissants with their crumbling perfume Is easier than voting for the stoic multi-grain conglomerate, With its vacillating mythology on the friction of kneading hands. Swinging wildly while remaining quite still, I wonder if we will ever rise. My dough has yet to be beaten, Lying joyously neglected and pampered on One thousand thread-count counter-top sheets.



What’s Your Emergency? Two Wednesdays ago, Libby was hit by a taxi cab on the corner of 97th and Columbus. She called me from the ER, where they were stitching up the gash in her left leg. She was walking towards the opposite curb, she said and then she felt a shove, and then she was flying through the air. When she opened her eyes, there was the cab driver and a middle aged woman. Libby opened her mouth, and the middle aged woman said, “You shouldn’t talk. I got hit by a car last year.” To Libby, these two pieces of information seem disjointed. Maybe, she thought, this is how it would be from now on, everything a little bit wrong. I visit her the next day, when she’s back in her apartment, and we sit on the kitchen floor against the refrigerator, eating from a bowl of instant chocolate pudding. She moves her spoon along the side of the bowl, getting pudding but also the unmixed, gritty parts. It leaves behind a wavy pattern that reminds me of a river.

During college, we went on a road trip to a small town, where the main attraction were falls, the only remaining evidence of the mills that used to be the source of its livelihood. Libby was leaning over to see the water, and slipped on a wet rock, her body stretching suddenly, the muscles in her legs clenching to stay upright. I grabbed at her, pulling her back against my chest, locking my arms around her like a strait jacket, powerful and desperate. We stood there, still and silent, until Libby squirmed away, pushed her hair behind her ears and smiled at me. “It’s beautiful down there,” she said. Now, in the kitchen, the pudding bowl near empty, she looks straight ahead at her stove with the numbers worn off the temperature dial. The bandage on her leg is the same color as the kitchen floor, the one she complains about all the time because it gets dirty almost immediately after cleaning. I think about decorating the bandage with my name and doodles of trees and stick figures and suggestive messages. I tell Libby. Secretly, she says, she’s always wanted a cast, for that specific purpose.





Rosh Hashanah

You distract me, Leonard Cohen, because I’m trying to daydream here in this quiet sanctuary. I don’t want to float with you to higher realms through the words of the prayerbook covering my lap. I don’t want to be bothered by your twisting of phrases.   I want to stare up at the jewesses in the balcony. I want to take in their holiday dresses and then imagine them discarded. I want that dark eyed woman swaying like that in my bed, but you point to:   The enthroned king exacting judgments. The bodies drowning, burning, decaying, tumbling down the avalanche.    I catch sight of you beside the sleeping rabbi, slumped over in his chair on stage. You dance and you jest, you hum something into his ear until even he stirs.

  We dismount the stage with the cohanim to a sea of hands to be shaken. I think you looked out from beneath your shawl too and maybe as we blessed all these hovering forms you were able to see, in their downturned faces, the light in each eye, illuminating this dark and dreary synagogue.








For we wear scuba masks like ants when we feel we need to hide from dust, or ink, or each other, or the bugs And we build castles of pillows to block out the static, to keep dull the fluorescent light And chalkboards sometimes make us think of green horses And when we find ourselves bored like tables we play a game where we act like tables to make it interesting again And we miss Sor Juana who smells like clean bar soap And whose name to me means feminism You-and-I you-and-I, this is how we are. Inside our walled-up castles, caught behind neon plexi-glass frames.



A Conglomeration of All Things



raphael i believe in the man passing me on the sidewalk not passing me the stranger who is strange in a familiar way. the one who offers me words when i have none the one who sees my thoughts as i glance up from my tea he from his coffee he bought out of courtesy i say with a twitch of my lips, he with a crease round his eyes— ah, yes. i don’t know how to be helped, i ask i know, he answers we don’t smile heavy we laugh. the café babbles with voices cups sausages coins static folk songs they are not listening and we are quiet conversing, unspeaking he takes my hand folds it into a fist inside is one word—





Daydreams of Contemporary Sarai After Jeni Olin’s Blue Collar Holiday


I dreamt of prairies and sea salt

you came through the window just as I was getting comfortable, stretched across yellow garlands I hear your voice, slow & soft like a cocoon’s interior, difficult to abandon. I'm awful at change. Wear that sexy dress you say come down come down, pebbles tapping & tapping at the window, I wake nude and starved. I want to bite your plumb mouth, see if the juices still run sweet, even if the words that form there are sometimes misshapen. My lipstick smells like Barbie's kid sister, Stacy's breath if she were to have it, and I know that my ovaries are hollow, I couldn't tell you the fuchsia inked panties between my legs is a lie, I’ve mislead you like a shark, cut down and left to drown, a brutal finning if you will. Come through the window biting salt from this awful fuchsia night, love the misshaped contours of my hollow insides like a Barbie doll breathe sexy your juicy plumb kiss tapping & tapping at my pebbled heart. I am a brute I am awful at change I am a shark, the murderous victim of a finning cut down and left to drown if you will abandon me.








Let us visit the extremes Neon greens and purple dreams And escape the world of Golden Means. Let us see the dirt of dirt The poke-out ribs and tattered shirt And whiskey breath. As smokey water runs through the gutter The bum-lump in the corner like blueblack butter Sleeps. And we could poke him in the eyes Laughing at his drunken alibis And would we feel better? ‌I am hurt‌I am hurt are those tatters in my shirt?

Continued on next page


A Harlem Lovesong


And we could see the rifle wielders The politicians and cocaine dealers Snorting up their life’s discontent And indeed there will be time There will be time, there will be time To drink a cola with sliced lime To sit at desks and write in rhyme And will we feel better? No, I am not Superman, nor was meant to be A furrowed brow and wrinkled bill is all that’s left of me. I must get out of here Before I shed a broken glass tear Reflecting the pain of a moment’s year Or a year’s moment, whatever. Look, my friend, look, see what you see What am I? What are you? What are we? And you will see the flies on faces The bowler hats and rat races Yellow cabbies, cat-mouse chases Swords and bows, guns and maces Muttered prayers and after-meal graces Highway speeders and homicide cases (and debate which is better: Velcro or laces?) hit a homerun, run ‘round the bases. (Is it the setting, or is it the time, that inspires me to write in rhyme?)

20 And so, my friend, you will return A little scratch, maybe a slight burn But in the end no worse the wear. Because you have white picket fences Leave it to Beaver and all five senses. Is that a thermonuclear bomb exploding, Or just a dog barking? You could write haikus Little rhymes, talking blues. And Would you feel better? The sad truth is, you probably would. You’d love to dream a windowless dream Of rich black coffee with sugar and cream (and, watching the evening news, shake your head and exclaim: what a shame! What a shame!) And maybe you’re not to blame All you’ve ever wanted was celebrity fame Not dead-walking people in a country with no name And maybe I should feel the same. Maybe. What sweet bliss is simplicity! What acrimonious horror is reality! Do you hear Yahweh? Do you hear me? Ah, it is no use, surely God must be deaf Why would omniscience want to hear What the world has to say. So drive towards the light, the twisting turning road ‘til we wake up from slumber, and crash, and explode.


In Her Place

“He’ll be too fat to make the walk to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles!” Shamariah snickers. “You’ll be too fat to make it as well, if you don’t start helping out more with harvesting,” his father Abinoam retorts, ruffling Shamariah’s hair. The carob trees begin to reek like three day old milk, a sign that the New Year is


Every morning, before her father and brothers head out to the vineyard, Tirzah slips away to her family’s small pasture. Her home in the Judean hills is just a two day journey from the Holy City of Jerusalem. With her she takes a wooden stick that her older brother Shamariah scraped smooth for her, using a dagger he stole off of Ami the Drunkard’s bulging waist. In her worn undergarments, she carries a tiny, empty vial that he also gave her. He says that it washed up on the shores of the Great Sea, a long journey from her town Be’er Shemesh. She imagines it traveled from Egypt.

Gnarled hills spotted with sheep frame the pasture where Tirtzah visits the goat—the big goat to whom the family has been feeding all of the weeds from the gardens as well as grass enough for a quarter flock.



The goat has no name; he is simply referred to as Goat—the family has only one this year. “And what if he gets blemished?” The question won’t leave Abinoam. It won’t leave anyone, even the children who do not understand what it means. One cannot sacrifice a blemished animal. On the third day after the Sabbath, Tirzah rises, picks stray pieces of straw from her hair, and washes her hands from sleep’s death in the customary way. Her dulled hide soles softly skim the path toward the pasture, a fog of dust rising around her feet. Careful not to get splinters, she climbs over the fence. At the sound of her sandal scraping wood, Goat lifts his horns from his breakfast of sharp Judean grasses and trots toward her. She puts her eyebrows up against his so that her chin rests on his muzzle. As he nips her playfully, she giggles at the feel of his prickly beard. The girl then dips her smooth stick into the vial. She brings the tip to the goat’s front left calf and writes: I yelled at mother. The words burn invisible on the animal’s rough hair. The fourth day after the Sabbath, Tirzah rises as the sun climbs up from the direction of Jerusalem. Today she writes on Goat’s neck: I stole a fig from the Canaanite merchant.

Later, as she returns home from the well, past her father whispering the afternoon prayer in the fields, she thinks about the question—“What if he gets blemished?” It confuses her. He would still be the same goat. Why would Yahweh, the Endless Light, the Infinite One, care about a blemish? Distracted, she doesn’t notice the water splashing out of the bucket. Nor does she notice the condescending looks passing maidens give her for her profligacy— in Canaan water is as precious as emerald. That night, as she sits outside with her father, looking up at the waning moon, she asks him, “Why does a little blemish matters so much to such a big god?” Lifting her up in his arms, he replies, “Don’t stare at the moon, my little desert flower—it’s idol worship.” The fifth day after the Sabbath, on her way to the pasture, Tirzah picks an olive branch for Goat. She knows he likes to chew the wood. Earlier he had chewed the length of two palms through the olive tree in the pasture and would have kept going if Abinoam hadn’t coated it with horseradish juice. She plucks


approaching. That means it will soon be the Feast of Tabernacles, when the Abinoam son of Othniel family will travel to Jerusalem. Already, the family is preparing. Tirzah, though not yet a woman, helps her mother press grapes for wine.


23 off the olives and packs them in her pocket to soak later in lemon water and spices. Reaching the fence, she waves to a solitary shepherd standing guard above the horizon, up in the hills, counting the brown and beige spots—shades slightly duller than the suninfused terrain of rock, gravel, and lonely shrub. Goat gargles in pleasure as she rubs his spine but grows silent when she lifts her stick and tenderly sketches her letters along the jutting bone. I said Yahweh’s name in vain. Tirzah brushes the flies away from his ear and whispers into it, “I was praying for you.” While he grinds his teeth on the twisting branch, she braids his beard over and over, trying to get all the coarse hairs perfectly in place.

She continues punching him, yelling, “You sinful beast! You’re nothing but sins. You’ll burn on the altar!” Her voice falters; she can only mouth the words as she clasps the goat, her little arms not making it around his body, her nose breathing in his fur that smells like warm baked oats. “I’m sorry, oh Goat, I’m sorry. I love you. You’re going up to the Holy One Blessed Be He, in a sacred beam of smoke. You are my letter to Yawheh.” She repeats the words over and over, the words that her mother taught her, the words with which her mother soothed her after the first time Tirzah noticed that the family goat hadn’t come back from the Temple in Jerusalem. She holds onto Goat until she falls asleep. When the sun stands directly over the pasture, cooking the earth, Abinoam comes The sixth day after the Sabbath, even before to get milk for lunch. Seeing his sleeping her family begins its extensive preparations daughter, he tries to pull her off but Tirtzah, for the approaching Day of Rest, Tirzah writes half awake, will not let go. on Goat’s thigh: I built a figure—a head—out of wet earth. She bends down to put her stick One moon later in Jerusalem, the priests back in her belt, crouching for a moment drag Goat toward the altar. As he burns, her below Goat’s belly. He suddenly lifts his leg letters turn to smoke, visible in the air for a and kicks at her, just missing her face. Tirzah moment, then invisible as the smoke ascends punches his bloated stomach, and despite her toward the gaping sun. small size, she shoves him onto the sere grass.



The fisherman deserved to die that day. On the ancient choppy water he accepted our insatiable bullets as his blood stained the river red. Orders are sacred when your life’s on the line And it was so hard to tell if he waved the catch-of-the-day or a gun overhead. In the end his boat was paid for. The cell phone lost, replaced. For his widow, above all things, needs money to buy fish for the fatherless children who get to grow up in democracy.



Liberation on the Euphrates




Employment Application Yes, sir, I am grateful for this opportunity, But I cant fill this application that you’ve presented me. I understand, sir, that its policy To fill the forms and have ID Before you hire me. You see, Sir, I have an issue with the phrasing of the questions And I’m hoping for your help, and maybe a suggestion Or two. This first line here, you’ve asked for my last name and first name and my middle initial-ly thinking to put down what, or rather who I am officially. So I wrote what people call out: porch-monkey, Heeb, mut, Nigger, Kyke, whitey, spic, dirty jew. And you see, Sir, I ran out of room for the double-U.




DANA KRESEL This next part here, Sir, This section designated for the STATE in which I reside, Should I just put down two initials, or the whole word or words that describe the divide of the Union inside - of me. Torn apart between north and south and west and east Jerusalem with its fence that separates humanity and sanity and security where I’ve found a place to sit and straddle it, uncomfortably. Or Should I just write down my state of mind, where the official bird is the always mocking-me bird, The official state tree is the Forest Pine-ing to be heard, And the state song is Georgia, I must be losing my damn mind. Continued on next page


And my social security number, Sir. I understand that it must be provided and under review Before we can continue, The application process. But I must confess that I had much difficulty with this particular inquiry. You see, Sir, The only security is the surety That no matter what goes up or down or a wry Is that all I have to do in life is stay black- ish and die. And Social? That’s not really my forte When you grow up in a society that’s constantly portrayed As a people learning to tolerate, learning to understand But instead it’s the same people that’ll see a man in a turban And quietly, self-consciously scream, “oh shit, I’m dead!” And I am quite sorry, Sir, I’m not that good with numbers, Oh no, Sir, I can do math, but frankly, numbers really never worked out in my favor. There’s a reason why I fidget when you request digit after digit of a number that is supposed to be mine, myself, me. When just sixty years or so before stood millions of


Thousands of hundreds of individual human beings Who went by prisoner numbers A-1 through Z-Infinity. If you wish, Sir, I could give you a part of the number you request, But then again, fractions really weren’t in my best interest. Three fifths of me would give you everything you need today, Forget that two fifths of me who has no say. Who needs a whole man? I wanted a part time job anyway. WaitSir, You never said anything about working on the Sabbath and cutting my hair And toning down the Jew and black talk because I might scare The customers. I’m afraid I can’t accept, Sir, And I do apologize That I can’t just compromise what or who I am. Just give the Job to someone else who doesn’t give a damn about, pride and honor and identity. With all due respect, Sir, You can kiss my black white English Jewish watermelon-eatin’, drum-beatin’, money-hoarding, Klezmer-recording hanging- from - a - tree, going – up - a - chimney proud to be me assssss, Sir.


‫שיר בלילה‬

Night Song

‫ הירח הלבן‬,‫ צף‬,‫צף‬ ‫ אתה שם‬,‫ צף‬,‫צף‬ ‫ מפה בלבד‬,‫רק מפה‬ ‫מתנוחת גופי בידי דודי‬ ‫ לראות אותך ככה‬,‫יכולה לראות אותך‬ ‫ צף ומתנופף‬,‫צף באוויר‬ ‫צף ומתנופף באוויר שנשף‬ ‫ככה יכולה להריח באף‬ ‫ הלבן‬,‫את ריח הירח הלבן‬ ‫הצף‬, ‫ הצף‬,‫את הריח הלבן‬


Float, float, white moon Float, oh float, yourself there Only from here, from here alone Here, resting myself in the arms of my beloved Can I thus see you, see you thus Floating on the air, floating and fluttering Floating and flying in the air that is sighing Thus can I scent what my nose Knows to be the scent, moon-sent, Sent from the moon, so white, as it floats, as it floats.

‫שיר בלילה‬







she entreats time rest its campaigns, and i wonder, could it be? does she beg for me? a jester of words, dropping them haphazard like a juggler jolted. these, my poems, scattered sincere yearning for a knot to tie them. while her verbs ring deft as soldiers clad in sculpted gilded armor, and her body lithe and nimble dances like a madcap puppet.


“i’ll chop at the oaks of evil, yearning for a forest god, you’ll keep sailing swaying, swooning, flail my soul just by forgetting.”

Avanim Fall 2008  

Avanim's Fall 2008 Issue