A poem for Rabbi Goldstein

After a terrorist came into the Chabad of Poway, California last week and started shooting, one of the first details I learned was that Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein had managed to shoo children to safety even after getting his index fingers shot off. I read Rabbi Goldstein’s NY Times op-ed and was reminded that losing your index finger has a particular symbolic value, since Jews use a yad–a sculpted arm and pointing hand–to keep our place when reading Torah, and I was moved and inspired by his insistence that he would never back down.

Before I even saw this picture, I thought of a yad in the image of Rabbi Goldstein’s arm–tested by violence and unyielding–as opposed to a standard yad that is a decorative sculptural arm/hand and might sit in a cupboard forever.

White nationalists with guns are targeting Orthodox Jews and synagogues–because they are so obviously Jewish, and their appearance most coincides with “the Jew” of hateful stereotypes–and my Reform synagogue now has a plain-clothes security guard, who just last night hailed me with a “Shabbat shalom” (probably a good polite way to suss out Temple members vs. 8chan members). In this context Rabbi Goldstein’s arm and attitude, horrifyingly, are models for what American Jews may need to face in these years. Thus this poem.

A yad for Rabbi Goldstein
This is a gift
for a Bat Mitzvah girl
becoming a woman today:
a wooden arm and hand
to point your way among
the forested words of Torah.
In normal times you might
give a nice pen, some money,
or even an elegant pointer
to nudge a young person
that they might learn and keep the faith.
But now we enter this place
with more urgency, less polish.
This pointer is not painted
nor does it end with silver fittings
but abruptly at the elbow.
The arm up to the base
is mostly covered, white long-
sleeved in all weathers,
the cuffs split open now
by paramedics' scissors.
Where the index finger—
for the hand's defining work—
would normally extend, you have
instead a fragment, left
cauterized in place;
the other four reach out,
still, underlining
the next vital phrase.
And though it is
uncomfortable to hold
or claim as your own,
you may one day need
to take up this arm
and hold your place
in the book, in your land,
no matter what.

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