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Honeyblood: A Poem for Israel and Identity

Honeyblood: A Poem for Israel and Identity

I’ve got honey in my blood
It churns thick with cinnamon warmth
Through fall and mid spring
Around holiday time

I come from grandparents with honeyblood.
It swirled through
My Bubby’s cookies,
My Zayda’s Yiddish,
Old world kitsch never tasted so good.

I grew up nestled in the footsteps of a
Jewish mother,
And a father
Whose parents left their heritage behind
For an American Dream
Without curly hair. 

They didn’t know
Honey still ran in their blood.

It coursed through
Sweet evenings spent lighting candles,
Asking questions
Always in that order

Growing up, each December
There were eight nights
Of being asked how the lamp stayed lit
But wondering why the candles had to burn out so fast.
Every time.

Traditions unfolded and folded
Like prayer shawls
Draped across the shoulders of balding men
Wearing fabric
Like a story
Calling it sacred

My favorite
The tale of Zusya,
When he died, he thought God would ask him
Why he didn’t act more like Moses or Abraham,
Instead God asked him
Why he didn’t act more like Zusya.

I don’t think these old tales
Are so tall

They glazed my adolescence with a rich
Combination of history and promise

My community always believed in something
Clawed at it with hormonal fingers,
Ran to it with dirt-covered feet,
Encircled it
With breath
And candles
And secrets
And time

Each more precious than the last

As time crept by
I stopped tasting
Honey on my tongue

Old words sounded bitter without it…
In Hebrew it means wrestle with god

For so long,
This mighty metaphor
Propped my faith upabove the others.
A history that wove itself reflexively
But when I finally
Entered the wrestling ring
Flew to Jerusalem on a trip for wide eyed youth
Symbolism was beaten to a pulp by

Why was a land so full of love?
Spilling over with blood?
Why do fights with god
Always result in so many casualties?
How many Palestinians died in the wrestling match?

It hurt to think about…

Cognitive dissonance
(It’s no coincidence
A Jew coined that term.)
A coin split
A land split
That’s when I began to split

A mechitza
Splits the room
Between genders in spaces where worship calls women distractions
Don’t treat me like a distraction
Stop getting distracted from justice
By tradition
I hate Jews that don’t get this
I love Muslims that do.

It’s hard to taste the honey these days,
As I find tradition in yoga
Feel sacred in bed
Look for stories in poetry slams
See promise in a justice so impossibly perfect
That I will spend my whole life seeking it

But even though honey dissolves in hot liquid
And hardens after a few months without use
It’s the only food in the world that never goes bad

And honey will always run in my blood
And I will always be made of my Bubby’s cookies

Alana Baum is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley. She spent her college years living in co-ops, writing poetry, subverting norms, and growing into her skin - which she is still very much doing. Alana is unbelievably privileged to have had so many opportunities and curious to discover what she will do with them.​

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