Dying in Jerusalem

by Daniel Abelman
First Place, December 2012
Judged by Polina Barskova

My hair was my badge. I found joy and took pride in it, but the women came on my wedding night and shaved my head. I had seen pictures of what could have been me in the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, and felt I was dying when they led me to my umschlagplatz bridal canopy.

Once every cycle they drove me to the ritual bath to purify myself. They might as well have pumped the exhaust gas back into the car, for all I cared.

My husband was a Hasid whose idea of marriage was to get drunk with his Rebbe every night, and to mate with the Shechinah in a stuporous crescendo, instead of with me, on Friday night. I felt I was already dead.

By a miracle, I fell pregnant. It did not go well with me, and at times I was close to death, going from emaciated to bloated, from flushing borscht-red with fever to shivering with cold, from nausea to nausea to vomiting ad nauseam until I wished I were dead.

They gave names to my suffering: toxoplasmosis and gestational diabetes; insomnia, hormonal lunacy and hypertension. I made a mad pact with the dread Angel of Death:

If my baby lived, I would name the newborn after him. They brought in the great Doctor Assaf, who diagnosed that I was in mortal danger and prescribed putting an end to my pregnancy. I acted frantically, broke into a rash and threatened violent suicide.

They brought in a wise Rabbi to try to persuade me – he should grow like an onion with his head in the ground. He preached it was God’s commandment to abort my baby to save myself from death.

It was at that precise moment I gave up all of God’s commandments. I informed that particular wise Rabbi of Moloch that I would eat pork and rabbits and burn in Gehenna before I sacrificed my baby to his God. He cried – God forbid – and said no more.

It should stay that way. How beautiful is the silence of the wise. If the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing, may it never be rebuilt in my time, I would have brought a dove-sacrifice when my baby girl Dreaddetta Hester was born: Dreaddetta, to pay my dues to the dread angel; Hester, for my mother who was shot in the back of the head and tumbled down a ravine by the Nazis.

what a wild feast of a poem! it combines bitterness with laughter, personal and universal histories, and establishes very intense relationship with one's language/s --Polina Barskova