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By Nesha Ruther

L’chaim to my rabbi who gets red in the face during prayer
and sings off-tune
we can always hear him.
L’chaim to his thick fingers curled around tree trunks of torah, wine glass, lifted high
as he says L’chaim to my sister.
L’chaim to my sister.
pink flowers dot her white dress like cherry blossoms back home
like pink thread on her brand new tallit we spent hours shopping for yesterday.
wandering through cobblestone shops in a city given to her as birthright.
Mazol Tov, Jewish women are full of hurt but right now its just too much cake.
L’chaim to the cake, and the food, and the wine my parents forget to not let me drink, and the
Israeli salad my mom will serve to remind us of that summer
all fresh cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, Jerusalem knows all too well of this red sweetness.
L’chaim to yerushelaim, scorching city that drowned out my sister’s chants in construction work
that drowned out our dinnertime conversation with a harsh, oppresive hebrew.
You cannot hear Gaza screaming under all of this stone
L’chaim to Gaza
On this side we may have to stop in a bomb shelter for a bit, but we can get lunch afterwards
I do not think about the dismembered limbs I cannot see.
L’chaim to the things I cannot see,
that are not shown to me
that I am too scared to talk about with my rabbi anyway,
he wears zionism like tallit.
and raises his glass to say L’chaim to life, to my sister, to this place and this blood and now I
know what tattoo I want to get.
L’chaim to the desert where they said we wandered for forty years
I have never seen so many stars,
its not like the city,
no ringing of gunshots,
there is nothing to hit.
L’chaim to Mount Messadah and the goats that climb it like frantic, biblical jews. We have new
enemies now but the same sticky blood.
L’chaim to the Jews who say “Welcome home” although my family came from Europe.
I’m sorry, I cannot claim this place as mine like you have
Lchaim to Europe, distant villages that burned to the ground like yiddish rang silent.
No one speaks the language my name comes from
it is ok i guess, hebrew its a distant cousin.
L’chaim to Hebrew and the Israeli’s who speak you so beautifully
fresh like the salad we had
and the cherry tomatoes, I mean blood, I mean the red sundress I wore to the batmitzva service
I am so confused and everything is turning a sickening scarlett
L’chaim to the blood that hurts, and the faith that hurts, tastes too sweet to be anything but
L’chaim to life, or lack of, or too much
Adonai s’fatai tiftach,
Adonai open up my lips,
you have not made any of this easy to swallow.

Added: Thursday, June 1, 2017  /  Used with permission. Nesha Ruther's "L'Chaim" is the 3rd place award winner for the 2015 World and Me Poetry Contest through Split This Rock.
Nesha Ruther

Nesha Ruther is a poet hailing from Takoma Park, Maryland. She was a member of the 2015 DC Youth Slam Team and a 2016 Young Arts winner in spoken word. She’s a recipient of the 2016 Larry Neal Writing Award and Missouri Western State University’s moRe prize (which was judged by Nikki Giovanni). She has had her writing published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, the Mochila Review and Angles online magazine. She was part of the National Education Association’s 2017 “Do You Hear Us” Campaign. She currently attends the University of Wisconsin Madison as part of the tenth cohort of First Wave. She is studying English, Gender, and Women’s Studies, and Jewish Studies.

Other poems by this author