"Bird Mitzvah" poem by Stanley H. Barkan - Photo by Mia Barkan Clarke, USA





We rose unto the mountaintop,

to the aerie of the birds,

Tristram’s grackles,

the black, orange-tipped,

and brownish, wide-winged birds

hovering over the sacred site,

flocks swooping and dipping,

whistling, cooing and cawing,

settling here and there on the edge of

the restored walls of ancient rocks.


So curious at the boys with kipas,

and girls with head cloths,

gathered with and without prayer shawls,

speaking in memory of the past,

the 960 who chose death by suicide,

rather than lose their freedom,

to be captured Roman slaves,

and the seven—two women and

five children—who survived,

pardoned, whose descendants

perhaps are among these

bar and bat mitzvah boys and girls.


They recite prayers and famous sayings,

quotes from diaries and other writings,

and then read from the Torah,

each his and her portion,

while mothers and fathers, grandparents,

brothers and sisters and friends surround them

in a harmony of this ceremony of

entering adulthood as Jews.


And the birds continue to swarm

and hover wide-winged on sun winds,

flying back and forth, forth and back,

very, very curiously dipping in and out,

out and in, joining the cantillating and singing

with their whistles and coos and caws,

songs of sad remembrance and joy,

making their own bird mitzvah,

perhaps as spirits of those who battled and died,

here more than a thousand years ago.




—Stanley H. Barkan

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