Check out this poem about Jewish migration, written by the mother of DJJ leader Devin Samuels!
Tucked-in to generations of Jewish women, fair skinned and
built for battle
Whose fingernails dug potatoes out of dirt,
spun bread, sewed rags
Women who transformed into midwives swathed in blood,
sang lullabies to petal skinned babies
ravaged by freezing winds, disease, poor insulation
All the while Baba Yaga*, shrunken, wrinkled, twisted,
thick in the woods, brewed deep magic Shtetl Soup,
blew its misty steam of escape
into dream-minds of the women and babies
Why else would they uproot,
gather their vegetables and kerchiefs made from onion skins,
leave the only homes they knew,
their land of sweat and placentas?
Why else would they risk traversing high seas,
gut churning, fierce waves beckoning death,
where nothing but a shimmering blue line of hope
separated ocean from sky?
Yes, Baba Yaga spared these women, their babies tucked-in
to scratchy blankets sewn from rags
Spared them from the Tsars’ slaughtering men, spared them
America stood to greet them,
Opening its welcoming mouth,
possibly to swallow them.
A statue queen floating in the water waved her lit torch
to usher in the Jewish women and babies
Baba Yaga wept in their dreams
Wiped her eyes with chicken bone feet,
Crouched in the corner of her gnarled wooden hut,
Bereft, screaming wind chills into the barren night,
Her forest a funeral site.
The babies carry her breath.
Shards of old world magic reside in their marrow.
Shtetl Soup steam swirls in nostrils.
Baba Yaga builds a veil of spider webs
warms her eyes with hot coal.
Thousands of Jewish babies bud
beyond her gossamer curtain.
The offspring no longer see her twisted figure.
Instead, they feel rain prick their skin,
Hear her wail in the wind.
* Baba Yaga is considered one of the most intriguing characters from Slavic mythology. As ambiguous as she is hideous, Baba Yaga has been described by scholars as an anomaly, both a maternal, mother-nature figure and an evil villain who enjoys eating those who fail to complete her tasks. Though the origins of her name are as unclear as her purpose tends to be, it is believed that baba means something akin to “old woman” or “grandmother”, while yaga has conflicting theories of meaning ranging from “snake” to “wicked.”
Sandra Levy is a clinical psychologist currently living and working in Providence, RI. The grandchild of Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants, Sandra grew up in New York City with a strong culturally Jewish background. Moving to Rhode Island and becoming a mother of two, Sandra rediscovered writing and poetry later in life. Her work is deeply rooted in relationships, family, and concepts of heritage. 2014 Providence Poetry Slam Wowps finalist and former president of Rhode Island Association for Psychoanalytic Psychologies, her work and contributions to the greater community are wide as well as deep.