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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash


Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Hello Everyone,

My apologies to you for sending out this post before it was finished. I unpublished it, not realizing that you would all get notices. I am sending this out early. It is a poem that I am writing for CJP, to read on their website for Chanukah. The theme that they asked me (and others as well!) to address if "Then and Now." I wrote this poem about my grandfather and my dad. I would imagine it will be on the CJP website in a few weeks. I hope that you will look for it!


My father, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in the United States following the war, along with his

two brothers. Papa Abrasha, my mother's father arrived in this country in 1923. He was influenced by the Russian revolution and remained a devoted communist for a good part of his life. Papa Abrasha would visit us frequently and during those visits my father and Papa Abrasha would argue over many things at our kitchen table. They disagreed vehemently, seemingly about everything.

This poem is about our kitchen. It's a poem about Papa Abrasha and my father; it's a poem about Chanukah and perhaps a little about life's lessons.

Potatoes I remember nights when Yiddish words catapulted through our kitchen, like speeding rockets they flew, “Vusses and dusses” and curse words as spicy as raw garlic somersaulted above our formica kitchen table while papa and dad created a cacophony, disagreeing about everything. Each excelled at the ancient Jewish sport of arguing at the top of their lungs. Daddy had an accent, Papa Abrasha, too. They had one thing in common; they both left pieces of themselves behind in those cold lands far from our formica kitchen table. When Chanukah came Papa Abrasha told us about his menorah,

created in that land of his dreams. It was made from a potato, bumpy and long. Just carve a small cavity in its flesh, pour in some oil and add a wick.

and there was a menorah,

like in the old country. It was that simple.

He would say, Pheh, mayn kind, far vos do you need a menorah when you can remember the Maccabees with a kartofl?” Papa would hold the potato in his hands He’d feel the old country pulse in its dustiness just like the way things used to be;

the way he thought they should be, memories hidden beneath its dusty brown skin. ** There were nights over the years, we would sit at that formica table, my brothers and I, and sample dad’s green potato latkes, as wide as they were tall. They sat maybe "a bisl” too long in the air and their color turned just a little greenish. We'd look at those latkes and dream of spring,

preferring applesauce to dad's green latkes. Dad would lather his with sour cream and dig in. Dad didn’t talk about his family much; many were killed, but I am guessing that those latkes, a bit heavy and a little green were fried with deep love,

and kavanah reserved for prayer and although dad did not say so, I know now, perhaps 50 years too late, that those latkes sizzling in oil, laden with with the smell of onions, were a Kaddish for his beautiful mother, as he recalled her roughened hands as she had once grated onions

in a world forgotten,

before the tragedy ensued. Perhaps tears dropped from her eyes as she grated. Years later, those same tears fell from dad’s eyes as he grated and remembered her. And now, years later, I buy my latkes from Trader Joe’s. They are brown and crisp, without a hint of green, but when I hold a bumpy potato in my hand, a lumpy, bumpy kartofl, I hold a little of Papa Abrasha and a little of my dad in the palm of my hand and I remember.

Photograph from Wix media files.

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