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Sunday 22 March 2015

Hilton Obenzinger: Treyf Pesach


Bomb damage, Gaza City: image by Banksy, 2015

I wrote this right after the election in Israel for Passover coming soon. Add your own words to the Haggadah:

Treyf Pesach

This year I am observing a Treyf Pesach.

Help me sweep the chometz back into the house, for we need to get dirty.

Help me replace the wine with whiskey, lots of it, so we can forget the horror.

Once we were slaves, and now we are slaves again.

Instead of matzo symbolizing the haste in which we fled slavery, stack up slices of white bread, any kind of leavened bread because now Pharaoh Bibi holds our people in thrall.

Chop up the apples and nuts to represent all the Palestinian houses blown up.

Eat the bitter herbs to remember how the beauty of our culture has been infused with hate.

Slap down a pork chop rib to remember how all of the hopes and dreams of freedom have turned ugly, have turned to blood, have become a vile joke.

Eat the slimy kale to recall all the olive trees torn out of the ground.

Dip the leafy slime into the salt water to cry over how young kids are lording over old men at checkpoints.

Eat the horseradish to recall the bitterness of lies in our name. Shove spoonfuls of horseradish down each other’s throats so we can never forget what we have done.

Put the egg in the center to recall that once we were a people rich with variety and joy and now we are a cartoon of ourselves -– but even then spring will come, maybe, if the warming earth allows.

Why is this night different from all other nights? It’s not, it’s the same old story of using our own pain to cause the pain of others.

The foolish child is the only wise one around. He says, I want to get out of here, I’d rather live in Berlin or LA than stomp on other people and call that democracy.

The wise child is a fool, asking why he can’t get lower rent and doesn’t notice the bloated settlements.

Let the girls sing the new Dayenu.

We build walls to choke another people –- Enough Already.

We in America and Europe are told to come and be ruled by Pharaoh Bibi –- Enough Already.

Bombs and more bombs will make us safe -– Enough Already.

Once we were slaves and now we are slaves again -– Enough Already.

Beat up the stranger in our midst –- Enough Already.

And American Jews look on and say nothing, as they have said nothing for decades -– Enough Already.

Let us feast on our bitterness and loss. Let us gulp down the whiskey so we can forget.

Next year leave Jerusalem alone.

20 March 2015

Hilton Obenzinger was born in Brooklyn in 1947. He is the author of eight books, including This Passover Or The Next I Will Never Be in Jerusalem (1980), "a poetic interrogation of the Zionist nation of Israel".

Netanyahu advancing one thousand #housingunits in #East Jerusalem #HarHoma: image via Israel Trending News @Israelolizer, 27 October 2014

An Israeli soldier casts his ballot for the election behind a mobile voting booth in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Migdalim, near Ariel. Binyamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party scored a dramatic election victory, surging past its main rival, the centre-left Zionist Union, to win the most seats in the Knesset: photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters via the Guardian, 22 March 2015

#Netanyahu Visits Contentious Jerusalem Settlement on Last Day of Campaign #HarHoma: image via Politolizer @Politolizer, 16 March 2015

 Israelis gathered at a rally to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on March 15, two days before voters gave his Likud party a resounding victory: photo by. Amir Cohen/Reuters via The New York Times, 20 March 2015

Today #Netanyahu expressed how proud he is about splitting Bethlehem from Jerusalem #HarHoma: image via Palestine PLO - NAD Politolizer @nadplo, 16 March 2015

An ultra Orthodox Jewish man pauses in front of the al-Aqsa mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex:
photo by Bernat Armangue/Associated Press via The Guardian, 20 March 2015

#BeitSahour buildings in the front. Behind is #HarHoma colony; to the right (trees) its expansion near Palestinian Homes: image via Xavier Abu Eid @xabueid, 24 August 2014

Israeli police at the al-Aqsa mosque in 2014. Tension over access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound is highlighted in the EU report: photo by Peter Beaumont for the Guardian, 20 March 2015

Sasson Sara, a shopkeeper in Sderot of Iraqi descent, voted for Likud. Many Mizrahim have viewed Ashkenazis as elitist: photo by Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times, 20 March 2015

A Palestinian man is reflected on a damaged television amid the ruins of homes destroyed during the 50-day Israeli assault in Gaza. A total of 30 aid agencies said last week that they were alarmed by the limited progress that had been made to rebuild devastated lives and tackle the root causes of the conflict.
: photo by Said Khatib/AFP via The Guardian, 28 February 2015

In Sderot, a border town in southern Israel, there was wide support for Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-line Likud Party: photo by Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times, 20 March 2015

Children played in Eli, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Eli sprawls across six hilltops amid Palestinian villages and farmland: photo by Tomas Munita for the New York Times, 12 March 2015

de las 10 de @elmundo_orbyt de la Tarde (2) #Cisjordania #Efrat #M16 #Israel: image via Jesus Larena @JMLarena, 6 May 2014

Young Palestinians throw stones at Israeli security forces at Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem in 2014, a year characterised by an EU report as the most ‘violent and polarised’ in the city in recent memory
photo by Peter Beaumont for the Guardian, 20 March 2015

Eli, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Eli sprawls across six hilltops amid Palestinian villages and farmland: photo by Tomas Munita for the New York Times, 12 March 2015

#BeitJala, #Bethlehem and the illegal colony of #HarHoma: image via Xavier Abu Eid @xabueid, 20 February 2015

A mural of a kitten, presumably by street artist Banksy, on the remains of a house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during the 50-day war last summer in Beit Hanoun. Banksy has posted a mini-documentary on his website showing the squalid conditions in Gaza six months after the end of the Israeli assault: photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters via The Guardian, 28 February 2015

Spain and Italy Warn Against Investing in Israeli #Settlements via @RT_com #BDS #HarHoma: image via #NoJusticeNoPeace @PalsJustice, 28 June 2014

Soldiers patrolled in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz founded by European Jews and where most members voted for the left-leaning Zionist Union, which did well in secular Tel Aviv and suburban areas: photo by Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times, 20 March 2015

#@emilyhauser A pic of #HarHoma in 2011. Perhaps the (distant) trees now new apartments #Palestine #Israel: image via Jeremy Pressman  @djpressman, 24 March 2014

Bomb damage, Gaza City (detail): image by Banksy, 2015

Ultra-orthodox Jews attend an election rally in Jerusalem. Assuming Binyamin Netanyahu can form a government before the beginning of next month, he will face an immediate crisis, with Palestinians determined to present claims of war crimes against Israel over its 48-year occupation of the West Bank and last year’s war in Gaza: photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters via the Guardian, 22 March 2015


TC said...

Hilton's voice -- smart, pained, defiant, clear, nervy, funny -- offers encouragement to the conscious. It might yet lead us out of the wilderness.

Tom Raworth said...

doing more good then haram

L'Enfant de la Haute Mer said...

Netanyahu should really be ashamed!!
Nothing more to say!

Mose23 said...

This is a perfect prayer for a necessary disenchantment.

Nin Andrews said...

Very powerful.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

"a land without people for a people without land" -

zionism's basic mistake (or is it "big lie"?)

Bennett Muraskin said...

Treyf means unkosher or illegitimate, not dirty.

TC said...

Dear Bennett Muraskin, we here don't know how things work in Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey, whence your conception of tribal food purity laws comes to us, so what can we say but thank you for your interest.

We take it Hilton was speaking as a poet, that is, parabolically, paradoxically; and that the proper person to respond to your comment would therefore (obviously) be him; but alas, he's not here.

For our own part, we would consider any food purity laws that accord a right and natural place to the blood sacrifice of animals, whether kosher or unkosher, to be atavistic and obscene.

In any case, the assumption that the interspecies relation of humans to animals can safely be adjudicated by some propaganda comic book mythology made up for the convenience of the inventors seems to us entirely laughable.

Such sophistry would be hilarious, we feel, were it not so bloody cruel.


Treyf (sometimes spelled treif or treyfe) is a Yiddish word used for something that's not kosher. The word treyf is derived from the Hebrew word treifah, which appears several times in the Bible and means “flesh torn by beasts.”

Treif (טרײף) — also trayf, treyf, or tref — is the Yiddish word for food that does not conform with the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. The word is derived from the Hebrew טְרֵפָה (trēfáh) meaning "torn," and designated foods that are either inherently forbidden or rendered unacceptable due to an incorrect preparation.

Originally, treif designated one category of non-kosher meat: meat from an animal that has been ravaged in the field (terefah), in keeping with prohibition in Exodus 22:31. It was later interpreted to mean any animal or fowl that is unfit for consumption due to a defect, disease or inflicted wound. By extension, the term now applies to all products that are non-kosher.

A kosher animal can be treif if improperly slaughtered or found to be diseased or malformed after inspection by a kashrut supervisor.


And by the by, dear lexical advisor, I wonder if you've happened to consider the top and penultimate images in this post.

Is Niobe very well known in Lake Hiawatha, we wonder -- her story, and the reason for her grieving?

You could look it up, but you won't.

She's weeping because she's just lost all her children.

And do you know what happened to the painted door?

You don't, but you could look it up, but you won't.

A speculator showed up and bought that door, and took it away from the ruins of Gaza, and only later did the person who'd sold it learn that the $175 he'd been paid represented no more than a fraction of its "commercial value".

We'd call that a treyf piece of business, wouldn't you?

Bennett Muraskin said...

Treyf does not mean dirty in English usage.

Why do you assume I am indifferent to the suffering of the people of Gaza? I expect for the same reason you think I live in Lake Hiawatha.

You shoot from the hip and therefore speak in ignorance.

TC said...

Dear Bennett,

OK, let's appoint ourselves to the august position of Hilton's poetry coach.

We might advise him to change that line to read:

Help me sweep the chometz back into the house, for we need to get unclean.

Or, again:

Help me sweep the chometz back into the house, for we need to get impure.

Or perhaps even:

Help me sweep the chometz back into the house, for we need to get illegitimate.

(Which may sound a bit awkward to poor Hilton the writer -- but hey, it's us issuing the orders around here!)

In any case, I fail to see how any of those revisions would substantively alter the truth content of this quite powerful -- and funny -- text.

Lake Hiawatha just happens to be the location from which your communication came. That's probably just a routing station. The name struck me as having a kind of American-Surrealist ring -- like, say, Rancho Cucamonga, North Dakota.

By the way I'm not in the habit of wasting my time, here in the drear late stages of it, on tracking down my mysterious visitors... unless, that is, they display troll symptoms.

Not seeing the forest for the trees -- that is, not seeing the whole post, but focusing only on one aspect, and in particular an aspect that might seem peripheral or trivial to others, is a troll symptom.

If you happen by the scene of a car crash, take a look, and come away remembering only the kind of shoes the victim was wearing, either you lack empathy, or you're a dedicated shoe salesman.

Bennett Muraskin said...

Can't I comment on the usage of a word in a poem without being a troll?


At least one of us is not afraid to use our real name!

TC said...

This is a ridiculous exchange about absolutely nothing, I'm embarrassed.

I now conclude that you are not after all a troll -- worse than that, you can't read. At least it's apparent you can't read the two words at the top of this page.

You know, in the place where I'm supposed to put my name, hint hint.

Really, they don't take very long to read.

Only two syllables, last time I checked.

So now that Passover's done, can we all sing Dayenu or Kumbaya, or whatever, and go back to being pure, or impure, or clean, or unclean, or legitimate, or illegitimate, or indeed downright dirty, should we so please, as before?

(By the way, as an expert on purity, I wonder if you've ever looked into the effects of animal agriculture on the ecology of the planet on which we dwell?)

Hilton said...

Well, you guys look like you had a great time rolling in the dirt. Treyf is unkosher - but often unkosher is regarded as impure or . . . .dirty. And preparing the house for Passover is like Spring Cleaning. In any case, it's a good thing you got to arguing about that line and not, say, "Next year leave Jerusalem alone." Be well. Both of you. All of you. And especially those hiding from bombs and bombastic politicians.