In 1998, a poet named Ben Maxwell wrote this poem in reply to Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poem Babi Yar, which is about antisemitism in the Soviet Union in general, and more specifically, about Babi Yar, the ravine near Kiev in which 34,000 Jews were executed in 1941 by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. I would advise reading the poem Babi Yar before the reply.


TO YEVTUSHENKO

I’m sorry, but you’re still a goy. To join the club, you need much more Than self-imposed half-baked desire to be A victim. Thereby guilt- Less to the tune of Internationale. It will not do. How can you know of boy in Belostok and boots and beatings, Unless you were a passive witness at least once? (Participant? Whose boot?) But I digress. You aren’t Jewish boy in Belostok. When all was over and you picked yourself up from the dust, Helped your poor mother walk home to your hovel, You didn’t take your books and run to cheder, Rebbe eyeing you for coming late (Your face still dirty, bruised, your clothing ripped) And ask you, “goyim?”, answer “Ya. Mein mamma oich.” “Eireh mama och?! Vai vai vai! Voos vet zahn?” “Zet zich. Kentzt dach far unz gut-leinen pshat?” Your face did not light up and pipe out “Zicher!”, Then expounded fluently Divine Laws of the cows that gore, Forgotten night of pain before the majesty of G-d, Your fingers twining sidelocks nervously, Your body swaying rhythmically, Young voice reciting Aramaic text in sing-song chant, Translating into Yiddish with side-comments to explaiyn As soulfully as any negiro in New Orleeyans can assure you That whitey never taught him how to sing the blues. This persecution-genocide-pogrom-stuff’s Just a hobby. It’s not where we began, Nor where we end. Is it something we said? Our garlick-breath? Our business-dealings? Are we Zionist or Communist conspirators this week? Gedenk ich nisht. It’s so confusing. Enh. What’s the difference? We are always up to something. Our stooped Woody-Allen shoulders? Our refusal to believe in your religions? The light too much/too little That we strive to be for nations? It’s all no matter. I must go and Daven minchah Mid-afternoon Communion with the L-rd to flavor day. But I can’t hold your sympathy against you. To stand up and be hated on your own Without the Birthright-bull’s-eye On your back, To face and name the haters haters Proudly Takes a certain goodness (Call it courage, if you will) That you do have, Makes you Friend Of those born to the ancient order Of the swaying Torah-leiners, Some of whom lie underground At Babi Yar.

Ben Maxwell, October 4, 1998

(Used with permission from the Author).

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