A version of this post was previously featured on the Saturday Poetry Series.
By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
In oil, pale circles roll and flip,
doughy moons inflating.
The fun part: poking a finger
inside, giving a wiggle and twist,
pushing a dollop of jam
knuckle-deep, then two, ’til
the cavity gleams raspberry.
Latkes are pedestrian.
These puff like a breath held.
There, and here,
a million women finger
these cupped curves,
probe the soft center,
push the sticky treat inside.
We glance at each other, faces hot.
We lick the sweet from our hands.
(Today’s poem originally appeared in Zeek and was reprinted on the Saturday Poetry Series with permission from the poet.)
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, was ordained by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal as a rabbi in 2011 and as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012, and now serves as co-chair, with Rabbi David Evan Markus, of ALEPH. She holds a BA in religion from Williams College and an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is author of four book-length collections of poetry: 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013),Toward Sinai: Omer poems (Velveteen Rabbi, 2016) and Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016), as well as several poetry chapbooks.
Editor’s Note: Each year for Hanukkah I make sufganiyot. Measuring out the ingredients from my mother’s recipe, I will myself to have the patience necessary to wait for yeast to rise. I knead the dough with equal parts pressure and love then apply more patience, more waiting, before rolling and cutting “pale circles,” transforming them in oil into “doughy moons inflating.” Each year I make sufganiyot, and each year when I do, I think of this poem. It has been four years since I first featured this poem on the Saturday Poetry Series, and it has been with me each year since, an indelible part of my Hanukkah tradition.
As sensual as this poem is — as hot — it is very much a poem about tradition, about ritual, and about the coming together of women. For it is women who have traditionally ruled the domain of the Jewish kitchen, and women who, year in and year out since time immemorial, have applied their pressure and patience, their love and their care, to wright the delicious sustenance that is Jewish holiday food. And what, really, brings us together in our rituals and traditions more than food?
Each year as my best friend and I make our sufganiyot together, my mother makes the same recipe 2,500 miles away. Meanwhile, women all over the world are doing the same: “There, and here, / a million women finger / these cupped curves.” Each year, today’s poem reminds me of that disparate togetherness of women. This year I reprint this poem in honor of the women all over the world who do the work necessary to make the holiday season what it is.
May this season of light be a beacon in the darkness, and may the new year be better than the last.
Want to read more by and about Rabbi Rachel Barenblat?
The Velveteen Rabbi – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s Official Website