The Gaza War: A Poem

The Gaza War


First the enemy dug under my heart and filled in my arteries with cement.


My mind plays back the aerial footage,


my international center for compassion

bombed into a billion bits of dust.


Every day I erect protective edges.



When the dust clears there is:

A hole.

And buried under the hole? Missiles.

And buried under the missiles?



My ears have been hit by two thousand missiles.

The missile of ‘they could have built a hospital!’

The missile of ‘they kill children!’

The missile of ‘genocide’! The missile of, ‘hey, look at the other genocide!’

And, finally, the long-range missile of ‘why are you mentioning that genocide???’


My eyes hurt from darting back and forth. All around me people are running to shelters. And when they come out they look up to the sky.

To the heavens.

To the scoreboard.

And then they run back again. But I stay up here on the roof, watching the fireworks, listening to the song of shrapnel.


In my veins I can feel the Ebola virus start to spread.

God said it was o.k. to kill them all.

Throw them into the sea.

And the worst of all: You all have to think the way we think or we will hurt you.


I feel dead.

Some vital organ has been kidnapped.

And there isn’t enough room at the morgue.

Because, really, who builds morgues for war?


My skin is on fire.

I mourn for Jerusalem. But more than that I mourn for the dead dreams.

Those dead, baklava-sweet dreams. Cardamom dreams.


And yet, I don’t let go of them.


I cling to them like a human shield.

I wrap my arms around them and crouch down to child’s pose.


O Land of Milk and Honey,

I mourn for your young people.

But most of all I mourn for the folks old enough to remember what could have been.


For in each of them is a dream, a dove ready to fly high above this iron dome.


Poetry: Kadosh Baruch Hu


Open my lips, I whisper, closing my eyes to look for you.
But all I see is the inside of my eyelids,
screen of the 19 inch black and white television of my childhood,
the knob stuck on a channel that doesn’t come in.

And yet, I turn to you.
Not turning really, but
I back-float and you hover above me,
I am staring out the window of the train at the seagulls
and the passing mounds of municipal waste and you follow me like the moon.

Kadosh Baruch Hu.

That is your name.
Not translated “holy, blessed”
but set apart, revered.

Kadosh Baruch Hu.
Set apart, revered.
It must be lonely.

Kadosh Baruch Hu,
To be alive in your world is to be umbilical corded and to be belly-buttoned and to be umbilical corded again.

Kadosh Baruch Hu,
You are like a Spanish love song in which presence and absence
pass by one another on the sidewalk and exchange glances.

And speaking of music, I thank you for being just a song away. Birds, frogs, squirrels, bats, all creatures who contributed ingredients to the first human song, how that all happened, rhythm and melody, yeah, if that was what you were aiming for, wow, and even if it wasn’t, just an unexpected byproduct, still, wow, wow, wow and thank you.

The things I am supposed to say to you: You gird me with strength, you remove slumber from my eyes, you support my steps, you lift me up, give me energy when I am weary.

What I really say before you: that there is nothing to say.

Please accept my humming and off-key melodies, my sighs and my silence.

And when my lips open to say:

Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh,

May I elevate just a little closer to your distant and dreamy kingdom.

– Daniel S. Brenner

Poetry for the Rosh Hashanah Meal

Eating the New Year

The ram’s head,

My great times great grandfather would eat,

To welcome the new year with words

“May we be the head and not the tail!”

But you, my son,

Dip apples into honey,

And did you remember to say

“To make for us a good and sweet year?”

At first we wished for abundance.

Your great times great-great grandfathers

tillers of soil,

(that was our side of the curse)

greeted the new year with

pumpkins and beans

and made poetic blessings from the names of each vegetable

and they added figs and pomegranate,

Meditating on the seeds, saying,

“Prosper! Prosper!”

Your great times great times great great grandfather,

When he was a boy,

Would climb the date palm, crush the sweet dates into a paste.

Feed them to your great times great times great times great grandfather with a spoon made of olive wood.

Old man saying:

May it be a sweet one.

Last year of his life.

Apples we discovered. And we slathered our date honey on them and said:

“Could there ever be anything sweeter together?”

And when we didn’t have date honey, we dipped them in sugar, and when not in sugar, into bee honey. “For a sweet new year.”

These waxed apples, this honey

so processed it looks like apple juice

those fingers which have hardly touched the earth

you, my son, are inheriting a world that is but a shadow of what once was…

But still you make a blessing,

Still you do with eyes closed,

and think of great times great grandfathers,

their eyes closed too, their eyes closed too.  

– Daniel S. Brenner

High Holiday Poetry? Alternative readings? Look no further!

To my friends in the rabbinic world and those amazing souls who are not rabbis but are preparing for the high holidays, I’m going to be posting the many poems I’ve penned for those alternative readings at a new blog…

Enjoy! And drop me a line if you use one in your service!

A Very Kosher Christmas Poem

Jews on Christmas

There isn’t enough soy sauce in the world to feed

Jews on Christmas

Huddled around steaming plates of dumplings

Discussing cinematography



Who has lived and who has died

Shocked to hear that the hot new Hollywood star is actually half-Jewish

(and not arguing which half)

I don’t see what all the fuss is about Nathan Englander.

Yes, it’s like The Wire, but different,

Costco is a mixed blessing,

Do you trust Yelp?

On our smartphones we subtract the Chinese year from the Jewish year to see how long the Jews had to wait to try egg drop soup. 

The laughter of Jews on Christmas

shakes the jade Buddha under the faux waterfall from his 
sleepy serenity

And for a moment, the enlightened one opens his eyes,

smiling contently as he joins us to look at pictures of relatives at Harry Potter world.

Now he’s Jewish too. 

The Moo Shu comes with little tortillas, pancakes, wraps, 
whatever you want to call them.

And we wrap up the mush of last year, with all of it’s regrets and tzuris,

And immerse into soy sauce,

a ritual bath,

three times dipped,

and we say – this is not bad.

Our highest compliment.

– Daniel S. Brenner 

The Cry: A Poem for Rosh Hashanah

The Cry

“Heed the cry of the shofar!”

the crowd reads in unison,

the hum of the air conditioning system,

the monotone reserved for special occasions,

the hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses perched on the end of noses,

the heavy prayer-books held at a slight angle.

And when we turn the page, not so much in unison, and the cantor lifts the long, curly, brightly polished ram’s horn bought on a last trip to Jerusalem,

We wait for it.

A-roooooooooooo. A-roooo. A-rooooo.

And I say to myself:


Would you call this a cry?

It sounds like something you might hear at a truck stop.

A low bellow, a trombone-like elongated honk.

A-roooo. A-rooooo. A-roooo.


I don’t know about you, but I came for the sound of heartbreak and disappointment.   

I came for squawky squeals, exasperated red-faces, eeked out chirps of grief and failure, sorrow and mourning, regret and remorse.


I came for frailty.

I will not heed the cry of a Cadillac of a shofar played by someone with a Master’s degree in sacred music!  

Give me an illiterate shepherd boy with a pure heart who stumbles over the alef-bet!

A childless woman so distraught and desperate in her plea that they mistake her for a drunkard!

A mother who can’t bare the pain of watching her baby die of thirst!

An aging prophet who drinks in the suffering of the exiles and dreams of redemption!

I channel the inner shofar,

the breath that wheezes through me,

the held-back sighs,

the self-storage container of loss,

the backed-up memory banks of hurt,

my first cry and my last

and every one in between.

      –  Daniel S. Brenner, 5773