Book of Prayers

By Judy Belsky

I inherit

a small gilt-edged

book of prayers from my grandmother

the one I am named for

the one I never knew

on Yom Kippur I get to know her

her prayers next to mine

faint prints of her hand

impressed in vellum

lead like land routes on an ancient map

the delicate lace of her breath

held over the words

because of our sins

we are captives from our land …

gather our dispersed …

bring us … to Jerusalem …

with everlasting joy

at Next Year in Jerusalem

traces of tears

one hundred years old

when this volume is new

her young husband dies

her dowry spent

she travels back to Oran

to sell parcels of land

to feed her children

now she lays claim to this palm-sized plot of land

crammed with blessing and request

in the flyleaf I run my finger

along the cursive of our name

Judith Benoliel

403 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester

her address

emblem of exile

for every place we pretend is home

in seventy languages we mime

in air we imagine is familiar

we spin endless versions of home





we leave behind cornerstones



prayers that burst from our lips

now cling to parchment

but that is before

we cross back over the ocean

routes converge

shadow play falls away


ancient mother

reaches out to us

with sleeves of silk

her hills encircle us

in her fragrant embrace

we breathe deep

awaken and say:

I was asleep

I was asleep

but my heart was awake

Judy Belsky, PhD, is a psychologist in Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh. She is the director of MASK Jerusalem, a support network for parents of kids at risk. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals. She is the author of Thread of Blue, (Jerusalem, 2002) and a recently completed memoir.

This article was featured in the Fall 2006 issue of Jewish Action.