December 3, 2018 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION




Howard Debs




Before Hanukkah, 2018



Hanuka candle dances warm

To help you weather your heavy storm

Shines like my lighthouse light this night

to bring your worried soul my light

                        —from “Hanuka’s Flame” by Woody Guthrie, 1949



On the one hand…

On October 27th, at the Tree Of Life

synagogue while sabbath

morning services ensue

a crazed gunman, a Jew-hater

kills eleven injuring seven in Pittsburgh.

On October 31st, the owner of

a kosher-style eatery

in Austin finds out the windows of

his food truck have been smashed to

smithereens, an Iron Cross ominously

left amidst the debris.

On November 4th at Harvard Square

in Cambridge a 66-year-old Jewish woman

is accosted her attacker putting his

fist on her throat, pushing her,

shouting hateful words.

On November 14th during a performance

of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the

Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore

a man calls out “Heil Hitler” panicking

many who flee in fear.

On November 29th, the office

of a Jewish professor at Columbia University

in New York who writes about the Holocaust

is vandalized, virulent graffiti

and swastikas spray painted on the walls—

On the other hand…

On November 27th, at around 9:30 p.m.

a fire of yet unknown origin breaks out

in the sanctuary at Congregation

Torah Vachesed in Houston, as dozens

of evening service worshippers rush to

escape, firefighters and police run into

the building and rescue every single

sacred Torah scroll, bringing them

all out, safe and sound.

On December 2nd, as darkness falls in

Kankakee, one of its few remaining

Jewish residents will place his menorah

in the window for all to see and

light one small candle, for eight nights in all,

to keep the flame of memory and truth ignited.




Author’s note: Tevye’s monologue in “Fiddler on the Roof” invokes the Jewish life philosophy “on the other hand.” There is always “the other hand.” In an old tale which tells of coming doom when the world will succumb to a second flood, the rabbi goes to his people and says: “Jews, we have to learn to live under water.”

Deborah E. Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust history at Emory University whose win at trial against a Holocaust denier in England was portrayed in the 2016 movie “Denial” sums it up this way in a recent (October 18) New York Times article “I’m not a Chicken Little who’s always yelling, ‘It’s worse than it’s ever been!’ But now I think it’s worse than it’s ever been.” She’s talking about America. It’s time to pick a side. Elie Wiesel makes it clear: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Ergo, the poetry of bearing witness.






Howard Debs

Howard Richard Debs is a recipient of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. His essays, fiction, and poetry appear internationally in numerous publications; His book Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words, is a 2017 Best Book Awards and 2018 Book Excellence Awards recipient. He is co-editor of New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust forthcoming in 2019 from Vallentine Mitchell of London, publisher of the first English language edition of Anne Frank’s diary. He is listed in the Poets & Writers Directory: https://www.pw.org/content/howard_debs

Editor review


  1. Howard Debs December 05, at 17:09

    Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to write them.

  2. Waldo December 04, at 16:47

    You have written powerfully. I am deeply saddened by the people and events that moved you to do so. No small part of America's light comes from Hanukkah candles.


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