Catalog-Shanken, Zev

AL HET

And for the sin of no sin.
Some day I’ll meet Kafka.
He’ll tell me I’ve always been right.
“In every choice you made you were right,
only why did you waste your life?”
Forgive the sin of that fantasy.
Forgive and grant me fear.

For the sin of laying this slang and heavy trip
on a congregation of strangers, forgive.
Next time grant me private prayer.
Grant me the strength of private prayer.
Teach me what I’m saving it for.
Forgive the repetition and the vain repetition
and help me
accept my own repetitions and grant me
the strength of private prayer.
You have failed me into poetry.
Show me what I’m saving it for.
Make me holy in my own design.

from Al Het

The Hebrew words Al Het mean for the sin. The prayer, Al Het, is the Jewish confessional prayer, recited collectively many times on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While reciting the prayer, congregants hold a corner of their prayer shawls and beat their breasts each time the word het (sin) is said. Some say that the fist that beats the breast should be formed with the index finger pointing to one’s heart.

In five poems written over a twenty year period, Zev Shanken faces themes of Israel, the Holocaust, and the Sabbath. In the title poem, Al Het, Shanken uses a traditional Jewish liturgical form as a starting point for a work of imagination, wit and courage.

Mr. Shanken says, “I didn’t intend it this way when I wrote the poems, but it turns out that each one comes from a different stage in my life as a Jewish man. I wrote the opening poem when I was 20 and the closing poem when I was 40.”

Calligraphy by Jay Greenspan.

ISBN 0-91128720-5.
200 signed copies $10.00