A Jew in a White Forest

by | Dec 21, 2023 | Larry's Observations

Photo by John Price

A Jew in a White Forest

by | Dec 21, 2023 | Larry's Observations

Photo by John Price

This is the year 5784. Imagine a group that could exist for such an extended period. Imagine a group could maintain itself and its members to a code of conduct, philosophy, and tradition for this length of time.

All I can say is being a Jew is different. Yes, it is a religion, yes, it is an ethnicity. Yes, it is more than all of that. I feel like a Jew in a white forest.

I have never ever felt white, which may sound strange to some. I am 100% Ashkenazi Jew, which means I descend from Jews who lived in Central or Eastern Europe. The term was initially used to define a distinct cultural group of Jews who settled in the 10th century in the Rhineland in western Germany. They traditionally spoke Yiddish and largely migrated towards northern and eastern Europe during the late Middle Ages due to persecution. Ahh, that most wondrous word persecution. We seem to be the most persecuted people on earth, yet we refuse to be victims.

This brings to mind the Russian word pogrom meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.” Historically, the term refers to violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire and in other countries. The first such incident to be labeled a pogrom is believed to be anti-Jewish rioting in Odessa in 1821. My Great grandparents came from Moscow escaping the pogrom with their six children the youngest my grandfather. Great grandmother Pesche renamed Pauline by the ghouls at Ellis Island where she and the children were received as I have written previously.

It is at best difficult to explain all this. Again, all I can say is that being Jewish is different. It responds differently to our somewhat homogeneous civilization, which is not so homogeneous or civilized. This is the year 5784. Imagine a group that could exist for such an extended period. It is quite frankly unheard of in these rather rapidly changing times. Imagine a group could maintain itself and its members to a code of conduct, philosophy, and tradition for this length of time. This is what being a Jew is about.

The turning point for a Jewish boy or girl is their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Perhaps this is when and where all of life should start to make sense. I remember my Bar Mitzvah very clearly. How was I supposed to be a man at the ungodly age of thirteen. There were many insider jokes at the time, and you were supposed to be given a gift of a watch and a fountain pen. I know not why this tradition existed and wonder if today if Bar and Bat Mitzvah boys and girls on the cusp of being men and women still get such gifts. Of course, there were also the inevitable gifts of cash in envelopes surreptitiously handed to you by guests. Not surprisingly, there were guests and at the event your relatives, friends and newly found girl friends who I never spoke to because I was oh so shy but invited them anyway because you must have girls at your Bar Mitzvah. It would be sacrilege to not do so. This was the culmination point of my Judaism. What it meant to me is that I did not have to go to Hebrew School anymore. Such a waste when I look back on it. I could have learned so much more!

It never struck me that being Jewish meant I was different and could be subject to antisemitism. I lived in a fairly Jewish neighborhood composed of many WWII vets. But yes, there was one hater in my neighborhood who used to beat up on me, but I did not realize he was antisemitic until one day in high school. My poem Hoopsters describes the scenario. Names were not changed to protect the not so innocent.


It all started on the playground
shooting hoops with friends.

There were five Larry’s
in our neighborhood,
and when one mama shouted Larry
all five commenced to running.

Then there was the morning
three of us awaited
the High School bus.

We played horse
a basketball game
of ghostlike pretensions
winner takes all
to the next morning contest.

We aimed potshots at the basket
without acclaim a
time passing ritual.

Larry Mohlman shouted
at Larry Kempster:
“You’re just like a Jew
you can only do one thing!”

Because he kept shooting lay-ups,
was not basketball worldly and wise,
did not diversify his shots
and kept driving persistence
to the backboard.

I looked on in disbelief
just as suddenly realizing why Molhman
always picked on me since age of six.
So with hook shot in hand,
set shot from perimeter,
jump shot from downtown
this Larry
meaning Jaffe
asked that Larry
meaning Mohlman
if I shot just like a Jew too.

He did not answer
turning red as his hair
as I proceeded to
take him to the cleaners
while all I could think
about were showers.

What Antisemitism Feels Like

Judaism is in our bones; it is in our DNA and there is nothing quite like it. Now, this is the important part. I am not saying that other groups or minorities do not have their own problems (mishigas as my mother would say in Yiddish). Certainly, native Americans, Blacks and Asians have their own trials and tribulations. but we’re talking over 5700 years ago when the first Jew walked out of the desert, wearing a cloak of respectability only to see repetitive times over the years and centuries where Jews have been run off their land.

Despite one’s political affiliations, it does not look like we will let this happen again. And if it does, we and our tribes will survive. We have survived five-thousand-seven-hundred and eighty-four years, we ain’t about to give up now. A lot of hate can be turned up over that length of time and it continues to do so.

I will tell you quite succinctly what antisemitism feels like. I have thought about this long and hard. It feels like you are wearing a coat made of barbed wire! It feels like you are wearing a sign on your back that says kick me! It feels like you can never trust anyone that is not Jewish. It feels like you are constantly crying in your sleep. It feels like fear is your next-door neighbor. It feels like you have this rotten feeling in your lungs, and you cannot breathe. It  just don’t feel good and the recent upsurge in antisemitism don’t feel good either!


Picture Nazi lamp makers,
divine artistes keeping lights
on for the Nazi Republic.
–carefully laying out hides
scored of Jewish flesh…

Magnifying lenses wave
from cadaverous skulls
meticulously searching
for flaw and scar.

Hands caress skin,
sorting perfect backs
sans freckle and blemish
for perfect lamps shining
bright into darkness.

Nazi craftsmen drink beer,
smoke cigarettes, joke as their
ash spills on skin…

— only making lampshades…

Dismissing thoughts of
carcass stripped bare
of hide, filigree gold
melts from teeth
to make… lamps.

—  a religious eloquence, and human touch

Nazi artisans follow detailed
instructions on the assembly
of lampshades manufactured
of fine Jewish leather.

Courteous Nazi craftsmen
draw upon resources
concentrate on technique
quietly immortalize six million
Jews in light.


I am still searching for my Jewish brother

My friend Lee who I consider to be a holy man
if not a rabbi, tells me I must pray more often
and repent the scandals surrounding my soul.

I pretend to not hear him
I don’t understand prayer
and never have.

I begin to think being a Jew is an illusion
and that somehow, I will raise up the next morning
Christian or even Muslim.

Nevertheless, even if you take my religion away
I am still Jewish.

It is that way with Jews I think to myself.
Take away our religion and we are still Jews.

I am not sure I understand this either.
Perhaps that is why Jews are persecuted so much.
No matter what they do they cannot take
our Jewishness away.

They tried in Auschwitz and similar places,
slowly stripping away dignity
trying to remove Judaism one follicle at a time.

You can’t pluck Judaism out
like a hair. It is the soul and remains intact
with a dignity that no pogrom or camp
could ever extinguish.

And yet we remain Jews.

I feel for all injured parties, especially the innocents. War sucks! I wanted to create some understanding and hope for the future with every fiber of my being.

Empathy is a bitch

Shalom Shalom

Lawrence George Jaffe

Lawrence George Jaffe

Lawrence George Jaffe is an internationally known and an award-winning writer, author, and poet. For his entire professional career, Jaffe has been using his art to promote human rights. He was the poet-in-residence at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, a featured poet in Chrysler’s Spirit in the Words poetry program, co-founder of Poets for Peace (now Poets without Borders) and helped spearhead the United Nations Dialogue among Civilizations through Poetry project which incorporated hundreds of readings in hundreds of cities globally using the aesthetic power of poetry to bring understanding to the world.

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