Zack Bodner
Seeker | Writer | Storyteller | Community Builder | Doer

The Cities of Slaughter

In 1904, Hayim Nahman-Bialik wrote “The City of Slaughter” to commemorate the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. This original poem commemorates the pogrom of Oct. 7, 2023. To see a recorded performance of this slam poem by the author, follow this link:

Arise and go now to the cities of slaughter
Where lie butchered sons and mutilated daughters.
Behold the images that cannot be unseen
Spattered blood, red as grenadine.
Taste in your mouth, smell in your nose
Charred remains of hair and flesh and clothes.
You must bear witness, don’t miss any detail
The horrors committed here are beyond the pale.

See bulldozed fences that leave jagged scars
Across a landscape filled with burned out cars
Cratered roads, all singed in black
Keep going now, you can’t look back.
The desert’s become a killing field
Where teenagers fled unconcealed.
At a concert for peace, they’d come to dance
Massacred by terrorists when they had the chance.

They ran for their lives and tried to yell
They kicked and punched and fought like hell.
But forced to the ground, these beautiful young children
Dragged behind a bombed out buildin’.
Their bodies violated in the name of “resistance”
It makes you question G-d’s very existence.
Nearly 200 innocents they kidnapped
Brought them to Gaza where now they’re trapped.

You walk from the desert to a kibbutz nearby
Where you hear the buzzing of a million flies.
Pass over shattered hearth and hold your breath.
You’re surrounded by images of horrific death.
Splintered wood around the front door
Shattered glass covers the floor
A rocking chair where savta used to rest
Empty it rocks in silent protest.

Turn the corner and stare in shock
Not even G-d can turn back the clock.
Pure evil stares you in the face
This utter violation of the human race.
Bullet holes in babies’ beds
Murdered children missing heads
Skulls smashed in and others raped
Please G-d, please, I pray some escaped.

Some hid for hours with no food or water
Shielding sons and protecting daughters
In bomb shelters or safe rooms or in the mamad
Waiting to be rescued from the firing squad.
They held their babies and held their breath.
They heard above them the sounds of death.
Whispering, “Please, baby, you must not cry.
We can’t let them know in here we hide.”

How could this happen? The government failed us!
Their sheer negligence is treasonous.
Where were the police? Where were the guards?
Is the intelligence community a house of cards?
Hamas trained in daylight their videos show.
How can we say, “We didn’t know.”
Armed and funded by Iran
Any semblance of detente must now be gone.

This terror attack shows our enemies’ real goals:
To kill all the People of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It’s about the very existence of the Jewish State.
“From the river to the sea” is their desired fate.
Now the world will finally understand
That their war with the Jews is not about land.
But as the blue and white flag is solemnly unfurled
We are abandoned again, by the whole damn world.

It starts in the papers and on the news
The media’s double-standard for the Jews.
Unwilling to call Hamas a terrorist group
Treating their actions like a boy scout troop.
As if murdering civilians and raping girls
Were the silly little antics of kids with curls.
Using white-washed words like “militants” and “fighters”
As if they were young idealists pulling all-nighters.

Falling all over themselves to be “objective”
Revealing their moral compass to be plain defective.
Would they blame a rape victim that her skirt’s too short?
Or justify lynching a black man for his curt retort?
Would they excuse a school shooter as being misunderstood?
Or a white supremacist because he grew up in a tough neighborhood?
Hell, no they wouldn’t! Those are bullshit excuses.
Yet when it comes to Jews, that’s what the press produces.

Social media takes the disgrace to a whole new level
With a sense of humor straight from the devil.
Reduced to one-liners or side-by-side pics
Sometimes doctoring memes are their dirty tricks.
An image travels the globe with a simple click
Spreading lies and hate, six million bodies thick.
So, it poisons the well and confuses good folk
Well-intentioned they may be, it’s become a joke.

“I’m sure our governments will do the right thing,”
Are the naïve dreams to which the self-delusional cling.
Instead, our leaders state with self-righteous voice,
“But how did this start? Israel gave them no choice.”
Because the arbiters of truth try to justify the horrors
As if Hamas crossed the border as curious explorers.
Instead of calling them out for what they are:
Jihadi terrorists released from the bell jar.

And the UN is useless, a watering hole for dictators
And appeasers and cowards and other Jew-haters.
So, where should we turn for moral clarity?
Perhaps higher academia has the mental dexterity
Where students are given endless choices
To mine the nuggets of truth amongst so many voices.
But sadly our universities are the worst of the lot
A place that protects Jews – the campus is not!

Student clubs march, put up posters and fliers
Glorifying murderers and Holocaust deniers.
Rallies with calls to end the Jewish State
Clearly make our children targets of hate.
Professors call out Jewish students by name
Force them into the corner to make them feel shame.
But university administrators just turn a blind eye
“Free speech,” they declare and let the venom fly.

All we want is for schools to create a safe space
Where our children aren’t attacked in the staircase
Or on the quad or in the classroom
Or on the sports field or in the bathroom.
Liberal arts and free thought ought to be empowering,
Yet somehow higher education has left our kids cowering.
This isn’t 1940, yet our children are afraid.
Anti-Israelism today is the newest crusade!

Our high schools today also seem to struggle
To find the right words with no moral equivalency juggle.
They claim they can’t weigh-in on the Middle East conflict.
They fail to reject antisemitism and are morally derelict!
They can’t just condemn it – old-fashioned Jew hate.
Instead “both sides” is the language on which they fixate.
They are so stuck in a hyper-woke morass
That when it comes to Jews, they have their heads up their ass!

So, we plead with our allies in other affinity spaces:
“Will you stand with us when they get in our faces?
When our enemies come, will you have our backs,
Just as we supported you against vulgar attacks?
We stood shoulder to shoulder in your valiant fight.
We shouted together, ‘No! That’s just not right!’
So now it’s your turn to stand with us.
Can we rely on you to get on the bus?”

Some say yes, but so many break our heart
Wrinkling their nose like we let out a fart.
They raise their shoulders and turn out their hands
Like it’s not in their control, with whom they stand.
Some actually try to make a statement of support
But they just make it worse and come up short.
With linguistic gymnastics to have it both ways
It leaves us angry and hurt, shaking our heads in a daze.

So, who’s left to rely on, in our moment of need?
A handful of friends match their word and their deed.
A few righteous among them, we know who they are.
The bravest and truest provide that north star.
It’s in the tough moments, when your chips are down
Your real friends are the ones who hang around.
They’ll take up arms and go to the mat
They’d even hide us I bet, if it ever came to that.

But at the end of the day, it’s in our own hands.
The brave men and women in the Holy Land
Will write our destiny and secure our future
Hold together Diaspora and Israel with an iron suture.
Through much more than will, it is no dream.
Their bravery courses through the bloodstream
And because of them, we all hold our heads high
Proudly wear our Jewish Star and display our chai.

Thank G-d for the strength of the Israeli soul.
They didn’t hide in dark corners or cower in a hole.
They didn’t crouch behind the cask or peer through the cracks.
They stood up and fought against the new Cossacks.
Defended their girlfriends and sisters and wives
Defended their children and grandparents’ lives.
Outnumbered and outgunned, they fought anyway.
They died with their honor, along with the old cliché.

The powerless Yid is gone once and for all.
Now Israel allows every Jew to stand tall.
Whether in the Diaspora or the Jewish State
Until the Mashiach comes, we control our own fate.
Our Israeli brethren fought with a mighty roar,
And the Lion of Judah raised his head once more.
No more stooped back or trembling knees
We’ve reclaimed the mantle of the great Maccabees.

Now we say to the world, “We meant what we said.”
We will take the time to bury our dead,
And then we’ll turn to the task of defending ourselves
We will go into the attic and take down from the shelves
The legacy left to us from Rabbi Akiva:
In one hand the Torah from the old yeshiva
And in the other we’ll grasp a deadly weapon
Because this is what it means to say, “Never again.”

About the Author
Zack Bodner is the President and CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, CA and the Founder of the Z3 Project, an effort to reimagine Diaspora-Israel relations. He is the author of "Why Do Jewish: A Manifesto for 21st Century Jewish Peoplehood," a #1 Amazon New Release in Religion and Philosophy. Learn more at Zack lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and three kids.
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