Sabrina, 12th - Sunnyvale, CA
I. Livid taste buds in a world beginning to open
I am developing new habits. Like being flexible with pens.
Writing full poems in the empty space of a book. Not crying
whenever I please. I’m in Town & Country seeing a world waking
and reading my first Hemingway; writing a poem in it too.
It’s June; it’s loud; I feel it being loud. It’s June, which is to say
poetry has made the dynamic world a different thing. I mean,
the world has made the dynamic world a different thing.
The whiteness of Palo Alto, heat of the real summer world.
I mean, anything we do now is shrouded with the contents
of this year’s spring. New life in summer. Paella, a living thing.
II. On Sibelius: tilt your chin skyward, light through the window blinds
All we have ever done is for beauty. Heaven come down
and strike us all, lowly bodies grasping for permanence,
grasp for intervals, grasp for goodness. I will be ebb,
you will be flow; we are earthlings; we name everything
the wheel, do not reinvent. True story: I have turned my
bed into a desk. I split my time between wanting to be
prodigious and wanting to be loved. But honestly
Saint Francis has better desires for my heart than I do and
I very much trust him so at the end of the day I’m lifting
up his prayer; who knows, maybe it revises my heart.
III. My new period cup
There’s a learning curve when it comes to putting it in,
I mean, this is a violent, serious act. I am interested in being
sustainable in hosting this blood fount but more interested
in suppressing the fount, or rather, gathering it. Cranberry
jam under my fingernails. No one likes cranberry, and
it’s only tolerable in cranberry white peach juice which
my mom mixes in her sangrias. We cope with today’s world
by celebrating something every week, it seems. Today’s
celebration: inching along the learning curve, spotless,
my cup full, womanhood continuous, poetry restorative.
J.Sperling, 12th - New York City
When my bones give way to gravity, buy me new ones (keep the change),
from CVS, or maybe Walmart.
It is cheaper there;
I hear you can steal
and nobody will say a word.
When my lips shed like snake skins turn them into jackets
and sell them on the street.
Replace my fingers with straws
and sip my insecurities away.
Wrap my arms in double sided tape;
thin my legs to hold my weight;
make my nails paperclips;
make me useful
like I wasn’t before.
Leave my brain, will you please?
You always said
A Smart woman is Sexy
And I always said
Nothing (did you even listen?)
Put me in your window display when you are finished,
I still need sun to survive
and perhaps a bit of water.
I will live next to your dead chrysanthemum and pray I don’t end up the same,
And when a customer arrives, complimenting you on your collection, show them my way.
I will spread my petals for them.
Put a price on me.
I’ll give you the receipts if you need
7.99 for each tibia
14.99 for the bigger bones.
Check the revenue from my lips.
I’ll sit here and tap B U Y M E in morse code on the windowsill with my plastic fingers while you do the calculations.
Then you can really know my worth,
in all its dollar signs.
Sarah, 12th - Oakland, CA
The huge ovens warm my back as I inhale a slice of soft chocolate babka, a sweet braided bread popular in Ashkenazi Jewish communities. The bread is perfectly tender and nutty, marbled with earthy chocolate dough. At eight years old, I am standing in the kitchens of the Grand Bakery, a kosher Jewish bakery in my hometown of Oakland, California on a field trip with my after-school synagogue group. Black and white cookies, sticky coconut macaroons, deep-fried jelly donuts, heat kissed challahs - and, of course, shiny bagels - make eye contact with us behind glass. With excitement skyrocketing, our group is offered a plate of freshly baked babka in the back. We descend on the table like locusts, reducing the plate to a dark chocolate smear with our buttery fingers. This day fit into my wider Jewish consciousness and fascination with food, which appeared to me everywhere in my Jewish education.
Early on, I was fascinated by the myth of pomegranates holding 613 seeds corresponding with the 613 commandments in the Torah. I once tried to see if this was true, but did not have the patience to count and ate a few seeds along the way.
Bread, specifically, seemed to star in every story. Matzoh was central to Passover; when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt they didn’t have time to let bread rise, so they let dough cook on their backs in the sun and created Matzoh, the cracker-like bread Jews eat each spring at Passover. On Purim we made hamentashen, triangle-shaped cookies filled with jam and poppy seeds that mocked the triangular hat of an anti-semitic tyrant named Haman. Dough was also present on Chanukah with fluffy sufganiyot, jelly doughnuts that celebrate a small amount of oil lasting eight nights. Learning these things even came with a distinct flavor. In Judaism, learning is literally supposed to be sweet; after learning a new part of the alef bet, the Hebrew alphabet, we would be rewarded with a stick of honey or a piece of chocolate.
At Grand Bakery, I ended up learning about another slice of history for Jewish bread. One of the bakers told us about the story behind Noah’s New York Bagels, a popular West Coast chain. In 1989, Noah Alper saw that the Bay Area needed bagels. Hailing from a Jewish suburb of Boston, Alper opened the first Noah’s New York Bagels shop in Berkeley, specifically opening it as a kosher kitchen. A 2016 Berkeleyside article quotes Alper describing his plans: “Noah’s wasn’t just going to be a bagel shop. It was going to have a set of values... I wanted to create a place where all kinds of Jews — secular, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, gay, straight — could feel comfortable eating. I had been learning with [an Orthodox] rabbi; I wanted this to be a place where he could eat as well.”
This ethos of inclusivity is certainly inspiring, and representative of the Bay Area embracing a modern approach to being Jewish. As Noah’s expanded around California, however, it struggled to keep this up. Going bankrupt from overexpansion, Alper sold Noah’s New York Bagels to a larger company in 1996. With this consolidation, stores stopped being kosher one by one, starting to serve the popular bacon and cheddar bagel sandwich - something that has never made sense to me (I believe pillowy schmear belongs on bagels, not gluey cheese and oily bacon). Serving bacon and cheese or pepperoni pizza bagels at Noah’s meant appealing to American tastes, but it also made it unavailable to those who eat kosher. In Jewish dietary regulations, eating pork is not permitted, and neither is consuming meat and milk together. Noah’s has always been a great place to get a bagel, although I never thought of it as distinctly Jewish food there. European Ashkenazi Jews share many dishes with Middle Eastern Mizrahi and Spanish Sephardic Jews, but bagels began in Poland. As Jews flocked to New York in the 19th century, bagels became popular in America. With Noah’s, they became a hit on the West Coast too.
The stores eventually excluded observant kosher eaters, but Noah’s delicious classics were introducing many non-Jews people to the magic of a good bagel. Along with the olfactory imprint of butter and honey, the dichotomy of kosher versus Jewish food stayed in my head after Grand Bakery. I have been tempted to label Noah’s as a sell-out chain - or a representative for Jewish food - but maybe that’s not what the story is about.
There certainly is a futility to kosher kitchens; there are no kosher Noah’s left out of 58 stores, and the beloved Grand Bakery closed in 2016. However, kosher food embodies the attention and quality many are currently seeking when they eat.
To sit at a Jewish table always means that you will be fed love. Memories of the Jewish kitchens of my childhood are filled with garlic and screaming and overwhelming heat, but each moment was steeped in deep care. Fish heads, crispy latkes, and matzo balls were all made by my family’s loving hands the way they have been prepared for years. Markook flatbread, baklava, and rugelach were traded between kitchens. Msabbaha hummus and falafel said: we care about you.
Just like the people they feed, foods evolve over time. The history of our people can be seen in every layer of baklava and twist of challah, in the same way it can be viewed in the journey of Noah’s Bagels. In fact, adaptation is perhaps what is most fundamentally Jewish about Noah’s, not its schmear. From baking Matzoh on tired backs to surviving on bread from Moses during 40 long years in the desert, Noah’s fits into a wider story of change for Jewish bread. Even Grand Bakery participated in inevitable transformation; they ended up re-opening and adapted to wholesale selling. They don’t sell babka anymore and you have to eat at home, but you can still buy their macaroons- and they taste as sweet as ever.
Anonymous, 11th- Oakland, CA
I will not pause my world from orbiting
Or stop the sun from rising
Simply to announce
Whose hand I want to hold
And whose eyes I will not be scared to look into
Because the world will orbit
The sun will rise
And so will I
I am learning to love myself
I don’t know if this learning will ever stop
Or if it should
But I will learn to appreciate
Whatever love I have to give.
It’s not always brave
It’s not always bold
and it's not always loud
But it caresses my skin
And lets me feel the sun's warmth
Every time I carry it in my arms
Until it fills the empty spaces
I’ve gotten used to creating.
It makes my voice roar
Every time it feels like silencing.
It opens my hand
When I’m scared about who it’s going to reach out to.
It appreciates the stretch marks that paint my thighs
The way they do on the trees that make each breath easier to take.
I am not always brave
I am not always bold
And I am not always loud
But I am here
and I am learning how to love
Students 6th-12th Grades