“To Combat Antisemitism, Write a Villanelle” by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach


We fled the fallen Soviet Union, where nationality
was Jewish on our passports and on skin, fled
to an America we thought was free.

My family was given status: refugee,
so I grew up privileged, a Jew and not a zhid,
grew up with faith and culture, not nationality

aside from USA, a line my mother loved to see
inked on her US passport: welcome home, sang
at the customs’ gates of an America named free

of being defined by skin or blood or body—
How wrong to feel so falsely safe. The Jews shot
inside the Kosher deli, too, thought death by nationality

was past, thought religion was community,
they passed
in an America they thought came free

to all our children, sweet land of liberty,
they teach my son in school: sing out
difference, speak your mother’s native
tongue, this is America, make her free.

from Poets Respond
December 15, 2019


Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach: “When I don’t know what to do with the weight of current events—news sources stating that the new executive order is going to turn Jewishness from religion to nationality and three victims and a police officer are dead at a targeted shooting inside a Kosher Deli in Jersey—I turn to form. Not because it helps me reign in the chaos and overwhelming emotion, but because within its constrains, I feel it can run more wild. Especially with the villanelle. Every refrain, though seemingly the same, shifts and reframes meaning and music. It feels like one of the only ways to write about the present moment, which keeps feeling like a ghostly specter of history repeating itself, slightly changed and recontextualized. After reading the news Wednesday, all I could do was think about the past I come from and write, repeat myself and keep on writing. I use the term ‘Zhid,’ which is a derogatory, anti-Semitic slur in the Russian language, similar to the word ‘kike.’ It comes from the word for Jew in many Slavic languages like Ukrainian. These aspects of my identity—immigrant, refugee, Jew—I know I have been very privileged to choose when to disclose, unlike most members of my family whose accents give them away. To enforce any one of aspect of identity as what defines us—something this administration has been doing since its onset—is devastating, hurtful, and dangerous. People are continuously getting hurt. And hate is only growing on all sides. So we keep on writing. This poem echoes back to Langston Hughes’ ‘Let America Be America Again’ and hopes, always hopes, we can create a space of love, ‘And make America again!’” (web)

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