I Remember by Yael

I remember crazy-scary days before.

I remember Minsk, summer 1979. The first Hebrew class. My parents were covering the windows of our apartment with blankets. They told me “not a squeak.” People were sneaking in, one by one like thieves. It was all very hush-hush, and I was wondering if my parents were criminals.

I remember the exodus, December 1979. After a long wait by the rails, a Polish man in uniform yelled in Russian “Kikes, your train is leaving in 2 minutes.”

I remember everyone running in panic at first. Then, I remember being pushed and carried through a bucket brigade, along with other children, and packages, and grandparents.

I remember the adventure in my body.

I remember the snow looked magical under the train station’s light, while I was passed like a package from one person to another.

I remember the train was frozen inside, but we made friends and warmed up quickly.

I remember watching the news. Israel, 1982-1985. Clinging to my mama, our bodies trembling in unison while taking in the names of the fallen. Maybe it was just one such moment, maybe it was night after night.

I remember that we still spent every Saturday at the beach and ate juicy watermelon as if there was nobody dying anywhere. Ever.

I remember the whole state of Israel putting kerosene in their hair on the same Tuesday at exactly 8 pm, but most likely it was 6 pm or 7. I can smell kerosene as I think about it.

I remember that the next day we were done with the national lice pandemic, but it felt unsafe to light a match for a while

I remember that 1984 was the year that spelled תשמ”ד (“Tashmad” – “destruction.”)

I remember there were rumors we were all going to die.

I remember the prophesies that said it was going to be the year of annihilation.

I remember when the clock hit midnight, we partied Russian style –which basically means, like there was no tomorrow.

I remember reading 1984 and thinking that it was the world my parents came from.

I remember never finishing 1984, because I thought I knew how it was going to end – everyone will suffer and die, but love will prevail.

I remember Israel 1991, Saddam Hussein declared “The great showdown has begun! The mother of all battles is under way.”

I remember, he gave us some time to prepare before the Scud missiles began to hit. Everyone was sealing their windows, and there was shortage in duct-tape.

I remember 36 of us living in the hermetically sealed bomb shelter.

I remember thinking we looked like cock roaches in our gas masks, and it amused me.

I remember being amused in my body. I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to forget this, but I forgot most of it.

The only thing I remember clearly is making love to Tony in a corner of the bomb shelter. Our gas masks were tossed aside by our sleeping bags. It was his first time.

I remember Tony saying, “I don’t know what’s better – sex or art” and I said “hmm…I think sex is art.”

I remember Tony telling me he was gay, a few years later, and I was thinking that somehow it was my doing.

I remember the draft to the Israeli Defense Force. I remember my parents’ faces when I told them I did not want to serve.

I remember basic training. Running in our underwear and automatic weapons in our hands in the middle of the night. I remember learning to put on pajamas and sleep with one ear open.

I remember crying the first time I held an Uzi. I remember liking and hating the feeling. I remember saying goodbye to my soul.

I remember trying to keep up with a twisted ankle. My friend Efrat was by my side, telling me “look at the hills, look at the trees, look at the sky.”

I remember St. Louis, Missouri, America 1995. There were churches and crosses everywhere, and it made me feel unsafe.

I remember my first husband in St. Louis, Missouri, America 1995. I was on his turf. He was not my prince, and his kingdom was not my promised land.

I remember many crazy-scary days, with madness and homelessness lurking around corners, but “Mi-cha-el on my right, Ga-bri-el on my left, U-ri-el in the front, Ra-fa-el at my back and above my head – above my head She-ki-naht- El.”

I remember thinking that social workers were God’s angels, but a part of me resented that I needed their help.

I remember that freedom in 1995 smelled like cigarettes and grease, and it was ok with me.

I remember America preparing for the year 2000. I remember thinking that it’s 1984 version .2K. I don’t remember if I was afraid.

I remember I was working at an office; my first big girl’s job. I was dressing for success for a while. But, one day I just stayed in bed and didn’t go back to work again.

I remember I was standing in my bedroom, getting dressed, when the first plane hit. I remember praying, please God, please let it be an accident. I remember thinking, fuck! God, Fuck! when the second plane hit.

I remember being more and more afraid with each response that came from the US government.

I remember taking inventory of all the people I knew in New York City.

I remember going to the vigil at Kiener plaza and singing American patriotic songs with all the strangers that didn’t feel like strangers.

I remember crying and thinking that patriotic songs were stupid, but I needed to be there anyway.

I remember no-man’s land, between Palestine and Israel. December 2005. I was sitting on a rock and breaking bread with Palestinians, Israeli anarchists, and international volunteers. We were waiting for the Israeli Army to arrive and shit was about to go down, but I felt peace with capital P for the first time in a very long time.

I remember the 18 year-old soldier pointing his rifle at me and saying “put down your camera.”

I remember how scared he was.

I remember Kim, myself, and a Canadian woman were left alone in the middle of no-man’s land after everyone had scattered or was arrested. It was dark, and we were lost. Kim was praying to her Jesus to deliver us. An Orthodox Jew drove by out of nowhere and offered us a ride.

I remember Mr. Rogers say “look for the helpers.”

I remember “helpers” every step of this road.

I remember many days I could not be a helper myself, but some days I could. Some days I can.


  1. Just from the start you can tell she thought childlike through her time. She laughed when they wore gasmask, and didn’t seem afraid even though most of us probably would be afraid. She was more scared to hold a gun then to hunker down from bombs. This isn’t just a normal poem but a whole life story summarized by key events that we only heard about in the news. They lived through them, and you get a sense of what they thought and felt during these times. This is impressive to say the least, and it helps unravel some of our childlike brain and our unfamiliarity with change.

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