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IR ONLINE POETRY: “Re-reading My Journals: A Series of Thoughts” by Shani Berenholz

At the end of the New Years party, after a few drinks,
the boy I went to high school with decided to leave with a joke:
“Hasta la vista, or whatever they say in your country.”
That night I was thinking: were his jokes always that bad?
“It’s possible that white boys use humor to talk about race
and culture,” I wrote in my journal, and also “people will result to humor
when they don’t understand something.” Actually, I meant resort,
people will resort to humor. What can I say, words are hard.
And I frequently make spelling mistakes in my journal,
where I often go back to my old thoughts, like I’m having them all over again.
I heard your memories change over time in your mind
so I like to write them down. To go back to them. re-read them.


Eating at a barbecue in Kiryat Ata,
visiting my family in Israel—

“Though I can’t speak Hebrew or Russian,
everyone seemed to be trying to talk to me,” I wrote.
I seemed to recall asking my uncle if he could translate what my sabba
was trying to say to me. And I imagined that my uncle replied something like,
“Sabba? I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it like that.”
Apparently my grandfather was wondering why
I wasn’t eating the food on the table,
which was covered in the familiar array of snacks—
cubed tomato and cucumber salad, bamba,
bissli, cherries, cakes, pita and hummus.

I thought about how Americans say hum-us
and Israelis say hoo-mus and I wondered which one
I was supposed to say at my house in Israel.
“It feels odd, having to think about where I’m supposed to say things,
not knowing what is appropriate or expected of me,” I wrote.


Getting into an uber from the airport—

Small talk was never my strong suit,
and it seemed that my driver wasn’t much of a talker either
so we sat in silence until he finally said,
“So, where are you from?”
“Really? You don’t look American, where are you really from?
“That makes sense, you look Middle Eastern.”


Working on a still life in my college drawing class—

Our professor was a friendly guy,
always wanting to get to know us and all.
He’d peak over our drawing boards and drop in for a little chat.
I think it went something along the lines of this:
“So Shani, you’re from Israel. Tell me what’s happening there this week?”
“Um, I don’t really know.”
“Oh really, why’s that?”
“I’ve been busy with school work?”
“Oh okay, just thought you would’ve known.”
I turned to my friend sitting next to me and she said,
“I guess you’re the news source for everything Israel now.”


My mother told me that I didn’t speak till I was two-years-old,
and after that I wouldn’t shut up. She told me that
my first word was bamba, an israeli snack,
kind of like a cheese puff, but instead of cheese,
it’s made of peanut butter. It tastes good, I swear.

I also had an early hatred of reading growing up,
not only was I in the dumb-kid spelling class,
I also had to take extra classes in the morning
before school started. I had trouble with my letters,
One’s you’d only mix up in Hebrew.


Riding the bus home from school—

I don’t need a journal to remember his name:
It was Jake, and Jake was riding my bus to his friend’s
house that day after school. “Now you don’t need a compass
to point to a bully, they make themselves known,
and in middle school they are especially apparent,” I wrote.
It was my turn to get off the bus and as I was passing his seat
I tried to look down, avoid eye contact, but it didn’t work.
Usually, Jake just liked to blurt out “wanna hear a racist Israeli joke?”
Then laugh until I walked away. But that day was different.
He got up in front of me and said, “You’re not getting off the bus,
Israeli’s don’t deserve to go home.” It didn’t make sense to me.
And I remembered that the bus driver even didn’t notice, or maybe
she didn’t want to do anything. But it was the only time I can think of where
I genuinely wanted to hurt someone. I pushed him out of my way,
and the doors shut closed behind me.


Shani Berenholz grew up in Arlington, Virginia and Israel. She is a senior English major at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon and works as the editor of the Features section for her college newspaper. Currently she is reading Field Theories by Samiya Bashir and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.