MURIEL RUKEYSER


To Be A Jew In The Twentieth Century Lyrics

"To be a Jew in the Twentieth Century
Is to be offered a gift,
- says Muriel Rukeyser, the poet.

I accept.

I am of a people alive for centuries, 500 centuries,
Scapegoated as the butt for others' distresses,
Called kike, Christ killer, and gassed in the ovens.
"To make their society pure," they said.
The Temple twice destroyed; the dates were
Five hundred and eighty-six years before Christ
And seventy years after his death.
Even the dates bespeak an alien calendar.

I am of a people of law and obligation,
Of ritual and celebration,
A people who created their code
To live and die by. Richly textured strands
Of joy and mystical oneness,
Of legalistic reasoning and family storytelling.
And at the center the book and the House of Prayer.
Self­preserving and self­identifying
A tradition of hope when there seemed no reason to
hope,
Of dancing and singing when there seemed no reason to
dance and sing.
Making sense of a world and creating significance
When neither seemed clearly given:
The encounter with the mystery and sanctity of life
These are my people.

I am a man, German and English and Russian Jewish by
heritage,
"American by heritage, Revolutionary by choice,
Pulsating with the dignity of myself through the ages.

To be a Jew in the 20th Century
Is to be offered a gift,"
- says Muriel Rukeyser, the poet.

I accept.

Yet, though I accept this gift,
I accept not unto myself the continual rehearsal of our
sorrow,
And our children's sorrow,
The suffering of the ages, of this very century of
Holocaust.
I am one of those who seek
Those moments of the past
Which resonate a new vision of reality,
I dare to be wholly Jewish and dare to be wholly human.

I seek a world where humans share joy with each other
Take care with each other, delight in each other,
Build societies which serve all the people:"

To be a Jew in the 20th Century
Is to be offered a gift."

I accept.

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