Skip to main content

Rewriting the Haftarah for Yom Kippur – Chicago Style

Powerful truth-telling for every day: written and read by Chicago poet Kevin Coval as the Haftarah for Tzedek Chicago’s Yom Kippur service last week.

atoning for the neo-liberal in all or rahm emmanuel as the chicken on Kapparot

written on the eve and day of Yom Kippur


Do you call that a fast,

A day when the Lord is favorable?

No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke

To let the oppressed go free;

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

Isaiah 58: 5-6

you are the first jewish mayor of Chicago

but have not yet lit one yahrzeit candle

for constituents murdered by the police.

you vacation in montana with the governor

bring your family to Chile on a whim

and never worry about crossing borders

or encountering their patrolmen

or the rent upon return.

your grandparents sought refuge here.

escaping those trying to end them.

they came, worked, learned, created

a life that enabled your parents to raise you

in the suburbs: the immigrant face of the american dream.

when your parents took you

to visit sick children in Israel

you cried. now you clothe

feed, care and ensure

your children’s safe passage

and university of Chicago

lab school tuition, $30000

per year, but you have closed

over fifty public schools

in neighborhoods your family

used to live in. neighborhoods

you no longer live in or love

or allow your children to visit.

neighborhoods bustling with Black

and Brown bodies, whose children

must cross borders called gang lines

you are well aware of, yet wonder

why the murder rates rises.

you dismantle the same system in which your family benefited:

union pay, livable wages, park space safe enough to play outside

arts funding to take ballet, a decent well-rounded public education.

the same ladder your family climbed

you kick the rungs from.

if the schools, housing, health care

trauma centers and corners that cause trauma

are fair across this flat, segregated land-

then eat today. every day there is a harvest

on the carcass of this city for sale. the satiated

carve at a distance, plan and map and redistrict

with careless indifference. how many times

have you been to Kenwood, Woodlawn

Lawndale. what are the names of the people

you know there. what homes have you sat in.

how can you fast

this week, when food

was refused by grandmothers

and educators and organizers

in your back yard, in the front

lawn of a school Chief Keef attended

in a neighborhood you militarize;

more guns and police your solution

to poverty or an extermination strategy.

how can you fast

when those on hunger

strike you couldn’t stand

with in the same room

in a public forum

which is your job by the way:

to listen. you are the antithetical

Studs Terkel.

this not the city he loved

to listen to, not the city

your grandparents were promised

where is your apology

for sending so many jobs elsewhere

for privileging your childrens’ future

and pillaging others’

what do you know of labor

and no savings account and counting

pennies for a pass, for permission to move

or see a movie or museum in this city

of no access and grand canyons of inequity.

your middle name is Israel

it’s come to mean apartheid

in the city, you are mayor

and in Palestine, the city

your family colonized.

there is no safety

said my G-d

for the wicked (1)

for the divvier of cities

for the divider of nations

for the ignorer of horror

for the builder of walls

atone for the smug assuredness

atone for the maintenance of two cities

stratified and unrecognizable to the other

atone for the bounty of the north side

the scarcity of the south

the want of the west

atone for the erasure of the public

school, space, housing, parking

atone for the centrism, the move right

the cow-tow to corporations

atone for the inconceivable income disparity

between those funding your campaign

and those over which you reign

atone for the city’s change

it’s white wash and removable

workers who used to make it

work by working

in jobs with pensions

and benefits

atone for the benefits we have

by merely being white

on the north side of the city

country where that is enough

to make you safe and not think

about driving a car or going

for a jog or walk outside

atone for the rite to the city

that’s for some, not for all

not for real

israel means may G-d prevail

and we pray that’s real, for real



Isaiah 57:21 (1)