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poetry To Combat Antisemitism, Write a Villanelle

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach wrote this poem in response to the presidential executive order changing the status of “Jew” from a religion or ethnicity to a nationality.

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To Combat Antisemitism, Write a Villanelle

By 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.

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach (www.juliakolchinskydasbach.com) emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State University Press, 2019); Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize, and 40 WEEKS (YesYes Books, 2021). Her poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. Julia is the editor of Construction Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philly with her two kids, two cats, one dog, and one husband.