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poetry Yellow Stars

“I will not be invisible,” writes NY poet Elizabeth Zelvin of her Jewish female identity, “I will not be herded/…I do not accept your yellow stars.”

Yellow Stars

By Elizabeth Zelvin


the Nazis slapped them on us to make sure

that no one could mistake a Jew for human

pile the blame for everything on us

no one protested when they herded us

crushed together in the cattle cars

sneered, Soon you will be clean enough

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dirty Jews! into the showers with you

once the gas had done its work they reaped the harvest

a treasure hoard of gold-filled teeth

piles of children’s shoes and yellow stars

I have never uttered that ugliest of words

the N word, never whispered it, thought it, or wanted to

back then we called the dream brotherhood

the struggle, solidarity

we were all in it together

young and fervent, we sang O freedom over me!

yellow stars had taught us how it feels

to be labeled against our will

I expect hate from redneck survivalists

Christian crackers bombing synagogues

sweet Southern belles politely asking if y’all have horns

but on the left it takes me by surprise

you may dismiss a century of solidarity  

as acts of self-aggrandizing white saviors

I call it betrayal, and it breaks my heart

I do not give permission

to be called privileged white or cis

you do not know my spiritual path

my sexual practices, my economic struggles

while we’re acknowledging and including

how about my people’s history, ethnicity, and DNA

how about my right to choices? how about me?

I am a Jewish woman

Jewish men don’t represent me

with their well-honed guilt and teaching moments

nor do Israel or Palestine

with their glamorized agendas

if you insult a Jew I will speak out

I will not be invisible, I will be seen

I will not be herded, I will be heard

I do not accept your yellow stars

Elizabeth Zelvin is the author of two books of poetry, I Am the Daughter (1981) and Gifts and

Secrets (1999), and recipient of a CAPS award from the New York State Council on the Arts.

During the Second Wave of the women’s movement, her work was widely published in feminist and left journals such as 13th Moon and Home Planet News. Recent poems have appeared in Yellow Mama as well as in anthologies of work about COVID and in support of Ukraine. Liz also writes two series, mystery and Jewish historical fiction.