Wednesday, December 24, 2008


[Read Write Poem prompted us this week to "go ancestral." Check out what fell out of people's family trees. The image of Isaac Abrabanel is in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons .]


My father's father came to America as a boy,
his family fleeing pogroms in the Ukraine, sailing
west to Ellis Island where they changed his name.
We weren't Mayflower people – no D.A.R. for us.


My dad said we were related to Abarbanel,
famous pawn-broker to Queen Isabella, whose jewelry
became cash to buy three ships for Columbus,
sending him sailing west across the ocean.

Today I read that Isabella didn't hock her jewels.
She filled an empty bank with the wealth of Jews expelled
by the 1492 Edict she and Ferdinand signed.
Yet Abarbanel did back Columbus and, with other
Jewish bankers, launched him west toward America
from harbors crammed with Jews fleeing for their lives.

Abarbanels and Abravanels and Barbanels
from around the world gathered in 1992,
a family reunion in Queens to honor
Don Isaac Abarbanel. One man's father was from
the Ukraine, so maybe I am related after all
to Abarbanel.

[One note - my grandfather's original last name was not Abarbanel.]


Linda Jacobs said...

Wow, you really can go back a long ways!

I like the factual way you wrote this poem!

sister AE said...

Hi, Linda. Well, maybe I can go back that far - depends on if my dad was right or not, no? Though I do have family stories (written down by my great-grandmother) that go back about 7 generations from her.

I'm glad you liked this. I didn't have the energy to turn it into rhyme or give it meter, though I think someday a version of it will be reinvented, perhaps with "Abarbanel" as a refrain.

"Philo" said...

Quite a bit for my Ukrainium!

Interesting read.

sister AE said...

Thanks, Philo.

gautami tripathy said...

Very concrete!

symmetry in poetry or what?

Maria said...

Really interesting. And I was struck by what a beautiful nose he had...

sister AE said...

Hi, Guatami!

Thanks, Maria. I tried to find a picture of my father or grandfather to use, next to that one, but this was not the week for that.

...deb said...

This really *is* your family, as interconnected as the Jewish heritage is. I like the "liberties" you took and the history you shared -- showing a bit of what was given. And taken.

sister AE said...

thanks, deb.

Crafty Green Poet said...

fascinating insight into your family history, thanks for sharing

sister AE said...

Thanks, Juliet.