Scribes of Beth El
Scribes of Beth El is a creative writing group for our 8th-12th graders at Beth El. 8th-12th graders can come to meetings to workshop short fiction maximum 5 pages, or poetry maximum 500 words in a safe, fun atmosphere.
Our first issue of the Scribes of Beth El Literary Magazine is now available! You can download it here.
We are working on a second issue of the literary magazine. Submissions are due by March 26th. Send all submissions to Rebecca DePalma, firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will be considered by the Scribes of Beth El using standardized criteria. All work remains the exclusive property of the author.
We are currently meeting on Wednesdays, 4:15 pm - 5:15 pm at the Starbucks in Safeway at Shattuck & Rose and on some Sundays. Our next Sunday meeting is March 23rd.
Please know that while our students' pieces are not always overtly Jewish, we discuss at Scribes what Judaism has to say about different themes that our writers are working on. For instance a recent piece prompted a discussion of what freedom looks like in the Jewish tradition.
Stories & Poems submitted by our 8th-12th graders at Congregation Beth El.
On the One Minute Essay
By Anna Saldinger
On Liquid Eyeliner One Liners
Too much failure, too early in the morning. Only perfectionists need apply. Some girls use tape, but I wing it.
On Each Other
When I watch people pass by, I wonder if they know they are beautiful today. I wonder how she felt when she put her socks on. I wonder if he combed his hair, or was innately satisfied with how the sand man had styled it. I wonder if they can tell whether I feel beautiful. I wonder if they ask.
Johnson was a brilliant man, ruined by the pressures of a war he was not equipped to fight. He could have saved America from ruin, but was sidetracked by ruining saving the world. And now nobody cares that he might have won the war on poverty, because he lost the war in Vietnam.
On the Coffee to Cream Ratio
Pouring half-and-half is like developing a photograph, when developing a photograph was still an act of faith. You know when it’s perfect, and you can see instantly when you’ve gone too far.
On Guatemalan Worry Dolls
I named my three-dollar therapist Dr. Freud, and put her under my pillow. She accomplishes more than my real therapist ever did, because I can’t edit what problems keep me awake until dawn. I wonder if my problems will combust her tiny body.
On the Water Content of Ice Cream
I can tell when there’s shoddy workmanship behind the contents of my waffle cone. If it melts into the consistency of lemonade, it has high water content. If it melts into the consistency of good tomato soup, no shortcuts were taken.
On Mood Swings
Things one says on an upswing:
• Universal flow
• I’m going for a run
Things one says on a downswing:
• I don’t feel like it
• Ice cream
• Leave me alone
They make me gag first thing in the morning, because before eight a.m., the smell of food is too much for me to bear. Especially if there are long forgotten clementines in the bottom drawer, which used to make our half-and-half so disgusting that Hannah said it tasted like Chipotle beef.
On the One Minute Essay
See above examples. Then ignore all suggestions, warnings, and format. Like Spark Notes, but for the truly important things.
The Last Days of the Divine Mortal Relations Office
By Esther Simon
The tiny Scottish village of Doors was possessed of a single shopping street. Most of the establishments had been open for centuries. The butcher’s, the baker’s, the pub, had all been open since the plague was big. Of course there were some new additions. The Tescos for instance had only come into existence in 1996 and the thrift store since 2000. Then there was the one shop front on the end of the street. It looked more or less like the other shops on the street, save the windows, bricked up sometime in the eighteenth century to dodge some tax or another, and the sign which had no words but displayed a peeling painted symbol that looked vaguely alchemical. In short, the place looked dangerous and no one ever went in.
Nevertheless the Divine-Mortal Relations Office had remained open in this location and hundreds of others across the globe. The Divine-Mortal Relations Office, or DMR, had been a purveyor of charms, hexes and light weight divine intervention, as well as a number of very useful instructional books, for near on three millennia by now, and though it had fallen on some hard times since the enlightenment, it stayed, resolutely open in all it’s locations.
If one were brave enough to enter the building in Doors, or New Castle or Detroit or anywhere else in any of the offices around the globe, they would be presented with the same dimly lit interior. The walls were lined with bookshelves, though there had not always been bookshelves. There was a time, lost to common memory when bookshelves had not yet been invented, and centuries, if not whole millennia before even that when the written word occupied scrolls rather than pages. But the shelves were not just for books. In amongst the dusty volumes, antique and occult in nature, there were also a number of pickle jars containing anatomy of creatures the earth had not seen since its years as a turbulent toddler. Here and there there were photographs or paintings.
One old black and white shot showed two men, one gaunt, dark haired and bespectacled, the other (the spitting image of the receptionist) a young man with a shock of blond hair and a perpetually smug expression, holding between them a very long, very thick tentacle. The caption beneath the picture read Fishing With Howard, Providence, 1920. The tentacle in question had once hung on the wall of the office but had been given to the titular Howard, a writer, when it became clear by his stories that the experience had meant a lot to him. The thing was lost after the man died, it was a shame.
Today was an especially slow day for the DMR. The Angel 128 sat behind the counter, running a pencil under his fingernails, working out a little dirt. He had lived since the beginning of time, since before the sun and moon, night and day were separated; and yet he could, and did, get bored. Out of all those millennia he had lived, these surely must be the longest seconds.
He struggled to remember the last time someone had come in, even by accident. It must have been a decade or more. This had always been a mystery to him, why humanity would give up divine power that sat at its fingertips. Science was the new magic. This was progress. But did no one take the time to fill in the gaps? It was the nature of humanity to do decide that there were no gaps, that their solution was the only final, correct one.
“Whatever.” The Angel 128 muttered, a new phrase and one of his favorites.
The ding of the bell nearly sent the Angel 128 leaping out of his chair. It’s just a customer, he soothed, then reprimanded himself: just a customer? This is the first freaking customer in ages! Externally, he smiled politely, hands folded on his desk.
“Welcome to the Divine-Mortal Relations Office.” he said.
The customer in question was a young man, pale faced, bespectacled, crowned with dark curls. He swam in his olive green sweater vest. Like most customers, the young man wandered about the shop with a blank expression that the Angel 128 interpreted as a mixture of fear and awe. He paused to open one of the dusty books.
“Ah,” he said aloud, “the Princes of Hell. But I don’t think you’re still meant to have this in stock. We wouldn’t want some Insignificant summoning up one of them would we? Fun as it was to put them down.”
At this remark the Angel 128 froze. What manner of man could know such things?
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but can I ask your name?”
The customer looked up as if he hadn’t noticed the Angel 128 before this point. “Oh, I am sorry. I never did introduce myself, did I? I am called the Angel Raziel, official Keeper of Secrets.”
Upon hearing the name, the Angel 128 sat up straighter. At once a thousand questions, statements exclamations came into his head. Why are you here, who sent you, why me, why now, it wasn’t my fault, crap on a spatula. “Oh” he said.
“Come now brother, don’t sit and stare. We were comrades, you and I.”
Now, looking closer, the angelic traits were evident, cleverly hidden beneath the sweater vest and the glasses. There was a sculpted face beneath it, blazing eyes. His light was dimmed, turned down almost to nothing, and yet the divine glow came off him like a perfume. The words you’re beautiful hung on the tip of his tongue. He bit them back, embarrassed and afraid. “Can I get you something?” He asked, “Tea? I have Digestives, the ones covered in chocolate.”
“Please.” Raziel smiled.
And the Sky Came Crashing Down
By Jacob Pearlstein
The girl ran through the city, the muddy street squished beneath her feet—each step deeper than the last. Panic clawed her head. They were coming, and she could not foresee another escape. Their tall beasts neighed in the distance, loud galloping hooves and echoing shouts floated through the air. She had only wanted to avoid their demise; the humans called her an abomination, a devil. That was when she heard the Colt’s deafening shot. Pain seeped up her chest; her matte, dark blue, scales became an ugly purple as the world slowed down around her. While her limp body sank in the mud, all she could think about was her dying planet—she was not welcome there either, no one else cared about the humans, they just wanted an abode—and the starships were bound for Earth. The humans would not listen, they were arrogant and naïve, but soon they would see what they did.
The man watched it fall with a sense of accomplishment—a perfect shot, just missing the vital organs, but left it unconscious. He pulled back on the reigns, and leaped off the horse. He rolled it over, peering into the large black eyes of this monster from beyond the galaxy. At least that is what it claimed. The others soon gather behind him, their hushed exchanges of amazement underscored their congratulations. He was a hero, but he did not feel like one. Two men in black dusters tied the creature to the wooden street post; it would not escape this time. His eyes were still locked with its. He felt everything but satisfaction or happiness. He was lost in the dark depths that were its eyes, an abyss of hate, despair, and wonder. What if she spoke the truth? What did he do? His thoughts wandered to dark places, spiraling down a pit, the world spun around him. The sun disappeared. Everything disappeared.
She looked at him, the one who fired. Why? Maybe the humans deserved to die, she was never a fan of their brutal ways, but they had a right to existence, did they not? A thundering roar filled the air; a shadow overcame the town. It was too late. There was nothing she could do now. Anyone running would be killed. Anyone fighting would be killed.
The Captain gazed out the bridge, taking in the magnificent planet, ruined by the pitiful structures below. The desperate humans scrambled to comprehend the magnitude of his power. His eyes tracked the street. The traitor was tied to a pole—her body soaked with blood and mud. He could barely discern her ridiculous scales from here, no wonder they shot her. Hah! A proper ending for such a disappointment.
“Sir, is something wrong? We should act now. The population is expecting everything to be cleared when they arrive.”
The Captain gave the order. It was done. They found home.
The man’s eyes shot open. Mud caked his back; patches fell off as he sat up. What had happened? Smoke stung his eyes, his body. Everything was in shambles, except the pole. A lone symbol of what had happened. The repulsive creature was charred to a crisp, but now as he looked at it something was different. Her eyes reflected fire dancing around the bank. He saw himself, his planet. There was a bang, and it seemed as if the sky came crashing down.
The One Note Poet
By Esther Simon
I realized the other day
I am a One Note Poet
and though I have variety
I do not care to show it.
And so I there decided to
go off and seek my style
and leave behind my comfort zone
for just a little while.
I went and read some Robert Burns
and resolved to write in Scots
then read tha’ thing I di’ create
and then thought I’d rather not.
Or perhaps I’ll be consumptive
cough into a bloody rag
Leave a string of ruined lovers
And then die, my praise un-sang.
I’ll reinvent the genre and
I’ll be lauded shore to shore.
I’ll lay down my poet’s pencil
and then write these things no more.
Fine, perhaps my expectations
are a little less than sane.
So perhaps I’ll keep it one note
and with that I’ll make my name.
The Waking Dragon
By Emma Waldman
Please note that this is Harry Potter Fan Fiction. All characters belong to J.K. Rowling et al and are used here creatively by our fantastic Ms. Waldman.
Draco grimaced as the train pulled up, suddenly the idea of going back to Hogwarts sickened him as he started to shake-remembering the last time he was there. Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself and took a step forward to board the train. Finding an empty compartment, he was able to finally escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Breathing deeply for a second time, this one, a sigh of content. The sympathetic looks of mothers, made him uncomfortable, as they bid their own children farewell. Draco’s parents had been sent to Azkaban for working with the Dark Lord, but Potter was currently trying to prove that Narcissa had truly changed sides and felt sorrow for what she had done. When Draco had last visited his Mum, she seemed happier than ever to truly be on the right side this time.
Opening his Daily Prophet, Draco recalls the big news from the summer; ‘Harry Potter Tells the World’ screamed headlines, ‘Potter Comes Out of The Closet,’ even the Quibbler had something to say about the announcement of The Chosen One being queer.
According to Daphne Skeeter, in the June 12th edition of The Daily Prophet that Draco was currently rereading, “Harry Potter, himself publicly declared that he had recently found that he preferred boys. It seems that Harry making this announcement has given many people courage to do the same. Many of Mr. Potters old classmates have proclaimed, if not as publicly, that they are also a poof, including Ginny Weasley, who is currently in a relationship with Luna Lovegood, Cho Chang, Cormac MacLaggen, Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and most surprising, Draco Malfoy. All of whom will be returning for another year at Hogwarts, either to repeat their 7th year or begin it. Another surprising pronouncement was Viktor Krums. He announced that he was in love with Mr. Potter. When asked about this proclamation, Harry told us that he had not seen Krum in nearly three years, with the exception of Bill and Fleur Weasleys wedding, and had no intention of dating him.”
Draco stopped reading, though he had read this article nearly fifteen times, he still could not believe the nerve of Krum. At least, he noticed, Daphne Skeeter wasn’t as sharp-tongued as her mother.
Looking out the window, Draco noticed that they hadn’t even left yet. The entire Weasley Clan was outside. Mrs. Weasley fussing with everybody, straightening their jumpers, attempting unfruitfully to flatten tufts of hair, and, in the case of Ron, scrubbing dirt off noses (some things never change), all to protests of, “No Mum.”
“Of course, Mum.”
“I’ll try to be careful, Mum.”
“But, we won’t promise anything,” It seemed Fred and George were also coming back to take their N.E.W.T.s as they had left in a flurry of fireworks and explosions in their seventh year. This reminded Draco of Fred’s ‘Death.’ Fred had been hit with a curse similar to the one that hit Granger in the Ministry of Magic (or so Draco had been told), this one was much more drastic, the victim fell into a trance similar to a coma, but all signs of life were unnoticeable. Luckily Longbottom recognized the spell from 5th year and managed to alert Madame Pomfrey before Fred was buried. When Fred awoke, he seemed to find the whole situation rather funny. Ginny thwacked him. In the face. Then she cried. This all happened while Draco sat in the corner, as unlike his namesake as could possibly be.
Shrill whistles and horns honking filled the air as the train began to leave the station. Draco simply adjusted his stack of Daily Prophets and put his feet up on the seat opposite of him. He was ready for a long ride of reading. Alone. What he was not ready for was Ron Weasley smacking into the compartment door. Standing up in surprise, Draco watched as Weasleys slowly slid to the floor, his face squished against the glass. The sight was just so silly, Draco had to laugh.
“Oi, what are you laughin’ at?” the redhead demanded, having jumped up and opened the door, his ears turning the famous Weasley shade of red.
“Don’t yell at him. I’m sure you looked even more silly from in there then you did out here.” came the unseen voice of Hermione Granger. Peering outside, Draco saw that the whole golden trio was standing there. Potters looking good, Draco thought before immediately shaking the thought from his head.
“Do you mind if we sit here? Every other compartment is full,” Potter stepped forward.
“Yeah, um, sure,” Draco retreated back to his seat. He watched as Potter walked in, looking around at the compartment. A panicked look crossed his face when he saw the stack of Prophets and which issue Draco was currently reading, but it was gone as soon as it came.
When everyone was seated and awkwardly looking around, Granger spoke, “So…how was your summer, Draco?
His head jerked up at his name and he answered quickly, “Fine.” This, if anything, made the situation even more awkward. “So, um,” Draco continued Grangers failed attempt at conversation, “Thanks for helping my mum out, Potter.”
“You can, uh, you can call me Harry,” offered the boy.
“That goes for us as well, right Ron?” Grange- Hermione- gave Ron a look that could rival Molly Weasley’s.
“Sure, ‘Mione,” mumbled Ron.
“So, you and Weasley,” Draco stopped, “sorry. You and Ron are fully together, now?”
“What’s that got to do with you?” Ron said waspishly.
“Nothing, I’ve just been waiting since first year for you two to get together. Everyone has. You’re practically everyones OTP. Am I right Harry?”
Harry stared blankly at Draco, “What the hell is an OTP?
“It means one true pairing. It’s the people you think are meant to be together.” Draco explained.
“Oh,” Harry smirked, “Yeah, definitely. Everyone except Lavender.” Draco smiled as they all laughed. It was almost as if they were all friends.
“Candy from the trolley?”
A Reason to Live by Esther Simon
Someone asked me why I keep on living,
this is what I said:
I will not live to prove a point,
just because I can,
I won't keep going because you told me not to,
for the sake of spiting you.
I will not live because it’s right,
because I’ve been told that life is good and death is bad.
I will not live for any creed or cause,
I've never found one good enough to be my only one.
I will live,
for hot days in late spring,
when the fog clears and you can see way out to sea.
For Indian summers,
defying winter with all their might.
For the first days of school,
for brand new notebooks and nice sharp pencils,
for hot chocolate and potato latkes,
for good books that swallow me whole,
for friends and sleepovers and giggling girliness.
I will live for the day I won’t be able to remember you at all.
All you’ll be is a shadow I can’t see.
I will live,
I WILL LIVE,
because I LOVE it.
Rabbit Hole by Anna Saldinger
Sometimes I fall down the rabbit hole
meet Alice on the way.
She tugs her dress
won’t meet my eye
she’s feeling big today.
She found a little cake somewhere
and followed the directions.
It changed all her perceptions.
So when the caterpillar asked her
exactly who are you?
She answered rather meekly
I’m fat because I grew.
He regarded her through the smoke
and repeated the question.
Though this time with a slightly kinder disposition.
I’m Alice too, she said, remembering again.
Threw her shoulders back
and promptly took a stand.
I’ll have my cake and eat it too
doesn’t matter what size they pin to you.
I’m a woman worth her weight in gold
I love myself
it won’t get old.
Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dumb
weren’t the sharpest in the box.
They took one look at Alice,
and snickered at their socks.
Is there a problem?
She queried nervously.
One shouted out,
You’re too tall
the largest giant we’ve ever seen.
Staring down the dim-witted fiends.
The real problem here
is that you’re too short to be more than ten.
As the twins rolled their eyes in utter synchronization
Alice laughed aloud
at her clever observation.
In fact, she carried on
most of the judgments we make
are reflections of our own self-hate.
She strode away smugly
leaving the boys agape.
I’ll have my cake and eat it too
doesn’t matter what size they pin to you.
I’m a woman worth her weight in gold
I love myself
it won’t get old.
On the other side of Wonderland
another baby girl was born.
But to her mother’s horror
her face was unconventional in form.
With her pigs snout and curly tail
her vanity was sure to fail.
Proclaimed her mother, each and every day.
The girl had no self-esteem
until she heard Alice say
I’ll have my cake and eat it too
Doesn’t matter what size they pin to you.
I’m a woman worth her weight in gold
I love myself
It won’t get old.
Are You Hebrew, Do You Speak Jewish? By Esther Simon
The best part of starting a new school is that couple of seconds when you stand there in front of the class a complete mystery. You could introduce yourself a million different ways, become a million people. For the first time in your life, you could be popular. You think that maybe, moving could be the best thing that ever happened to you. But then, when has fate ever been so kind to you? Every year you somehow manage to screw things up for yourself, why should this time be any different?
It’s time now to introduce yourself. You close your eyes and try to breathe deeply. For that moment you are like Schrodinger’s cat, either alive or dead. If things go wrong you are so dead. "Please, please, please!" you whisper.
“H-hi, I’m Abby Evans, I like....” What do people like? You rack your brains for something, anything. No, honesty is the best policy. Definitely. “I like reading; I’m in the chess club and uh….” You blew it. From the moment that first awkward syllable stumbled from your mouth the box had been opened and Schrodinger’s cat was found dead. You stand there frozen, wishing you could just be swallowed up by the earth. Instead you just scamper back to a free seat and wish that people would stop staring at you.
A bell rings and you thank God that this first period is only ten minutes long. The students were shoving their way out of the classroom; you follow, hoping that your next class isn’t too far away.
A few hours later you sit in English thanking God that you’ve managed to stay inconspicuous for the past three periods. You’re now sitting at a table with four boys, none of whom are paying any attention to the teacher, a large woman wearing clothes that were far too tight. They aren’t paying attention to you either, which makes you almost limp with relief. Then, something that one of the boys is drawing catches your eye. At first you don’t believe it; it’s just a stick figure with a cape. But on the cape…
“Hey,” you say, “Whatcha drawing?”
He looks up: “Oh, you like it? He’s called swastika man.”
You were right. “Yeah, it’s cool,” you say meekly, but in your mind, you’re livid with rage.
What the hell? You imagine shouting, do you even know what that symbol you’re drawing means? Do you have any idea of the weight it bears? The deaths of millions of people, my people! And how dare you, you little twit use it so casually, as if it means nothing?
But you say none of this. Just keep looking down, your fear of being noticed putting out the fires of your indignation. The other boys were all laughing and carrying on about swastika man. In a last flare of anger, you wonder what his super power might be. Genocide maybe?
After English there is a short break for snack. You don’t feel much like eating, especially after seeing the food: a bagel topped with bacon and melted American cheese; dubbed by you, the heart attack roll. You sit at the far end of the long plastic table and try to go somewhere else in your mind. Somewhere better and preferably far, far away. You want to get off this damp little continent and go home.
You stay in your melancholy even after the beep, beeping of the bell sends you off to your next class. Prison bells you think. It takes a drama class with your leather-clad dominatrix of a teacher to scare you out of your funk.
“You pay attention, yeah, or else I’m gonna rough you up!” she shouts. You wonder what "roughing up" entailed.
It’s another awful fortnight of school before the High Holy Days rolled around. You take the day off school to find the only Jewish community in the whole city and attend services in the back room of a church that had been rented out for the occasion. Almost everyone there is American like you. When you return to school the next day, people asked you where you’d been. You lie.
“I was sick” You say. Even your religious studies teacher seemed completely unaware that any sort of holiday had taken place. Over the past few weeks you’d become used to the general Jewless-ness. Here "that’s so Jew" was a common insult and your family’s Shabbat dinners had had to exist without challah. They didn’t sell it here.
But it isn’t all bad, you think. You never were religious and nobody knows that you’re Jewish. If they did, well, you didn’t really want to think about it. From this point on you decide to just focus on being inconspicuous. This philosophy turns out to be brilliant. For weeks you manage to stay safely under the radar. You make friends, find a favorite place for lunch and basically have a normal life, forgetting about the whole thing. But then came the day that ruined everything for you. Your happiness, your philosophy, everything.
You have a particularly bad morning. Between the gale force wind and the frozen ground, it feels as if someone has played a particularly intense game of ice hockey with your body. It then begins to sleet. After dragging yourself to class, you sit brooding, your face set in a scowl. Your friends are wise enough not to speak to you in this state, but across the room, Callum Preston has his feet up on the desk and is saying loudly that Ali is such a Jew. Ali protests loudly not wanting to be associated with such a label.
You bite your lip. The part of you that is timid, that is afraid, holds you still. It reminds you of when you told your friends that you were Jewish. Their first responses had been "That’s okay, we like you anyway." And "Really? You don’t seem Jewish." Then had come the stupid, ignorant questions: "So if you’re Hebrew, do you speak Jewish?" "But I thought you were American." It reminded you that it hadn’t bothered you so much because they were your friends. But what if it was the whole school? Your small group of friends times a hundred.
But then, a louder, part of you reminded you that believe it or not, you are part of the Jewish people and it was your duty to stand up for your people. Hadn’t they been alienated enough already? Hadn’t they been oppressed and put down for too long? You imagine coming up to Callum, calling him an anti-Semitic pig and punching him right in his pudgy face. But the timid part screams in protest. You consider your prospects. Was it really better to be a brave outcast than a safe coward? You bite your lip harder until you taste blood. You think hard, look again, then slowly, sadly, you sit back down.