Judy Belsky was born in Seattle in 1947. Her grandparents had arrived there in the 1920’s to lead the synagogue begun by young families recently arrived from Turkey. The family and that synagogue formed the inside of the palace; knocking insistently on the door in the era of the baby boom, were the mind blown sixties. It became compelling to find herself as a woman, Sephardic Torah Jew and writer. She is the author of a memoir Thread of Blue Targum 1992. A new memoir Midrash and Baklava (seeking a publisher) traces her childhood in Seattle. She has published individual poems from Abraham and Sultana a book of poems that interweave the Sephardic experience, the childhood in Seattle, the interstitch of Hebrew, Ladino and English.

Judy lives in Ramat Bet Shemesh. She is a psychologist in private practice in Jerusalem and a mixed media artist. From photographs, she has traced the costumes worn by Sephardic women as they entered the State of Israel. Since these were discouraged and almost lost, her work catches them by the hem and preserves them.


Second Text



On the olive tree

Ivory blossoms open like the hand of a sleeper

Loose and trusting

they turn upward

to catch a blessing.

Burgundy and cream geraniums climb the wall

agile as the neighbor’s striped cat.

Memories weave back and forth.


My aunt’s hands are as soft as small down cushions,

her nails gently curved domes.

She twists the dough into miniature towers

and places them around a larger loaf

like small outbuildings around a palace.

I peer at her brow where she remembers.



When she is nine,

she visits her grandparents

She travels from Bursa to Istanbul by carriage and train.

Her nona’s house smells of jasmine, rose petal jam, toasted pumpkin seeds.

She plays the oud for her grandmother

who applauds as gently as spring rain on the courtyard

Her half - smile fills my aunt’s day

Silence sits upon her grandmother like a tiara.

Afternoons they nap under a paisley shawl

with long braided fringes

Some of her grandmother’s silence enters her

She takes it in like a long drink on a hot day



She leans across ten decades to whisper to me:

el silencio es oro.



Silence is the magnet that draws me

Pauses beckon me into their spaces

I dive again and again into the weft of their conversation

to ponder their shades and subtleties

their intended meanings

their double meanings

the gap between what they say

and what they conceal

Their unformed thoughts

I shape and re-shape

Their withheld risks I rush to



Silence is the scaffold in a hush of ruins

the second that a page hesitates

before it turns


or back



Before the modesty

of things clothed in silence

before the mystery

that points to the handprint of G0d

I incline my head


I understudy the silence of withheld desire

the waiting for redemption

the one that pushes words through heir lips

and the one with no sound that pushes hope

through their veins


To draw music out of their silence

Is my legacy



My aunt hands me a sheaf of parchment so worn and soft

it makes no sound when I unfold it

On a fine lace of vanilla and black

I make out

a recipe- for Bread

Between the lines a second text is recorded

margin notes   fragments    commentary

Bread Psalms


Someone-- one of them

has written:

Every moment is two moments

Find the one obscured beneath the ordinary

As you wait for bread to rise

Decide what is worth waiting for

Lift your blade and sculpt your intentions

Beneath the blessing for dough is written another blessing:

“To break off every yoke

Is to share bread with the hungry”

And then, these lines:

Everyone is hungry for something:

Feed your guests according to their hunger;

Name your own.

Requests are not random arrows flung into the air

Thrust words with the precision of an archer:

Avinu SheBaShamayim make the children rise

Stretch them and stretch us into ourselves

Reach down to us so that we may reach up to You



I return the soft pages

To their familiar folds

I enfold the multi-tiered text

The two-sided moment

The two sides of an open book

The two sides of my heart

The imprint of stone on tablet

The instant when my heart of stone decides

To awaken as a human heart

That waits

And beats now and now and now                                                                                      





after dark




layers of identity

press against each other

like nested

peasant dolls

the walls are thin

voices call each other

in another

mother tongue

hijica ven aqui


my aunts take me on vacation

no one

enters the cottage

until they scour

and kosher the kitchen

prepare the Turkish coffee

and fresh biscochos


they dedicate a tiny temple

beside another

ocean shore





they spread a white cloth

over the table of time

moments gather

around an hour

like children

at the feet

of the storyteller


durme durme

sleep deep

they say

enter the temple

of memory

weave loose sheaves


into a golden basket

bear your history

like first fruits





praise rises fast

in the yeast

of morning prayer



pull yourself through

the needle's eye

stitch tradition to space

set luminous layers

of dreams by hand

a small but complete sphere

of influence


a necklace of sacred cities encircling


a porous door

light slips past

bone white arches

where walls bear witness

where women tell visions


emblems you raise by hand

shape them to catch

the sound

of midrash

let it leap

from mouth to ear

to mouth

in seventy golden arcs




for what's been lost

for what's been lost

shed a silver tear

bend it

like a bow

form a slender bridge

to take you further

than you ever dared

to go

make a bridge to last

build a bridge of words

inscribe oceans

reams of sky

wind on endless

scroll your song


let the four-chambered house

breathe one poem

into another





Grandmother Bakes a Psalm


wake early

Exalt the living God*

stretch dough thinner

than you thought you could

There is no unity like His Oneness

but not to the point

of transparency

He has no form or body

press out circles

with a water glass

His holiness has no measure

place heaping spoon full

His flow of prophecy

at the center of every circle

Master to every creature

crimp edges

some will escape

To his treasured people

none like Moses will rise again

bake until plump and golden

His clear vision

allow to cool

the perfect pan

He will never change

His laws for all eternity

permit the contents to grow

against tension of sides

test with tines of fork

Our innermost secrets

He perceives the outcome

at the beginning

He will revive the dead

awaken the children

In abundant kindness

sing together

Blessed forever


His name


the language

of my childhood



*Exalt the Living God,  Jewish hymn  





Jewish American Literature


the second time I cross an ocean

I dive into the Atlantic


I retrieve head wraps

and prayer wraps


a shofar

old props

in a play you never

intend to produce again


from beneath our grandmother's headscarf

I hear your litany

fanatic reactionary patriarchal and, fresh from the heap



I follow the contours

of your self-



the one you keep peddling

and peddling

it sells


you lie down

one december

dreaming you are Christian, Buddhist, or Nothing

you wake up bewildered

when your children



how many ways can you deconstruct




you make the holocaust

your only feast

then you complain everything

Jewish tastes of ashes


you rake

the Bible

for images you force on top-

heavy poems


leave these to lovers who tremble

make a blessing


before they caress



you suck the pith

too fast to taste

you spit out seeds


with the juice

of pomegranates

you shame the mothers

if only



politically correct

more like the oppressed Hagar


would you love her?


you squeeze old texts

for better lines

You run out


I stole them


your grandfather's cup

still pours piyutim

into my ears

your grandmother's hands weave

refrains of fire

that stretch from Sabbath eve

until Sabbath eve


I speak improbable languages





at the borders I cross

I wait for no passwords


my voice rubs sparks

against the friction

of old lies





Grandmother's Text


the first time I cross an ocean

I am an onion


my grandmother hides me in the hold of the ship

she combs wayward ends of silk

tucks my tender skin in velvet folds

she smoothes protective membranes around the cell

where the code to my identity is stored

she inverts me

roots first


to the rhythm of surf she sings a lullaby

Somos Judios

her face is a map engraved with longitudes of exile

gravity pulls her back

wind pushes her forward

she hovers in the air over two small graves 

shaded by willow branch

she leans over me while I sleep

she teaches me the circular dialect of her arms

small sentries  over a citadel

the steps in her dance:

move away  move away another way home


she leans over me while I sleep to enter my dreams

Somos Judios

through her skin I smell the aromatic earth

the wild roses in her garden

she is happier on land

the ocean erodes memories with no embankment to settle against

on a road she can leave markers

encode footprints in the earth


she scatters breadcrumbs in the air

a gull catches them in his  beak

he soars high on the blessing in her dough


on deck my grandparents stand beneath the moon

their evening prayers glint like silver seeds

in the dark loam of the ocean

Kavana moves constellations

the captain keeps tacking, tacking to compensate


on the final dawn 

across a porous horizon trees begin to name themselves

the customs officer asks what is wrapped in embroidered velvet?

This? Nada

Just paper

I dissolve into paper

for twenty years I am her text

stained with her breath

the secret of her intentions

the leitmotif of her prayer

her sacred architecture

bone white arches light slips past

blueprints of the Temple

fine twined linen blue, purple and scarlet silks

patterns for two sided embroidery

remedies for healing 

her bone chant over the dead

the rhythm of birth 

the quickening of anticipation

written over the history of terror


In the history of wandering

what to leave and what to take

how to ease your body away from a landscape boundaries intact

how to ease your thoughts away from one language into another

how to embed an urgent message

under your tongue

Somos Judios

sacred texts written in flight

inscribed in parchment

the rise and fall of her cursive

in spaces between births snatches of psalms

for each one born in Jerusalem

another longs for her snatches of psalms

between bits of conversation between volumes of Talmud

I sleep for twenty years


I awaken as a girl