There are flamingos
in the Flamingo Habitat
at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino—
eight pink birds,
each balancing itself
on one twig-like leg.

And there are
a few full-length mirrors
fastened to trees
in the Flamingo Habitat,
which the flamingos
gaze into attentively.

I ask the caretaker,
who is aggressively
chasing away ducks
and feeding the fish and other birds,
why there are full-length mirrors
in the Flamingo Habitat.

She explains that flamingos
like to see other flamingos
around them,
and that as four of the eight flamingos
have been temporarily removed
for medical care,
mirrors were placed in the habitat
in their stead.

And my first thought
is that flamingos are like Jews,
sharing in common
this absolute need
to be surrounded by their own.
There have been entire months
when I’ve not made it
to synagogue or Sabbath meals
in Rhode Island,
but as soon as I’m off
to a new city or country,
I’m compelled to seek out Jews there.

But on second thought,
flamingos are not like Jews.
For the flamingos don’t spend
all of their time
gazing in the mirrors.
They look around.
You learn only so much
gazing in the mirror.
Most American Jews know nothing
about Jews in Israel.
Most Reform Jews know nothing
about national-religious Jews.
Most Conservative Jews know nothing
about haredi Jews.
As S. Ansky noted,
“there is no other People who can speak so much about itself
and yet know itself so little as the Jews.”
Some episodes of Fauda and Shtisel
don’t change this,
nor does eating hummus or herring.

 

An earlier version of this poem appeared in JewThink.

See here for more poems and stories by Shai Afsai.

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