Alicia Jo Rabins

Light in a Pandemic by Alicia Jo Rabins

This poem originally appeared in the University of Portland Magazine.


The mask feels at home on my face

Like a worn key in a front door’s lock

I make cinnamon rolls without a recipe

And it works, like a miracle

We wipe the counters twenty times a day


Pour the children glasses of milk over and over

When we open the refrigerator

To grab the jug’s thick plastic handle

A brightness inside stands sentry

Holding us in its light for a moment


I used to imagine the refrigerator bulb

Stayed on all the time

Like the Everlasting Light

That hangs before the Holy Ark

In every synagogue


But now that I am older and have seen

How everything can be lost in a moment

I understand two things:

One, the refrigerator is dark

When closed


And two, in every synagogue,

Someone changes that lightbulb

Some custodian or rabbi

Or teacher or congregant or volunteer—

And though this sounds like the start


Of a joke, it is the opposite.

In the face of all that would extinguish us

We pour milk, we bake, we take turns, wear

Masks, we keep the light burning,

We keep each other alive.


Alicia Jo Rabins is an award-winning writer, musician, performer and Torah teacher. She is the author of two poetry books, Divinity School (winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize) and Fruit Geode (a finalist for the Jewish Book Award). As a musician, Rabins is the creator and performer Girls in Trouble, an indie-folk song cycle about women in Torah with three albums and accompanying study guides. Most recently she is the creator, star and composer of A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, an indie feature film based on her one-woman chamber-rock opera, which is currently on the film festival circuit. Visit her at

Heshbon HaNefesh – A Poetic Accounting of a Pandemic Year is an independent group of poets and artists marking one year of the pandemic in North America. Throughout the week, Jewschool will feature poems from their upcoming poetry readings. Click here for more about this project and how to hear Rabins and others in a live reading. 

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