Saturday, July 09, 2005

Jewish Poetry, Jewish Education

Among the various hats I wear--kipot, I guess, in this context--I serve on the Education Committee at the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue in Evanston, IL, where lately we've been (once again) reviewing our curriculum. I am, therefore, in search of suggestions!

What are, in your view (O my readers!) the 100...OK, the 80...OK, the 50...OK, the 10 poems that every American Jew should know? Or, if you prefer, forget the "the." What are 10 poems you wish every Jew in America would read and / or study? And, if you don't mind my asking, why these?

Don't worry about whether they'd be appropriate for kids, teens, or alter rockers like me. This is a wish list. (Maybe a book? Who knows?)

Send me your suggestions, and I'll compile and post them here!

By way of inspiration, this: the first section of one of my favorite poems about Jewish education, but the always invigorating Albert Goldbarth:

“The Nile

Elijah this.
The Children of Israel that.
And Moses. Moses in the bulrushes, Moses
blahblahblah. The doors closed
and the dark, fake-woodgrain paneling casketed us
away from the world for an hour and 45 minutes every afternoon
in Rabbi Lehrfield’s neighborhood Hebrew School. Here, as one,
the pious and the derelict chafed equally. The vehicle
of Rabbi Lehrfield’s narrative drive was Obedience,
all the wonder in those stories was run down methodically
and left behind like so many roadkills. Methuselah
something. Somethingsomething Ezekiel. And Pharaoh
set the infant Moses in front of a crown and a plate of embers,
testing if this was the child it was prophesied
would steal his reign. And Moses
did reach for the crown. But the Lord set an angel to guard him,
who now did guide that hand to lift an ember, and so did Moses
thereby burn his tongue and lo would stammer all his life long.
Did I care? His speech limped, but he lived.
Did I listen? Every night I’d read another chapter
in those actionful schlock-epic books by Edgar Rice Burroughs,
the ones where Mars (Barsoom, the natives call it) is
adventured across by stalwart Terran John Carter, Jeddak
(Warrior-King) and husband of the gauzey-saronged and
dusk-eyed Dejah Thoris, Princess of all those red-duned climes.
It made more sense to me
than God is a great bush of fire. All the while
Moses stuttered in front of the Living Flame, I
silently practiced Martian. It was Rabbi Lehrfield’s
Martian School for me the whole lackluster time.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

I know and love Goldbarth's work, but had somehow missed this poem -- thank you for that.

Wow -- ten poems I wish every Jew in America would read, eh? Okay, I'll give that a shot, with the caveat that I'm away from my study and am doing this off the top of my head, and I might generate a different list tomorrow:

- Alicia Ostriker's "A Meditation in Seven Days"
- Irena Klepficz's "Der mames shabosim/My Mother’s Sabbath Days"
- Rodger Kamenetz's "History of the Invisible"
- Ira Sadoff's "Hasids on the Subway"
- Merle Feld's "We All Stood Together"
- Marge Piergy's "The Art of Blessing the Day"
- Lynn Gottlieb's "Spring Cleaning Ritual on the Eve of the Full Moon Nissan"
- Martín Espada's "Imagine the Angels of Bread"

Well, there's eight. I feel certain there should be some John Hollander on the list, but can't pick one without having a book in front of me... :-)