Posts Tagged ‘Jewish literature’

One of my favorite writers, as well as my favorite Jewish-American writers, is Marge Piercy, who has lived an enviable life, on her own terms, as a poet, author and liberal activist. She lives in Cape Cod with her husband and a whole lot of cats. This excerpt is from her memoir, and feels particularly poignant these days as I’ve been blessed to have the time to do a lot of writing:

Cats continue to teach me a lot of what is important in my life, and also, how short it is, how we need to express our love to those for whom we feel it, daily, nightly, in every way we can. With everyone we love, we have only a limited time, so we must learn to celebrate it body and soul. They have taught me how precious every moment we can enjoy can be with whatever we love, because it all passes and so do we. 

Writing is a futile attempt to preserve what disappears moment by moment. All that remains of my mother is what I remember and what I have written for and about her. Eventually that is all that will remain of Ira and me. Writing sometimes feels frivolous and sometimes sacred, but memory is one of my strongest muses. I serve her with my words. So long as people read, those we loved survive however evanescently. As do we writers, saying with our life’s work, Remember. Remember us. Remember me.

Sleeping With Cats: A Memoir, Marge Piercy
the concluding paragraph


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This semester I’m taking a course on modern Jewish literature. We began our studies with the interesting question of: What defines Jewish literature anyway? It turns out, it’s a question that isn’t so easy to answer, and which has spurred countless ruminations in academic journals.

Surely, there is more to being Jewish literature than being written by a Jewish author. Then there are the conundrums raised by such wonderful books as Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter, which won a national Jewish book award two years ago, and its author wasn’t Jewish at all! Is it the themes or subjects that make a story Jewish? Messages of diaspora, identity, Otherness, living in two worlds, wrestling with tradition? Do those themes only count as Jewish if they involve Jewish characters?

Perhaps the best way to think about this question is through the open-ended nuance offered by poetry. This poem, by Myra Sklarew, appeared in her collection From the Backyard of the Diaspora, published in 1976.

what is a Jewish poem

does it wear a yarmulka
and tallis
does it live
in the diaspora
and yearn for homeland

does it wave the lulav
to and fro inside
a plastic sukkah
or recite
the seven benedictions
under the chupah

I wonder
what is a jewish poem
does it only go to synagogue
one day a year
attaching the tfillin
like a tiny black stranger
to its left arm

does it open
the stiff skins
of the prayerbook
to reveal the letters
like blackened platelets
twisting within

little yeshiva bocher
little jewish poem
waving your sidecurls
whispering piyyut to me
in my sleep
little jewish poem
in your streimel hat
little grandfather
sing to me
little jewish poem
come sing to me

– Myra Sklarew

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