Postcards for Hanukkah, The First Night: Maybe Today

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 6:00 pm

Postcards for Hanukkah, The First Night: Maybe Today

Some years ago when we were both teaching at Parsons School of Design, Matthew Septimus and I decided to collaborate. Our intention was to capture holy people and holy places, all that transcended the ordinary, with his pictures and my words. We began a project we called SHUL. Shul is the Yiddish word for school, and the places we photograph and describe are small schools of everyday life.

We started on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a place that once housed hundreds of synagogues. Today there are only a few. Together we visited the synagogues that remained. Matthew took pictures and I wrote poems about the personal stories these spaces evoked.

Over the years we began to consider our project as a kind of prayer, how prayers would be if they were pictures and poems.

Maybe today
I could begin every poem
maybe today
I’ll try understanding
what is what could be
how we recognize
what in the world
is a Jewish poem.
Few days ago
small foreign man
spoke on the subway.
Are you a Jew?
It’s a rhetorical question
he said. I know
you are because I am too
a Russian Jew who paints
other Jews and I know
you have Jewish eyes.
Jewish poems
less easy
to recognize.
I am sitting
in Upper West Side Barnes and Noble
secular Jerusalem
two books
on my chair altogether Jewish
space place activity
man next to me
Argentinian lapsed Catholic
has the same two books.
Jon Kabat Zinn and Amy Bloom
He says he is lapsed.
Not me. Chilean son Armenian
Husband. My son’s
a one third Jewish poem.
Daughter in law’s niece
Khanyisile Ndaba half colored
half Zulu lives in Capetown
she sent me an email. Can she
be an unorthodox Jew?
Yes. Yes Yes
Me too.

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is a novelist and poet living in New York City. She’s the author of several books, including Book Doctor. Read more of her writing on her blog I Am and I Am Not.

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