My conversation with Eleanor suggests that people who are Americans assimilated from other immigrant backgrounds, whether religious or ethnic, might identify with some of the issues raised by my book, and that I should emphasize that, rather than Jewishness in particular. I’ve retitled a few poems (“Ritual Bath” instead of “Mikveh” is one such) and I will add notes at the back. But the over-all packaging is a different question. I suppose I could start my elevator pitch with this idea:
People one or two generations from an immigrant past often feel a connection to the old religion or the old culture without being quite sure what claim it has on them and what they value in it. In the case of poet Judith Kerman, this connection is to Eastern European Judaism. But the issues raised by her collection of poems, Aleph, broken, may be of interest to North Americans from many other backgrounds who feel similar perplexities.
Many Jewish books offer relatively little to the large percentage of American Jews who are secular and whose relationship to Judaism is ambiguous or conflicted. The poems in Aleph, broken explore an unconventional but not atypical Jewish identity, one that is scientific and secular but yearning for connections usually found in Jewish observance, history and belief.
These poems, which explore the ways in which life and Jewishness are not what Kerman was taught to expect, reflect both real and imagined personal experience. Beginning with her family origins, the book grapples with such contemporary issues as sexism, antiSemitism, the Holocaust, aging and death, ecology and social justice. Kerman’s explorations of other cultures, especially Latin America, bring her back to questions of her personal identity.
Kerman was raised in an atheist home with a sense of history and progressive politics as part of Jewish identity. She acquired a broad knowledge of both the Hebrew Bible and Jewish culture through reading. In her late forties, she became active in Jewish religious and community life. However, the conventional understanding of Jewishness remains problematic for her, while the tradition of argument, exploration and dispute remains compelling. Many readers from a variety of cultures are likely to identify with her meditation on these challenges, which are faced by all those who still feel rooted in their culture of origin while finding a deeper meaning in the great scope of human experience.
This feels a little awkward, but maybe closer. Thoughts?