This is the first time I’ve actually felt like I might have something I want to “blog about.” I wonder if anyone’s listening? If you are, let me know.
A conversation with Eleanor Lerman about my current manuscript, Aleph, broken, raises the issue of whether there is an audience any more for “Jewish” writing. My poems wrestle, in a part that seems pretty central to the whole, with what I mean by thinking of myself as Jewish. It is apparently not the same thing more conventional Jews mean—by conventional, I mean members of synagogues, although I am one; people who, unlike me, think of the synagogue service and the religious tradition as meaningful to them, for whatever reason; Zionists; people whose identity is shaped more than mine was by the Holocaust. I don’t know if secular Jews think about these questions much, although I know that at least a few do, probably many of them subscribers to my friend Larry Bush’s magazine Jewish Currents. The fundamental question: if you don’t believe, what do you think it means to consider yourself a Jew?
Someone who commented on my collection said it’s about the way my experience of being Jewish is not what I was told it would/should be. That was very useful. More broadly, I think it’s about the way life has not been the way I was told it would/should be. Eleanor questions whether I should focus my “pitch” for the manuscript on a potential (or theoretical) audience of secular Jews who feel the same perplexities I do. She’s not convinced that I should, purely from the point of view of finding a publisher and, later, an audience.
(Wonderful to use, in a slightly different form the word “perplexed,” which seems to have been patented by Maimonides.)
Anyway… Here’s what I’ve been thinking of as my “elevator pitch,” the short speech you make to a captive audience “in the elevator” to pitch your project. I’m going to follow up, maybe tomorrow, with some thinking about a broader question – what does the second generation of any immigrant group make of its “roots,” when they have begun to attenuate but still have some resonance? Does my book deal with issues other descendants of immigrants might recognize?
The”elevator pitch” for my poetry collection, Aleph, broken, that I am currently using:
Many collections of Jewish poetry take the religious tradition as a given. However, this leaves out the large percentage of American Jews who are secular and whose relationship to Judaism is ambiguous or conflicted. Aleph, broken, a collection of poems by Judith Kerman, will appeal to such readers. It explores 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—a challenge 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 is actually a little scary – might it lead me to have to revise the book again?