14 haiku for Parsha Vayakhel-Pekudei (involving a major construction project) by Rick Lupert


Vayakhel

I
An all staff meeting.
Building instructions given.
Not on Saturday.

II
This tabernacle
funded by all the people.
The first Kickstarter.

III
A miracle! This
over-funded project is
with the artists now.

IV
Here in the dream lab
curtains are connected and
loops of wool appear.

V
Planks and sockets and
cubits. This is what it takes
to build a Mishkan.

VI
The holiness is
in the details. A golden
Menorah appears.

VII
Who doesn’t love to
see a project completed.
Now, the inspectors.

Pekudei

I
Let’s name all our kids
Bezalel, so that they may
become artists too.

II
Priests looking for the
latest accessories – look
no further: ephod.

III
Pomegranates and
bells. Twisted blue. This runway
will be off the hook.

IV
Laying out the wares
Moses gives them a blessing
for a job well done.

V
With all the pieces
the Mishkan is almost here.
Assembly required.

VI
Like a complex set
of Ikea instructions
Moses builds it all.

VII
A cloud comes. Not one
of gloom and rain. This is the
cloud that strengthens us.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Ki Tisa (God’s got “back”) by Rick Lupert


I
An artist hired
for a major project. Here
is my half shekel.

II
Three thousand idol
worshippers executed.
Lesson of gold calf.

III
Moses is selfish.
He tries to sign God to an
exclusive contract.

IV
God’s got back…and that
is all any human will
be able to see.

V
The One with thirteen
merciful attributes has
got our stiff necked backs.

VI
You should not cook a
kid in its mother’s milk. Don’t
worry. They mean goats.

VII
Moses comes down the
mountain with the new tablets.
Hide the molten gods.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

A Poem For Purim in Which Our Happiness Gets Bigger by Rick Lupert


It is the Hebrew month of Adar and my
happiness is getting bigger.

That’s not meant to sound dirty.
It’s a traditional tradition, as old as Purim itself

as old as eating cookies shaped like human ears
as old as wearing Venetian masks

I think Purim is where Mardi Gras got the idea.
As Purim approaches, our happiness gets bigger.

On this day we march down the Bourbon Streets
of our lives, imbibing whatever it takes

to blur the lines between what’s wrong and what’s right.
(or what’s left if you’re feeling politically charged)

Hoping, no mandated, to see how close we are
to evil, and still land on the good side of the line.

I have to be honest, when I first heard the word
Megillah, I was disappointed to find out it didn’t

have anything to do with Gorillas. The cartoon of
my youth informing my understanding of Jewish History.

I’d always wanted a monkey of any kind and to
find out Purim only led to a cookie, was a tragedy

of King Kongian proportions. It was like someone
was saying Haman to me as loud as they could

next to my ear which I’m lucky enough to
still have attached. And can we all just agree,

There should be a much higher proportion of
chocolate Hamentaschen? (no offense fruit)

This is all getting a bit silly, but that’s Purim.
Straddling the line between good and evil.

A dizzying balance to maintain. I’m standing
on one foot. Hoping the other one lands

in a respectable location. My happiness is
getting bigger. I’d draw you a picture, but

I’m out of time.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Tetzaveh by Rick Lupert


I
If you’ve seen Raiders
of the Lost Ark. A lot of
this is familiar.

II
Four rows of three stones
one for each tribe. Beware the
Breastplate of Judgement

III
If you do not like
to wear a uniform, then
don’t become a priest.

IV
If you put on the
uniform you should expect
a consecration.

V
If you, impending
priest, like sprinkles of blood you’ll
love this ritual.

VI
Burn the lamb, burn the
lamb. That’s twice a day. Do it
for the Holy One.

VII
All the incense they
used to build this place. It was
like Venice Boardwalk.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Terumah by Rick Lupert (Ladies and Gentleman the Showbread!)


I
Let them make for me
a sanctuary. The first
Jewish contractors.

II
This bread is so cool
it gets its own show. It’s still
in syndication.

III
Six golden fingers
will light the way. Don’t forget
the purple curtains.

IV
No wall on the east
side of the Tarbernacle.
Learn from that Orangy.

V
How many curtains
does it take to get to the
holy of holies?

VI
If you encounter
an altar with four horns. Odds
are God is close by.

VII
It is a good time
to invest in copper and
all materials.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Mishpatim by Rick Lupert (Treat your donkeys well.)


I
The Torah says let
your slaves go after six years.
I say don’t own slaves.

II
Eye for eye, tooth for
tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
and so on and on.

III
Virgins. Animals.
So many rules on who you
can’t get jiggy with.

IV
You don’t have to tell
me twice to help the donkey
of my enemy.

V
I wonder if the
gluten free worry about
the unleavened feast.

VI
Anyone you meet
could be the one who was sent –
angel among us.

VII
Up he goes to write
down all that has happened and
all that will happen.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Yitro (it’s the really big show)


I
At Mount Sinai, a
family reunion. The
whole story is retold.

II
You can’t do it all
Jethro tells Moses.
Learn to delegate.

III
Moses chose men of
substance so they could judge the
people at all times.

IV
We’re finally at
the mountain, this kingdom of
princes and holies.

V
Are we prepared for
the thunder and lightning
of revelation?

VI
The big show begins.
We get a top ten list to
end all top ten lists.

VII
The sound and light show
left us shaken and afraid.
We were not prepared.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Beshalach – Just like at Universal Studios


I
If only they had
stopped and asked for directions.
Less than forty years.

II
Tough choice: Succumb to
approaching Egyptians or
walk into the sea.

III
Walls of water, and
a cloud pillar protects us
from the swords behind.

IV
Egyptians think the
space between water walls is
for them too. It’s not.

V
One of our oldest
traditions began in the
desert – complaining.

VI
Manna encased in
layers morning dew. A
sandwich from Heaven.

VII
If your parents said
not to talk to rocks, you should
refer them to God.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

An Uncensored Voice


I was a guest in the province
of notes. Carrying my fiddle and bow
I walked down the avenue of heavy oaks.
It was the morning the children left home
for good. I passed soldiers and hostages,
and came to a broad, whitewashed building
set on a gracious southern lawn.
An obsolete palace, home for lepers.
I listened to the nothing I’d been
and the nothing I’d done.
I heard the scratching of leaves and birds,
small sisterly voices moved by wind.
My unconscious life was floating back to me,
I was made to understand: it was god with a large G.
All I had to do was be still.


Judith Skillman’s new book is “Kafka’s Shadow,” Deerbrook Editions (2107).
Visit www.judithskillman.com.

7 Haiku for Parsha Bo – Sure, let’s put blood on the door.


I
No, Mister Pharaoh
You can not keep the children
as security.

II
First the locusts, then
a darkness, so pitch dark, it
embarrassed the night.

III
Maybe the cattle
in exchange for freedom? No
conditions at all.

IV
It will happen at
midnight, Pharaoh is warned. God
invents Rosh Chodesh.

V
I’d paint anything
on my door if it meant I
could live through the night.

VI
Midnight came and the
firstborn went. There’ll be no time
to let the bread rise.

VII
Remember this day
with nothing leavened and put signs
on your hands and eyes.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Vaera (in which frogs get a raw deal)


I
In case you have been
waiting for slavery to
end, your time has come.

II
A surprise flashback
makes us nostalgic for the
children of Jacob.

III
Moses gets a pep
talk, and a sidekick. Aaron
will do the talking.

IV
You’re not going to
impress anyone turning
your sticks into snakes.

V
The unsung heroes
of Exodus, are surely
all the poor dead frogs.

VI
Pharaoh is tired of
plague after plague but God’s
not done showing off.

VII
Be careful Pharaoh.
Your fickle mind and hardened
heart won’t always heal.

Poem: That Great Diaspora


I’ll never leave New York & when I do
I too will be unbodied — what? you
imagine I might transmogrify? I’m from
nowhere which means here & so wade out
into the briny dream of elsewheres like
a released dybbyk but can’t stand
the soulessness now everyone who ever
made sense to me has died & everyone I love
grows from my body like limbs on a rootless tree

Rachel Zucker is the author of nine books, most recently, a memoir titled “MOTHERs,” and a double collection of prose and poetry, “The Pedestrians.” Her book “Museum of Accidents” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Zucker teaches poetry at New York University.

Poem: Miriam Lives in Apt. 2C


With her two brothers
nine goats
and a pack of fruit flies.
When her father tells her
Go get the switch
she is a different color after.
She is April.
Her teeth at well’s bottom
her fall from favor
the deepest fruit.
In the summer she’s a porch fly
against the burn.
But when she curls into a stoop
against the tide of winter
the neighbors
leave their doors cracked

Sivan Butler-Rotholz is the contributing editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on “As It Ought to Be” and a columnist for the iPinion Syndicate. She teaches English and creative writing in New York City and internationally.

Poem: A Jewish Poet


It is hard to be a Jewish poet.
You cannot say things about God
that will offend the disbelievers.
And you always have to remind someone
it wasn’t your people who killed their savior.
And Solomon and David are always laughing
over your shoulder
like a father and son ridiculing the unfavored brother.
And you cannot entice people with the sloping
parts of a woman’s body
because you must always remain pure.
And every day you have to ask yourself why you’re writing
when there is already the one great book.
It is hard to be a Jewish poet.
You cannot say anything about the disbelievers,
which might offend God.


“A Jewish Poet” first appeared in Prairie Schooner.

Yehoshua November is the author of “God’s Optimism,” which was named a finalist for the 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. November teaches writing at Touro College and Rutgers University.

Poem: How to Sail


Scrape the curse off the parchment. Stir the broken letters
into a jar of water. Make a woman drink it: thus said
Elohim. But why: thus said Molly, twelve years old. Now I
was the teacher. We sat there, two black flames in a room
of white fire. We were sailing on a wind that passed
through the open window of a room next to the
marketplace, two thousand years ago

“How to Sail” first appeared in “Divinity School,” published by The American Poetry Review, 2015.

Alicia Jo Rabins is a poet, musician, performer and Torah teacher based in Portland, Ore. Her book “Divinity School” won the 2015 APR/Honickman First Book Prize.

Poem: Sabbath in the Last Temple


The house of God breathes still.
The house is a snoring old man,
surprising the neighbors
as it inhales sand.

Nearby, vendors & traffic echo angry bees.
In the empty hour of the setting sun,
hounded by duty & tradition,
one Rabbi remains.

The holy house rattles,
ready to go, keys in a pocket
shifting slow & steady,
exhaling amber light, lush
as New Year honey.


M. E. Silverman is poetry editor at Blue Lyra Review and review editor of Museum of Americana. He authored the chapbook “The Breath Before Birds Fly” (ELJ Press, 2013) and co-edited “The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013).

Poem: Cabbage, a Love Song


I dislike you, cabbage. Your tight-fisted order
yielding to my little knives with your
immaculate squeaks. Your rotund indifference to all
that falls away. The fact you feed me through the winter,
through the centuries, and I dislike my need,
the shadows of my lifting fingers cast by your
green light, and all my old sorrow. I dislike
your density, as if the world lacked space, your pure
white heart that open fields can’t heat, the way
you fall apart when cooked. You’re such a poor loser.
Plus it takes so very long to finish all of you.
I can say without reservation, I hate
all the casual ways you’re so unseemly chaste,
so haughty in your modesty, so moderately good.


Previously published in Immigrant (Black Lawrence Press, 2010) and reprinted in Verse Daily.

Marcela Sulak, author of  “Decency” and “Immigrant,” has translated four collections of poetry from Israel, Habsburg Bohemia and Congo-Zaire, and co-edited “Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Literary Genres.” She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University.

Memorial Day Sonnet: Thanks But No Thanks


No parade no drum no strutting majorettes
no kids jumping up & down to see
no brazen trumpets and no striding troops
no polished horseflesh prancing no oratory
no “heroes” no “service” no “high sacrifice”
no “love of Freedom,” no flag flapping in breeze
no hand upon my patriotic heart
no generals no mayor no filthy lies
that do not resurrect either the dead
or those they slew, or cities they destroyed
no pious silence, no taps at 3 p.m.
no masquerade of peace. No. No parade.

I’m in the hammock in my own back yard
reflecting on our wars. I take it hard.


Alicia Ostriker’s most recent volumes of poetry are “The Book of Seventy” and “The Old Woman, the Tulip and the Dog.”  She was twice a finalist for the National Book Award, and received the National Jewish Book Award in 2010.

Yiddish poems from ‘Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles’


Eybiker yam —Eternal Sea

by Rosa Nevodovska, From Azoy vi ikh bin (As I Am)  – 1936, Translated by Miri Koral.

Sea, sea, eternal sea! I’ve come to speak with you today –
To grasp your endless striving, your wordless ceaseless talk…
Cramped in town, I'm here to part ways with the city’s restraints ,
And beside you, sea, I seek truth, beside you today I seek accord.

My eyes calm in the vast expanse. Your ceaselessly striving is nearby —
Wide as your waves, sea, is my little human heart.
Our cities, like you, oh, sea, brim with people and life—
Multicolored are our lives …and at times night-black.

What will you, my sea, what will you impart today?
Are you truly freed? Or are you stifled by your endless coast?
Waves and foam and noise—in infinite, tumultuous haste—
Between continents in continual back and forth.

Listen, listen, sea, to my human-tongue!
And let your vast waters rock my anguish and my ache.
My sadness that near you is stilled and quenched like sun,
Hangs over me again in town — as din, as echo, as scream.

Sea, eternal sea! I’ve come to speak with you today —
To grasp your endless striving, your foamy, ceaseless talk.
I stand beside you, sea, unable to take my leave;
Your endless unrest, like mine, seeks and is unable to find accord.

Rosa Nevadovska was born in the Polish border town of Bialystok in 1890. In 1928, she arrived in New York and shortly after moved to Southern California where she rented a beachside apartment for $12 a month in Venice, which Yiddish-speaking residents referred to as “baym yam” – by the sea.

[READ: YIDDISH BY THE SEA]

Tsum vildn mayrev zing ikh –  I Sing To the Wild West

By Henry Rosenblatt, From Mayrev no. 1 February 1925, Translated by Hershl Hartman.

Our ash-grey covered wagons did not move on,
Not drawn to you over white Sierra defiles.
We supplicated in our prayers
The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
Not bending our heads over loaded rifles.
It wasn’t our tents, ignited by your red-skinned foes,
That burned under your steel-blue, night-frigid sky,
On your black-bodied prairies
As fresh, red-bloodied wounds.
It wasn’t our arms, browned by the sun,
That, over clouded streams,
Shook your wet gold-sand in copper sieves.
It wasn’t our blood that streamed
From your bloodied scalping knife
On our chalk-white, expiring lips.
It wasn’t we who, mute, with bowed heads of sinners,
That dug the first grave in the desert.
It wasn’t our herds, flaming with thirst
And swollen by hunger,
That fed your blood-thirsty ravens.
It wasn’t our spines that bent over the manes
Of your hot-blooded broncos in wild gallop.
We did not dance with brown lasso-ropes
Against your buffalos’ anger-laden eyes.
It wasn’t our feet that were first to carve out the paths
Over your mountain-land.
It wasn’t our hands that first strewed
The towns and cities across your brown flatlands.

How can broken spines,
With which dust-grey peddler-sacks are laden,
Sway elastically to the rhythm of your gold in your copper pans?
How can the hands that held the wandering rod for generations and generations
On all the condemned roads of the Exile
Combat your copper arms and steel fists
And scalping knives?

We waited and waited and waited
Until our ears perceived
The blue songs of your steel-lightning rails —
The dance of the red-eyed devil with its disheveled locks of hair.
We were intoxicated by the steel-blue, white-wind wild singing,
The devils-dance under the whirlwind, smoke-brown, spark-veils —
Our bloods are poisoned,
Poisoned by the poison of the yellow metals!

We heard that your gold-sand has been washed out,
Cleansed of filth and purified of transgression;
We heard:
Your prairies, they lie like cattle after a fat, satisfying grazing —
Full-bellied, heavy-bodied, rose-color uddered;
We heard:
Your forests and gardens and orchards
Go on, enwrapped in eternal summer.
Your hills protrude like young, newly-developed, pointy breasts.
Overfilled with brown-blue milk…
We heard
That your nimble, red-skinned hee-ya,
Like a bear on a chain in the hands of a gypsy,
Dances drunkenly in your multicolored circus bedlam.
And your hot-blooded broncos go humbly yoked to garbage wagons.

The tomahawk, bow and scalping-knife have long
Decorated the shelves of your museums.
Your copper-poured, dark-brown-eyed buffalos
Stroll about in your zoos among multicolored peacocks.
And your many-colored fields —
They lie, ordered by brown-blue, snake-crooked streets.
Your villages and cities protrude out
From under your earth-skin below
Like mushrooms in the field after a warm rain.
And over the dark hill-silhouettes
That cut against your steel-blue, western-shore sky,
There drag the erased shadows
Of your white-grey covered-wagon caravans.
The fires lit on your brown-bronze prairies
By your red-skinned foes —
Barely, barely flicker while darkly enmeshed in the folds
Of your bundle of a multicolored swirl of peoples.

We, too, will be confused in the maelstrom of your big city streets,
We, too, will be blown about by the hot whirlwind
Of your nimbly-oncoming generations.
But a generation of ours will arise, still
Over the ash-hills of your long-extinguished generations,
As Phoenix arises from its own destruction and fire
With colorful, widespread wings —
Young, nimble, new!

Born near Lodz in 1878, Henry Rosenblatt’s big break came when he saw his poems published in Forverts, America’s larges Yiddish-language newspaper, which still prints today as The Forward. Moving to California in 1921, he soon became a prominent figure in the Yiddish cognoscenti as the editor of the Pasifik literary journal. Many of his poems provide vivid descriptions of the places and people of Southern California.

Poems reprinted with permission from the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

Yiddish by the sea: UCLA releases anthology of local Yiddish poetry


Shortly after she moved to Los Angeles three years ago, Tamar Schneider Levin, 78, found herself in a lecture at UCLA about Yiddish writers in Venice, Calif., in the early 20th century. 

“I thought, ‘There were Yiddish writers in Los Angeles?’ ” the native New Yorker said. “ ‘I’ve never heard of them.’ ”

Schneider Levin had grown up in a house with a large Yiddish library and spoken the language exclusively until kindergarten. So when the speaker that night three years ago, a UCLA researcher named Caroline Luce, mentioned that a small trove of Yiddish poems and stories written in Southern California was sitting in the university’s bowels just waiting to be translated, Levin offered to help.

” target=”_blank”>bit.ly/UCLA-Yiddish.

It features seven Yiddish writers who yoked the Ashkenazi Jewish tongue to the scenery and cultural motifs of the American West; the hope is to add more in the future. 

These European-born essayists and poets who settled in Southern California — leaving New York for the relatively barren literary landscape west of the Hudson River — applied the Yiddish imagination for the first time to concepts such as orange groves and the Pacific Ocean. They wrote for and about a Jewish population in L.A. that tripled in the 1920s, according to Luce, who led the effort.

The project of Yiddishizing the West was a novel one necessitating a degree of creativity. Henry Rosenblatt (born Khayim Royzenblit in Ukraine), whom the anthology bills as the most prominent Yiddish writer in Los Angeles, christened the alien-looking Joshua trees of the Mojave Desert as “Yehoshua-trees.”

Meanwhile, there were Spanish words to be sounded out in Hebrew script: For some time, Yiddish writers stumbled over the “g” in Los Angeles before finding an acceptable spelling, Luce said. 

Soon, though, something like a coherent style emerged. Speaking at a launch event for the anthology May 17 in UCLA’s Royce Hall, Luce used Shia Miller as an example.

A tubercular writer whose black wit often focused on his illness, Miller contrasted descriptions of the fertile and welcoming landscape with the pall of death that hung over the city: In the early 20th century, Southern California’s favorable climate made it a sanatorium for the nation’s ill. Miller and his contemporaries helped write a “counter-fable of the city and expose darker noir realities,” anticipating later, better-known chroniclers, such as Charles Bukowski and even Joan Didion, according to Luce.

The anthology includes stories from Miller’s collection “Bleter Faln,” or “Fallen Leaves,” translated for the first time by Levin. The title, Luce speculated at the event, may have been a response to the more hopeful take on the American West in poet Walt Whitman’s volume “Leaves of Grass.” 

Blonde and blue eyed, with a boisterous manner and quick laugh, Luce is not Jewish but learned to speak the Ashkenazic tongue in the course of her graduate research with UCLA’s history department. She admits that as a non-Jewish Yiddish speaker, she is a member of a club whose members are “few and far between.”

Speaking at the launch event, where kosher refreshments were served to a small crowd of academics, students and elderly Yiddish speakers, she said the project’s origins go back to when she began researching her dissertation on a Jewish bakers union in Boyle Heights and she came across a number of Yiddish sources that had not been translated. 

“I kept coming across these beautiful texts and wanting to explore them more,” she said.

After Luce was hired by Mapping Jewish L.A., an undertaking of the UCLA’s Leve Center for Jewish Studies that aims to create resources for scholarship on local Jewish history, she felt a crowdsourced translation effort would fit the project’s aims. She translated a number of the works and doled out the remainder to volunteers.

Not all the works dredged up came from previously obscure writers like Miller.

Hershl Hartman, one of Luce’s lay translators, grew up reading children’s stories about a crime-fighting communist dog named Labzik by the Yiddish humorist Gershon Einbinder, better known as Chaver Paver. In 1947, when Hartman joined the staff of Morgen Frahayt, or Morning Freedom, one of New York’s daily Yiddish newspapers, he encountered Paver as a colleague. More than half a century later, Hartman edited Luce’s translation of a series of Paver stories, “Zalmen the Cobbler,” on Yiddish life in Los Angeles in the 1930s.

By the time Hartman arrived in Los Angeles in 1964, the days Paver described when Yiddish was spoken freely in the streets of Boyle Heights had passed, even though four Yiddish-speaking organizations — the socialist-Zionist Farband, the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute, the Workmen’s Circle and the Jewish faction of the International Workers Order — still constituted a vibrant hub for the secular Jewish community. Since then, of the writers and intellectuals who animated the local Yiddish scene, “All have been virtually eliminated from the consciousness of Los Angeles,” he said.

The UCLA project was, in part, a response to the sense that any Yiddish literature written west of the Hudson tends to languish in obscurity relative to New York’s Yiddish output — as much a factor of historical circumstance as East Coast bias.

“By the time you see large numbers of Ashkenazic Jews settling here, it’s already at a point when Yiddish is sort of on the decline,” said Rob Adler Peckerar, the executive director of Yiddishkayt, an L.A.-based organization dedicated to promoting Yiddish culture.

The Jewish population boom produced a pair of literary journals — Pasifik (Pacific) in 1929 and Mayrev (West) in 1925 — but neither managed to make it out of their first year of production. 

“Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles” can be viewed as an appreciation — and exploration — of the Ashkenazi literary style. For the poems he translated, Hartman rigidly maintained the measure and rhyming scheme of the originals. Translating them any other way, he said, would be “as if Shakespeare’s sonnets were to be translated purely for their meaning.” (Peckerar dubbed Hartman “the king of Yiddish translation” for his ability to transpose iambic pentameter into English.)

But besides a literary product, it’s a time capsule of L.A.’s Yiddish heyday.

“To me, it’s part of the bigger story of Jewish life,” Schneider Levin said. “You know, we did use that language for 1,000 years.” 

Questions for the critics


Would you be satisfied, then,
if more Israelis died?
If children and their parents didn’t heed the sirens?
If they didn’t burrow beneath the ground?
If the rockets were “better” in design and aim?
If they landed on Ben Yehuda and Dizengoff?
In your calculus, would the Israelis be “justified,” then?
Would it all be more “proportionate” (oh, that word!)
if only those hundreds of rockets flying toward them
left fewer able to run, to hide — and to fight back?


Originally published on RJ.org.

Erika Dreifus is the author of “Quiet Americans: Stories,” which was named an American Library Association/Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. Visit her online at ErikaDreifus.com and follow her on Twitter @ErikaDreifus

Poem: Cinco De Mayo


What’s that mob in the playground where I meant to sit
in sunshine read my book what’s that uproar
P.S. 371 annual party a line for food
a dozen miniature soccer games around the pool no rules
backpacks of every hue parked on benches does nobody fear
theirs will be stolen? Are we really in the city or am I dreaming
three pretty mariachis singing Cielito Lindo and making
the children and their mamacitas, brown and beige,
sing along, everybody knows the words, indeed it is
New York City Upper West Side Cinco de Mayo, querida  
they teach the children to dance La cucaracha, kick and shake
and shriek, for it is Mexican Independence Day
let the city employee hugging clipboard shake her hair loose
and if two days ago I was shopping for ant traps
and if three days ago I was fighting rush hour traffic, let there be
traffic traffic in another world for here it is spring
if we are ants crazy ants as I sometimes think
see we are musical ants we are dancing ants


Alicia Ostriker is a poet and critic. Her most recent volumes of poetry are “The Book of Seventy” and “The Old Woman, the Tulip and the Dog.” She was twice a finalist for the National Book Award, and she received the National Jewish Book Award in 2010. As a critic, she has written on American women’s poetry and on the Bible, most recently “For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book” (2007).

Poem: Auschwitz this evening


— for Primo Levi

As the dusk breaks upon Auschwitz,
crows still perch on weather vanes.
Clouds fly in and out of view. Down the road,
a new green bike faintly rolls, a fine white wine
uncorks, a radio boasts of tomorrow’s great weather,
a warm bed finds itself full of young, early lovers.
Even if the grounds once bulged
with so many unripe souls,
even if the moon’s light was once taken
by heavy braids of cinder and ash,
dusk still lowers pink-purple light here
before every night, as it does over
the promised land — with Heaven
in silence overhead.


A version of this poem appeared in Poetica Magazine, The 2014 Holocaust Edition.

Baruch November is the author of “Dry Nectars of Plenty,” which co-won BigCityLit’s chapbook contest. He founded Jewish Advocacy for Culture & Knowledge and teaches creative writing and literature at Touro College in New York.

Poem: Universal Homesickness


Lately it’s all Egypt, and leaving Egypt,
for me. It combines the three great plots:
I go on a journey. A stranger comes to town.
We leave the narrow land: they’re pressing us down.
The stranger is the traveling magician,
the golden calf in an amulet around his neck,
a holy name three times on golden ring.
He shines at me across the sand.
Women smoke cigarettes outside his tent –
each tent window looks onto another.
The calf carries a globe between his horns.
A snake rears its head on center temple.
The people are horny, and lonely, and our leader not gentle.
I’m a serious person with a commitment,
but I’m burning up. An electricity buzzes under my skin.
Like a string I wore for two years around my ankle
that someone gave me. It heated from within.
Things open up in the desert heat –
the little calf that came with us bleats out of the fire
on spindly legs. Warm gold cells will spark the stream.
We shall drink him tenderly. We meant to be better.

It’s all Egypt and leaving Egypt for me, whatever I do.
Ma tovu.


Sarah Heller’s poems have been published in the “Pine Hill Review”, “RealPoetik”, “Painted Bride Quarterly”, “Pembroke Magazine”, “The Temple/El Templo”, “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet”, “Hayloft” and others. She teaches Advanced Creative Writing at Rutgers University, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.

Poem: Real Poem (Appellation)


“Writing With My Shoes On” is
a title for a poem. “Then I Did
Something Stupid” is better
for a short story. The trash smells
because living things decompose
isn’t the name of anything just
a way of describing these environs.
To say I miss you in French
one says “tu me manques” where
“tu” means you. Do the French
miss less because their you is
there before them? Syntactical
high jinks: methinks Americans
don’t miss the missed-one
so much as feel how absence
crowds the I. Today my others are
far from me. “I”—    is
the name of this feeling.


From “The Pedestrians,” copyright 2014 by Rachel Zucker. Reprinted with permission of the author and Wave Books.

Rachel Zucker is the author of nine books, most recently, a memoir, “MOTHERs,” and a double collection of prose and poetry, “The Pedestrians.” Her book “Museum of Accidents” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2013. Zucker teaches poetry at New York University.

Poem: The casting of lots


Dear Ahasuerus, it is eleven-thirty am and my number is one hundred and eighty-six. I feel the lack of communion striving for a higher purpose in this government assistance office, and it is beyond sadness and feet and the distance of aircraft and tires and inner-tubes on turgid rivers in midsummer with aluminum cans of beer. It’s not just the ones who pick discarded numbers from the floor and say they missed their turn. The flower-selling prepubescent children sniffing glue in paper bags outside the margins of the magazine I’m reading remind me of the laundry I hung up that must be dry by now, filled as they are with warmth and wings and snapping.

This office is a fine line. The wind from the open window rustles the pages of my magazine, pumps the lungs of paper bags, lifts the plastic shopping sacks discarded in the fields, fills the vacant sheets.

When God withdraws, we all must breathe a little harder.


Reprinted with permission, from  Black Lawrence Press.

Marcela Sulak, author of  “Decency” and “Immigrant,” has translated four collections of poetry from Israel, Habsburg Bohemia and Congo-Zaire, and co-edited “Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Literary Genres.” She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University.

Poem: Deceiving the gods


The old Jews rarely admitted good fortune.
And if they did, they’d quickly add kinehora —
let the evil eye not hear. What dummkopf
would think the spirits were on our side?
But even in a tropical paradise
laden with sugar cane and coconut,
something like the shtetl’s wariness exists.
In Hawaii, I’m told, a fisherman
never spoke directly, lest the gods
would arrive at the sea before him.
Instead he’d look to the sky,
the fast-moving clouds, and say,
I wonder if leaves are falling in the uplands!
Let us go and gather leaves.
So, my love, today let’s not talk at all.
Let’s be like those couples
eating silently in restaurants,
barely a word the entire meal.
We pitied them, but now I see
they were always so much smarter than we were.


From “Like a Beggar,” © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of The Permissions Co., Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Ellen Bass has published several books of poetry, including “The Human Line,” “Like a Beggar” and “Mules of Love.” She teaches in the MFA program in poetry at Pacific University.

Poem: After Reading Nelly Sachs


Poetry has opened all my pores,
and pain as colorless as gas
moves in. I notice now the bones
that weld my child together
under her fragile skin; the crowds
of unassuming leaves that wait
on every corner for burning;
even your careless smile — bright teeth
that surely time will cut through
like a rough knife kerneling corn.


From “A Perfect Circle of Sun,” Swallow Press (1971)

Linda Pastan’s 14th book of poems, “Insomnia,” was published by W.W. Norton & Co. in the fall of 2015. She is a former poet laureate of Maryland and in 2003 won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement.

Poem: Jerusalem


In the covered shuk an orange was the only source of light,
the spices snored in canvass bags all night in Jerusalem.

There are always scored stones above, curtains, flags below,
shifting their gravity from shoe to shoe in tight-fitting Jerusalem.

The cracks in the Western Wall are soaked in prayers,
the doves are scraps of light above Jerusalem.

The Mount of Olives crouches over the Wailing Wall:
bleached bone, bleached stone, sun-crumbled white Jerusalem.

Like teeth broken on what they’ve been given to say,
rows and rows of white boxes, asleep against the might of Jerusalem.

Bullet holes are horizontal, rain-bored holes are vertical.
The pools, the ritual baths fill themselves in the sight of Jerusalem.

No other city has drunk so much ink;
who from the sages would know how to write, but for Jerusalem?


Previously published in The Cortland Review.

Marcela Sulak, author of ” Decency” and “Immigrant,” has translated four collections of poetry from Israel, Habsburg Bohemia, and Congo-Zaire, and co-edited Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Literary Genres. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University.

Poem: Ancestry


How can I tell you
        that my ancestors are soap,
        that I’m descended from soap,

and every morning in the shower
        they melt in my hands
        and run from my body,

and that as hard as I’ve tried
        there’s nothing to hold onto,
        nothing that won’t rub away.


Originally published in “Sublimation Point,” Four Way Books (2004).

Jason Schneiderman is the author of the books “Sublimation Point” and “Striking Surface.” He is an assistant professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY.