Hold It All

Month: June, 2019

The Real United States by Hedy Epstein

Not long after I came to the United States [later 1948], I began to work for the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) near New York’s City Hall and later in the agency’s shelter on West 103rd Street. The agency brought to the U. S. displaced persons who had been living in displaced persons camps in Germany since the end of World War II. I had daily contact with these persons. With every new boatload of people arriving, I scanned their faces, hoping to find my parents among them. I inquired of them where, in what camp, they had been during the war, hoping someone would be able to provide some information about my parents. None could.

Ethel instructed me in my duties. Her response to my repeated suggestion that we go to lunch together was always, “No.”  Summoning up a lot of courage, I asked her why she did not want to go out to lunch with me. “Don’t you know we cannot go to lunch together,” she said. “Why not?” I asked. She replied: “I cannot eat in the places where you can and I am sure you would not want to eat where I eat.” I failed to understand until she explained: “Negroes are not allowed to eat in restaurants frequented by whites.” I was shocked, incredulous. After all, President Lincoln had freed the slaves. That is what I read in history books. I thought therefore there was no more discrimination. This incident served as the catalyst for my involvement in the civil rights movement, always as a protestor and later, also, professionally.

Hasidism

You can take everything from me—the pillow from under my head, my house—but you cannot take God away from my heart.
— Nahman of Bratslav

Everything the true Hasid does or does not do mirrors his belief that, in spite of the intolerable suffering man must endure, the heartbeat of life is holy joy, and that always and everywhere, one can force a way through to that joy — provided one devotes one’s self entirely to his deed.
—Martin Buber

I confess that I am unable to discriminate among them — I love them all and, at various times, one more than the others. Much depends on my mood. Sometimes I need a Bratzlaver tale, sometimes I need a Rizhiner saying. I particularly love the modest Masters, the humble ones, those who didn’t ‘make it,’ not really; those who simply wished to be companions or disciples of great Masters and remained reserved and withdrawn…
—Elie Wiesel

A Hasid was taught to be forbearing with all the world, to be patient, mild, and gentle in judging others, to love man as well as animals, to be shy, bashful, and to avoid honors and social distinction, to serve God for the sake of God rather than for reward. Constant self-scrutiny and repentance assumed a place of prominence in Hasidic piety unknown before, with ascetic exercises as indispensable means of repentance.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel Read the rest of this entry »

Internationalista (Daydream/2)

It’s Nablus spring 1989
The intifada is in full bloom
And there’s always something happening in and with and from the resistance
International delegations come and go
10,000 photos are taken of David
(A Palestinian teen-ager with stones)
Squaring off against Goliath
(An Israeli tank)
The leaflets and communiqués everywhere
The women come into public space and assert their voices
And the mighty State of Israel has a major PR problem
Unnoticed is the older man with wavy grey hair
Like so many non-Palestinians, he, too, adopts the kaffiyeh
He studied some Arabic in Beirut and Sāo Paolo
He’d always been thinking of how to make “it” happen
To birth the revolution
Here, there, and everywhere
He wasn’t as talkative as he was in his thirties
He listened far more intently
Suffering can do that to a person
He’d seen so much misery
No, he wasn’t religious at all, but he found himself saying “crucifixion”
A fate he had several times narrowly escaped himself
He arrived with a Brazilian passport: “Joāo Azevedo”
He came on fire for the people living under a dehumanizing system
He came, thinking, once again: If I’m going to go out
(translated: to die)
Better to die in the struggle
Than being interviewed for the 200th time by a cynical, smug journalist whose specialty is retro features
Better to be with the rock throwers than those who blithely and brainlessly pay their taxes to support the occupiers
Better to go and blend in and enjoy every bite of falafel and hummus and
Say “gracias, uh, shukran”
To every Palestinian grandmother, wife, or teenager who offers sustenance
Better to connect the blood red dots once again
From the Guatemalan Highlands to Ramallah
From Santiago to Gaza City
From San Salvador to al-Quds
Better to recognize the Palestinians as sisters and brothers
Compañeros and compañeras
And offer them one’s silence
One’s experience
One’s impatience
One’s indignation
One’s stories from crisscrossing a planet crucified by capitalism
Better to join the demonstration
Tear gas won’t faze him
Beatings—even at his age (61)—don’t evoke fear
In the afternoon near the sooq
He meets a new resister
(They are everywhere)
The older man extends his hand to the youth,
Smiles and says,
“Ismii Che…”

OK, Henry
I’ve got some down time over here
I wrote this for your pleasure

Hasta la Intifada Siempre

Perry

–from Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

Surplus You Can Count on in the Soviet Union

“We’ll run out of potatoes before spring. Same with bread. Same with firewood. The only thing we won’t be short of is grief.” — Marya, in Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad

Doctor Shmoctor

This afternoon I was perusing Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made, and came across the following skit of Lenny Bruce about Christ and the Jews:

… you and I know what a Jew is–One Who Killed Our Lord. I don’t know if we got much press on that in Illinois— we did this about two thousand years ago—two thousand years of Polack kids whacking the shit out of us coming home from school. Dear, dear. And although there should be a statute of limitations for that crime, it seems that those who neither have the actions nor the gait of Christians, pagans or not, will bust us out, unrelenting dues, for another deuce.

And I really searched it out, why we pay the dues. Why do you keep breaking our balls for this crime?

“Why, Jew, because you skirt the issue. You blame it on the Roman soldiers.”

Alright, I’ll clear the air once and for all, and confess. Yes, we did it. I did it, my family. I found a note in my basement.

It said: “We killed him . . . signed, Morty.”

And a lot of people say to me, “Why did you kill Christ?”

“I dunno . . . it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know.”

We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor, that’s why we killed him.

Glatshteyn

Janet R. Hadda, Yankev Glatshteyn
Twayne Publishers, 1980

Having read translations of Yankev Glatshteyn from Howe and company’s Modern Yiddish Poetry,  Whitman’s Selected Poems, Zumoff’s I Keep Recalling, and  also Fein’s Selected Poems, I treated myself to this study by Janet Hadda, also biographer of I.B. Singer.  Part of the Yiddish modernist In Zikh movement in the 1920 and 30s,  Glatshteyn later had to face the enormity of responding to the catastrophes that were inflicted on Jews in the 1930s and 40s.   Over the decades I have read  religious thinkers, philosophers, and novelists trying to grapple with the Nazi and Soviet “totalitarian barbarism” (G. Steiner).  Regardless of Adorno’s pronouncement on the impossibility of poetry after Auschwitz, Glatshteyn has produced powerful works of mourning for his community and of assailing  the fraud of “western civilization.”   To name five: Good Night, World; Our Neat and Tidy Language; Lamentation for the  Souls of Jewish Cities; Reb Levi Yitzhok’s Voice; and I Keep Recalling.

At mid-century Glatshteyn was preeminent in the U.S. Yiddish community; his literary production included  three novels, eight volumes of essays, and ten volumes of poetry.   Yet, writing of him in 1943, Hadda acknowledges: “Everything was doomed: his people, his tradition, its language, his artistic freedom, his chances of contributing to a continuing literature. Even his awesome responsibility as the chronicler of the last days of Eastern European Jewry was infused with an ironic futility: [he would write about it] but who would read it?”  The Yiddish Book Center has made available a Youtube  of Glatshteyn addressing the mission of Yiddish poetry and responsibility a decade after the end of World War II (English subtitles available).

Near the end of her study, Hadda asserts that the poet’s “commitment to Yiddishkeyt as a national, historical, philosophical, geneaological, and even psychological entity—all of which have common borders with theological Jewishness—was total.”  May new generations of readers and seekers find sparks in Glatshteyn’s works,  both in the original Yiddish and their translations.

Table of Contents, Dear Love of Comrades, v.1

Beautiful Friendships
This Is It/1
Neighbor with a Shovel
Alive beyond Alive
Before Class
The Glory of the Ordinary
Dear Isabel/1
She Gives Me an Opportunity to Practice
What Gets Her through there Night
Open Invitation
Cece’s Smile
Safety First
40 out of 41
Waking up
Why Shakespeare Matters
Prudence and Parrhesia
She Must Have Touched a Nerve
Email from Cameroon
Finding Space
One Thing Leads to Another
I’m Getting Better at This
So You Went Out on a Date and …
Breakdown Precedes Breakthrough
Guest Speaker
Imagining My Wake
This Is What I Can Do
What You Understand Depends on Where You Stand
March 14
My Psychic Powers Acknowledged in This Morning’s Email
An Unbelievable Outgoingness of Heart
Wishing You an Un-Great Experience
Dear Isabel/2
“What Would You Think about…?”
Dear Doctor Marwaha
She’s Had a Good Nocturnal Run
Miss You
You’ve Been Warned
Interbeing
Beethoven, Smiling
With the Sangha
After Reading Levertov’s Poem on the 1972 Christmas Bombing
Alive beyond Alive
When People Leave Town
She Should Have Won the National Book Award
In a Parallel Universe
Gatha for Mayuko, Takeshi, Minami, and Me
Women Pallbearers
The Real United States
Texting through the Tears
I Daydream at Coffee Cartel, Seeing…
To a Friend in West Africa
He’s a Work-in-Progress
Poems Overheard Last Night
Books I’ve Given to Others
Deep Listening
Thinking of You and Anna Politkovskaya
Candor
The Power of Bollywood Shmaltz
You and Monseñor
Dear 1L
After Class
The Little There Is To Do
What Gets Our Attention and What Doesn’t
The Heart Has Its Reasons
Obituaries
Wonderful News
Don’t Get Rattled by Samsara
On the Phone with Hedy
He Would Have Preferred That She Just as Soon Spit on Him
It Was Love at First Haiku
Sometimes and Other Times
Another Yom Kippur
Three Syllables
You Say You Want a Revolution?
The Way It Is
Rachel
You’d Make Moshe Proud
Message She Sent Me at Midnight
Together
Numbers
Beeko’s Daily Reminder on a 3 by 5 Index Card
Share the Wealth: “Quiero ver” (Let me see) with Ale Vazquez
Inspired at the London Tea Room on a Friday Afternoon
Cambridge
Jean-jahn
The Affordable Care Act Won’t Help Me Here
Dear Mark
Sealing the Deal
There Is No Way to Gentleness, Gentleness Is the Way
How to Live
Dear Monseñor
Yours Truly
Hedy and Heine
She Sends Me a Universal Gatha
Candor/2
A Frenzied Gut
Seventy Times Seven
This Is Workable
Gratitude
Texting My Best Friend in Bakersfield
One Person Can Change Everything for Us
Two Teachers
Summer’s Lease
Present Moment, Only Moment
The Bell Is for All of You
Share the Wealth
Cheer Up
Decades before Marie Kondo
Paradise and Inferno
Happy
With the Barakats
Gratitude
Accompaniment
Text Message Exchange with Dr. Sheth Who Resides in Washington, D.C.
The Tender, The Indomitable
Lineage
How Sha Li Concluded Her Email
This Is It/2
Postface by Walt Whitman
Some Notes

–forthcoming early fall

In Today’s News…

Come you masters of war

$8.7 Trillion

Hold It All

In [Proust’s] work we come across an absolute absence of bias, a willingness to know and to understand as many opposing states of the human soul as possible, a capacity for discovering in the lowest sort of man such nobility as to appear sublime, and in the seemingly purest of beings, the basest instincts. His work acts on us like life, filtered and illuminated by a consciousness whose soundness is infinitely greater than our own.

–Josef Czapski, Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp
Translated by Eric Karpeles

What Is Vaster

In the early 1980s Harold Bloom noted about his experience of decades at Yale University that “[t]here is a profound falling away from what I would call ‘text-centeredness” among the current generation of American undergraduates, Gentile and Jewish alike. I can detect still some difference between Gentile and Jewish students in this regard, but it is not a substantial difference, and it seems to be diminishing.”

Bloom was on my mind  after having read the stirring memoir by Aaron Lansky, Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. The subtitle is negated by Lansky’s own accounts of the many people—his own generation and those much older—who contributed to this undaunted retrieval of books. About text-centeredness, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the only Yiddish writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature,  once  imagined, “I’m sure that millions of Yiddish-speaking ghosts will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be, ‘Is there any new book in Yiddish to read?’” Read the rest of this entry »