Double Chai for the Shoah

by | Apr 5, 2013 | Book Reviews

Contemporary Jewish Writing,
Holocaust Edition
Michael Mahgerefteh, editor-in-chief
Poetica Magazine, 2012, Pp. 55

This second collection of Holocaust poetry by Poetica Magazine is ample proof that the Shoah as a theme for reflection and contemplation is an inexhaustible wellspring promising to ever connect us to this watershed event in both Jewish and general history. I believe that as we naturally move away in time from the Shoah and World War II, they are bound to have a growing impact particularly on the Jewish people.

The genocidal assault on the Jewish people has deprived it and humanity of their full potential to creatively respond to multiple challenges and opportunities. In the case of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, the loss of progeny and talent of decimated European Jewry is potentially of grave consequence. To avert it requires extra commitment and effort.

The 36 poets (double Chai) represent a variety of backgrounds. While some of the poets are children of survivors, what unites them all is a profound sense of relatedness to the endless aspects and implications of the overwhelming crime of the Shoah.

Sari Friedman who earned an MFA from Columbia University and is editor of the Fearless Poetry Series, shares At The “Second Generation Meeting the burden shared by survivors and their children which, as a survivors’ son, I can relate to. “I can’t live my life,” a woman takes up-/”My father threatens to kill himself/if I do the slightest thing wrong./Says he couldn’t keep living/ if something were to happen to me./Wants to protect me./Won’t let me cross a street by myself…and I’m 25.”

Richard Bronson from Stony Brook University Medical Center’s Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care & Bioethics faculty laments in his Lament the enormity of “fields of loss” “yet wishes to overcome justified despair with the gift of hope’s renewal,” “Mother, in your suit of Spring, /teach your grieving son to sing. / Father, wield your mace of light/as I walk the way of night.”

New York native, Helen Bar Lev, senior editor of Cyclaments and Swords Publishing who spent 40 years in Israel, in her Holocaust Remembrance Day 2010 she uses chilling imagery in Jerusalem, the Jewish peoples home of eternal memories, ancient and new. “Jerusalem 2010/winter now, the skies cry/the oven is warm; a cake bakes/a siren wrenches the heart/the radio plays somber songs/and people retell of the Holocaust/of the loss.”

Poet Michael Shorb speaks of the spirit of Polish Righteous Gentile Irena Sendler that the Nazis could not capture and of her heroic deeds and those of her comrades, She and some friends had smuggled/ Jewish children from the/Warsaw ghetto in those days, /Sometimes in large black purses, /Sometimes in baskets covered/ With blankets, slipping under/The eyes of the German guards/Like fish sliding beneath a net.”

Prolific poet Barbara Hantman reminds all of the Jewish mission in face of inhumanity in My Holocaust Poem for Yom Hashoah,” “May the Jewish genie stay out of the bottle for an eternity:/Divine monitor of all that is unkind,/White-winged safeguard that roosts and flutters/Over all humanity.”

In my own poem “Old Memories” I recall my mother’s traumatic recollection of memories that do not die, “Contemplating travel/From Springfield to Chicago/My mom, a Holocaust survivor/Visiting from Israel, /Apprehensively asked me if/It was safe to board/A train filled with Gentiles.”

Allen Cohen who served as a major education author for Random House, responds in After Auschwitz…Poetry? (Reflections on Adorno’s query) “with words of meaning, “After the Shoah there must be poems/ because the universe is otherwise/indifferent to killing fields & ovens/& poets can’t bear indifference.”

—Rabbi Israel Zoberman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Chaverim. He is the son of Polish Holocaust survivors.