When I started writing poetry, I was consumed by words. I had dreams, saw myself plucking them from the air. Poems were coming faster than I could write them down. The stories I heard from my parents about the Holocaust had been pent up for years and now had an outlet. Sometimes I was working on three to five poems a week. Poetry was everywhere.
My father spoke poetry to me. One evening during the summer about ten years ago, I called home and asked how the gladiola plants were doing. He said, “Some are coming, some are going.” That line is in a poem called The Nature of Things. Another time, we were working in the garden planting carrot seeds, and my father told me, “Stay in the middle of the row, don’t go too far to the left or too far to the right.” His words are part of Planting. My mother spoke poetry, too. One day as we sat at the kitchen table, she told me of seeing the statue of the Lorelei for the first time and sang me her song, something every German schoolchild learned, “I do not know what it should mean that I am so sad, a legend from old days past that will not go out from my mind.” The Way to a Visa contains her words and song.
Another place I found poetic inspiration was in the Hebrew Bible. During 2006-2007, I received a Drisha Institute for Jewish Education Arts Fellowship and studied biblical Hebrew grammar. I became a grammar geek, memorizing verb declensions, learning the roots of words and how most often each contained more than one meaning, finding similar words in cognate languages, and diving deeper into Biblical text and interpretation. During the year, my poetry began moving in a new direction. I was writing with biblical cadences and playing with words and definitions from the BDB, the Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. I would spend time reading entries and using the words to inspire poems. It was my own personal workshop.
After writing for about fifteen years, studying the craft of poetry, reading as many books as I could, taking workshops, sending out submissions, getting rejections and acceptances, my book How to Spot One of Us came out in November 2007. Poems about my family and the Holocaust and what it means to be the daughter of survivors, it was published by Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, where I’m a teaching fellow. I started out wanting to write my family stories. Now I had a book. And what has happened since is such an honor. I am able to combine my love of teaching Jewish wisdom with poetry. I’ve spoken to survivors and their descendents, and taught teens and adults, many of whom have no direct connection to the Holocaust. We discuss and learn about the Shoah through poetry. I am always asked by teenagers why is it important to still remember an event that happened long before they were born. I tell them, that for me, the reason is simple. Genocides keep happening. Giving many readings, I’ve also taught poetry and creative writing workshops using my poems as a springboard for participants to write about their own family history and stories. I was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the 261st Signal Brigade for my work in the 2009 Multi-National Forces Days of Remembrance Holocaust Memorial Service held at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, and judged a poetry contest for soldiers. I’ve received emails and letters from people saying that my book has affected them. Perhaps the most gratifying came from a daughter of survivors, “You put into words everything I felt growing up” and a 6th grade class where each student wrote me a thank you letter after I spoke. I keep every letter.
I have days when I doubt myself and my writing, but I’ve seen my growth as a poet in my work over the years. I have a vision, a voice, and something to say. When people ask me what I do, I feel proud to tell them, “I’m a poet.” And over the past year when people ask, I say, “I’m a poet who’s producing a poetry film, called BE•HOLD.”