What a delightful surprise: The CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly (the magazine published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis) has reviewed 70 faces alongside three other collections of poetry (among them Merle Feld's and Yehoshua November's, both of which I reviewed for Zeek -- Feld's here, November's here.) The review, written by Rabbi Adam D. Fisher (the journal's poetry editor), can be found in the magazine's winter 2012 issue.
Here are some tastes of the review:
Rachel Barenblat, a rabbi living in Western Massachusetts, has given us a real gift -- a poem for each sidrah. They are beautifully written; accessible; and perfect for reading on a Shabbat afternoon or sharing with a community in a sermon, Torah, introduction to a Torah reading, or in a study group.
There are so many good poems with so many important insights it is hard to know where to start...
I'm pleased that the editors of the journal opted to run a review of the collection, and honored that Rabbi Fisher likes the poems so well. Here's more:
Rabbi Barenblat writes a wonderful midrash on Sh'mini where it tells us to break any earthen vessel into which something unclean falls. In "Vessel," she writes, "The heart is an earthen vessel, / the body an urn." She then provides us with beautiful images of ourselves when she says that we are "made from dust . . . and patched with slip, / divine fingerprints everywhere." After pointing out a few of the unsettling things that happen to us she says, "each of these charges the heart / with uncanny energy, untouchable. / /All you can do is break the clay / wide open, crack the very housing. / What hurts is what draws you/ ever nearer to what we can't reach."
Barenblat also helps us with some of the most difficult-to-explain passages. In "Like God" (Tazria) she begins, "When a woman carries a grain of rice /invisible inside her rounded belly" then tells us some of the difficulties of pregnancy, and "when a woman gives birth to an infant / even the air around her crackles . . . /changed by the enorrnity of being like God/ and shaping new life in her compassionate womb." She gets us beyond the sacrifices and the ritual uncleanness, and gets to the heart of the matter: the wonder of pregnancy and childbirth. Barenblat, who has a son, doesn't romanticize pregnancy and childbirth but she does understand Tazria in terms of its most fundamental meaning.
Rabbi Fisher has kind things to say about the cycle of akedah poems, about the Jacob and Esau poems, the Moshe poems. He quite likes my poem for parashat Chukat: "She is especially inventive and playful in 'Red Heifer' (Chukat): 'Could Moshe have imagined / the Red Heifer Steakhouse / on King George Street/ in Jerusalem? He never crossed/ /the Jordan, a Diaspora Jew /to the last of his days...'"
And here's how his review ends:
Not every poem will strike a chord within all us -- no book could do that -- but there are such riches here that everyone will find many, many poems that will help him or her see these passages with new eyes.