First impressions

Returning to Bridges

Some years ago I ran across a journal called Bridges. Their subtitle is "A journal for Jewish feminists and our friends." I was intrigued, so I picked up a copy. I read it cover to cover within a day of bringing it home.

Small details can speak volumes. Though the cover features the title most prominently in English, it also offers the magazine's name in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ladino, written in both relevant alphabets. That attention to pluralism isn't just a matter of masthead design; it permeates the magazine as a whole.

Enchanted, I subscribed for a while. I enjoyed everything they published, and was always happy to see a new issue in my mailbox. And then, for reasons that escape me now, I let my subscription lapse. It probably fell by the wayside during one of my periodic subscription-pruning crazes. (When unread magazines pile up and stare at me balefully,  I recycle magazine renewal forms without even opening them. Sometimes I wonder whether normal people feel guilty when they fail to make time for The New Yorker for months on end.)

But as I write this, I have the two latest issues of Bridges here on my desk, and I'm even more excited by the magazine now than I was when I first found it. Maybe our time apart has made the reunion all the sweeter, or maybe I'm savvier now about just how rare an enterprise like this really is. I want to rave particularly about an issue they published a couple of years back: Volume 9, No. 2, which is entirely devoted to poetry. Specifically, Jewish feminist poetry. To me, that's like chocolate and peanut butter. 

As the introduction to the poetry issue explains, they chose to publish poetry because they want to make a difference in the world. ("To be of use," indeed!) "Taken as a body of work (pun always intended), these poems show that the mind/body split -- like the 'split' between poetry and politics -- is largely a fiction," writes issue co-editor Jessica Stein. "I hope these poems will touch you -- mind, body, and spirit -- and move you to action in these trying political times." I've always been a bread-and-roses girl, and it warms me deeply to see poetry treated here as something important, something that can spur action, something that feeds us (not as bread feeds us, but as roses do).

There is work here by eight Israeli and forty-three North American Jewish feminist poets, and the list features some familiar names (Genie Zeiger, Enid Dame, Adrienne Rich) alongside many which were new to me (Jennifer Arin, Meg Jochild, Susan Terris).

Some of these poems are explicitly midrashic (I especially love "What Hagar Conceived," by Tzivia Gover, which begins, "I remember/ The shrinking coil/ of Sarah's fingers/ At my wrist...") while others glorify the intersection of body and text (like Stephanie Hammer's "Torah Bones," which shows the reader how a Torah scroll can be a "strange/ ancient child/ whose flesh/ is/ texts.")

By now it's a truism that the personal is political. The most personal poems in this issue -- Jennifer Markell's "To Have and Have Not," which shows us the black velvet dress the speaker bought to grieve the child she chose to lose, or Judy Benoliel Belsky's "Acupuncture" which pulls together a map of the human body, tea in bone-white cups, dissolving ink -- have political subtext that may be all the more powerful for its understatedness.

Other poems in this issue are more explicit about their politics, like Lisa Katz's "Photograph Taken Near Ma'aleh Adumim, March 1998," which shows us Bedouins praying under a cloudy spring sky, the "stony field of prayer" where the government has torn down tents and shacks. Having just seen vast shantytowns of black plastic and corrugated metal in India, and knowing that these shantytowns/squatter cities are vulnerable the world over, I found her poem deeply affecting.

In the end, I love Bridges for two reasons: the strong writing, and the passion behind the work. That their hearts are in the right place is not a sufficient reason to support them -- but that their righteous intentions lead to a top-notch literary journal puts them high on my list. Subscribe or order back issues here. We all know that journals like this one are a labor of love. To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel: if we will not be for Bridges, who will be?

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