November lifts the veil cloaking ordinary moments, revealing the holiness underneath. In one poem he writes about a moment in a university professor's office when, the professor's back turned, "I concentrated all my energy on whispering Hashem's name, / all irony faded / and angels were swimming from your lamp." I remember being an undergraduate struggling to lift up my Jewishness in the face of professors who spoke the language of Lacan and Derrida. I'm charmed by the image of the earnest student whose faith in things unseen brings angels into being and turns the light of philosophy into the insight of holy understanding.
Some of these poems make me choke up with tears I can't entirely explain. Like "Baal Teshuvas at the Mikvah," which offers a scene I'm unlikely to ever witness in the flesh: young bearded men slipping out of their black-and-white garb to immerse in cleansing waters, ruing the tattoos that reveal the old lives they can never entirely escape. The Hasidic masters taught that one who has sinned and then returned to God is more beloved than one who has never sinned. This poem knows that, although that infinite mercy is subtext here, never text.
I think the book is stunning, and I'm so grateful to have had the chance to read it and write about it. Read the whole review here: Holy longing, holy language: Yehoshua November’s "God’s Optimism".