By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO—A small crowd gathered in the sanctuary of Temple Emanu-El on Thursday evening, August 12, to meet the poet Gertrude Rubin of Chicago, who was introduced by her daughter and son-in-law, Bonnie and Lawrence Baron.
Rabbis Martin Lawson and Lenore Bohm helped make the introductions, with Bohm reading two of Rubin’s poems and Lawson reaching into literature to help us define the context of our meeting with the poet.
We learned that Gertrude Rubin had not started writing poetry until she was in her 50’s, en route to an MFA in poetry from the University of Illinois. We learned that many of her poems deal with social activism, reflective of the fact that she had been an important force in the 1970s in a group called Women Mobilized for Change.
There was one major problem with our introduction to this amazing woman.
She wasn’t there. She had died a month before in Chicago at the age of 89. We, a half continent away in San Diego, simultaneously were meeting her and bidding her goodbye, at a special shiva minyan arranged by the Reform temple to help comfort the Barons, both of whom are well known in the local Jewish community, along with their son Ari.
Bonnie, daughter of the poet, had worked as a social worker in adoptions for Jewish Family Service, and Lawrence, her husband, is professor of Jewish history at San Diego State University, located just a few blocks from Temple Emanu-El.
The crowd that assembled to honor a poet whom most had never met also was demonstrating its respect and affection for the Barons, whose lives of service and mitzvot exemplify some of the ideals Rubin had dramatized in her poems.
Reminiscing about her mother, Bonnie asked: “How many daughters had a mom who took her on her first peace march in Washington D.C.?” Or who published two poetry books, The Passover Poems, and A Beating of Wings.
Rubin, we learned, was a mother who washed Bonnie’s mouth out with soap for saying a swear word, who ran a Girl Scout troop for many years, who “showered her children with unconditional love and who glided with her husband (Philip, who died five years earlier) across the dance floor of life, with big band music in the background.”
Lawrence, whose friends call him “Laurie,” said that “as a historian by profession I believe that the dead leave behind an imprint on the present; their memory influences the lives they’ve touched.”
In 1973, Rubin gave an interview, from which Laurie read excerpts.
Once Rubin heard a school principal “speaking patronizingly about her Latino students.” She wrote a few lines in protest and “I was called down to the district superintendent, but for me it was a new beginning….
“Being Jewish I understood that the historic thrust toward the final solution, although sporadic, remains unsatisfied. But I came to realize that before they come to destroy me for being a Jew, I could be destroyed in many other ways.”
Rather than suffer such destruction by acquiescing to injustice, Rubin became involved with Women Mobilized for Change. The politically progressive women “lived, marched, traveled, laughed and cried together,” she recalled. In the process she met mothers on welfare, ex prisoners, and people with vastly different life experiences, and became “profoundly impressed that in this world their gifts go unrecognized….
“Years ago, some friends mentioned the Rosenberg trial to me, and felt that it was a government frame up. I thought they must be mistaken. The Rosenbergs must have been guilty of betraying state secrets. Otherwise our country wouldn’t have prosecuted them. Such was my belief in the credibility of authority. All that has shattered because time and time again, I have seen the evidence of the injustice of justice. This loss of belief was done without trauma, it was progressive…. What remains after the dust settles is not despair, not at all. There is a kind of joy, a belief in myself, of energy released for transformation…”
Some of Rubin’s political beliefs were expressed in her poetry:
Memories Of Vietnam
in the CuChi foothills. I’d get
to see the Bob Hope Christmas Show,
join the G.I. laughter, feel my
manhood swelling at the sight of
the All-American bosom, bouncing
in a patriotic frenzy, while I’d
clap my hands, and stamp both feet
(unless one was missing), and bawl
out loud to “Silent Night”, until
the last musician shut his case,
and Bob Hope’s starlets danced
into the sky like specks of flak,
and I’d go back to killing without
time to ask: what was I laughing at?
In other poems, she juxtaposed Jewish belief and present realities:
Passover For the Residents
early. For each: a small
Seder plate of matzos, apple-
sauce, parsley, roasted egg.
Horseradish and fish-balls.
All went well, but someone at
Table Six took a sip of wine
before the first blessing. Was
it Ida, who burst into tears
and begged to leave the room?
Anna was festive in black silk,
faux pearls. Her remaining leg
sported a T-strap sandal…
Later, they sang songs praising
(in unison) God’s miracles —
Clapping like children; like
Seers whose practiced hands
summon the past. After the
meal, they were wheeled down
a corridor, only to wait at
the Center’s stalled elevator.
Suddenly they were Israelites,
“come out of Egypt”. Huddled at
the edge of the Red Sea,
praying it would open.
It was a special occasion, meeting such a poet. My wife Nancy and I are grateful that Bonnie and Laurie as well as the two rabbis arranged such a nice introduction. May our new friend Gertrude’s memory be for a blessing.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World
By Eileen Wingard
SAN DIEGO — For the second year, the Samuel and Rebecca Astor Judaica Library at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center hosted three evenings devoted to the works of local poets: Jewish Poets—Jewish Voices.
The second evening, February 24, featured student poets. Six seniors from the San Diego Jewish Academy, Yael Wulfovich, Amy Shoemaker, Ali Viterbi, Matthew Faraizadeh, and Itimar Lilienthal shared their poems in English and Jesse Artz, a student of Hebrew teacher Edna Yedid, read his poem in Hebrew. The SDJ Academy’s Humanities Teacher, Melissa McKinstry, accompanied her students to the poetry evening and, during the Open Microphone segment, read one of her own pieces. Those in attendance were impressed by the maturity and imagery of the young poets and their inspiring teacher.
Here are samples of the poetry heard:
Do you think the emptiness will ever disappear?
by Yael Wulfovich
Maybe the world was left unfinished,
a masterpiece lacking the one line that
allows us to move beyond
fragments of shredded incomprehensible single droplets of beauty
and form into a whole.
Maybe God was called upon by a worried angel
just as he was about to finish his work on earth
so he gave us a day of rest–Shabbat–as he sped away
looking anxiously at his watch and shouting commands at all those who listened
and he never got around to making us complete.
Perhaps his lover was dying,
or rebellion roared out in heaven
like one thousand silent screams
and God left us.
So here we are:
making war, love or anything that allows us to feel
-even for a second-
Mangoes from Peru
by Amy Shoemaker
Hold tight to those peppermint
mornings, cold like your
milk, subtle like the blueberries
in your Sunday pancakes.
Sing softly to those nectar-lit
evenings, the ones with tea candle
radiance and sweet smoking sighs.
Hail to those midnight drearies
that call sleep and cream-colored
blankets to the forefront of desire.
Ah, Rothko, forgive my once scathing
and fiery critiques. Paint me blue and
(resisting a c-section of syllables)
leave me Untitled.
I’ll close my eyes, and perhaps tomorrow
will bring mangoes from Peru.
The Song to Forgetfulness
by Ali Viterbi
Feisty, they call her, and she charges
back with the strength of a million
circles of freedom, kicking her highlighter
yellow pants behind her like hyenas.
She stalked around the room,
stringing her nine-year-old nails through
her tassled, mocha hair;
her turquoise eyes flushing a wilder
shade of naivete.
She seemed to cry: Emancipate yourself!
And, weary as I was, I shrunk
in pride and joined her song to forgetfulness,
throwing my head back,
and (falling, falling) I was given wings.
by Matthew Farajzadeh
Rage, rage against the darkness of the night,
Against the demons that lurk in the shadows like one of Goya’s fiends.
Rage against the nightmares,
The monsters that mature in the darkest corners of your mind.
Do not go gently,
The fight is long and hard;
If you stay strong,
Nothing is impossible.
Unsheathe your blade!
The battle begins, let not darkness take hold.
Fight hard and true, strong and bold:
Let your heart sing and your sword shine.
For the dying light,
For the fading love,
For the waning life,
Rage, rage against the darkness of the night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
by Melissa McKinstry
This morning, early, when the sky was a fresh blue bowl
And the orange of the sun was just splashing the enamel
10 or 12 big black crows cackled in the tall eucalyptus
across the golden South Park canyon.
From my lazy purple pillow I watched them settle
Into the topmost branches and quiet themselves
For a second of anticipation.
Then, one would take the lead
And fall ferociously headfirst into the canyon.
The others would caw and clack in approval,
Lining up in their black feather suits,
Almost pushing each other out of the way
To be the next to fall until all 10 had
Performed high dives,
Collecting themselves again
To squawk and caw their way to the next perch.
All this took me back to Friday nights at Forward Thrust Pool
Where we lined up our winter-white, soft flesh
In its new pubescence of eighth grade.
Toes clutching the slippery pool deck,
New bodies silhouetting against steamy windows,
We lined up for the high dive
Anxiously cawing and cackling
And watching to see who was watching
While Chinook winds whipped wild over the Enumclaw plateau.
Lining up, always watching, waiting for the free fall,
The joy of the silence rushing into our ears.
Wingard is a freelance writer based in San Diego
LA JOLLA, California (Press Release)–“Jewish Poets, Jewish Voices” begins its second season of three evenings showcasing original poems and songs performed by local poets and song writers, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday evening, Jan.. 20, at the Astor Judaica Library in the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center.
Sara Appel-Lennon, columnist for San Diego Jewish World and Yael G’mach, artist and folksinger, will be the featured performers. Appel-Lennon will be reading her poetry in English. G’mach will be singing her songs in French, followed by English translations.
In addition, a plaque will be dedicated to the memory of Hal Wingard who was one of the featured poets at the first “Jewish Poets, Jewish Voices” evening last season and participated in the open mike portion of the other two evenings. Three of Hal’s lyrics will be read by his widow, Eileen Wingard. Hal’s lyrics with audio recordings of him singing his songs are published every week in the Thursday edition of San Diego Jewish World.
Joy Heitzmann, who, with Eileen Wingard, organized these programs, will chair the evening. There will be an open mike period and all are welcome to read up to 5 minutes of their original work.
The second program of “Jewish Poets, Jewish Voices” will take place on Wednesday evening, February 24, 7:30 pm and will feature high school poets from the San Diego Jewish Academy. One student will read a poem in Hebrew.
The final program on Tuesday evening, March 9, will feature Russian poet Simon Patlis, originally from Tashkent, reading his poetry in Russian, then translating into English. The second poet that night will be Gabriella Labson, reading her poems in Hungarian followed by English translations.
A unique feature of these evenings is that one programmed poet reads in a language other than English, a language spoken by members of our San Diego Jewish Community. Last year’s evenings included the Yiddish poetry of Sally Sheinok, the Hebrew poetry of Zev Bar-Lev and the Spanish poetry of Jose Galicot.
Preceding provided by the Astor Judaica Library of the Lawrence Family JCC