by Eric Herschthal
These days, there are many good Jewish poets. But name a great Jewish poem written recently …
See? It’s not easy. The reason seems obvious: most Jews who write poetry today are secular, and so is their work. But fortunately, there are exceptions.
One is Ira Bedzow, whose first collection of poems, Things Overheard In The Synagogue, has just been published by Urim Publications. Several of the poems retell Biblical stories, and in a section of personal reflections, there are many Talmudic asides. All of it reflects Bedzow’s deep immersion of Jewish texts, as well as a lyrical ear perfectly matched for poems.
These are qualities hard to come by these days: a commitment to Jewish learning, as well as secular language. But it’s a perfect reflection of Bedzow, who is both an ordained rabbi and now pursuing a Ph.D. in Jewish thought. Ira also happens to be an old family friend. But I don’t think I betray any false enthusiasm for his work. Let a verse from “Isaac’s Surrender,” be his own defense:
He and I – we walk up alone
up to a place we cannot see.
Only with faith we will be shown
of what will be our destiny
or rather what will be of me.
Or how about a section from “To Sleep but Not to End’? The poem is about the frenetic pace of modern life, but it’s written in way that seems to calm it:
As I look for the setting sun
the sky becomes a deeper blue.
The current day’s long course has run,
but I still have so much to do
before the day begins anew.
With all the duties I must keep,
always many and never few,
reluctantly, I go to sleep.
There is as much playfulness in these poems as there is an acute self-awareness. Bedzow’s use of rhyme may in part account for the insouciant mood, but as you go through the book you realize it’s as much a reflection of hard-earned wisdom. In the personal reflections, which range from lessons drawn from Pirkei Avot, to a parable about individuality, told through a story about choosing the right coffee shop, you find a writer searching for how one should live.
A quiet, moving example comes in the piece “Vanguard, En Garde!” Bedzow remembers a story his father told him when he took him to a synagogue as a teenager. His father tells him to go say hello to the rabbi, and when Bedzow returns, his father tells him: “Son, do you want to know what makes him such a successful rabbi?”
The rabbi was was never officially hired, his father says, and he wasn’t even ordained. But he was extremely knowledgeable and exceptionally kind. So when the synagogue’s official rabbi left, he naturally filled the void. No one ever questioned his authority, his father says, because the man himself, “never stopped considering himself as just another member.”
Bedzow’s search for wisdom is our reward.
Article may be found online at The Jewish Week.