Jewish Poets, Jewish Voices

by Brie Stimson January 2, 2019


emma-lazarus-words-are-inscribed-on-the-statue-of-libertyTake me under your wing / be my mother, my sister / Take my head to your breast / my banished prayers to your nest,” says the Hayim Nahman Bialik poem “Take Me Under your Wing.”

Eileen Wingard, who has helmed the program Jewish Poets, Jewish Voices at the JCC since its inception 11 years ago, has taken many a poet under its wing. In fact, she conceived of it along with local poet Joy Heitzmann. This Jan. 8, the series will feature three local poets – Richard Lederer who writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune and founded “A Way With Words” on public radio; Nina Garin, the arts calendar editor and producer at KPBS; and Abigail Flöte. “She is a German-born woman who is a geriatric nurse, but she also writes poetry,” Eileen explains. “She paints and she plays the violin and she’s a member of Beth Israel. She is a Jew by choice.”

The Jewish Poets, Jewish Voices evenings are sponsored by the JCC’s Astor Judaica Library. “It is one of the few offerings that is open and free to the public,” Eileen adds and the evenings generally feature three local poets. Their first poetry night featured Joy Heitzmann; Eileen’s late husband musician Hal Wingard, who wrote over 300 original songs, which he read the lyrics from; and Sally Scheinock. “Sally was a Holocaust survivor, a member of the New Life club who wrote in Yiddish,” Eileen says.

Heitzmann is also the moderator for all of their evenings. She specializes in Haikus and often reads new ones she has written during the open mic section of the evening in the last 30 minutes.

“We have had some remarkable poets over the years,” Eileen says, including Ilya Kaminsky, a prize-winning Russian born poet who taught at San Diego State and is now at a college in Atlanta; Natasha Josefowitz, a well known local writer; columnist, psychologist and published poet; Chris Baron who teaches creative writing at San Diego City College; and Zev Bar-Lev who was a language professor at SDSU, who “has shared his Hebrew poetry,” Eileen adds; and Pepe Galicot, a well known San Diego and Tijuana entrepreneur. “We have had poetry in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Spanish, French and Russian as well as in English,” Eileen adds of the list of varied poets.

“The last five years, in addition to having three evenings of poets, we have added another evening, a fourth evening, that we call Jewish Poets of the Past,” Eileen says. “For that we have featured some of the outstanding poets in Jewish history. The first evening was presented by the late Gabriella Auspitz Labson, who was a specialist in the poetry of Hayim Nahman Bialik – one of the greatest Jewish poets – and the following year we [read] Tchernikovsky, Rachel [Bluwstein]. And the year after that we had Shneour and Goldberg and the following year we had Jewish poets from the golden age of Spain. And last year we had Yehuda Amichai and Hanna Szenes,” a World War II paratrooper who went into Yugoslavia in 1944 to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz. She was arrested at the Hungarian border, tortured and executed by a firing squad.

This year’s Jewish Poets of the Past (in March) will feature poetry written by Emma Lazarus and Abraham Goldfaden. All Americans will be familiar with Lazarus’ work “The New Colossus” which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Goldfaden, a Russian poet, is considered the father of modern Jewish theater and his poetry will be read in the original Yiddish. “In these evenings, we have had the poems read in their original language mainly in Hebrew and so I’ve recruited native speakers, including some of the finest Hebrew educators in our community,” Eileen says.

“Many of the poets have had their poetry done to music,” Eileen says, so the evenings often include musical performances of the poetry, including the Beth Am choir.

They opened the season in October with an evening of student-read poetry. “This year we had 20 kids reading their poetry,” Eileen says. “We’ve had students from the San Diego Jewish Academy, from the Soille Hebrew Day School, from Chabad Hebrew Academy and from the SD Community Jewish High School that meets at Temple Emanu El and the Temple Solel Religious School.”

Lastly, in May they will coordinate an evening of poetry with an art exhibit on aging.

Jewish Poets, Jewish Voices (Jan. 8) is free and open to the public. As the Bialik poem says, “One merciful twilight hour / hear my pain, bend your head.”


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