Poem Sampler

Poems of Jewish Faith and Culture

From holiday poems to quiet spiritual reflections, these poems and articles celebrate the interweaving of Jewish faith, cultural traditions, and literary history.

Poems of Jewish Faith and Culture

 

HOLIDAYS 

Poems for Rosh Hashanah

Poems for Yom Kippur

Poems for Hanukah

Poems for Passover

 

PRAYERS & SONGS
Hymns, blessings, and invocations to read alongside scripture and traditional prayers.

Open the Gates” by Anonymous

Open the gates—the radiant portals,
Swift to Thy sons who are lovely and pure. 

Hymn for the Third Meal” by Yitzhak Luria

I hereby call
       to the Ancient of Days
to summon His will
       to drive them away—

To Him Who Is Feared” by Eleazar Ben Kalir

At altars, ye mighty, proclaim loud His praise,
And multitudes too may whisper His lays.

His Sovereignty” by Kalonymos Ben Moses of Lucca

Holy—He sets apart one day in all the year;
Holy—He pardons them whose longing turns to Him. 

You and I” by Stanley Moss

You are All   
and I am a particle. Who should have mercy   
on a particle if not the All?

In the Days of Awe” by Robin Becker

Bind me to these friends and to this child
that I may learn my true relation to the people of this story

Prayers for the Protection and Opening of the Heart” by Ya’akov Hakohen

Send the dew of blessing, the dew of grace;
renew my dispensation, and grant me length of days.

 

ON FAITH & SCRIPTURE
Often deep in dialogue with holy scripture, these poems update Judaism for contemporary culture on many continents.

 “Book of Isaiah” by Anne Carson

New pain! said Isaiah.
New contract! said God.

At the Threshold of the Book” by Edmond Jabès

“What is going on behind this door?”
    “A book is shedding its leaves.”

Mosaic” by Linda Pastan

the thunder   
of the Old Testament   
into the lightning
of the New. 

The Alphabet” by Karl Shapiro

The letters of the Jews are dancing knives   
That carve the heart of darkness seven ways.   

[“The lamps are burning in the synagogue…”] by Charles Reznikoff

How good to stop   
and look out upon eternity a while

 

CULTURE & HISTORY
Food, family, community, exile, and struggle through the long lens of Jewish history.

I Wasn’t One of the Six Million: And What Is My Life Span? Open Closed Open” by Yehuda Amichai

And I wasn’t one of the six hundred thousand who went out of Egypt.
I came to the Promised Land by sea. 

A Poem Without an End” by Yehuda Amichai

Inside the brand-new museum
there's an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.

In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport” by Emma Lazarus

The weary ones, the sad, the suffering,
   All found their comfort in the holy place

The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Pride and humiliation hand in hand
      Walked with them through the world where’er they went 

Honorary Jew” by John Repp

Done, he pointed a greasy finger
at me, said You can't be a goy.

 “New Netherland, 1654” by Grace Schulman

when we came on a Sabbath, more than twenty   
men, women, a baby born at sea.

Location, Location” by Patty Seyburn

we take nothing with us, save a small stick or dowel
in the casket

 

ARTICLES & BLOG POSTS
On Jewish religious, cultural, and literary tradition.

The Poetry of Kabbalah” by Peter Cole

What, apart from a historical and armchair sense of the intense religious experience of spiritual adepts, does Kabbalah—and specifically the poetry of Kabbalah—have to tell us as readers today?

Hungary: Don’t Look Away” by Forrest Gander

In August 2008, I flew to Budapest, Hungary, to meet with the 96-year old widow of the poet Miklós Radnóti.

If the Psalms Aren’t Poetry, They’re Useless” by Peter O’Leary and Alicia Ostriker

Poets of different faiths come together over the Bible’s most celebrated lyrics. 

Q&A with Emily Warn about her poems “The Word” and “Psalm”

I like to think about these poems as being about questioning rather than about seeking transcendence.

Oh, Kwame Dawes, I Was Just Thinking About You” by Rachel Zucker

I got the question I most often get (this one is always, always asked by a women and never by a man): “are you worried about what your children or family will think about your poems?” Often, in response to this question I talk about being Jewish.

One Whole Voice: What is the difference between a poem and a prayer?” 

“One Whole Voice” is comprised of extracts from A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler.

 

MORE POETS OF JEWISH EXPERIENCE
For further reading, browse the biographies and bibliographies of poets who write about Jewish faith and culture. 

Joseph Brodsky

Marilyn Hacker

A. M. Klein

Hilda Morley

Howard Nemerov

Alicia Ostriker

Grace Paley

Carl Rakosi

Lola Ridge

Jerome Rothenberg

Jane Shore

Nomi Stone

Louis Zukofsky

 

Originally Published: September 4, 2012

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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