When I graduated college, I moved to San Francisco to get away from Judaism. No, that’s not right: I moved there because I thought I wanted to be a writer, and even though everyone at my synagogue warned me that San Francisco was a Jewish wasteland without Orthodox Jews or kosher restaurants, I knew that I had to put my writing first.
It’s a few years later now. I wrote a book about trying to become a professional poet and trying to become an Orthodox Jew, which feels like a book I haven’t read in years. Now I live in New York City. That isn’t to say that I didn’t find observant Jews in the Bay Area — actually, I found some of the wildest and most creative Jews I ever met, from the annual Hip-Hop Chanukah parties to wild Lag Ba’Omer bonfires.
And so it’s really cool — for me personally, and for the whole community — that the local Orthodox synagogue is starting to throw spoken-word festivals. The SF Jewish magazine, J Weekly, which is not exactly known for covering synagogue talent shows, ran two feature stories about it — so it’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s pumped.
As an involved participant, I can’t really offer an objective opinion — but it’s hella cool to see poetry becoming embraced by,well, people you wouldn’t think would embrace it. The Lubavitch Hasidic community in Crown Heights has a monthly poetry slam, and the Sixth Street Shul in New York just started a poetry series called Baruch She’amar, named after one of the morning prayers (but which literally means “blessed are those who speak”).
Pronounced: khah-SID-ik, Origin: Hebrew, a stream within ultra-Orthodox Judaism that grew out of an 18th-century mystical revival movement.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.