The Arty Semite

Bob Holman's Poem for Rosh Hashanah

By Jake Marmer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Bob Holman is one of New York’s poetry legends. He pioneered the performance poetry scene a few decades ago, opened and is still running his world-renowned Bowery Poetry Club, is a professor, publisher, lecturer and much more.

‘Rain, 1954’ by Arthur Leipzig

Today, in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, The Arty Semite is featuring Holman’s 1994 poem “A Jew in New York.” The author points to a wonderful connection between the mood of the High Holy Days and the New York weather: “Moody and gray, with dashes of absolute / Clarity.”

There’s also something quintessentially New York about the way Holman’s meditation on his Jewishness is intertwined with references to other identities — a Latina friend, the Chinese new year, and his own “coalminer” lineage. Holman’s mode of introspection, in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, lies in the openness and receptivity to his own history and the free-associations that come as he recounts it.

Bob Holman’s most recent book is “Picasso in Barcelona” (Paper Kite Press).


A Jew in New York

Like everybody else, I wasn’t a Jew
Until I came to New York. In Portland, OR,
The other day, a young Latina asked me
If I were Jewyorican. Papa and Bubby
Came from Ukraine, landed in Brooklyn,
Settled in Harlan, KY, and named my father
Benjamin Franklin. My mother, the offspring
Of a coalminer, married Ben, the only Jew
In town. He didn’t last. Ma remarried.
In kindergarten, in Cincinnati, instead
Of moving to the afternoon session the second

Semester, I stayed in Morning and changed my name.
This is the year 5755. In Chinese it is Year
Of the Dog. I just learned that the time between
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the Days
Of Awe. Moody and gray, with dashes of absolute
Clarity, I love these days. Cleansing
Summer’s sweat from the streets of New York,
I always think of the year beginning in
September. “That’s when school starts.” A holdover
From Youth. This year, for the first time, woo,
It’s the real New Year, and I am a real Jew.
A real Jew, and a real coalminer’s son, too.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rosh Hashanah, Poetry, Jake Marmer, Bowery Poetry Club, Bob Holman, A Jew in New York

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.