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!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • 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.