Robert Frost Rarely Went to Church, But Poet Had Personal Rabbi

Laureate Enjoyed a Friendship With Rabbi Victor Reichert

Promises To Keep: For more than two decades, Rabbi Victor Reichert (right) maintained a friendship with Robert Frost.
Courtesy of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries
Promises To Keep: For more than two decades, Rabbi Victor Reichert (right) maintained a friendship with Robert Frost.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published April 02, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Although Robert Frost rarely attended church, America’s supreme poet of pastoral life had his own personal rabbi. Victor Reichert, rabbi of the Rockdale Avenue Temple, in Cincinnati, was one of Frost’s closest friends and confidants in the final decades of the poet’s life.

Now, Reichert’s son, Jonathan Reichert, has donated his father’s trove of letters, books and newspaper clippings documenting the 24-year friendship to the University at Buffalo’s poetry collection. Accessible to the public for the first time, the materials provide insight into Frost’s hard-to-pin-down sensibilities about religion and spirituality, and chronicle a chance friendship that influenced Frost’s later work.

“My father’s interaction with Frost is a tiny part of American literary history, and it deserves a place where it will be recognized,” said Reichert, professor emeritus of physics at U.B., and a friend and admirer of Frost himself.

Frost and Victor Reichert met in 1939 when Louise Reichert convinced her husband to see Frost speak at the Gibson Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. The rabbi, devoted to the writer Edwin Arlington Robinson, felt he didn’t need another poet to follow. But Louise Reichert, a fan of Frost since her days at Smith College, prevailed. Sitting in the front row at the reading, the rabbi was instantly rapt; afterward, he asked Frost to accompany him on a car ride through Eden Park. “It was a blending of the minds, a soul mates’ meeting,” said Michael Basinski, curator of the poetry collection at U.B.

Soon after their initial meeting, Frost invited Reichert to visit him at a writers conference in August in Vermont, where he lived. From then on, Reichert would all but close down his synagogue every summer to sojourn with his family in Frost’s tiny town of Ripton. Reichert became an integral part of “Frost’s posse” of writers and critics, Basinski said. He accompanied Frost on his famously long walks through the woods, and the two men talked about religion, poetry and philosophy. Reichert soon became a fixture in Ripton, giving regular sermons at the local Methodist church. Many years later, he officiated a double bat mitzvah in the church for his wife and granddaughter.

Reichert was a well-respected Reform rabbi in Cincinnati, known for his interfaith work with the Christian community, but he wasn’t a national religious figure. The son of a poor rabbi whose itinerant career took him to synagogues around the country, Reichert never saw himself as part of the American Jewish establishment. His interests went far beyond Jewish texts; he was conversant in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, German and Italian, his son said. He wrote poetry — ranging in subject from the Western Wall, to New York City, to Abraham Lincoln — and translated medieval Hebrew works.


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!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • 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.