In early 2010 Hila Ratzabi received an email with the subject line ‘Hebrew tutor for my (awesome!) 11-year- old daughter.’ She replied. Now, she’s a one woman Hebrew school.
When I received my copy of “Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry” (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011), edited by poet Julie R. Enszer, I was surprised at how small the book was. Measuring only about six by four inches, it seems designed to fit easily into a purse, or perhaps not to draw too much attention to itself. However, the volume’s diminutive physical size does not betray its emotional power. This collection packs a punch, and it couldn’t have been published at a more timely moment. With same-sex marriage now legal in New York, this volume is truly a celebration, as its subtitle suggests. And I can’t help but note that it would make a great wedding present or wedding favor for guests.
When I entered Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Greenwich Village on a recent Sunday afternoon to see the play “In Between,” which explores the cultural identity of a Palestinian-Muslim/Jewish-Israeli man, I suddenly felt hyper-aware of my own Jewish identity. It seemed telling to me, and surprising, that the only current New York performance of this show was being held at a church (the play is also being staged February 9 at Nichols College in Dudley, Mass). While I’m sure there were Jews in the audience (I overheard an Israeli woman speaking with the performer after the show in Hebrew), the crowd was indeed mixed. Many attendees were members of Pax Christi, the organization that hosted the event and which is a part of the national Catholic peace movement.
Those of us who have participated in the Jewish poetry scene in New York City over the last decade might argue that the journal Mima’amakim invented it. Though Jewish women and men have been performing and publishing poetry for many decades as part of a thriving New York poetry scene, Mima’amakim established the first readings and performances that featured not only poetry written by Jews, but also poetry with specifically Jewish content. On February 5 at the Sixth Street Synagogue, Mima’amakim will hold a publication party celebrating its last issue and 10 years of publishing innovative Jewish poetry.
When the Forward published my essay on being in an interfaith relationship last year, I could never have predicted that I would eventually decide to put together an entire anthology of essays by women in Jewish interfaith relationships. Before I wrote my essay, I had carried ideas for it in my head for a long time, and I imagine, many other women carry around such narratives, too. When my relationship began, more than a year ago, I was flooded with all kinds of emotions, typical of any new relationship. But there was also another layer of pure bewilderment. After all, I had never before been in an interfaith relationship; I had never planned to be in one; I was specifically trying not to be in one.
Hila Ratzabi had a typical American-Jewish childhood: day school, Shabbat observance, and the expectation of endogamy. It wasn’t until much later that Ratzabi realized, as she writes in this essay, that it was possible to maintain her Jewishness while partnering with a non-Jew.