An Anthology of Jewish Women’s Poetry

Relationships, death, food, childhood, war, religion, identity and sexuality—all are included in this wide-ranging collection of poems by 62 British Jewish women. Here is Micheline Wandor’s feisty dialogue between Eve and Lilith:

“Eve: It’s none of my business
but you must have done something very
to make a man
remember you so. Lilith: I merely said no . . .”

And then we hear Lilith reveal, “I am the dybbuk of delight/I slip into the souls/of those who need me.”

In the late 1930s, a large number European Jewish children were separated from their families and brought to England through the Kinderstransporte. Their memories are captured in several poems, most subtly and poignantly in “Between the Lines” by Adele Geras. Dated 1938, it expresses a daughter’s longing for her mother: “Mama darling everything is fine/(where are you where is your smell when you kiss me)/Everyone is being very kind/(but sometimes I do not know what they are saying).”

Food wafts out of the pages: Miriam Halahmy brings the smell and the emotion of “the grandmother and the child/making kubeh in my kitchen/the ancient way” into the reader’s kitchen, while psychotherapist Valerie Sinason muses on the Passover seder: “what a way to make a family eat together— /curses, bitter herbs and chicken soup.”

Although there are Jewish words (kaddish, Shabbat, Jerusalem) and lots of “Jewish” feelings (loss, alienation, ambivalence) in this collection, it is disappointing that the vast majority of the poems are empty of Jewish knowledge. The Dybbuk of Delight is a credit to the oft-neglected creative output of British Jewish women, but the question remains: is being a Jewish woman enough to claim entry to a Jewish women’s anthology?

Sally Berkovic is an Australian-born writer living in London.