Harvest: Collected Poems and Prayers
by Ruth F. Brin
Holy Cow! Press, $16.95, paper
If this poet’s name is familiar to you, it’s because Ruth Brin’s liturgical writings appear frequently in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist prayerbooks. This collection of some 200 poems and prayers is divided into five sections, each named for agricultural crops with Jewish significance. The works span about 35 years (1950-1985) and almost all have been previously published in books, magazines, prayerbooks, or pamphlets used for synagogue worship. The credits reflect how widely Brin’s work has been used in the Jewish community.
“Oranges and Olives,” the book’s first section, contains “A Woman’s Meditation,” from someone reimagining her relationship with God on her own terms: “I am a woman, not a slave, not a subject,/not a child who longs for God as father or mother…those images,/like king, master, father or mother, are too small for me now.”
In “Barley,” section three, Brin offers poems on bringing Jewish children into the world and thoughts on what it means to be “chosen.” Her words are earnest and true, if rarely innovative. Section four, “Pomegranates,” contains writings for Jewish holidays, including the unexpected “Celebration: For the 9th of Ab.” Many readers will cheer when Brin writes that we should rejoice in the destruction of the Temple because it meant an end to ritual animal sacrifice, the political corruption of kings and priests, and the stagnation of Jewish law. “Mourn for the Temple,” she writes, “but rejoice that it is gone.”
In the preface to Harvest, Brin writes that she has considered herself a feminist all her life, but one of the few non-poems here discusses the moment when her identity as a Jewish feminist crystallized. “The Wall: The Poem I Couldn’t Write” recounts the pain and bewilderment Brin felt as she was shunted—by an Israeli soldier—to “a small, separate place” for women away from the main part of the Western Wall only months after it was opened to Jews after the Six Day War in 1967. “Seldom have I felt so rejected by my own people as I did then,” recalls Brin, who wonders at the essay’s close, “Is this Judaism? Can an educated woman be a Jew? Can any woman be a Jew?”
Karen Prager is a book editor and freelance writer in New Jersey.