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Sarah’s Daughters Sing: A Sampler of Poems by Jewish Women

Sarah’s Daughters Sing: A Sampler of Poems by Jewish Women
edited by Henny Wenkart Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, 1990 264 pp., cloth $19.95, paper, $14.95

Several communal projects converge in this volume, generated by the New York-based Jewish Women’s Poetry Project, a workshop where poets “read to an audience that never asked us why our poems were female or what made them Jewish” and inspired by a sister workshop founded on the West Coast by Marcia Cohn Spiegel. The poems in the opening section reach back to the mothers Eve and Lilith, Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah. The book’s final section, oriented toward the future, involves what Marcia Falk calls the “exiled desire” of women for a fuller covenant.

The sections in between sing about and to ancestors, neighbors, parents and children, sex and marriage. The 88 women contributors include well-known and new poets; there are some translations from Hebrew and Yiddish, and even a few 19th century poems. There are poems of joy in the Sabbath and grief in the house of mourning; of aging; of contemporary pol Several communal projects converge in this volume, generated by the New York-based Jewish Women’s Poetry Project, a workshop where poets “read to an audience that never asked us why our poems were female or what made them Jewish” and inspired by a sister workshop founded on the West Coast by Marcia Cohn Spiegel. The poems in the opening section reach back to the mothers Eve and Lilith, Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah. The book’s final section, oriented toward the future, involves what Marcia Falk calls the “exiled desire” of women for a fuller covenant. The sections in between sing about and to ancestors, neighbors, parents and children, sex and marriage. The 88 women contributors include well-known and new poets; there are some translations from Hebrew and Yiddish, and even a few 19th century poems. There are poems of joy in the Sabbath and grief in the house of mourning; of aging; of contemporary politics and the yearning for social justice. Faith and doubt rningle — sometimes angrily, as when Helen Papell’s Sarah says “not my son” to the command that Isaac be sacrificed, and sometimes humorously, as when Merle Feld at her son’s bris (circumsion) thinks, “You’re a little weird, you male Jewish God/ What do you want with all those foreskins anyway?”

Bitterness and satire inevitably form part of this book. But the dominant tone is tenderness — compassion for the dead and the living, and for the body and spirit of the female self.

Sarah’s Daughters Sing becomes a book of longing for the Shekhinah who, Shul-amith Surnamer tells us, “feels renewed” as women find their own voices within Jewish culture.