JFREJ honors Adrienne Rich (z''l)

Print this pagePrint this page

With deep sorrow, we mourn the passing of Adrienne Rich (z"l), a beloved friend, mentor, unflinching supporter, and inspiration to so many at JFREJ. Adrienne was honored at our 2007 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Awards. Below is the video and text of Adrienne's acceptance speech, and the citation presented to her at the ceremony. May her memory be for a blessing.

Adrienne Rich, Frances Goldin, and Debbie Almontaser at the 2007 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Awards.

 

*****

When an artist has become one of the most respected and admired voices of her generation, it’s easy to think of her as simply "part of the landscape." Adrienne Rich has never let that happen. She has been instead a model of engagement, wrestling with politics as with poetry. From early revelations of feminism, she yoked racism and sexism, mothering and revolution, opposing war and occupation, persisting in the will to change. From refusing the National Medal of the Arts from then-President Bill Clinton because, as she said, "the very meaning of art is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration," to nurturing marginalized voices and diving into the wreckage of history to salvage new narratives of resistance, Adrienne Rich’s every poem rebuts the assumption that politics is not the province of poetry. Her work has constantly interrogated notions of identity , nation, and home, asking: what does it mean to be a middle class woman, a white North American, a lesbian Jew, a Southerner, a citizen in a democracy?

Her successful blending of aesthetics, politics and erotics has enriched contemporary poetry beyond measure and strengthened progressive politics in devastating times. For the unceasing beauty and power of her art and her activism, her creative demonstration of the power of art as activism, and her thrilling model of activism through and beyond art, JFREJ is honored to present Adrienne Rich with the 2007 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award.

*****

This is the place where I realize I am at home, in this company of comrades, friends and activists. In the presence of so many courageous activists of the deed and the word, I feel like a minor risk-taker. My admiration for the legacy of Rabbi Marshall Meyer and the work of JFREJ has been strong and deep. I live in California but I count myself a member of JFREJ in diaspora. I also have enormous admiration for the courageous self-organizing people with whom JFREJ makes common cause in this city. So it’s not just a figure of speech to say that I am truly honored to be here, in the company of Nycahn, Debbie Almontaser, and the incomparable Francis Goldin. Accepting this award has made me ponder the word "risk." And the concept of safety, which lies behind it, and which has become an American mantra. The idea that safety is a commodity some can buy for themselves and their children, regardless of who else lives at risk. Safety and security. The debased currency for which we're urged to sell our mental clarity, the facts of history, our political imaginations, our possible solidarity with others. JFREJ has seen past these deceptions and struggles to re-affirm and reinvigorate the phrase "Tikkun Olam", and the phrase "New York Jews." I thank you, with all my heart.

 

Transparencies

That the meek word like the righteous word can bully
that an Israeli soldier interviewed years
after the first intifada could mourn on camera
what under orders he did, saw done, did not refuse
that another leaving Beit Jala could scrawl
on a wall:   We are truely sorry for the mess we made
is merely routine    word that would cancel deed
That human equals innocent and guilty
That we grasp for innocence whether or no
is elementary    That words can translate into broken bones
That the power to hurl words is a weapon
That the body can be a weapon
any child on playground knows    That asked your favorite word
                                                              in a game
you always named a thing, a quality, freedom or river
(never a pronoun, never God or War)

is taken for granted    That word and body
are all we have to lay on the line
That words are windowpanes in a ransacked hut, smeared
by time’s dirty rains, we might argue
likewise that words are clear as glass till the sun strikes it blinding

But that in a dark windowpane you have seen your face
That when you wipe your glasses the text grows clearer
That the sound of crunching glass comes at the height of the
                                                                wedding
That I can look through glass
into my neighbor’s house
but not my neighbor’s life
That glass is sometimes broken to save lives
That a word can be crushed like a goblet underfoot
is only what it seems, part question, part answer: how
                                                      you live it.
 

Come tonight, Thursday, March 29th, to hear Debbie Almontaser moderate our panel, Challenging Islamophobia. Details on our Events page.