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JFAB puts on poetry night centered around Judaism and feminism

The Jewish Feminist Association of Brandeis (JFAB) held its poetry night at Chum’s on Wednesday, Nov. 1. JFAB partnered with Poetic Justice, the Brandeis Slam Poetry Team,
which holds open mic nights every Wednesday. By joining in on Poetic Justice’s regularly scheduled nights which run from 6 to 9 p.m., JFAB held its event during the second half of that time slot. JFAB’s Poetry Night showcased poetry whose topics dealt with Judaism and feminism.

The event kicked off at 7:30 p.m. as dim purple lights flooded the room and a single microphone and stool commanded the stage. As people packed in, there was not enough couch space, so many guests ended up standing or sitting on the floor. JFAB hosted a similar poetry night at the Intercultural Center last year.

Laura Katz ’19, who emceed, started the night with what she called a sacrificial poem. In slam poetry competitions, it is the first poem that the judges critique to calibrate their scoring for ensuing pieces. Of course, this was not a competition. The main purpose was to give people a platform to participate and express themselves. However, it was a nice way to break the ice and steady the nerves of the presenters.

In all, eight poets performed, each expressing their own experiences in relation to Judaism and feminism. The first presenter recited a poem about overcoming pressures of negative self and body-image while in high school. Eventually, she learned to find self-love, saying in her poem, “I forgot my body was a temple.” The next performer prefaced her poems by saying that three years ago, while at a poetry event, she was astonished by a presenter who never rehearsed his poems. Now, as an indication of her development as a poet, she was comfortably reading any poem from her phone extemporaneously. She recited a few lines of unfinished poems, a poem she had written yesterday in Goldfarb and another fully fleshed-out piece about listening to a Bat Sheva Marcus podcast.

Another female student, who had never participated in a poetry slam before, presented work written by a friend who was unable to attend. The first, titled “Invisibility,” was about the speaker’s experience of being marginalized in her own religion (Judaism). As the speaker would sit in the balcony of her synagogue with the other women, down below the Rabbi would ask if “everybody” had participated, but “everybody” meant the males. The speaker felt as if God had forgotten about her. “He, male them, and him all monopolize my hymns,” she said. Her second poem was cleverly titled “My Judaism and Feminism Are My Siblings, But Only I Get to Call Them Stupid.” The poem talks about the speaker’s conflicting selves that she finds hard to reconcile. On some days, the speaker “writes love letters to my Judaism and my feminism lights them on fire.” Then, she “goes to rallies with my feminism and my Judaism stays at home, burns dinner.”

Another presenter read the famous poem “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. Published on June 12, 1978, the poem outlines the inherent contradictions of gender normativity and what it means to be a girl. After the speaker is told not to act like a “slut you are so bent on becoming,” the poem ends with the spiteful, yet ironic last lines: “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?”

Many presenters referenced biblical stories such as the fall of Adam and Eve and the story in the Midrash about baby Moses. The presenters interwove these allusions into their poems about their experiences as women.

The last 20 minutes of the event were dedicated to open mics. There were a lot of poets in the room and a couple of brave souls stepped forward. For one, it was her first time performing.

To end the night, a couple of people who had previously performed went on stage again. If you missed JFAB’s poetry night, the club will host a reading with Marcia Falk on Nov. 6, celebrating the author’s 20th anniversary edition of “The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival.” And, if you you are interested in poetry, Poetic Justice hosts Open Mic Nights every Wednesday.

This past Wednesday, before JFAB’s poetry night officially began, Jamele Adams wrapped up Poetic Justice’s open mic night talking about poetry and how sharing it can be a frightening experience. As he put it, when people recite poetry, they are sharing a piece of themselves. He asked everyone, either on their phones or in their notebooks, to write a quick poem on a given prompt: stress culture. This was not officially part of JFAB’s event, but his message was relevant for the upcoming presenters, some of whom were performing for their first time. The idea of asking everyone to brainstorm a quick poem made the room feel like a safe space.

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