Exploring What it Means to be a Jewish Artist

There’s an interesting event coming up at the Educational Alliance this weekend.  It’s a poetry reading, film screening and discussion with author Yehoshua November and film director Ari Mark. The event, exploring what it means to be a Jewish artist, will be moderated by David Deutsch, Heeb humor editor (and Lower East Side resident).

Yesterday I spoke with November, who recently published his first collection of poems, a book called “God’s Optimism.” Liz Rosenberg, November’s college poetry professor, called it one of the finest books of poems she’s read in decades.  A Chasidic Jew, November writes about love and loss, relationships and spirituality.  Critics have praised his poems not only for their startling honesty but because many of the themes he explores are so universal.  November told me he thinks quite a lot about reaching two audiences — one devoutly religious and the other secular:

The Jewish Sages say, “Words that come from the heart enter the heart.” If this is true, then perhaps the subject matter of the poems is not as important as how genuine the poet is in his or her work. Though poetry means many different things to many different people, I have always seen poetry as a place to be honest.  I hope this comes across in my work. This is why I think it’s important to explore how most people, even if they look as if everything is in order, are facing challenges. Art that doesn’t express conflict always falls flat because it’s not true to human experience. It’s true that I believe in a very defined path, as you can tell from my appearance, but this doesn’t mean I don’t have doubts or bad days. Perhaps, one reason less traditional Jews are turned off by traditional Judaism is because it can look emotionless and dogmatic. It’s important for both groups to remember there’s a human behind the perceived categorization. Perhaps poetry can help with this.

November teaches at Rutgers and lives in New Jersey, but his grandparents lived on the Lower East Side. He told me they were towering figures in his life and have influenced much of his creative work. The event on Saturday will be a reunion of sorts with Ari Mark, a college classmate. It takes place at 8pm at the Educational Alliance, 197 East Broadway. The reading/discussion costs $7 (more info on the Educational Alliance’s web site).