Like Cold Water and a Kiss
I love reading the poems on New York City subway trains. When I’m standing in the right position so my view isn’t blocked and I’m not using all my energy to avoid overzealous commuters, I read the poems. For the uninitiated, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) promotes arts and culture through a variety of initiatives. “Poetry in Motion” is one. The most recent poem I read is “What Do You Believe A Poem Shd Do?” by Ntozake Shange. Here it is:
quite simply a poem
shd fill you
up with something/
cd make you swoon,
stop in yr tracks,
change yr mind,
or make it up.
a poem shd happen
to you like cold
water or a kiss.
“A poem shd happen to you like cold water or a kiss.” I love this imagery. It evokes memorable moments in my life — not always wonderful — but always, deeply felt memories.
Having worked in the Jewish community for more than two decades, I’m often asked about my “Jewish journey.” I dislike the question. Instead, I choose to reframe it as “memorable, deeply felt Jewish moments,” those that struck me like cold water or a kiss. The question then feels easier to answer.
What are the powerful moments in my life from which I draw inspiration? The moments are almost always those where I have confronted ways of thinking and living different from my own: listening at the Seder table as the adults — often colleagues of my mother, sometimes Christian theologians — debated concepts in the Haggadah in ways that were unfamiliar; spending time in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Jews in the Former Soviet Union who were learning about Judaism and grappling with their Jewish identities in a new era; and more recently, watching Shtisel, an Israeli television series about the personal lives of a Haredi family.
As Jewish educators, we must provide these experiences to learners of all ages and in all settings. As educators and learners, we must seek opportunities to challenge our own modes of thinking and living in order to bring these experiences to our students. Experiences that unsettle us — even a little — shock us ever so slightly out of complacency — like a quick splash of cold water or a fleeting, but unexpected, kiss.
One in a series from our inaugural Blog B'Omer.
Abby Knopp is Chief Operating Officer at The Jewish Education Project.