Poetry Reading Honors Holocaust Remembrance Day
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Jacqueline Osherow’s poem “Orders of Infinity” inspired Jess Lieberman ’14 to put together today’s poetry reading to honor National Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“I remembered I went to this poetry reading in the fall and one of the poems was about Treblinka. I had actually visited there before, and I had such a strong emotional response to the poem that I started sobbing,” Lieberman said.
“Remembering that really inspired this event because poetry is a really powerful vehicle for conveying emotion and memories. … I want people to see [the Holocaust] as something personal that happened to communities, to families, to people, some of whom are still living.”
Recruiting professors, including Visiting Professor of Creative Writing Daniel Epstein, Professor of Religious Studies Royal Rhodes, Kenyon Review editor David Lynn and Assistant Professor of German Leo Riegert, for the poetry reading was Lieberman’s first step in organizing the event.
After finding professors, “the program just kind of filled out,” she said.
Other participants include Professor of Psychology Allan Fenigstein, Professor of Religious Studies Miriam Dean-Otting, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Laurie Finke and Daniel Solway ’14, head of Hillel House.
Epstein, who grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, was honored to be asked. “When I was a boy, people were reluctant to talk about [the Holocaust],” Epstein said. “I think it’s interesting to see that the memory of the Holocaust has become institutionalized, in a good way, by remembering that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
As a professor of poetry, Epstein feels especially connected to the use of poetry in conveying emotion. “One of the ways that poetry is defined is as memorable speech,” Epstein said. “One of the ways we remember important things in our lives is through poetry. But there are certain themes that even poetry has trouble addressing, and the Holocaust is one of them.”
Riegert, who teaches a class on the Holocaust, hopes the event will keep memories and discourse alive. “The sad fact is that this happens again and again with genocide and ethnic cleansing,” he said. “That’s what is more important for me personally — that students become aware of the atrocity that is happening in the world today and begin to understand that they have a responsibility to intervene.”
As an active member of Hillel House and of the Jewish community at Kenyon, Lynn helped Lieberman choose a time and place to host the reading and decided to have The Kenyon Review sponsor the remembrance event, calling it a “good opportunity.”
Finally, Rhodes agreed to offer a non-Jewish perspective.
“I thought it was important for this event that there be a non-Jewish voice,” Rhodes said, “especially when looking specifically at the moral dimension of recognizing the bystanders. Not everyone was silent. … There were some [who spoke out], but there were too few.”
In addition to the poetry reading, Columbus resident Murray Ebner, a Holocaust survivor, will speak next week in accordance with the Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It’s a really special and unique experience to be able to hear someone tell a personal story of what happened,” Lieberman said. “Over the next 10 years, that opportunity is going to be lost. It’s something that’s unique to our generation.”
Epstein, too, recognizes the significance of hearing a survivor tell his story.
“There will be fewer and fewer [survivors] as time goes on,” he said.
As co-manager of Hillel, Lieberman noticed a lack of interest in ritual observance among Jewish people on campus, but believes this event will be well-received among all religious backgrounds.
“This event is really great because it takes the best part of Kenyon and applies it to the Jewish experience,” she said, “because no one can do a poetry event better than Kenyon College and The Kenyon Review.”
Today’s poetry reading is at 4:10 p.m. in the Community Foundation Theater in Gund Gallery, and Ebner will speak on April 23 in the Bemis Music Room in Peirce Hall at 4:10 p.m.