Poetry is all the rage these days. It made the news when the National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of President Biden. B’nai B’rith was especially pleased to hear her message that included her quote of a line from Michah 4:4, "Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid." These words were the sentiments of George Washington in 1790 to the congregants of Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. This promise was made to the Jews of that time and continues to be the world we want for ourselves and Jewish communities everywhere.
This quote has become the foundation of B’nai B’rith’s None Shall Be Afraid project that was developed to continue our efforts to bring awareness to and speak out against anti-Semitism. The project contains resources and an action campaign to help individuals and communities get involved and add their voice to speak out against anti-Semitism.
Ms. Gorman was also featured as the first poet to recite an original poem during a Super Bowl this year. This poem was titled “Chorus of the Captains,” and paid tribute to honoree captains, chosen by the NFL as examples of the essential workers who have been hard at work during the COVID-19 crisis. This was another important message, echoing B’nai B’rith’s agenda to assist during times such as this, to help those in need and to appreciate the healthcare workers and volunteers whose efforts make the response to deal with the pandemic possible.
Poetry has been a part of education for centuries. There are poems we remember being taught in school, usually by memorizing them. The first stanzas still come to mind even though many years have passed since then, and we remember enough to find them on the internet. From Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees,” to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge, we learned to use descriptive language about nature and the world around us.
I recall another school assignment: to experience poetry by writing a haiku. This is a Japanese form of poetry written in three lines with 17 syllables total. I remember I wrote about clouds. How wonderful it was for me to staff the Kakehashi Mission in Japan in 2016, sponsored by the government of Japan in cooperation with B’nai B’rith to provide a cultural experience for young professionals. We toured a forest dedicated to the great master Basho, the father of haiku, where it was said he often wrote. We sat in this tranquil setting to learn about him and be inspired to write our own Haiku poem. His legacy to the world is this form of poetry. While the Kakehashi program is on hold due to the pandemic, B’nai B’rith continues to hold important programming with the Embassy of Japan virtually, until it can be resumed.
Parents read young children rhyming books because they are a fun learning tool. The sing-song voice and accompanying visuals open the door to words for a young child. This format was often used by participants in the B’nai B’rith Diverse Minds Writing Contest. The contest asked high school students to write books for young children about diversity and respect, and many wrote in this poetic rhyming form. The books reached thousands of students and provided the winners of the contest $337,000 in college scholarships. Forty-one of the original books were published by B’nai B’rith.
Poetry is a healer, describing love and broken hearts. Poetry has described historic events and becomes the words of future anthems and folk songs. It is a way to express how you feel, when you are in pain or feeling joy.
The poem “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” by the Israeli poet Zelda, became a cornerstone of the commemorative project “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” included with the thematic materials Yad Vashem and the project’s International Committee provide each year on Yom Hashoah. This is a means to remember the victims of the Holocaust and the generation of survivors that have contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel and the Jewish people around the world.
B’nai B’rith has proudly served as the North American sponsor of this program since 1989 and invites you to participate in the 2021 virtual event that will be held on April 8. The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem represents B’nai B’rith on the committee and, in cooperation with the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity, we have provided this program to communities and campuses each year.
More details will be available shortly and you can join us by bringing this program to your community by watching along with the worldwide family of B’nai B’rith. For more information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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