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Jewish poet Joy Ladin hosts readings on renewal

Zack Walsh
Transgender, Jewish poet Joy Ladin hosts a poetry reading in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah.

Students and faculty members gathered in the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) atrium on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 4:15 p.m. to hear award-winning poet Joy Ladin read and discuss her work over Zoom. A nationally recognized speaker on transgender rights and the first openly transgender professor to work at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University, Ladin has written 11 books of poetry along with works of memoir and scholarship.

The reading had a relaxed, communal atmosphere, providing attendees with fruit, pastries and drinks. Attendees sat at round tables jotting in notebooks supplied by event organizers while Ladin spoke while being projected on a screen at the front of the room. 

As the event took place during the Jewish month of Elul, Ladin read poems centered around the theme of renewal in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Introducing each one with a different concept of renewal, Ladin read more than ten poems — she concluded by reading from her latest volume, “Shekhinah Speaks,” which only includes words taken from the book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible and Cosmopolitan magazines. The event concluded with a segment in which attendees wrote in response to a prompt about self-reflection before dispersing.

The event was facilitated by Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay, interim dean of religious life. Zev Eli Zentner `25, vice-president of the Grinnell student Jewish organization Chaverim, also spoke. Zentner along with Livia Stein Freitas `25 introduced Ladin by sharing their own experiences with her work.

Freitas spoke about how Ladin’s poem “Comfort Animal” helped her through the death of her beloved chihuahua Toy, inspired her to declare English as a second major and guided her through the revelations that came with a recent autism diagnosis. 

Reflecting after the event on the power of Ladin’s work, “What I think is so special about her poetry is it’s very comforting, but it doesn’t rush getting to that comfort.” Freitas said. “So when the comfort does come, you’re like, ‘okay, this is genuine.’” 

Zentner said that the idea of the event first arose after Brammer-Shlay read one of Ladin’s poems during a service last spring. They spoke about Ladin’s poem “Survival Guide,” noting how they felt encouraged by Ladin’s insights as a fellow transgender Jewish person. 

Ladin said, “With Zev and Livia — I mean, it’s just a privilege to have their seriousness and depth to read my work and respond to it so profoundly.” 

 Zentner, who has loved Ladin’s work ever since receiving a Jewish prayer book which included “Survival Guide” as a gift, approached Brammer-Shlay after a sermon in the spring. Since that moment, Zentner, Freitas and Brammer-Shlay have been collaborating to organize the event, including two Zoom meetings with Ladin over the summer.

It is just incredible to have responses that show that the poems have been read and received

— Joy Ladin

Both Zentner and Freitas said that the community reaction to the event has been overwhelmingly positive. Ladin also said that the event was personally significant to her. “It is just incredible to have responses that show that the poems have been read and received,” Ladin said. “It’s kind of like putting a message in a bottle, and then many years later, you hear your cell phone ring.”

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About the Contributor
Bea Crist
Bea Crist, Staff Writer
Beatrice is a third-year English and theatre double major from Durham, North Carolina. Academically, she enjoys exploring the intersections of history and literature. When she’s not writing, she loves listening to Gillian Welch, discovering new foods to put Cholula on, and impulsively painting her belongings.
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