High Holiday Poems

Apples and honey. Via Canva by supercat67.

For more than ten years now, I have been writing a series of poems about and inspired by Jewish holidays, titled “Lunar Calendar.” My poem about Rosh Hashanah, included below, was written on the Greek island of Milos, where there is not a single synagogue, and where my observance of the holiday consisted of a single-serving packet of honey and an apple given to me for breakfast, which I could not eat due to allergies. Yet I also spent my time on the island walking past countless ripening pomegranates, mulling over the significance of the pomegranate in both Jewish and Greek tradition. The poem sprang from there.

This series has taken a long time to write, as I largely don’t believe in writing poetry on command, preferring instead to create a fertile environment in which a poem can sprout spontaneously, as “Rosh Hashanah” did on Milos. All writing rules must be broken now and then, however, and the following poem about Yom Kippur came at a moment when I was determined to flesh out this series so that it would appear complete in a manuscript. At the time, I told myself that I could replace this “Yom Kippur” later with a more inspired poem, but the truth is that I managed to surprise myself with what I wrote. The poem is as much about my personal history growing up with a debilitating, painful illness, as it is about the collective history of persecution and suffering that all Jewish people must grapple with.

Today, most people are familiar only with the Modern Hebrew pronunciations of Jewish holidays, so I have titled the poems in my series accordingly. However, as a Yiddishist and translator of Yiddish poetry, I am uncomfortable leaving the Ashkenazi pronunciations out entirely, as they are still legitimate. I chose to include the Yiddish names in parentheses.

Rosh HaShanah
(Rosh HeShone)

To a new year that is good and sweet
with apples dipped in sticky honey
pomegranate seeds that stain—
the true fruit that tempted Eve.
For though we are imperfect and like she
we owe apologies, we may remain
another year in this messy world.
Surely even God above must know
a sweet beginning is a sacred need.

Yom Kippur
(Yom Kiper)

On this most holy of days we determine
that we have not yet suffered enough,

that in our new lands of plenty,
only hunger brings purity.

A kind of return to Eden:
this gnawing simplicity.

Additional poems from Evrona’s poetry series on Jewish holidays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Valparaiso Poetry Review, the North American Review, Jewish Currents, and the anthology 100 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium.
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Maia Dear?
Your holiday poetry is both beautiful and most inspiring. You capture both suffering and the need to have sweet hope.
Your choice of words and explanations is amazing.
A sweet, healthy, successful New Year to you.
With Love,

I love these. They add even more meaning to these holidays, bringing this meaning closer to each of our lives. Beautiful creations, Maia

How to cite this page

Evrona, Maia. "High Holiday Poems." 24 September 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/high-holiday-poems>.

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