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From the Coffee House of Jewish Dreamers:
Poems of Wonder and Wandering
Poems on the weekly Torah Portions

by Isidore Century

From the Coffee House of Jewish Dreamers collects the work of a New York poet, who has been publishing for four decades in small journals and chapbooks.

Isidore Century's poems recall growing up during the Depression to Yiddish immigrant parents; his coming to terms with the scars of his youth; his adult discovery of Jewish traditions and the Land of Israel; and his continuing game of hide-and-seek with God.

The other half of this volume, Poems of the Weekly Torah Portion, slyly reimagines each weekly Torah portion, from Genesis through Deuteronomy, with unorthodox wit and a strong sense of justice.

Isidore Century is an attorney living in New York City. His poems have appeared in Chelsea Review, Midstream, Borestone Mountain Poetry Awards 1976, Best Jewish Writing 2003, Jewish Currents and Jews.

The poems in this volume were written in many coffee shops in New York City over four decades. Mr. Century is grateful for the kindness and hospitality he has received over the years.

About himself, he says:

"I didn't know I was Jewish until I read my own poems.

"I study Torah, I go to shul on Shabbes, though I am not shomer Shabbes, nor keep kosher. I visit with friends, and cousins in Israel frequently. I am at home in Jerusalem. I love to daven at the Wall.

"One of the most rewarding and nourishing experiences in my life was working on Kibbutz Yiron, on the Lebanese border.

On Finding an Old Siddur
What becomes of prayers?
Three times a day, my grandmother, my grandfather.
Thousands of years,
Thousands of grandmothers, grandfathers.
Jerusalem, Spain, Poland,
everywhere
the same prayers.
Did they disappear
into nothingness?
Or remain in the air,
like holy nutrients
waiting for grandchildren
to gather them in,
and by praying them,
answer the prayers of our grandmothers, our grandfathers.

Messages
I wanted to make a sacrifice
like in the olden days,
but it is forbidden to bring Him
a bullock or sheep or goat.
So I asked Him if He wanted,
I would bring Him
a bagel with lox and cream cheese.
He didn’t want.
“Better you should have it,” He said.
Who am I to argue with God?

I say the blessing over the washing of the hands.
I say the blessing over the bagel.
And as I chew over my half-kosher pickle of resolve
to become observant, I hear two messages:
it’s hard to be a Jew;
and something new,
it’s lucky to be a Jew.

 

"Chayye Sarah"

It was such a secret,
you will not find not one midrash from it.
She couldn't cook!
An Eshet Hayil one hundred times;
she ran the household; she raised Isaac;
she did business with the caravans and Bedouins;
she was the sole breadwinner for the family;
she was some She!

But she couldn't fry an egg to save her life.
I did the cooking and I never told not one person.
For that mitzvah maybe,
an angel gave to me a recipe to make
noodle kugel
with dates and raisins and pistachio nuts.

From the river Egypt to the Great River
Euphrates
they heard from my kugel and everyone came to
Abraham's tent to buy.
It was like a restaurant, but no charge;
it is a gift from God, Abraham told them.
Those that asked who is God remained to be
Israelites.
Abraham liked to say
we were a tribe of questioners,
but if not for my kugel,
we would not become a nation.

"Vayyakhel"

“You don’t know the 11th Commandment?”
Shlomo asked.
      “What is that?” Motte answered.
“Thou shalt ask questions,” Shlomo said.
“A midrash says it was written on the first set of tablets,
but Moses was so angry with us,
he forgot to write it on the second set.”
      “Why did God give us this mitzvah?”
“Because of free choice.” Shlomo answered,
“He wanted we should be free to have the chutzpah
to ask anyone anything we want.”
      “You won’t make a lot of friends that way,” Motte said.
“You are 100% right, Motte,
but if you don’t ask, you don’t learn.”

So Motte asked Moses why his brother, Aaron,
was not punished for making the Golden Calf.
      “It was, after all, his idea, Moshe,” Motte said.
Moses closed his eyes and prayed.
“What did you learn from this, Motte?” Shlomo asked.
      “Sometimes silence is the only answer.”

Isidore Century reads 3 poems

How "Journey to Coney Island" came to be written

 

"Isidore Century is a wonderful poet. He writes of traveling to Coney Island; visiting Israel and returning there to the land of Yiddish in which he grew up; his father, who escaped from Poland and made his way illegally to the U.S., where he became an official in the Painter’s Union; and about his own reluctant and penetrating faith, 'I keep running from a God/in whom I do not believe/hoping he catches me.'

"His poems are brief stories: they’re funny, deeply observed, without pretension, written with a knowingness and rhythm of things old and new. Those related to Torah readings are poetic, original midrashim. He brings the figures of the Bible to Central Park, or places the poet in Egypt and service as Joseph’s valet and butler, adding his distinctive accent to the text."

The New York Jewish Week, 11/16/2007

"When I read the "Poems of Wonder and Wandering", I was awash in a sea of sadness and longing. Flip the book over and read ""poems of the weekly Torah Portions", and it is laugh out loud funny, full of tongue in cheek wit. It is the balance between sadness and humor, anger and joy, longing and acceptance, which make this collection such a treasure.

"Century's poems read like prose. They each tell a story, whether poignant or humorous. It is the story of a life, of a people, and a man. Please take the time to enjoy this collection."

reviewer hemlokgang on LibraryThing.com

"Poems of the Weekly Torah Portion offers a highly original slant on well-known Bible stories. The poems are light and often humorous, and will surprise readers already familiar with the traditional stories.

"Poems of Wonder and Wandering is an autobiographical account of Isidore Century’s life. Carefully chosen, expressive words bring the author’s experiences of life to life, from early childhood to later years of spiritual struggle on his way to self-discovery. The poems evoke strong emotions of remorse, confusion, wistfulness, and ultimately hopefulness, mingling and fusing past and present. It is easy to identify with these unexpectedly touching and haunting poems, regardless of your religious or cultural background. Many Yiddish words are used throughout, lending depth and authenticity to the poetry. A glossary of these words is included. Gevaldik!"

reviewer Librtea on LibraryThing.com

 

 

 

 

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