What is Yetzirah?
Yetzirah is a nonprofit literary organization dedicated to fostering and supporting a community space for Jewish poets, nourishing writers and readers of Jewish poetry now and for generations to come.
Just as God is said to have spoken the world into being, we believe in the transformative power of language. In Yetzirah, the World of Formation, we create our art from the world around us, a world enriched and informed by our connections with each other. These notions of formation and connection—exploring the past, present, and future of Jewish poetry—will be essential to our mission.
Through regular gatherings in-person and online, as well as an annual summer retreat, we will further strengthen these connections, encouraging the energy and inspiration generated from our collective experiences, creativity, and wisdom.
As we are bolstered as much by the differences among us as the commonalities we share, Yetzirah welcomes any and all poets who identify as Jewish.
And we welcome poetry lovers of all traditions to attend our readings and events, as we believe that inviting members of all communities to learn more about Jewish poetry and Jewish culture, the more likely those individuals will be to push back against detrimental assumptions and antisemitism.
Inspiration & Goals
Yetzirah was first conceived of in 2017, when Jessica Jacobs began work on a collection of poems in conversation with the Torah and surrounding texts. When she sought out other Jewish poets from whom she might learn and find inspiration, she was surprised by how difficult it was to find them and their work.
While she continued to pursue this study and writing, a series of terrifying antisemitic attacks occurred throughout the country, including the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. As a result, more than half of Jewish respondents to a 2020 Pew Research poll said that “as a Jewish person in the United States” they felt less safe than they did five years ago. As she reached out to Yetzirah’s potential future community members, she heard often from Jewish poets how their MFA and PhD cohorts and professors often discouraged them from writing work that was “too Jewish” and, even once they’d left those programs, how they’d felt similar prejudice from their colleagues.
Inspired by organizations like Cave Canem and Kundiman, Jessica founded Yetzirah to welcome and support Jewish poets of all backgrounds, at all levels of their writing careers. To this end, offerings include both mentorship opportunities for emerging writers, as well as programs of fellowship and support for more established writers, and we have already worked to feature a diverse array of poets, including Jews of color, Jews of all denominations, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, and LGBTQ+ Jews.
The annual summer conference will be modeled in part on the Hindman Settlement School’s Appalachian Writers’ Workshop, a conference where one year’s faculty member is the next year’s participant, and the conference is as much a literary resource as a supportive community, growing along with its members.
Our generative workshops, talks, and discussion panels, will explore diverse aspects of the Jewish experience, illuminating further opportunities to draw on Judaism’s traditions, cultures, and history in participants’ writing.
Along with lists of relevant publishing and learning opportunities, the Yetzirah website will aim to offer Jewish poets an introduction to and a springboard into a deeper appreciation of the tradition of which they’re a part, informing today’s poets about Jewish poets past and present.
Our website serves as a robust virtual resource providing:
- A database of Jewish poets for use by poets, scholars, teachers, event programmers, and interested readers, searchable by demographic classifications, subject matter, and genre
- In addition to identifying and promoting Jewish poets of the present and past, this site is intended to encourage and aid increased scholarly focus on Jewish poetry
- A resource page of relevant publishing opportunities, literary organizations, educational opportunities, and cultural programming, including Jewish Book Festivals
- A community bulletin board for Jewish poets interested in meeting other writers with whom to share work in-person or online
Yetzirah’s online reading series launched September 2022, curated by poet and Yetzirah board vice president Jehanne Dubrow.
- We’ve featured and promoted some of today’s most exciting Jewish voices, both emerging and established, from around the U.S.
- We partnered with the Yiddish Book Center for a translation event, and have co-sponsored additional events with Ayin Press, Ritualwell, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Book Council, and Lilith Magazine.
- In our first season, 988 free tickets were “purchased,” with $5,389 in donations.
- Our recorded events have received over 800 views.
Annual summer conference in Asheville, NC, in partnership with UNC—Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies (first conference to be held June 2023):
- 2023 generative workshop faculty will be Rodger Kamenetz, Ilya Kaminsky, and Alicia Ostriker
- To be structured as an egalitarian community, supporting writers at all career levels
- Nine funded Scholars will be offered for emerging poets, who will be paired with a Yetzirah mentor
- Twelve funded Fellows will be offered for established poets, who will be asked to serve as mentors, take part in panel discussions, give craft talks, and/or evening readings
- Fifteen participant slots will be open, by application, to poets at all levels of expertise
- Though most of the conference will be only for participants, evening readings will be open to the community, offering an opportunity for local engagement and support, as well as the opportunity for regional residents to hear work from some of the prominent Jewish poets of our time
- Internships are available for UNCA students through the Center for Jewish Studies
- A Yetzirah book prize for a first or second book by a Jewish poet
- Regional courses offered by Yetzirah members, in-person and online
- Virtual courses offered by Yetzirah members
- Extended mentorship offerings