Poetry and Prayer

Marge Piercy joins Temple Emanu-el for four unique events.

When Marge Piercy was a little girl growing up in Detroit, her grandmother entranced her with old Jewish tales.

"My grandmother Hannah, who lived with us part of every year and shared my bed in our tiny house, was a storyteller in the shtetl mold," Piercy wrote in the New York Times. "She told me tales of the golem, Lilith, dybbuks, flying rabbis -- My mother told those stories too, but quite differently."

A novelist and poet who will be participating in four programs in Tucson this weekend, Piercy credits her Jewish female forebears with encouraging her literary gifts with the example of their stories. As a novelist, she wrote, "I always want to hear how the stories come out, what happens next."

But her mother and grandmother also gave her a religious identity. Piercy's father was a nonpracticing Protestant, but her mother and grandmother, herself the daughter of a Lithuanian rabbi, raised her as a Jew.

Yet it was not until the last 15 years or so that Piercy has gone deeply into her Jewish self. At the age of 50, she was Bat-Mitzvahed and began to delve into the Jewish renewal movement, founding Am ha-Yam, the havurah of Outer Cape Cod, where she now lives, and teaching at a Jewish retreat center. In 1999, she published The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme, with Knopf, liturgical poems that are now used in rituals in homes and in some Reconstructionist and Reform congregations.

This weekend Piercy collaborates with Tucson's Temple Emanu-El in an unusual four-part examination of Judaism, spirituality and literature. All activities are free and open to the public and non-Jews are welcome.

The events begin at noon, Friday, March 23, at the UA Hillel Foundation, with a brown-bag discussion. In the evening, at the Temple, 225 N. Country Club Road, Piercy will be "part of the service," said Temple spokeswoman Vicki Spritz, "reading some of her poetry" and discussing the art of blessing Shabbat. The service begins at 8 p.m.

At noon Saturday at the Temple, at an informal roundtable discussion with Rabbi Samuel Cohon, Piercy will discuss "How poetry becomes prayer," Spritz said. The final event is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Temple, when Piercy will lecture on the topic "Am I a Jewish Writer?"

For more information call 327-4501.