BOSTON – Plastered throughout the MBTA Green Line are ads for online college, discount cell phone plans, and energy drinks. At least for the month of April, there will also be Jewish poetry.
To honor both Passover and National Poetry Month, 75 posters displaying the mystical “Poem Without An End” by celebrated Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai will greet riders of select Green and Red Line trains. This infusion of poetry into the drudgery of commuting comes thanks to the efforts of The Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts), a Newton-based non-profit that brings Jewish culture to the wider community. In keeping with the spirit of Passover, five influential Greater Boston poets were asked to find a poem by a Jewish author that they thought best symbolized the concept of freedom.
“I went in with the assumption that it would be in the more political, social justice range,” said JArts Artistic Director Joey Baron. “The fascinating thing was the vast majority of the nominations … were that freedom is a very personal thing. I was really surprised that this poem won, and I’m delighted that it did, because it’s so thought-provoking. It’s really a poem that whether you like it or not sticks with you, because it’s basically saying, ‘What’s inside of you?’ I think that’s a great question we should always be thinking of.”
Amichai’s poem cryptically describes the multifaceted, infinite layers of personal identity in a sequence that, true to its title, seems to extend indefinitely, even though the actual poem lasts just a few lines. “Inside the brand-new museum there’s an old synagogue,” it begins. “Inside the synagogue is me. Inside me my heart. Inside my heart a museum. Inside the museum a synagogue ….” The journey through this mysterious interior continues with shifting relationships between the heart, the museum, and the synagogue.
“It says freedom is my past as well as my future and present; freedom is what makes us who we are,” said Baron. “Freedom is about faith.”
In addition to the poem, the poster asks T riders to share what makes them feel free as part of a related social media and educational campaign. Viewers are invited to take a selfie next to the poster, explain their personal definition of freedom, and post the photo on Facebook or Instagram under the hashtag #JArtsLiberty. JArts also produced an accompanying curriculum guide that suggests discussion questions and art projects based on questions of freedom.
This is not the first Passover JArts has devoted to exploring what freedom means in a contemporary context. Last year, the organization worked with London-based Jewish artist Julia Vogl to create a massive public art project called “Pathways to Freedom” in Boston Common. In keeping with the Passover spirit, Vogl began the project with a questionnaire asking people four questions:
• When did you or your family come to the Boston area?
• Do you feel free?
• I feel free when …
• If freedom was a food, it would be symbolized as …
1800 people from 28 different locations in Greater Boston responded to these four questions, which each offered multiple-choice answers and a corresponding design created by computer software. Using the computer-generated printouts of the designs, respondents created pins that were ultimately installed in the walkways surrounding the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Common last spring.
“A gentleman from Venezuela came [to the sculpture], and when he saw his pin, he broke into tears,” recalled Baron. “He said, ‘I am not a documented resident. I’ve been here for 30 years, and this is the first time I really feel like part of the community.’”