Adrienne Rich at the JCCSF, a real hero

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted here on January 26, 2007. We thought that re-posting it now would be a fitting tribute to a profoundly courageous and thoughtful hero who passed away this week. Adrienne Rich z”l.

“[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holdsA Rich it hostage.”

Adrienne Rich has been honored with almost every award a poet could dream of winning. But it’s not just her mind and heart that puts mere mortals to shame, but her courage.

Rich once refused to accept the National Book Award for poetry individually, and instead shared it with her 2 other nominees at the time, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. Later, she refused the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton, telling him “the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.”

This last Hanukkah, Rich spoke up about Jewish dissent at a special reading she gave at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. She then told the audience, which responded with a collective gasp, that Jewish Voice for Peace was not welcomed there.

Read a partial transcript below:

“Light isn’t a color, its a spectrum. And so is truth. We can’t search for truth in one place. There is no single source…”

She went on:

“Yet, since the birth of Israel as a Jewish state, a narrow orthodoxy regarding Jews and Israel has claimed itself as the official Jewish position in America. Such a monologue, marginalizing dissent, is a current of moral and intellectual house arrest, and there is a kind of hopelessness in that condition.”

Rich went on to say she finds hope in groups like Rabbis for Human Rights and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

Then she said, “I am continuously grateful for the on-line reports, reasoned analysis and responsible activism of Jewish Voice for Peace, on whose advisory board I am honored to serve–but which I regret to say is not welcomed as an organization at the Jewish Community [Center] of San Francisco.�

“Surely, in a dimly-lit and tumultuous time, Jewish communities need all the creative and analytic and imaginative resources out there, the ganze mischpoche, the many-hued diaspora, the whole spectrum…”