Thirty-Six / Two Lives – A Poetic Dialogue by Norman Finkelstein and Tirzah Goldenberg


On March 16, 2020, Tirzah Goldenberg sent Norman Finkelstein a poem she had written ending with the line “all’s arc’s dark door to Torah.” Finkelstein responded with a poem of his own that began with Goldenberg’s line, followed by a simple question: “Your turn?” So began an extraordinary poetic dialogue. The two poets, who were already conducting an intense email correspondence focusing on their Jewish identities, had discovered a poetic form through which they could enter a shared “shtetl of the soul.” Months later, after composing a total of thirty-six poems (two times eighteen, twice chai, life times two), Goldenberg and Finkelstein realized that they had collaborated on a book, a book written in what the great Jewish American novelist Cynthia Ozick had long ago called “New Yiddish.” Jagged, telegraphic, yet intensely lyrical, often swerving into the Hebrew of Torah and Talmud, this is a book of the Jewish past and the Jewish present, of ordinary life and of mystical apprehension.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 96
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: November, 2021
  • ISBN 978-1-953252-39-5


This beautiful intertwining of voices, minds, and souls of Norman Finkelstein and Tirzah Goldenberg creates a deeply engaging series of poems.  Like the braiding of a tasty challah, this poetic dialogue preserves and transforms each strand through the hearing (sh’ma) and the sharing (particularly of the initial line of each poem) in an ever-generative conversation and dance.  The poems are at once learned and allusive AND accessible in the immediacy of their differently sustained lyricisms.  This is a book to read and enjoy, particularly for readers interested in the elusive notion of what constitutes Jewishness, secular and religious, remembered, rediscovered, and reimagined. —Hank Lazer

This haimish meditative dialogue in poetry allows two poet-scholars to share experiences of Jewish upbringing, to present lore, and to cross-check interpretations of Jewish traditions, sacred and secular. Their facing dilemmas of textual interpretation—such as the “witch? shaman? herbalist?” life and death debate or Psalm 82 with the undercurrent of former polytheisms in monotheism—make this collaboration interestingly responsive to scholarship. The friendly connection between two reading/writing lives becomes a mutual practice examining the daily with reverent curiosity for traditions, practices and for the inexhaustible commentary that Jewish spiritual textualities encourage. —Rachel Blau DuPlessis

There comes a time, often surely and surely now, when righteousness itself is a form of transgression, when survival itself is no longer a matter of course but a matter of attending to the summonings inside every word and every thought attending to words. Borders must be crossed and edicts revoked. Finkelstein and Goldenberg, with a vivid sense of what used to be known as the “spirit of place,” transgress sinuously towards prophecy, in the direction of gift on the other side of “arc’s dark door.” These poems announce a change of nature, just (and Just) in the very nick of time. —Donald Revell


nights the woodcutter won’t sleep / the flutist alights in the treetops days / an eruv round the village the woodfolk make / wine underfoot, the woodfolk make woodcuts / a fox afoot where curiouser minhagim have been made / barks past elder sycamore / sees our singular dark furniture awake / rouses antique leathern threadbare bellows / furnishing unwonted flame / barks the route to write the annals / secretly, like the Tao / worded like the nigun isn’t, o / gently heating loophole of the blech / all rabbinic handicraft is symbol / all symbol’s handicraft / all’s golden threads in lions embroidered on dark curtains / the eruv’s up, secure / a fox afoot before the ark’s dark door / to Torah sing secure / all’s arc’s dark door to Torah


all’s arc’s dark door to Torah
arc-en-ciel, Ark of the Covenant,
ark we have all boarded whether
alone or in pairs. I have loved
the Torah more than God, but I
have loved the writing more than
the Torah, because the writing
is the ark, carried us full circle?
Carried on the wings of the fox,
the wings of the lion, curtains
like a cape, like a magic carpet.
This is called riding the wind
or writing the wind, this is
familiar, my familiar, cat or
mouse, the cat crying, the mouse
singing, here, where no birds sing.



Norman FinkelsteinNorman Finkelstein is a poet, critic, and Emeritus Professor of English at Xavier University. The author of twelve books of poetry and six books of literary criticism, he is widely published in the fields of modern poetry and Jewish literature. He writes and edits the poetry review blog Restless Messengers (

Tirzah GoldenburgTirzah Goldenberg is the author of Aleph (Verge Books, 2017) and Like an Olive (forthcoming from Verge Books). She lives by the sea with her husband Rico and their cat Fennel.

Additional information

Weight 6.5 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in