Living in a cloistered Hasidic milieu in Brooklyn, Malke is a Holocaust survivor and a beloved sex-ed teacher who has not been able to have children of her own. Malke has secretly been slamming poetry in New York’s Lower East Side for the last three decades, defying all communal norms and laws. Her transgressive pursuits are discovered by one of her bridal students. Is Malke willing to risk it all for her poetry?
The film includes live readings from poets such as Venus Thrash, Julia Kasdorf, and Everton Sylvester as well as featuring poetry by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub and Esther Hoffman as Malke’s work and is an homage to the enduring, cross-cultural, and healing power of poetry. This is also Lynn Cohen’s last performance before her passing in 2019.
The film explores my relationship to my Hasidic past, the women who helped me form my own feminist interpretations of the faith, and my own history as a slam poet and slam hostess in the Lower East Side in the early ‘90s at the KGB Bar and the Nuyorican Poetry Café.
My great aunt Malke, herself a survivor of the Holocaust, and herself unable to have children because of the experimentations in Auschwitz, would always warn me not to “build castles in the sky” with my artistic aspirations. What husband will want to support this life I have chosen as a poet and artist, Malke would ask me, as she sipped her black coffee through her cubed sugar in the morning, secretly reading The New York Times cover to cover (before anyone in the family caught her engaging in secular pursuits). Malke was worried that I, too, would not have children if I continued in this seemingly peripheral path.
This project is my filmic approach to asking questions about sex education in the Hasidic world, the impact of survivors (and unethical experiments) on the next generation of women, and the hope for the integration of creative expression into a world so deeply informed by genocide and dogma.