Victoria News Review - Prairie Kaddish

Poetic Prairie Kaddish from local Jewish Poet
Reviewed by: Victoria News

Chronicling the Jewish settlers who populated the Prairies just before and after the turn of the 20th century hit home hard for local author Isa Milman. Milman, of Jewish descent and the daughter of Holocaust survivors imagined herself as one of the women in writing her new book Prairie Kaddish. Many Jews were forced to flee Eastern Europe due to anti-Semitic violence in the area from 1880-1914. 'What I like about this is that I could imagine myself as a woman coming to settle, making that journey,' said Milman, whose books feature poetry, prose, memoirs, letters and photographs'. And to write from that voice, the fear, the excitement. The experience of finding yourself on the Prairies and there's nothing there, no housing, you're on land that's never experienced a plow. And just the actual physical conditions that were so tremendously challenging, the cold of the snow, the isolation, the heat in the summer.'

While attending a writer's retreat just outside of Regina, Saskatchewan, a friend told Milman about the Lipton Hebrew Cemetery. Milman has also published a book of poetry titled Between the Doorposts which won the 2005 Poetry Prize at the Canadian Jewish Book Awards. She said until she heard of the cemetery she had no idea Jewish settlers had populated the Prairies. 'It was a complete shock that I had lived almost 30 years in Canada and not known about this,' said Milman 'Some of them walked all the way from Romania to Western Europe to catch a ferry to England and then hop on boat,' she continued' It's just unbelievable when you think about what it actually took to make this journey and then to arrive and have to fend almost entirely for yourself. '

Milman was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany before immigrating to Boston. She then lived in San Francisco and Paris and got a master's degree in rehabilitation science. Currently Milman works as a program co-ordinator at the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson's Centre and when asked why she chose poetry as the primary voice for Prairie Kaddish, Milman said the decision was easy. 'I feel that poetry kind of goes to the heart of the matter, literally. "And it goes to your own heart and much of poetry, it's a way of expressing some universal truth that is recognized by everyone. And it's done through the way that you use words and sounds and images. It was very hard to put it together. Because there's so many elements that are involved. So trying to tell the story in a way that's not necessarily chronological because it starts with stepping into the Lipton Hebrew Cemetery, that's the very first poem.'

The book also features writing in Yiddish, Milman's native tongue. Kaddish means 'prayer of mourning' in Judaism and Milman said she wanted to create an artistic recollection of what actually happened to the Jewish population who ventured to Canada. 'I wanted to tell their story because it kind of felt like it was part of my own story as well,' she said.

Article by Patrick Blennerhassett.

Share this Post: Facebook Twitter Google Plus