Dina (right) with her parents, Simcha and Luba Bar-Menachem, during their visit in Michigan

Learn, Express, Imagine

Mani Bar-Menachem had no fear.

He climbed mountains, hiked in the Sinai Desert and once, while scuba diving, chased a fish far into the sea.

He had no fear — but he had a great passion for literature, especially works by Amos Oz.

Mani was 19 when he was killed while serving as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces, leaving behind parents and brother Ika. Also left behind: his once-annoying little sister, Dina, who, inspired by her brother, also became passionate about literature. She “found relief in writing” on this and other occasions of devastation, and now inspires others to write, learn and understand the language of poetry.

Working with Francine Menken of the JCC’s Henry & Delia Meyers Library and Media Center, Dina Routin began teaching poetry classes at the JCC and will present two new workshops: “Political Poetry or Poetic Politics?” which runs at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays May 24, and June 7, 14 and 21; and the “Spring Poetry Club,” which runs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays June 8, July 13, August 10.

Street art in Tel Aviv

The “Political Poetry” class discusses the voices of poets exploring everything from graffiti on the streets of Tel Aviv to secret summits with world leaders. It focuses on a topic that is “a key component of Jewish studies,” says Howard Lupovitch, director of Wayne State University’s Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies. “It provides students with a window into a greater appreciation of the mindset of Israelis and Israeli society. Hebrew poetry is also a key aspect of the revolution in Jewish consciousness and that was and is Zionism.”

Poets studied include Yehuda Amchai, Uri Tzvi Greenberg, Dalia Ravikovitch and more.

“Spring Poetry Club” offers guided writing sessions, a study of great poems and more.

Dina (right) with her parents, Simcha and Luba Bar-Menachem, during their visit in Michigan

Dina Routin grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem. Her father is a physician and her mother is an artist who filled their home with guests. Their more than 300-year-old house was small, with arches at the front, “an enchanting little place that was to us a castle,” Routin says.

At Hebrew University, Routin took classes in every kind of literature. “I wanted to inhale any information I could” about writers and writing. She cleaned houses and worked as a caregiver to pay for school, and she marveled when she discovered “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman’s poem that celebrates the importance of being an individual. “It taught me to look at everything and rediscover everything,” Routin says. “It said: ‘Look, open your eyes and feel and touch!’ It opened my curiosity to the world.”

After receiving her master’s in Hebrew literature and poetry, Routin came to the United States, planning to stay for a year. Her “adopted grandmother” invited Dina to stay at her home in West Bloomfield, where she fell in love with the “trees and people and different ways to look at life.”

She also fell in love with a young man named James Routin. “I loved him from the moment we met,” she says. Three months after meeting they were married, and three days later James was diagnosed with cancer. Dina cared for him for five months, and then he died in 2012.

After her husband’s death, Routin found “life so overwhelming” that she couldn’t write long — but she could write poems. “Writing poems saved my soul,” she says. “Every poem was a little bit of releasing pain.”

Today, Routin works as development associate at the JCC and teaches at Oakland Community College. She writes her own life into poetry (Mani and James are frequent subjects) and she encourages others to find their voice because “everyone has a story to tell.” Her classes attract those who’ve “always wanted to write but never dared.” Routin finds them “talented and inspiring.”

Whether in the Poetry Club or the Poetic Politics course, participants will be encouraged to contribute and challenge themselves. Sophisticated knowledge isn’t necessary, because “everyone has the basic tools for poetry if you can read and write,” she says.

No matter its subject or the skill of the writer, a poem, Routin says, is a moment, and not necessarily the entire story, “although it allows us to experience facets of life in a whole different dimension.” It is putting words to a seemingly inexplicable experience.

“And to me,” Routin says, “that’s everything.”

Elizabeth Applebaum  Special to the Jewish News

“Political Poetry or Poetic Politics?”
runs at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, May 24 and June 7, 14 and 21. The “Spring Poetry Club” runs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, June 8, July 13 and August 10. For more information and to register, visit jccdet.org/library.