“If I Am Only for Myself, What Am I?”

olive-cameron-handsThis blog post originally appeared on The Best American Poetry blog.

Hillel wrote:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And, if not now, when?

The Hillel I reference is Hillel the Elder. He was the leader of the Jewish Supreme Court in the Land of Israel in the early part of the 1st Century CE.

Gathering material for an anthology and spending hours on the book requires attention to detail, the willingness to cheer for others, and a small dose of insanity.

When it came time to write these blog posts, Hillel’s quote kept popping into my head. What is he saying here, and why do I keep thinking about it in relation to the Jewish poetry anthology Matthew Silverman and I edited?

In case you are not familiar with the quote, he’s telling us that we need to be for ourselves. Be nice to yourself. Take care of yourself. Think through what you are doing and how you spend time and revisit whether the actions you are taking are still good choices. However, you can’t only be concerned with yourself. You have to help others, too.

As other writers and editors before me, I wasn’t content to be only for myself. Roughly ten years ago, I took on the challenge of founding a journal called 32 Poems Magazine. Becoming a publisher allowed me to find good work and bring it to a place where others could read it. I took particular joy and pride in finding work by writers (unknown and well known alike) and introducing it to the audience we nurtured. Editing an anthology is a similar process.

contemporary-jewish-american-poetry-smlThe same thought process drew me to work on The Bloomsbury Anthology to Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, which we called The New Promised Land back then, with Matthew Silverman.

The power of being for something greater than you is that others will be for the greater experience too…Read the rest at the Best American Poetry blog.