Jewish columnist offers wit and wisdom during 70 year writing career
Mollee Kruger, 88, wrote Jewish verse in the '60s and '70s that focused on tradition, the frustrations of being observant, and "nostalgia with a bit of a kick to it."
After a nearly 70-year writing career, during which she spent 16 years writing a weekly column of Jewish-centric prose, Mollee Kruger, 88, still has more to say.
Before her 90th birthday, the poet, whose column ran for many years in the Chronicle, wants to complete her second memoir — this one about her travels as the wife of an internationally recognized scientist. She also wants to finish a book of poems about Jewish holidays, adding to the collection of seven poetry books she has already published.
“Wish me luck,” she joked.
Kruger, from Rockville, Md., got her start in the Jewish press in 1967 when she sent a poem to the Washington Jewish Week about the world’s reaction to the Six Day War in Israel.
From there, she became the poet laureate for the paper, writing a weekly column titled “Unholy Writ” that focused on timely Jewish topics rooted in history, tradition and biblical references. The column, which broke the paper’s rule of refusing to publish poetry, was reprinted in Jewish newspapers around the country, including the Chronicle, under the title “Writ Wit.”
“My style remained fairly the same, tongue-in-cheek, but the content was forever changing because I preferred to turn out topical verse,” she said of the column. “In researching, I discovered the beauty and resilience of Judaism.”
As she describes it, her poems focus on Jewish tradition, the frustrations of being observant and keeping kosher and “nostalgia with a bit of a kick to it,” all with the idea of passing her knowledge of Judaism on to other people and future generations.
“I felt that if I could present aspects of it in a palatable form, it could reach not only people who knew what I was talking about, but others who knew little and could learn something new,” she said.
For forty years Hebrews kept moving about / Abandoning Egypt, they tried camping out / And didn’t require so much gear for their tramp / As two little Jewish boys headed for camp
Kruger, who grew up in a small rural town with few other Jewish families and no synagogue, started writing poems when she was 10 years old, learning the “wizardry of words and the delight of rhythm and rhyme” from her older sister, who would often read aloud school assignments focused on poetic greats and bought her a poetry book when she was 9 years old.
“Imagine two daughters of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania sitting at a kitchen table and overdosing on poetry,” she said. “I was hooked forever on marvelous verses about a Puffin shaped like a muffin and Edward Lear’s table and chair that not only talked to each other but went for a walk together.”
When she was 12, she became a published author, with her poem about the month of May appearing in her hometown newspaper, the Bel Air Times.
She has gone on to write several poetry books, a memoir about growing up the daughter of a shoemaker and a novel about the struggles of growing older in American society — which was published in 2016 when she was 87.
This car pool for Religious School / is humble and devout / The children passionately pray / The motor will konk out.
In addition to her Jewish verse, Kruger has written about American history, including poems about the Spanish Inquisition, the American Revolution and Christopher Columbus.
Her work “Ladies First,” a 1995 collection about the first ladies from Martha Washington to Hillary Clinton, was later turned into a musical show and is being revived for a performance this March in honor of Women’s History Month.
“There’s no Jewish content in it but of course you remember that we Jews produced the very first First Lady and an entire book was written about her,” she said of the upcoming work. “Her name was Queen Esther, a feminine power behind the throne.”
Her latest book, “Kosher Salt,” which was published in December 2017, is a tribute to the two editors who published her first Jewish poem at the Washington Jewish Week and celebrates the 50th anniversary of her column. The book, like her column, is a mix of serious subjects and lighthearted fun.
While one poem focuses on implicit bias and stereotypes (“No one can peer into our face / And speak about a ‘Jewish race.’”) others poke fun at summer camp (“For forty years Hebrews kept moving about / Abandoning Egypt, they tried camping out / And didn’t require so much gear for their tramp / As two little Jewish boys headed for camp”) or the ride to synagogue (“This car pool for Religious School / is humble and devout / The children passionately pray / The motor will konk out.”)
Hoping to reach a younger generation of readers and a broad audience, “Kosher Salt” includes verses from her column “Unholy Writ” with a fresh angle and a new perspective.
For her upcoming works and future collections of her poems, Kruger had one request: “Stay tuned.” PJC
Lauren Rosenblatt can be reached at email@example.com.