Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Adi’s fusion of poetry, music and dance puts ‘electricity in the air’

Shahar Burla
Print this
Plus61J Stamp Template 0521

Published: 28 May 2018

Last updated: 4 March 2024

I FIRST MET Adi Keissar at Limmud UK in 2016 when she came to talk about Ars Poetica, her poetry and Mizrahi identities in Israel.  Ars Poetica initiated a new wave of Mizrahi poetry, expanding the performance to include music and dance from the Middle East. The name Ars Poetica is a play on the Latin phrase of the same name, meaning the "art of poetry. However, in Arabic the word Ars refers to a “pimp” and has also been adopted as an Israeli term to describe the stereotype of young Israeli, usually Mizrachi, men considered lower classes.


For her first Ars Poetica in 2013  , Keissar invited various poets, a DJ and a belly dancer to be a part of the performance. “I wanted to create a space [I could feel] comfortable in”. She recalls it as a night with “electricity in the air” and the event was described in the Israeli media as “… the best party in town and the most significant cultural phenomenon in Israel today”.

I felt that electricity when I saw her performance at Limmud UK from the moment she began reading her poems both in Hebrew and English. Her scheduled performance at next month's Limmud Oz in Melbourne, on June 9-11, accompanied by musicians Simon Starr and Yuval Ashkar, will hopefully deliver that same electric feeling to local audiences.

Ars Poetica is basically one big party with poetry reading and music,” Keissar explains.  “Music is one of the main incentives for my writing. You can feel the music in my poetry and I love reading my poems with music and musicians. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to collaborate with Simon and Yuval at Limmud Oz”.

Keissar was born and raised in Jerusalem. Her mother worked as a special education teacher and her father as a printer. Both of her parents are Sabras (born in Israel), but their families had different immigration stories. Her father’s family arrived by foot from Yemen in 1882.

“The family of my great-grandfather, Shalom Kasar, who was a rabbi, arrived right before Shabbat at the Nahalat Shiva neighbourhood in Jerusalem and looked for a place to stay. The ultra-Orthodox residents were afraid because they thought they were Arab. So my great-grandfather began reading from Torah to prove they were Jews,” Keissar recounts.

“He wanted to live in [an area that he was told] was strictly an Ashkenazi neighbourhood. He went to Rabbi Chaim Berlin (former chief rabbi of Moscow and the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem) and returned with a letter of recommendation from him. The neighbourhood committee accepted him and for generations, the family lived there, speaking Yiddish and Yemenite Hebrew.

Keissar’s mother's family emigrated from Yemen in the 1950s. “They wanted to live in Jerusalem and were driven to an empty hill near Jerusalem called Moshav Givat-Ye’arim.

“The racism that my parents experienced was very similar. Both of them were directed from an early age to ‘profession schools’ and my father studied in a school with a strong segregation between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim students. In my mum’s Moshav, I first heard about Yemenite women and how their children were kidnapped. As a child it all came as dry facts from my parents. They didn’t criticise those wrongs or protest.”


The main difference between the two families’ immigration stories, according to Keissar, was the freedom to choose where to live. “Before 1948, immigrants had more freedom to choose their town, which gave them access to more economic, cultural and educational options. After I established Ars Poetica, my dad walked with me in Tel Aviv and told me that I have the power to shout what he couldn’t even say. It was an emotional and sad moment for me.”

Keissar realises this discrimination is part of an international problem. “Racism against blacks is a global phenomenon; the beauty ideal is very particular and not black. Black people still need to fight for equality; racism is still very much rooted in people and culture.”

In 2013 Keissar released her first book of poetry, Black on Black and in 2016 released a second collection, Loud Music. Last month saw the release of her third book, Chronicles, which was written during her pregnancy.

At Limmud Oz Keissar will be putting together a session based upon the title, Gender and Feminism, alongside Dalit Kaplan. “My poetry deals with my life from my perspective as a female and now as a mother. Chronicles is more feminine, as I wrote it during my pregnancy and after I got my new title "Mum".

“For me the feminine in my poetry is also political and social. I deal with those issues for a while but lately the inequality towards women has been spoken about in many ways;  the most famous example  is the #Metoo movement. I’m happy that it’s a much more open debate today and I think we can see change – small change but a change”.

Reading her poetry to a non-Israeli audience is not new to Keissar. During the past four years she has travelled, lectured and lived in Europe and North America. “Anyone can connect to the identity experience I describe in my poems as long as they come with an open heart and mind, and the will to understand the experience of the person that stands in front of them.

“Identity is fluid and it’s somewhat a constant negotiation with your society.  At some stage everyone will have to be the "other".  Once an Israeli-Australian wrote to me about his difficulties as a migrant in Australia. He told me about his employment, language and lack of understanding of the Australian culture codes.

“Suddenly, from being a privileged white Ashkenazi male in Israel, he found himself, for the first time, as the "other". This experience made him understand the feelings of "otherness" that some Israelis feel in Israel, in their own home.”

Photo: Adi Keissar (Leeor Oyahon)

7.45pm June 9: Panel on transformative moments in Israel's history
7.45pm June 10: Adi Keissar and Shahar Burla join musicians Simon Starr and Yuval Ashkar for a session of poetry, stories and Mizrachi-style jamming
4pm June 11: In conversation with Dalit Kaplan on "Gender and feminism in Israel

3pm June 17: Ars Poetica: culture, politics and poetry
8pm June 17:No place like home: words + music



About the author

Shahar Burla

Dr Shahar Burla is a Sydney-based researcher, lecturer and Contributing Editor of TJI. Shahar holds a Master’s degree in political science from Hebrew University and a PhD in political science from Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of Political Imagination in the Diaspora: The Construction of a Pro-Israeli Narrative (2013) and co-editor of Australia and Israel: A Diasporic, Cultural and Political Relationship (2015).

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site