Beat poet Ginsberg left legacy of Jewishness — from a distance

He was the most commercially successful and widely known of the 1950s San Francisco Beat movement writers, whose free-form, "automatic" poetry and prose exploded traditional forms.

His most popular poems were "Howl" and "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956)." The latter was written for his mother, an Eastern European immigrant and Marxist who was eventually institutionalized and lobotomized.

Three years after her death, Ginsberg's long poetic eulogy established him as one of America's greatest modern poets.

"Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village,

"downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I've been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph

"the rhythm, the rhythm — and your memory in my head three years after –…"

Through much of his life Ginsberg made little of his Jewish background. He never had a bar mitzvah, and after a visit to Israel, he said it was "not so exciting."

Ginsberg read at a Bay Area fund-raiser for Palestinian children several years ago that included dissident and Israel critic Noam Chomsky. The event sparked a protest by local university professors and booksellers, and Ginsberg said the critics "ought to be ashamed of themselves."

Ginsberg's father, Louis — a Zionist, teacher and sometime poet — once told his son, "You are a Jew and a poet!"

The elder Ginsberg also died of liver cancer, in 1968.

Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner's synagogue Beyt Tikkun has scheduled a memorial service for Ginsberg at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 11, at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez, S.F. For information, call (415) 575-1200.