It’s not every day that a volume of poetry is published; in fact, many say it’s a lost art. It’s even rarer when the poet is a leading Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and educator. But for Rochel Kaplan, the two go hand-in-hand since poetry is a way of not only expressing emotion, but of helping to educate and inspire people in their everyday lives.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Kaplan is the founder and director of the Aleph Learning Institute in Baltimore and directs Mikvah Mei Menachem. She and her husband, Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, are co-directors of the Chabad Center and Lubavitch of Maryland, and have been serving the Jewish community there for nearly 50 years.

Her latest book of poems, Triumph of Truth: Poetic Words to Express and Empower When You are Speechless, is Rochel Kaplan’s second published volume and follows her first book of poems published in 2021, G‑d in the Details. The new volume consists of 144 poems strongly focused on inspiration during times of struggles and challenges, Kaplan tells The book is illustrated by Sarah Baath-Kranz.

The poems are short, yet they address profound truths of the human experience: being a wife, mother, daughter, sister. They also speak about how to get up each day and face an increasingly challenging and complicated world, yet one that is filled with the most wonderful things—love, work, faith, friendship, beauty and hope.

For example, in a poem titled, Joyful Prayer in the Forest, Kaplan writes,

The great Besht

Would seclude—

To connect

To that which

Would elude—

Eyes uplifted in prayer

For the common good

Where humor

Echoes through the wood.

The Wellspring of Inspiration

Kaplan dedicated the book to her parents, Rabbi Peretz and Chaya Yutta Hecht, who “taught me by example how to accept life challenges, gracefully, faithfully and lovingly. My father was a very humble person but well known in the community.”

She says she was drawn to books from an early age, and appreciates both their content and form. “I am a typesetter’s daughter, and I know what the printed word is about. I appreciate the quality of the written page.”

Asked about the origins of her inspiration, Kaplan says, “I write from my own life experiences, my own challenges; I allude to it. I find with poetry—any writing, but poetry for sure—you are writing from your depths. Speaking my truth, it comes automatically.”

She adds that the process is “almost like a gift of self-expression, a gift from G‑d. “The first time it was a challenge,” she says. “This time, I tried to organize it a little better. The whole framework of the concepts addresses struggles and challenges. There is a lot of positivity, and there is also trust, faith, humor and laughter.”

Her sister, Devorah Halberstam Ingber, says the book is “a beautiful journey through personal struggles and challenges, walking hand in hand with G‑d, coffee and laughter.”

From the 2023 poetry book
From the 2023 poetry book

A busy emissary, wife, mother and grandmother, Kaplan says that sometimes, the poetry represents a conversation with herself—a way of grappling with life’s issues and then putting those thoughts on paper, kind of like “speaking to myself about what I wrote.”

Kaplan adds that her writing reflects two outlooks: She writes from a religious perspective but also from what she described as her “own persona.”

“With my first book, I never thought I was actually writing one. I would share some on social media to uplift people and that gave me a good feeling, helping others feel better. I would put some poems on my family WhatsApp, and my family would encourage me to publish.”

Whether writing about marriage, laughter, knowing thyself, or the will to live, Kaplan’s goal is to touch people at moments when they are struggling, pointing out that her vision is “part of my shlichus, my life experience, so that people can use it in the community and outside the community.”

Yelena Shparaga, a friend of Kaplan’s and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, says the poems are “great, light and thin, like expensive lace ... I liked it very much.”

“This is the type of poetry that does not require a special mood, situation or time, to which you can snuggle up and feel the warmth of the poet, a warmth so far away from us collectively, a warmth I and many immigrants like me have missed,” says Shparaga.

Leonard Attman, chairman of Attman Properties, a leading real estate development company in Maryland, calls Triumph of Truth “a book of wonderful learning tools gathered from personal experiences, teachers and dedication to G‑d, and how we should live our lives and impart those lessons to our families and friends.”

Kaplan says she hopes that the book will find its way into public libraries and private therapists’ offices so that her poems will reach “the ears of the people who need to hear it.”