Ernest J. Smith
America’s most famous poet of the second half of the twentieth century was the product of Jewish immigrant parents. Irwin Allen Ginsberg, born on June 2, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey, was the second son of Naomi Levy and Louis Ginsberg. The couple had met as early as 1912, when they were both seventeen, and eventually married in 1919. Their first son, Louis, was born in Newark in 1921. Naomi Levergant was ten years old when her family emigrated from Russia to America, and the family last name was changed to Levy at Ellis Island. Louis Ginsberg was born in Newark, his father having come from eastern Europe sometime in the 1880s. Louis Ginsberg, raised as a socialist, was a high school English teacher in Paterson, New Jersey, and a lyric poet of some note. Naomi, Allen’s mother, was raised a communist and remained intermittently active in the local branch of the Communist Party, occasionally taking the boys with her to meetings. Two family summer vacations were spent at a camp run by the Party in upstate New York.
The dominant and ongoing event of Allen Ginsberg’s youth, however, was his mother’s mental problems. She had suffered her first breakdown before her marriage, and about three years into the marriage, she began suffering from bipolar disorder and was frequently institutionalized. Her paranoia took several forms, including a belief that her husband was intent on poisoning her. Both sons regularly accompanied their father for weekend visits to various hospitals where Naomi stayed, and on one occasion in the early 1940s, having been home for a period of time, Naomi relapsed and convinced her son Allen to make a call and have her admitted to a facility where she had stayed previously. During his high school years in Paterson, Allen was frequently absent in order to care for his