Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Poetry for Poetry Month

Here's another that I always have trouble getting through. Perhaps a little maudlin, but wonderful nonetheless. Leah Goldberg's "From My Mother's Home", as translated by Ezra Spicehandler:

My mother’s mother died in the spring
of her day. And her daughter did not
remember her face. Her image,
engraved upon my grandfather’s heart,
was erased from the world of figures
after his death.

Only her mirror remained in the house,
grown deeper with age within its silver
frames. And I, her pale granddaughter,
who do not resemble her, look into it
today as if into a lake that hides its
Treasures beneath the water.

Deep down, behind my face, I see a
young woman, pink-cheeked, smiling.
She is wearing a wig. Now she is
hanging a long earring from her ear
lobe, threading it through the tiny
opening in the dainty flesh of her ear.

Deep down, behind my face, glows the
clear golden speck of her eyes. And the
mirror carries on the family tradition:
that she was very beautiful.

(Sorry again for no Hebrew; couldn't get the formatting to work. Will try to post it later).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Poetry for Poetry Month

So my mom (a lifetime lover of poetry, especially Hebraica) reminded me of this poem by Natan Alterman. Here's her email:

Yair, I have been been following your blog concerning poetry in the month of April and all I can think of is this poem, which is so poignant around Yom Ha-zikaron and Yom Ha-atzma'ut. It's the most recited poem at this time of year along with David's lament on the death of Saul and Jonathan at the beginning of Samuel 2.

Sorry I can't include the Hebrew text (I can't get the formatting to work). but at least you can check out the link.

The Silver Platter

Natan Alterman

And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky
slowly dimming over smoking frontiers

As the nation arises, Torn at heart but
breathing, To receive its miracle, the only

As the ceremony draws near, it will rise,
standing erect in the moonlight in terror and

When across from it will step out a youth and
a lass and slowly march toward the nation

Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy
with grime, they ascend the path quietly

To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary
from days and from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth is still seen on
their head

Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of
life or death

Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: "Who are you?"

And they will answer quietly, "We are the
silver platter on which the Jewish state was

Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of

More poetry soon, but first, a word from the Catholic Church

Sigh. This just makes me sad, and not a little bit frustrated. Not just because the 'crazy old coot' (as one of my friends put it) said these words (and by saying them as a bishop to a Catholic website, he was representing the church in his actions), but the way the Vatican handled it, which was to deny anything had even transpired.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has a good article here on this issue (can't believe I just wrote those words!). To sum up, it's a shame that the church, which has so often been a source of good in this world, from the alleviation of poverty, to fighting communism, to the spread of education, has a blind spot to its own failings, and can't move past its own notion of infallibility. If only the leadership would apologize, would take real, concrete steps not just to protect itself, but to make restitution (both physical and moral) to victims and take a good hard look at its own inner workings to make sure there were real protections in place to prevent this kind of abuse in the future. That's what responsible leaders do: act in a transparent way, apologize for mistakes (without fearing the lawyers and the media going barracuda-crazy on them) and move forward. If/when the church does that, rather than blame Jews, the media or others, they will be able to rebuild their moral capital again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A really good article

Someone on slate (or maybe it was HuffPo, I can't remember) referred to the Ipad as a solution to a problem that didn't exist (yet). Sometimes I feel like synagogues, at least as we perpetuate and realize them today, are kind of like ipads. Are we focused too much on the institution that we forget to ask the question of what said institution is supposed to actually do? It's an important question. and if you're at all interested in synagogues or what it means to create meaningful Jewish community, you need to read this. Right now. It asks all the right questions.

So let me ask you this question: what is the purpose of the synagogue? What is your ideal synagogue (or Jewish community)? And what would it take to make the community you do affiliate with your ideal congregation?

More Poetry for Poetry Month

Sorry I missed yesterday. Two updates today to make up for it.

The first update is another poem, this time in honor of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day, coming up Sunday night). The poem is "Written in Pencil and the floor of the boxcar" by the Israeli poet Dan Pagis. Hebrew is original, English is my translation.

כתוב בעפרון בקרון החתום
כאן במשלוח הזה
אני חוה
עם הבל בני
אם תראוּ את בני הגדול
קין בן אדם
תגידוּ לא שּאני

Here in the transport
I am Eve
with my son Abel
If you see my older son
Kain, son of Adam
Tell him that I--

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More Poetry for Poetry Month

Let's keep adding to our collection, shall we?

This is an untitled love poem, by Isaac Ibn Khalfon (translated by Raymond Scheindlin, from his collection Wine, Women and Death), a poet of the Golden Age of Spain. A good poem considering the season: spring, new love, and Passover, when we read the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon), one of the best-loved love poems. And who hasn't, especially as a teenager, played the role of the hapless suitor?

I skip like a gazelle at passion's call
To see my love, secluded in her hall.
Arriving there, I find my darling in,
With mother, father, brothers--all her kin.
I take one look and grimly shrink away,
As if she didn't matter anyway.
them I fear; but her, my love, I mourn
like a mother mourning her first born.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Poetry Month! Sing a new song unto God!

April is poetry month, so I'll be looking at some favorites. The first comes from Jorge Luis Borges by way of Norman Tidi Giovanni's translation, titled "Israel".

Feel free to share favorite poems, songs or prayers that have moved you over the years, Jewish or not.


A man imprisoned and cast into a spell
A man condemned to be the snake
Who keeps watch over infamous gold.
A man condemned to be Shylock
A man bent over the earth in hard work
Knowing that once he stood in Eden
An old man with his eyes put out who will bring down the walls.

A face condemned to wear a mask,
A man who in spite of man is Spinoza and the Baal Shem and the Kabbalists.
A man who is a Book
A tongue that praises from the depths
The justice of the skies
A salesman or dentist who spoke with God on the mountain top
A man condemned to be the object of ridicule
The abomination, the Jew
A man stoned, set afire,
Asphyxiated in death chambers,
A man hwo endures and is deathless,
Who has now returned to his battle,
To the violent light of victory
Handsome as a lion in the twelve O'clock sun.