Saturday, 3 December 2016

Being Alone –Together!

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was abroad when his predecessor Shimon Peres died.

So  perhaps his visit and important speech to the Ukrainian Parliament marking the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre didn’t receive the international attention it deserved.

“We must not play a part in the sin of forgetting or denial … national leaders who support antisemitic, racist, or neo-Nazi ideas will not be welcomed as friends among the family of nations,” he warned.

Yevgeny.YevtushenkoMr Rivlin’s  words were a stern reminder of how the huge-scale atrocity was concealed by the Nazis and their Soviet collaborators for 21 years before being exposed by the renowned Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko in Babi Yar.  The translation below is by Benjamin Okopnik.

 

 

Babi Yar

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.

It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.

I see myself a boy in Belostok
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.

I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.

O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.

I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The “Union of the Russian People!”

It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed – very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.

-“They come!”

-“No, fear not – those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!”

-“They break the door!”

-“No, river ice is breaking…”

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.

And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.

No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring

When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.

There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!

----------------

MNissim Ezekieleanwhile, it is time to recall that poetry was among Mr Peres’s interests and soon after his passing, members of Voices Israel, the English language poetry society were reminded how he often quoted from  Acceptance by Bene Israel Indian poet, Nissim Ezekiel.

 

… I am all alone
and you are alone.
So why can’t we be
alone together …

Indeed, he quoted this fragment at the opening of the 2013 Maccabiah Games, whose words it has been observed, should resonate with every  citizen of Israel’s rainbow nation.

© Natalie Wood (03 December 2016)

Saturday, 26 November 2016

As Great Men Leave The World ….

Among the flood of tributes to the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro has been one at The Guardian newspaper where historian Richard Gott noted:

Jos-Julin-Mart-Prez6Cuba under Fidel was a country where indigenous nationalism was at least as significant as imported socialism, and where the legend of José Martí, the patriot poet and organiser of the 19th-century struggle against Spain, was always more influential than the philosophy of Karl Marx.”

Regarded as the symbol of Cuba's bid for independence from Spain in the late 1800s, José Julián Martí Pérez may also be viewed as being in the tradition of the valiant soldier poet. One must wonder how he would have reacted on learning that whereas his work to unite the Cuban émigré community, particularly in Florida, was crucial to the success of the Cuban War of Independence, many 20th century Cubans fled back there once Castro gained power in 1959.

Although Marti is now best remembered for the poem that became the lyrics to the Cuban anthem, Guantanamera, I pause below with a few simple lines that may be more appropriate for the day of Castro’s passing.

I Wish To Leave The World

I wish to leave the world
By its natural door;
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun

---------------

But the past half-week has also been one of more semi-mourning for Israel where, The Times of Israel reports, the mix of terrorist-triggered arson and wildfire blazes have caused thirty per cent more land devastation than the Carmel Forest fire of 2010.

Ordinary Israelis – Arabs along with Jews - have reacted as ever with gestures of love, sympathy and practical support for those who have had homes and businesses wrecked – and memories destroyed.

At times like these even the non-religious seek comfort in the bible and among items posted on social media has been this wonderful version of Psalm 121, attributed to King David, one of the world’s first acclaimed soldier poets. The singer is Shelly Markalov, who was aged only eight at the time of recording. You have my permission to weep. I did!

© Natalie Wood (26 November 2016)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Living Will

This poem was first written as part of a  story and has been published in its present form by Mark Ulyseas of Live Encounters Magazine at Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016.

--------------

A Living Will

 

After I’m gone, say

the God I barely recognised

was indivisible.

Just One.

 

After I’ve gone, don’t

recite Kaddish. The

dying is for me.

Not Him.

Jewish.Funeral.Customs

Make the funeral short.

Let my body burn.

Should these requests be

judged thoughtless, most

perverse, let it be known

that I deserve no prayers,

praise, lies or crocodile tears.

 

What I did was wrong.

You’ll know this -

after I’ve gone.

 

Buy less milk and butter.

Turn the heating low.

Feed the cat. Cut

the kids’ hair monthly,

check their homework’s done.

Remind them they are Jewish -

after I’m gone.

 

When you make

Jack’s barmitzvah,

do invite my mum.

It’ll be good for

her to see him

wear Dad’s prayer shawl.

 

After I’m gone, carry

on as normal. Have

Janie round for tea.

I find your loving

comfortable.

Let’s not pretend.

It’s clear. She’s

a better mother

than I’d ever be.

 

After I’m gone,

pin a notice on our door.

“This woman,”

it should read,

“seemed honourable,

kind, fair; steadfast,

generous, taught her

children well.

 

“But as the final drips

of life seeped from her,

measured by the agonised

ticking of the clock, the

truth poured out.

 

“In a dream she

killed her father,

made mad her daughter,

then watched agape

as oblivion snatched

her, too.”

---------------

© Natalie Wood (19 October 2016)

 

.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

This Nobel Prize Is No Joke!

As luck would have it,  I was reading an obituary of Italian Nobel literary laureate, Dario Fo when news broke about this year’s winner, Bob Dylan.

But the coincidence does not end there. 

Bob.DylanJust as some people  like historian and Telegraph columnist, Tim Stanley opine  that Dylan “hasn’t written any literature”, when Fo received his award,  “the announcement rankled with many within the Italian literary and political establishment. Fo’s critics considered him to be a performer above all else  … (and) literary critic Geno Pampaloni wrote in the right-wing national press: “A Nobel Prize? It’s a joke.”

But here I want to confine myself to lauding both Dylan’s strong tribal bonds and his unswerving loyalty to Israel  even when harassed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Indeed, like others, I’ve been surprised to learn of his almost irrational support for extremist right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane and to discover his song, Neighborhood Bully. This was written after the 1982 Lebanon war and likens Israel to an 'exiled man' who is unjustly labelled as an aggressor for fending off constant attacks.

-----------------

 

Neighborhood Bully

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully

 

 

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn
He’s always on trial for just being born
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad
The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him
’Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac
He’s the neighborhood bully

He got no allies to really speak of
What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love
He buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep
He’s the neighborhood bully

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command
He’s the neighborhood bully

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health
He’s the neighborhood bully

What’s anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin’, they say. He just likes to cause war
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed
He’s the neighborhood bully

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
Running out the clock, time standing still
Neighborhood bully

Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

© Natalie Wood (13 October 2016)

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Celebrating ‘Jewtown’

 

Simon.Lewis

Just in time for the Jewish New Year I’ve received  a sweet gift of poetry celebrating the story of the once vibrant Jewish community of Cork City, Ireland.

Jewtown**, a debut collection by Jewish-Irishman Simon Lewis, continues where academics leave off by offering us a fictionalised, whimsical account of the citizens’ private lives. We learn how, like other east European Jews fleeing persecution, they were duped into landing at the wrong port (Foot), initially disdained by the locals for appearing akin to aliens (The Zoo), then began to climb the economic ladder via menial labour (Creosote, Spit) sometimes having to resort even to bartering with food – and then themselves (Two Sisters).

There are nods to popular  Ashkenazi Jewish dishes like cholent (Sabbath stew) and chopped herring; references to times of mourning  (Shiva) and to end, a prose poem marking  the death of the entire community with The Last Sabbath at South Terrace Synagogue. The closure happened only in February this year.

Lewis, the principal of a primary school in Carlow, Ireland, has taken an unusual and vivid approach to teaching the wider world about his Lithuanian Jewish roots, which he continues to explore with great charm and unflagging gusto. It is no surprise that he has already  been widely published and won awards for his work.

I am perhaps the first Jewish person to review Jewtown but others – far more distinguished! - are sure to follow soon. The video clip below was recorded at the Irish Jewish Museum for its archives.

I conclude with Tashlich, a seasonal and painfully sad look at the privations endured by many immigrant Jews after they fled west to escape the persecution they had suffered elsewhere. Tashlich is a New Year ceremony in which  bread is thrown symbolically on flowing waters to cast away a person’s sins.

----------

Tashlich

Tashlich

I toss breadcrumbs in the river

and pray to God for forgiveness:

for the food I stole from the houses

in empty shtetls, the lies to the soldiers

at every checkpoint all the way

to the harbour at Riga, and the evenings

where I could barely breathe,

questioning my faith, broken from the day.

This year, I thank God for a mattress

on a dirt floor, a small knob of butter

melted in mashed potato, to be able

to walk without looking behind me.

----------------

** Jewtown is published by the Doire Press in paperback @ €12.00 ($13.65; £10.40 approx.)

© Natalie Wood (01 October 2016)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Alwayswriteagain: 5777 כתיבה וחתימה טובה

Alwayswriteagain: 5777 כתיבה וחתימה טובה:   The first day of Rosh Hashana , the Jewish New Year, falls next week, Monday 03 October 2016. May everyone who is celebrating have a gr...

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

On Rachel’s Birthday …

Israelis love their writers so much that many  are lauded as latter-day seers and saints.

Rachel BluwsteinSo it is with Rachel Bluwstein whose 126th birthday is celebrated today by Google Israel. Indeed, so revered and renowned does she remain even 85 years after her death, that she is still referred to simply as ‘Rachel The Poetess’.

Earlier this summer during a visit to Tiberias, I attempted to make a pilgrimage to her gravesite at the old cemetery, overlooking Lake Kinneret. But despite spending more than hour there wandering among the many fading headstones  and poorly tended plots, I was unable to find it.  I would appreciate a word from anyone who can point me in the right direction for a future occasion.

I conclude here with Perhaps, taken from the Anthology of Modem Hebrew Poetry, translated from the Hebrew by A.C. Jacobs.

Rachel Bluwstein Google

Perhaps

Perhaps it was never so.
Perhaps
I never woke early and went to the fields
To labour in the sweat of my brow
Nor in the long blazing days
Of harvest
On top of the wagon laden with sheaves,
Made my voice ring with song
Nor bathed myself clean in the calm
Blue water
Of my Kinneret. O, my Kinneret,
Were you there or did I only dream?

-------------

© Natalie Wood (20 September 2016)