Friday, 7 November 2014

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘When Wee Willie Winked’

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘When Wee Willie Winked’: ‘ Only connect’ – E M Forster   Wee Willie winked as he  shoved Ann away. What a thrill; such joy: the stabbing, the plunging in the ...

Monday, 3 November 2014

‘And the Rains Came’

There’s so much musical talent in the the Galilee, you may think that it  positively pours from the mountain tops and into the laps of the musicians below!

We’re all twice blessed!

Larry.MindyNow cue folksters Larry and Mindy who delight local audiences with their renditions of famous songs from the sixties and seventies and who have promoted their autumn season  – also the start of Israel’s rainy season - with a clip of Jose Feliciano’s original 1969 version of – what else? – Rain!

Jose.Feliciano

“Rain

“Listen to the pouring rain
Listen to it pour,
And with every drop of rain
You know I love you more

“Let it rain all night long,
Let my love for you go strong,
As long as we're together
Who cares about the weather?

“Listen to the falling rain,
Listen to it fall,
And with every drop of rain,
I can hear you call,
Call my name right out loud,
I can here above the clouds
And I'm here among the puddles,
You and I together huddle.

“Listen to the falling rain,
Listen to it fall.

“It's raining,
It's pouring,
The old man is snoring,
Went to bed
And bumped his head,
He couldn't get up in the morning,

“Listen to the falling rain,
Listen to the rain”.

© Natalie Wood (03 November 2014)

Strangers and Friends

I must have first heard Acker ('really ‘Bernard Stanley) Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore when watching the BBC TV children’s series, Stranger on the Shore and Stranger in the City during the early 60s.

No matter how often I hear Acker (Somerset dialect for ‘mate’) play his marvellous piece, it evokes that feeling of drifting and semi-isolation we all experience wherever and whenever  we are away from familiar surroundings.

Acker.BilkThis happened to me during  several changes of city and therefore school and friends as a kid and of course as an olah – émigrée to Israel in March 2010.

Bilk wrote his famous work as an instrumental piece and it’s a great setting for his skill as a jazz clarinettist.

I’m not sure if I entirely like the lyrics written by Robert Mellin but as this site’s all about poetry I post them here as part of a tribute to a wonderful musician whose work helped to form the backdrop to my growing up.

“Stranger on the Shore

“Here I stand, watching the tide go out
So all alone and blue
Just dreaming dreams of you

“I watched your ship
As it sailed out to sea
Taking all my dreams
And taking all of me

“The sighing of the waves
The wailing of the wind
The tears in my eyes burn
Pleading, "My love, return"

“Why, oh, why must I go on like this?
Shall I just be a lonely
Stranger on the Shore?

“The sighing of the waves
The wailing of the wind
The tears in my eyes burn
Pleading, "My love, return"
Why, oh, why must I go on like this?
Shall I just be a lonely
Stranger on the shore?”


© Natalie Wood (03 November 2014)

Saturday, 4 October 2014

In Search of a Common Humanity

Despite the best efforts of a local MP and assorted fathers of terrorism, the Yorkshire city of Bradford has not become an Israel -free zone. Indeed, defying the best hopes of the hatemongers, members of the local tiny Jewish community get on famously with many of their Muslim neighbours.

Atar.HadariWhat’s more, thanks to the work of two Muslim women, the recent Bradford Literature Festival featured a performance by Israeli-born Atar Hadari.

And with what seems perfect symmetry, ‘Sacred Poetry’ was staged at the Bradford Reform Synagogue which last year was saved from closure  with financial help from local Muslims.

Explained Syima Aslam, festival co-director: “The purpose of this event is to bring people of different faiths together and highlight the common spirituality and humanity that unites us, whatever our other differences may be … If in Britain we start making distinctions about people who live here based on where they were born, where does that lead us to as a country?”

Hadari was raised in England, trained as an actor and is a  prize-winning writer  and translator who has served as Young Writer in Residence with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  

While Jewish readers will note that Hadari’s Bradford performance took place just after the start of the Jewish New Year, I’ve been fascinated by his essay in  Mosaic Magazine in which he compares the mid-summer harvest biblical story of Ruth to a novel by the Victorian writer, Thomas Hardy.  As this is a post  packed with  revelations, it is fitting that I end with two more ….

 

 

Woman of Secrets

 

“My mother was a woman of secrets.

When I came out to her, it was on Oxford Street

Because I figured, it was a public place,

She’s not going to hit me. I was wrong about that.

She hit me – wham – and crossed the road.

There weren’t taxis braking, there weren’t horns, not a sound

Suddenly she was across the street

And staring daggers at me, right up to the Strand.

She never told me things. Like this place

She used to take me to –

It was a cabbage and sauerkraut joint

But in the back there was a smoky room

Where all these old people would sit

And eat their black forest gateaux

And tell me stories about Maidanek

And how they got all those tattoos.

I used to go there year after year

Stuffing myself with profiteroles

Then one day I must have said something,

This old woman called me a “self-hater”

I opened my mouth to say, “Excuse me?”

– my mother took my arm

And dragged me all the way to air,

Next day she met me at a coffee bar

And said, “Two things. I smoke, and we’re Jewish.”

The first I knew. I can’t believe my father didn’t.

The second – I looked at her.

“What’s all this about going to church?” I said,

“Why was I baptised?” She didn’t say another word.

“I smoke,” she said, “You want mince pies?”

She left me all these photographs,

Not a name, not a date, on any one.

I look at them sometimes and make up alibis.

All she left me is this skin

And sometimes the sound of a train

Makes me want to eat cakes in the outdoors

And then I light a candle alone

And make up a song to the strange names”.

© Natalie Wood (04 October 2014)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

‘I’m a Jew As Long As There’s One Antisemite Alive’

The death this week of Dannie Abse made me reflect  not only on the silencing of an engaging poetic voice but how spending a childhood in a domestic intellectual hothouse must help to spark and then nurture a natural talent.

Even as the three Nottingham-bred Attenborough brothers went on to top their respective professions, so their exact contemporaries, the Welsh-Jewish Abse lads,  Leo, Wilfred and Dannie shone variously in politics, psychiatry and a combination of medicine and writing. 

I have not discovered anything about their sister, Huldah save that she lived in France until her Dannie.Abselate 90s but  interestingly, the siblings’ maternal grandfather, Tobias Shepherd (né Rosinsky) is buried in Haifa.

No wonder Dannie told Phil Morris of the Wales Arts Review

“If somebody is talking about Israel, I certainly feel more Jewish at that moment. There are certain occasions, of course there are, when someone is being antisemitic – then I feel yes I am a Jew. And I have said before, I think quoting somebody else, ‘I’m a Jew as long as there’s one antisemite alive”.

He added later that as fellow Welsh poet Dylan Thomas had already become famous when he was writing his early autobiographical novel, Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve, he emphasised his Jewish background and politics, to contrast as much as possible with Thomas’s own autobiography, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.

I conclude here with the opening two verses of Abse’s White Balloon:

“Dear love, Auschwitz made me

more of a Jew than Moses did.

But the world’s not always with us.

Happiness enters here again tonight

like an unexpected guest

with no memory of the future either;

 

“enters with such an italic emphasis,

jubilant, announcing triumphantly

hey presto and here I am and opening

the June night into our night living room

where, under the lampshade’s ciliate,

an armchair’s occupied by a white balloon.

As if there’d been a party” …...

© Natalie Wood (01 October 2014)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Beach Picnic at Sunset

 

There was no wine.

But a woman in fine shoes

And ornate earrings unpacked

A tiny box of jewelled, fragrant

Rice that she pecked with

Chopsticks though they’d never

Seen The Orient.

DSCF1665a

 

No-one brought music.

But a man who’d traipsed

From some dismal Scottish isle

Whistled a tuneless take on

‘Amazing Grace’ as he offered

Shortbread and giant slabs

Of cake rich enough to unite

A kingdom.

 

My share was a poor thing -

Just weak tea and shrivelled rolls -

So the lady organiser pursed her lips

And kept them sternly under wraps.

 

DSCF1667aLater, seeing me apart,

Left wondering at the pain

In the heart of the dying sun,

The woman  who liked Chinese

Took away my hurt with a 

Sudden gift of large, sweet grapes

That we shared in the untroubled

Silence of the ripening dark.

© Natalie Wood (26 September 2014)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Writ on Water, Far Too Soon ….

I dislike the growing trend for immortalising celebrities while they are still alive, most especially those who announce they are suffering a terminal illness.

Am I the only one who considers the fashion morbid; reminiscent of a parodical deathbed scene in which a family gathers around a dying person anxious to learn how they’ll be remembered in the will?

I first complained about this last year following news that the Scots writer, Ian Banks had been diagnosed with cancer. When he died barely two  months later, the fulsome obituaries were almost redundant.

I return to the theme following the publication of a valedictory poem by the multi-talented writer and broadcaster, Clive James whose work I’ve enjoyed since he became The Observer newspaper’s excoriatingly witty television critic in the 1970s.

I understand that Japanese Maple first appeared in The New Yorker magazine but has since been republished many times elsewhere.

It is a lovely piece and makes one reflect what a great loss James’s eventual passing will be to all who cherish good writing.

Everyone can recall times of great physical or emotional pain that have been relieved, even for just a moment, by a glimpse of great natural beauty.

James evokes that feeling with the same quiet force as former Poet Laureate, Cecil Day Lewis whose final work, At Lemmons, was published after he died. I first discovered the poem in Slipstream, the autobiography of novelist, Elizabeth Jane Howard. She included it because Day Lewis wrote it at the house she then owned with Kinglsey Amis.

 

Kingsley.Amis.Elizabeth.Jane.Howard“At Lemmons  -  C Day Lewis

 

“Above my table three magnolia flowers

Utter their silent requiems.

Through the window I see your elms

In labour with the racking storm

Giving it shape in April’s shifty airs.

 

“Up there sky boils from a brew of cloud

To blue gleam, sunblast, then darkens again.

No respite is allowed

The watching eye, the natural agony.

 

Cecil.Day.Lewis“Below is the calm a loved house breeds

Where four have come together to dwell

-            Two write, one paints, the fourth invents -

Each pursuing a natural bent

But less through nature’s formative travail

Than each in his own humour finding the self he needs.

 

“Round me all is amenity, a bloom of   

Magnolia uttering its requiems,

A climate of acceptance.  Very well

I accept my weakness with my friends’

Good natures sweetening each day my sick room”.

 

“Japanese Maple – Clive  James        Clive.James

“Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.

So slow a fading out brings no real pain.

Breath growing short

Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain

Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see

So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls

On that small tree

And saturates your brick back garden walls,

So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends

This glistening illuminates the air.

It never ends.

 

“Whenever the rain comes it will be there,

Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.

Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.

What I must do

Is live to see that. That will end the game

For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,

A final flood of colours will live on

As my mind dies,

Burned by my vision of a world that shone

So brightly at the last, and then was gone”.

 
© Natalie Wood (23 September 2014)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Recalling Film’s Great Laureate

There was a distinctly old-fashioned English air to a charity film show in Karmiel on Sunday.

This was no surprise as the event, arranged by the Keren B’Yachad group, was a tribute to the late film actor-director, Richard Attenborough. Richard.Attenboroug.Poster

What’s more, the screening of Richard Attenborough – A Life In Film concluded just how I’m convinced our hero would have loved – with the presentation of 1,000 shekels – about £180.00 - to local people in need.

One of the documentary interviewees commented that Attenborough’s marriage  to Sheila Sim was so long and comfortable that it was almost a reflection of a John Betjeman poem. John.Betjeman

Sir John was British Poet Laureate from 1972 – 1984.

I’ve chosen the poem below as I think it’s a fetching description of an area I knew well when I lived in Sheffield during my teens.

“An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield

“High dormers are rising
So sharp and surprising,
And ponticum edges
The driveways of gravel;
Stone houses from ledges
Look down on ravines.
The vision can travel
From gable to gable,
Italianate mansion
And turreted stable,
A sylvan expansion
So varied and jolly
Where laurel and holly
Commingle their greens.

Serene on a Sunday
The sun glitters hotly
O'er mills that on Monday
With engines will hum.
By tramway excursion
To Dore and to Totley
In search of diversion
The millworkers come;
But in our arboreta
The sounds are discreeter
Of shoes upon stone -
The worshippers wending
To welcoming chapel,
Companioned or lone;
And over a pew there
See loveliness lean,
As Eve shows her apple
Through rich bombazine;
What love is born new there
In blushing eighteen!

Your prospects will please her,
The iron-king's daughter,
Up here on Broomhill;
Strange Hallamshire, County
Of dearth and of bounty,
Of brown tumbling water
And furnace and mill.
Your own Ebenezer
Looks down from his height
On back street and alley
And chemical valley
Laid out in the light;
On ugly and pretty
Where industry thrives
In this hill-shadowed city
Of razors and knives
.

(See more at: http://allpoetry.com/An-Edwardian-Sunday,-Broomhill,-Sheffield#sthash.R02jpi0v.dpuf)

© Natalie Wood (16 September 2014)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Be Happy – Sing ‘Adon Olam’!

Adon Olam, among the most popular hymns in Jewish liturgy,  is supposed to have been composed by Solomon ibn Gabirol, one of the great figures of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry.

Gabirol trained as a philosopher but wrote more than 400 poems before  dying aged only 37 in 1058.

Solomon ibn GabirolThe Jewish Virtual Library explains that the lyrics speak about God’s greatness and all-empowering existence. Countless melodies have been written to accompany them.

The penultimate lines request that God watches over one’s soul as one sleeps and the poem ends by mentioning God’s presence and  His ability to bring reassurance to His people. So it’s not surprising that it also forms part of bedtime prayers and is recited on one’s deathbed.

Pahrrell.WilliamsBut this is Sabbath eve and Adon Olam is joyful, so I’m posting a version sung to a cover of American singer-songwriter, Pharrell Williams’s Happy by the Listen Up! A Cappella group featuring Shayna Elliott, Eli Nathan Taylor, Steve Singer and Freddie Feldman.

 

 

Ibn Gabirol’s words are below in transliterated Hebrew and then in English :

“Adon Olam – Master of the Universe

“ Adon olam, asher malach,
b'terem kol y'tzir nivra.
L'et na'asah v'cheftzo kol,
azai melech sh'mo nikra.

“V'acharey kichlot hakol,
l'vado yimloch nora.
V'hu haya, v'hu hoveh,
v'hu yih'yeh b'tifara.

“V'hu echad, v'eyn sheni
l'hamshil lo, l'hachbira.
B'li reishit, b'li tachlit,
v'lo ha'oz v'hamisrah.

“V'hu Eli, v'chai go'ali,
v'tzur chevli b'et tzarah.
V'hu nisi umanos li,
m'nat kosi b'yom ekra.
B'yado afkid ruchi
b'et ishan v'a'irah.
V'im ruchi g'viyati,
Adonai li v'lo ira”.

----------

“The Lord of the Universe who reigned
before anything was created.
When all was made by his will
He was acknowledged as King.

“And when all shall end
He still all alone shall reign.
He was, He is,
and He shall be in glory.

“And He is one, and there's no other,

to compare or join Him.

Without beginning, without end

and to Him belongs dominion and power.

“And He is my God, my living God.
to Him I flee in time of grief,
and He is my miracle and my refuge,
who answers the day I shall call.

“To Him I commit my spirit,
in the time of sleep and awakening,
even if my spirit leaves,
God is with me, I shall not fear”.

© Natalie Wood (05 September 2014)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Thursday’s Child – What a Disgrace!

Yesterday, Kevin.HigginsI started to write about an Irish poet who runs an online English language  workshop for aspiring poets. This is an edited version of my original post.

I was first  pleased that Kevin Higgins had been given free space to advertise his commercial course on the Voices Israel Group of Poets in English Facebook page as I reflected that those who run the page believe, like me, that they should support all writing. This is about the fraternity of artist(e)s, after all.

However, I believe further that Higgins, who also promotes new writers’ work, has abused our Israeli hospitality by penning a viciously anti-Israel diatribe on his blog, Mentioning the War.

Discussing the recent furore about the the Tricycle Theatre, London and the UK Jewish Film Festival’s funding from the Israel Embassy in London, Higgins writes, inter alia:

“ … it's a pity the State of Israel was ever set up. Surely it would have been better if a state containing both Arabs and Jews had emerged post-1948 in what had been the British run mandated territory of Palestine? Things could hardly have turned out very much worse than they have. The Holocaust may have made Israel inevitable; it was the decisive event in moving the Zionist dream of a Jewish state from the margins to the mainstream. Nevertheless, the Holocaust does not justify even one Arab family being ethnically cleansed, and forced into exile, though it is of course crucial to the context in which such things happened”. 

He continues in this vein on and off at some length, somehow comparing the Israel-Arab conflict, not only with the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland but also the recent attempts by barbaric ISIS terrorists to assume control of vast areas of the Middle East uncomfortably close to Israel.

Since I first wrote the above, Wendy Blumfield of Voices Israel has confirmed that the “Voices website is not a forum for any political material whatsoever”.

Whatever my views, perhaps senior V.I. members will debate the wisdom of offering free space to someone whose politics are wholly antithetical to those of its members.

Meanwhile, as I had sent Higgins a link to this post as it first appeared, he  responded, making light of the argument, writing that I “rather amusingly” accused him of “‘penning a viciously anti-Israel diatribe’. Hilarious world we live in”.

I don’t share his sense of humour and replied thus (slightly edited here):

Obviously, Mr Higgins, your idea of humour is different from mine. Today you've asked me to be your F.B. 'friend'. I don't think that's likely to happen as if it were down to you, I'd no longer be living where I do in Karmiel, Galilee, surrounded by middle-class Arab neighbours who use all the same facilities as me. Your humour extends even to expecting the Voices Israel group of English speaking poets to offer you free advertising for your online writing course. If you knew anything about Jewish culture you'd call that 'chutzpah' - the Yiddishised Hebrew word for brazen audacity. (How) would you feel if someone were to suggest wiping either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland off the map? Where, perchance, would you plan on going to settle?”

Higgins feels that I misinterpreted his purpose so I have re-read his original piece. O.K., he does not approve of cultural boycotts. Nor should any real artist(e). But this is insufficient to sway me of his righteous intent as the  gross bad-mouthing far outweighs anything that is good. There is nothing he has written there that could otherwise persuade me.

When I established PerfectlyWritePoetry some months ago, I had hoped to encourage other people to contribute either their own verse or essays about poetry. Politics were not supposed to intrude. Now they have and I feel very sad.

No wonder I have a pathological and fearful  hatred of Thursday. It has always been a horrible day.

So I conclude most wearily with David Bowie’s

"Thursday's Child

“All of my life I've tried so hard
Doing my best with what I had
Nothing much happened all the same
Something about me stood apart
A whisper of hope that seemed to fail
Maybe I'm born right out of my time
Breaking my life in two

”Throw me tomorrow
Now that I've really got a chance
Throw me tomorrow
Everything's falling into place
Throw me tomorrow
Seeing my past to let it go
Throw me tomorrow
Only for you I don't regret
That I was Thursday's child

“Monday Tuesday Wednesday born I was
Monday Tuesday Wednesday born I was
Thursday's child   David Bowie

“Sometimes I cried my heart to sleep
Shuffling days and lonesome nights
Sometimes my courage fell to my feet

“Lucky old sun is in my sky
Nothing prepared me for your smile
Lighting the darkness of my soul
Innocence in your arms”

© Natalie Wood (21 / 22 August 2014)

Monday, 18 August 2014

‘At Seventy For Grey Hairs’

The departure from Karmiel of Rabbi Michael Schultz and his wife, Rachel  and with it, the end of a four year cycle of  Torah study, coincided with my husband’s 70th birthday. Was a blessing appropriate, I asked.

The Schultzes, enjoying  nothing if not a marriage of true minds, decided after hurried consultation on a passage by Rabbi Judah ben Teima  from the Pirkei Avot – the ethical teachings and maxims of the rabbis of the Mishnaic period.

It runs thus:

“At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, at eighteen for the bride chamber, at twenty for one's life pursuit, at thirty for authority, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty to be an elder, at seventy for grey hairs, at eighty for special strength (Psalm 90:10), at ninety for decrepitude, and at a hundred a man is as one who has already died and has ceased from the affairs of this world”.

All the World's a StageIf it sounds familiar to non-Talmudists, that’s no surprise as it comes from a tradition that examines not only the phases of an individual’s life but the myth of the  ‘ages of the world where the past of the human race is seen to degenerate in the course of time from a ‘golden age’ to an ‘iron age’.

So it’s small wonder that Shakespeare’s famous contribution to the debate in As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII) should feature a sad Jacques who compares life and those who live it to a play and those who play in it.

Here, the speech is delivered by the Oscar-winning U.S.actor Morgan Freeman.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace,
with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved,
a world too wide
For his shrunk shank;
and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.

© Natalie Wood (18 August 2014)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Poetic Twists On Child Sacrifice

The row about an advertisement condemning the Hamas terror group’s use of Gazan children as human shields shares a haunting echo with one of the great poems of World War I.

Elie.Wiesel.Advertisement

Jewish Nobel peace laureate, Elie Wiesel appears in the advertisement sponsored by The Values Network, founded by US  Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and which begins by referring to the near- sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham. Its headline runs:  “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn”.  The advertisement appeared in several leading US newspapers but was rejected by The (U.K.) Times.

The scenario was immediately reminiscent of Wilfred Owen’s The Parable of the Old Man and the Young which is based on the same story. But where Wilfred.OwenJewish tradition views the episode as a test of Abraham’s faith in God, Christianity sees it also as a foretelling of Christ’s passion and crucifixion.

The poem was published after Owen’s death by his fellow poet, Siegfried Sassoon whose handwritten diaries and poetry notebooks have just been placed on public view.

“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

“So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

”But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one”.

© Natalie Wood (07 August 2014)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

How the Tragedies Continue on Jewry’s Saddest Day

As lights went out all over Europe to signal the start of World War I centenary events, Jewish citizens also began their annual 25 hour fast of Tisha B’Av.

The day is viewed as the saddest in the Jewish calendar as it recalls the destruction of both holy temples in Jerusalem and Jewry’s subsequent plunge into exile. This year it has seemed worse than ever because of the continuing war in Gaza and the attendant surge in anti-Jewish sentiment.

Perhaps in future, those observing the fast will add the events of 2014 (the Hebrew year of 5774) to the many other disasters of Jewish history recalled on this terrible day.

Along with abstinence from physical pleasure, the religious attend synagogue services where Eicha – The Biblical book of Lamentations is read. The author was once thought to be the prophet Jeremiah but the work is now ascribed to someone or several  people who remained in ancient Israel after the exile.

The work comprises five separate poems, corresponding to its five chapters. The first four are written as acrostics. I have never studied this exquisite work as literature and I hope someone reading this post may arrange for such an event next year.

Rabbi.Ariella.Graetz.Bar.Tuv

 That aside, last night I heard it chanted most eloquently by Rabbi Ariella Graetz Bar Tuv, community director at Kibbutz Hannaton in Lower Galilee, during an event hosted by the Emet v’Shalom Reform Congregation in Nahariya.

I conclude here by sharing the opening  five verses of Eicha in an English translation provided by Chabad.org with a commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (‘Rashi):

“1. O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary.
א. אֵיכָה | יָשְׁבָה בָדָד הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם הָיְתָה כְּאַלְמָנָה רַבָּתִי בַגּוֹיִם שָׂרָתִי בַּמְּדִינוֹת הָיְתָה לָמַס:

2. She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter among all her lovers; all her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.
ב. בָּכוֹ תִבְכֶּה בַּלַּיְלָה וְדִמְעָתָהּ עַל לֶחֱיָהּ אֵין לָהּ מְנַחֵם מִכָּל אֹהֲבֶיהָ כָּל רֵעֶיהָ בָּגְדוּ בָהּ הָיוּ לָהּ לְאֹיְבִים:

Lamentations.Reuven.Rubin

3. Judah went into exile because of affliction and great servitude; she settled among the nations, [and] found no rest; all her pursuers overtook her between the boundaries.
ג. גָּלְתָה יְהוּדָה מֵעֹנִי וּמֵרֹב עֲבֹדָה הִיא יָשְׁבָה בַגּוֹיִם לֹא מָצְאָה מָנוֹחַ כָּל רֹדְפֶיהָ הִשִּׂיגוּהָ בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים:

4. The roads of Zion are mournful because no one comes to the appointed season; all her gates are desolate, her priests moan; her maidens grieve while she herself suffers bitterly.
ד. דַּרְכֵי צִיּוֹן אֲבֵלוֹת מִבְּלִי בָּאֵי מוֹעֵד כָּל שְׁעָרֶיהָ שׁוֹמֵמִין כֹּהֲנֶיהָ נֶאֱנָחִים בְּתוּלֹתֶיהָ נוּגוֹת וְהִיא מַר לָהּ:

5. Her adversaries have become the head, her enemies are at ease; for the Lord has afflicted her because of the multitude of her sins; her young children went into captivity before the enemy.
ה. הָיוּ צָרֶיהָ לְרֹאשׁ אֹיְבֶיהָ שָׁלוּ כִּי יְהֹוָה הוֹגָהּ”

 © Natalie Wood (05 August 2014)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Falling Through the Sky

The tradition from which I come insists that nothing is haphazard; that there’s no such thing as ‘co-incidence’.

Antony.OwensSo there must be a good reason which no-one may yet quite fathom as to why Antony Owen and Joseph Horgan chose Thursday night 17 July to launch their poetry collection, The Year I Loved England.

How else, a mystic may muse, could they possibly include a piece about people falling ‘in to the sky’ just as news broke about the Malaysia Airlines disaster in which almost 300 people plunged from a height of 33,000 feet to their deaths deep in the Ukrainian countryside?

But part of the poet’s job is to make sense of the senseless and to reason with the inexplicable just as the task of the visual artist is to interpret it anew.

So what is not surprising is that the poem to which I allude recalls the work of the Russian-Jewish pioneering surrealist, Marc Chagall,  whose  major output was based on his Jewish background but who was laid to rest via a Christian burial accompanied by the Kaddish – the Jewish  mourners’ prayer!

Fiddler.Painting

Before we  look at the poem, I’ll explain that the book is the result of a two year project that began after a twinning arrangement with other poets in Cork, Ireland. Quite extraordinarily for people in a world that teems with artistic jealousies,  the two refuse to say who penned which poem!

That aside, the blurb from their publisher, Pighog Press says the “anthology voices the experience of living in the rapidly changing urban landscape of 21st century Britain. The poems explore changing attitudes and identities attributed to immigration, conflict, loss, unemployment. Joseph.Horgan

“The pages of the book loosely represent the house numbers of a street where people of different ages and different backgrounds co-exist … (and) the poems range across a timespan from an industrial Britain in the shadow of the Second World War through to the modern day”.

“ADDRESS
After Marc Chagall

“All the houses on our street are upside down
and people fly above the chimneys.
They are falling
in to the sky.

“They are not from here anyway.
Not one of them is from here anyway.
Who is from here anyway?

“The people in the sky are falling up, Marc.Chagall
in to India, Pakistan, Ghana, Nigeria,
St. Kitts and Ireland.
They are landing on their heads.

“They are from here everyway.
Every one of them is from here someway.
Where is from here anyway?

“All the streets near our house are downside up
and chimneys fly above the people.
They are sky
and they are flying”.

 

© Natalie Wood (27July 2014)