The latest recipient of the Israel Prize for Hebrew Literature and Poetry says he represents "Hebrew poetry and not the Jews of the east".
Algerian-born Erez Biton, sometimes referred to as ‘the blind bard of Lod’, has lived in Israel since he was six. He was blinded aged ten by a hand grenade during an incident in which he also lost his left hand.
But personal tragedy never stopped him fulfilling careers in social work, psychology and journalism before his first collection of poetry Mincha Marokait (Moroccan Gift), published in 1976, established him as the founding father of Mizrachi (eastern Jewish) poetry in Israel. Biton has since won several prestigious awards and presently edits the Hebrew literary journal, Apirion.
The poem I post below as illustration of Biton’s output was translated from the Hebrew by Czech-born Tsipi Keller who was raised in Israel but now lives in the United States.
Keller’s notes explain that Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes (Rabbi Meir the miracle maker) was a Talmudic sage while Rabbi Shimon bar-Yochai is regarded as the author of the Kabbalistic work, The Zohar.
“My Father Gave the Neighbours
“On the wounded night
my father gave the neighbours
a wine feast and a variety of pastries
while my mother
unravelled both her eyes to the ravens.
“And on tiptoe the neighbourhood wives
come and go, lighting candles
to Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes
and to Rabbi Shimon bar-Yochai.
toss and turn all night
soliciting my mother’s eyes
to calm my father.
“And the women continue
to come and go
to revive me
with nard and turmeric
until morning arrives
sealing the time
© Natalie Wood (31 March 2015)