Received by email from Dr. Steve Carol. Excellent article by Daniel Gordis that demands to be read in its entirety. Both poems “In the City of Slaughter” by Chaim Bialek and “The Silver Platter” by Nathan Alterman are included below for your reference. Links and emphasis added by Smooth Stone.
There were days, and they were not that long ago, when Zionism was about something different. Days when Zionists could articulate what the purpose of Jewish Statehood was, days when Israelis understood that having a state was about changing the existential condition of the Jew. Not anymore.
Hayyim Nachman Bialik, writing in 1905 shortly after the slaughter in Kishinev, understood that the very essence of Jewish existence had to change. What else could he possibly have been saying in his epic poem, “The City of Slaughter” (scroll down to the two paragraphs that begin with the lines “Descend then, to the cellars of the town”), when he describes the mass rape scene in which Jewish women are helpless victims and Jewish men are powerless to intervene? In fact, for Bialik, the villains of the scene are not the Cossacks rape and murder are simply what Cossacks do. The problem with what happened in Kishinev, Bialik intimates with his bitter irony, rests with the Jewish men. It’s bad enough that they were too weak to intervene, to defend their wives, their sisters, their mothers and their daughters, though that is clearly lamentable. But worse than that, they were too frightened to even try. And even worse than that, Bialik says, is that when the slaughter and the butchery were over, these men looked down at the broken bodies of the women that they had supposedly once loved, and instead of holding them, instead of telling them that they still loved them, instead of assuring them that they would take care of them no matter what, they gazed at these violated, half-dead women, and saw a halakhic question. “Is my wife,” the Kohanim in Bialik’s poem want to know, “still permitted to me?”
It makes no difference whether or not anyone in Kishinev really asked that question, or thought to. Bialik is not a journalist in this poem. He’s a diagnostician, describing the human (or no longer human) condition of the Jew. And what he wants us to know is that what is wrong with the Jews is that they have come to accept their victimization as part of nature. They’re no longer shocked by what is done to them, no longer infuriated by their own powerlessness. These Jewish men, their humanity too eroded by years of religious escapism and yeshiva study for them to see the broken women they should have loved as anything other than halakhic questions, aren’t people anymore. Real people, Bialik suggests, simply don’t stand by and watch their family members get raped and slaughtered and do nothing about it. Even if you’ll get killed in the process, you try to defend the people you love. When you no longer defend your family, he intimates, you’re not human, you’re sick. The Jews are sick, he says, their souls eroded by passivity, by weakness, by fear. And the cure, we know not from this poem but from much of what he writes, is a Jewish homeland.
Just over forty years later, with much water under the bridge and six million Jewish men, women and children having been ushered heavenward through smokestacks across Eastern Europe while the world either conspired to assist in the murder or simply watched and pretended to be aghast, the State of Israel was about to be born. And Natan Alterman, who in some ways had replaced Bialik as the poet laureate of the Zionist movement, wanted Jews to understand what was unfolding. It wasn’t just a country that they were getting it was purpose, salvation. The Jews would not simply have a State the Jews would be transformed.
And thus, in “The Silver Platter” (a translation one can quibble with, but the best that I’ve found on the web), when the whole nation assembles to receive the “unique miracle”, they are assembled not at Sinai, but in their homeland. And they are awaiting not Torah, but Statehood. Independence, not religion, is what will save the Jews, Alterman is effectively saying. It’s a step beyond Bialik. In Bialik’s poem, the Jew in Europe is dying, but there’s no clear solution. Forty years later, after the UN had voted on the Partition Plan and Israel was about to be created, Alterman believed that the solution was at hand.
Alterman clearly shares Bialik’s disdain for what they both see as Judaism’s religiously induced passivity. In his poem, as the people awaits its transformative moment, State replaces Torah. And if you look carefully, and compare the biblical account of the giving of the Torah at Sinai (especially Exodus 19), you’ll see other differences. In the Biblical account, Moses tells the men not to approach a woman (verse 15), but here, the boy and the girl are inseparable, and virtually indistinguishable. In the Torah, the Israelites are commanded to wash their clothes (verse 10) but in the poem, the boy and the girls are caked with dirt, and they do not wash. Saving the Jews, Alterman wants to suggest, requires that you get dirty. “You prefer to stay clean?” he seems to say – “fine, but prepare to be dead.” We’ll come back to that.
For Alterman, like Bialik, like many of the Zionists of their day, Zionism was about changing the condition of the Jew, by changing the nature of the Jew. And for them, the nature of the Jew would be changed by moving away from the religious tradition that made us weak, that offered us a “spiritual refuge” in which we could pretend that things were not as they are, that was an opiate guaranteed to prevent the Jews’ confronting the utter intolerability of their condition.
Bialik and Alterman were, of course, quite right. And dead wrong. Bialik was right that the condition of the Jew in Europe was untenable (though as he died in 1934, he never got to know exactly how right he was), and Alterman was right that new boys and new girls, caked in dirt and blood, would help redeem what was left of the Jewish people. But they were sadly wrong about the advisability of leaving Jewish religious discourse in the dust, for they failed to predict how quickly Israelis – bereft of any substantive Jewish discourse – would find themselves unable to say, or to remember, why they needed this State in the first place.
When you’ve lost the sense that Jewish statehood is about changing the condition of the Jew, and when you can no longer recall that independence was designed (inter alia) to end the era of hunting seasons in which the Jews are the ducks, just because they’re Jews, when any semblance of a Jewish conversation is thoroughly absent from your worldview, it’s hard to say much about why the Jews need a State. It’s hard to say why the high cost of living here (and I don’t mean financial) is worth it. How do you explain to your friends, and to yourself, why you should drive your eighteen year old son to the base where he’ll be inducted, and hope and pray for three long years (or more) that he’ll be OK, if you have no idea why a Jewish State matters?
When you can’t articulate why you need this State, you fret. You worry mostly about what the world thinks of you, because more than anything else, you simply want to be “normal,” indistinguishable, just like everyone else. So, just like the “men” in Bialik’s poem, you don’t allow yourself to be horrified by the fact that almost 8,000 rockets have been fired at Sederot, that life there has been transformed into hell. You don’t allow yourself to remember that for years, yes seven years, kids (and old kids, sometimes in their teens) have been sleeping in their parents’ rooms, making any kind of normal family life utterly impossible, elementary school kids have been wetting their beds, half the businesses are vacated, more than half the town is empty, the economy doesn’t exist and everyone is scared to death, all the time.
You don’t allow yourself to focus on the fact that this is exactly what Zionism was supposed to prevent. You get so used to it that you don’t see that Jews sitting like ducks, simply waiting to be hit by homemade missiles while the region’s most powerful army sits on the side and polishes its boots, is a bastardization of what Zionism was supposed to be.
When you can’t say anything anymore about why the Jews need a state, about what Statehood was supposed to do to the condition of the Jew, you don’t allow yourself to stare reality squarely in the face and to wonder what will happen when they get Grads, and then Katyushas, and hit Ashkelon and then Ashdod – until they start. And then, when they do (which they did, this week), you tell yourself that it’s “not so bad.” After all, in yesterday’s attacks on Sederot, “only” one woman was killed. “Only” one house (not her house, but a different one) was burnt to the ground. And in the roadside bombing of an army patrol, which isn’t even on the news anymore, because last night got a lot worse, they “only” killed one soldier, and “only” one soldier was in extremely critical condition. “Only” a few families forever destroyed – we’re going to get worked up about that?
When a country’s leadership can’t express a single coherent thought about why the Jews need a State, when its Prime Minister can articulate no agenda for the Jewish State beyond the hope that it will be “a fun place to live” (and look who gleefully cites that interview), you know we’re bankrupt. You’re bankrupt because Bialik and Alterman were too successful. They were part of a movement that so utterly disconnected the Jews from the discourse that had nurtured them for centuries that now, aside from being a marginally Hebrew-speaking version of some benign and characterless country, we can’t remember why we wanted this State to begin with. So we don’t defend it, because we don’t want to hurt their civilians (even though they openly target ours). We don’t want to earn the world’s opprobrium, because our Prime Minister loves being welcomed in foreign capitals. We don’t defend ourselves because we’re no longer sure that it’s really worth the casualties on our side that preventing these attacks on our sovereignty would require.
So we allow ourselves to grow comfortable being sitting ducks, and find ourselves exactly where we were a century ago. Kishinev morphs into Sederot, and very few people see the irony, or the utter shame, and shamefulness, of what’s transpiring here.
Almost as if he foresaw the stalemate that now has us in its grips, Alterman writes in his poem that the boy and the girl are dirty, caked with the dirt of the fields and the fire-line. Unlike the Torah, which suggests that preparation for the revelation requires that everyone wash their garments, Alterman suggests that if the Jews insist on being clean, or insist on purity, there’s no hope. It’s a dirty world we live in, he understands, and in this world, we have to decide how badly we want to stay alive.
But we haven’t decided that we want to stay alive. We don’t want Ban Ki-Moon to chastise us. We want George Bush to love us. We don’t want the BBC or CNN to broadcast pictures of Palestinian children wounded or killed by Jewish soldiers. We don’t want more protests like we had this week, with Israeli Arabs rioting in opposition to the minor incursion into Gaza and voicing their support for Hamas. It’s all just too complicated and unpleasant we’d much rather pretend that we live in America, that we can ignore the dormant volcano of Israel’s Arabs, too.
So we sit. And civilians keep getting targeted, and keep dying. And soldiers die. And Israeli towns become ghost towns. But George Bush most supports us, so we feel better. And the charade with Abu Mazen permits us to continue hallucinating about the possibility of peace, to pretend that the Palestinians aren’t simply an utterly failed people that will never make peace in our lifetimes or those of our children, so we feel even better.
Bialik would recognize us. And he would weep.
And then, at the end of the day, you’re sitting in a friend’s living room, a few dozen people gathered together to congratulate him on a new book contract. Everyone’s happy for him. Everyone’s forgotten the funerals (of the woman from Sederot, of the soldier who was killed at Kissufim, and God forbid, of the soldier whose condition wasn’t terribly clear) that will soon take place. Everyone’s put out of their minds the mindless abdication of sovereignty unfolding in front of our very eyes. Everyone’s pretending that we live in a normal country, and that Zionism’s not failing even as we prepare for the sixtieth anniversary of independence.
So he’s speaking modestly about what the book is about, why he’s excited about writing it, who’s publishing it. There’s wine, and food, and good humor all around. And then someone’s phone rings, and then someone else’s. And before you know it, before your friend has even had five minutes to say anything about his book, all of the Blackberry’s are out, and all the cell phones are being used, because the news has reached us – it’s starting again. There’s been an attack at a yeshiva at the entrance to the city. We know the drill, the invariable climb in the numbers. At first, it’s one dead, scores wounded. Then it’s seven dead. Then eight, and lots of wounded. Some of them might die, too.
In the morning, the papers report the attack, but there’s not a single mention of a response, or even a contemplated response. Of course one will come, but not yet. It will have to get worse first, because a few people killed in Sederot, and a couple of soldiers, and even eight kids from a yeshiva – well, it’s sad, but just for that we’re actually going to start a war?
No, probably not, at least not yet. Because to go to war (or more accurately, to respond to the war that’s been unleashed against you) to defend your citizens, you’d have to be able to articulate why this country still makes any difference. You’ve have to be able to say something about why it was created in the first place. You’d have to have a sense of Jewish history. You’d have to have a vision for the Jews, an agenda for your country. You’d have to be able to see yourself as part of a several thousand year old conversation. You’d have to have some courage. And yes, you’d have to love your people more than you love your office.
There were days when this land was filled with that. There were days when we remembered, and we knew. And we fought. And even if we died in the process, we figured it was worth it, because life here was about something, for something. And so was dying here.
But those days are gone. Our Prime Minister doesn’t want to defend Sederot. Or Ashkelon. He doesn’t want to tell Bush that the charade with Abu Mazen is bound to explode, and that when it does, more of us will die. He just wants a country that’s “fun to live in.”
Well, he’s a lucky guy. Because tonight, the month of Adar begins. And the Talmud tells us (see the very last words of the page) that “when Adar begins, we increase our joy.” So let’s be happy. Let’s have some fun. Why not? It’s not as if our enemies have actually won. Not yet, at least.
It almost makes you grateful that Bialik’s not around to see what’s happened.
Hayyim Bialik’s poem, “In The City of Slaughter” in Complete Poetic Works of Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Israel Efros, ed. (New York, 1948): 129-43 (Vol. I)
ARISE and go now to the city of slaughter;
Into its courtyard wind thy way;
There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of
Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,
The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead.
Proceed thence to the ruins, the split walls reach,
Where wider grows the hollow, and greater grows the breach;
Pass over the shattered hearth, attain the broken wall
Whose burnt and barren brick, whose charred stones reveal
The open mouths of such wounds, that no mending
Shall ever mend, nor healing ever heal.
There will thy feet in feathers sink, and stumble
On wreckage doubly wrecked, scroll heaped on manuscript,
Fragments again fragmented—
Pause not upon this havoc; go thy way.
The perfumes will be wafted from the acacia bud
And half its blossoms will be feathers,
Whose smell is the smell of blood!
And, spiting thee, strange incense they will bring—
Banish thy loathing—all the beauty of the spring,
The thousand golden arrows of the sun,
Will flash upon thy malison;
The sevenfold rays of broken glass
Over thy sorrow joyously will pass,
For God called up the slaughter and the spring together,—
The slayer slew, the blossom burst, and it was sunny weather!
Then wilt thou flee to a yard, observe its mound.
Upon the mound lie two, and both are headless—
A Jew and his hound.
The self-same axe struck both, and both were flung
Unto the self-same heap where swine seek dung;
Tomorrow the rain will wash their mingled blood
Into the runners, and it will be lost
In rubbish heap, in stagnant pool, in mud.
Its cry will not be heard.
It will descend into the deep, or water the cockle-burr.
And all things will be as they ever were.
Unto the attic mount, upon thy feet and hands;
Behold the shadow of death among the shadows stands.
There in the dismal corner, there in the shadowy nook,
Multitudinous eyes will look
Upon thee from the sombre silence—
The spirits of the martyrs are these souls,
Gathered together, at long last,
Beneath these rafters and in these ignoble holes.
The hatchet found them here, and hither do they come
To seal with a last look, as with their final breath,
The agony of their lives, the terror of their death.
Tumbling and stumbling wraiths, they come, and cower there
Their silence whimpers, and it is their eyes which cry
Wherefore, O Lord, and why?
It is a silence only God can bear.
Lift then thine eyes to the roof; there’s nothing there,
Save silences that hang from rafters
And brood upon the air:
Question the spider in his lair!
His eyes beheld these things; and with his web he can
A tale unfold horrific to the ear of man:
A tale of cloven belly, feather-filled;
Of nostrils nailed, of skull-bones bashed and spilled;
Of murdered men who from the beams were hung,
And of a babe beside its mother flung,
Its mother speared, the poor chick finding rest
Upon its mother’s cold and milkless breast;
Of how a dagger halved an infant’s word,
Its ma was heard, its mama never heard.
O, even now its eyes from me demand accounting,
For these the tales the spider is recounting,
Tales that do puncture the brain, such tales that sever
Thy body, spirit, soul, from life, forever!
Then wilt thou bid thy spirit—Hold, enough!
Stifle the wrath that mounts within thy throat,
Bury these things accursed,
Within the depth of thy heart, before thy heart will burst!
Then wilt thou leave that place, and go thy way— And lo— The earth is as it was, the sun still shines: It is a day like any other day.
Descend then, to the cellars of the town,
There where the virginal daughters of thy folk were fouled,
Where seven heathen flung a woman down,
The daughter in the presence of her mother,
The mother in the presence of her daughter,
Before slaughter, during slaughter, and after slaughter!
Touch with thy hand the cushion stained; touch
The pillow incarnadined:
This is the place the wild ones of the wood, the beasts of the field
With bloody axes in their paws compelled thy daughters yield:
Beasted and swiped!
Note also do not fail to note,
In that dark corner, and behind that cask
Crouched husbands, bridegrooms, brothers, peering from the cracks,
Watching the sacred bodies struggling underneath
The bestial breath,
Stifled in filth, and swallowing their blood!
Watching from the darkness and its mesh
The lecherous rabble portioning for booty
Their kindred and their flesh!
Crushed in their shame, they saw it all; They did not stir nor move; They did not pluck their eyes out; they Beat not their brains against the wall! Perhaps, perhaps, each watcher had it in his heart to pray: A miracle, O Lord,—and spare my skin this day! Those who survived this foulness, who from their blood awoke, Beheld their life polluted, the light of their world gone out— How did their menfolk bear it, how did they bear this yoke? They crawled forth from their holes, they fled to the house of the Lord, They offered thanks to Him, the sweet benedictory word. The Cohanim sallied forth, to the Rabbi’s house they flitted: Tell me, O Rabbi, tell, is my own wife permitted? The matter ends; and nothing more. And all is as it was before.
Come, now, and I will bring thee to their lairs
The privies, jakes and pigpens where the heirs
Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,
Concealed and cowering,—the sons of the Maccabees!
The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!
Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,
So sanctified My name!
It was the flight of mice they fled,
The scurrying of roaches was their flight;
They died like dogs, and they were dead!
And on the next morn, after the terrible night
The son who was not murdered found The spurned cadaver of his father on the ground. Now wherefore cost thou weep, O son of man?
Descend into the valley; verdant, there
A garden flourishes, and in the garden
A barn, a shed,—it was their abbatoir;
There, like a host of vampires, puffed and bloated,
Besotted with blood, swilled from the scattered dead,
The tumbril wheels lie spread—
Their open spokes, like fingers stretched for murder,
Like vampire-mouths their hubs still clotted red.
Enter not now, but when the sun descends
Wrapt in bleeding clouds and girt with flame,
Then open the gate and stealthily do set
Thy foot within the ambient of horror:
Terror floating near the rafters, terror
Against the walls in darkness hiding,
Terror through the silence sliding.
Didst thou not hear beneath the heap of wheels
A stirring of crushed limbs? Broken and racked
Their bodies move a hub, a spoke
Of the circular yoke;
In death-throes they contort;
In blood disport;
And their last groaning, inarticulate
Rises above thy head,
And it would seem some speechless sorrow,
Is prisoned in this shed.
It is, it is the Spirit of Anguish!
Much-suffering and tribulation-tried
Which in this house of bondage binds itself.
It will not ever from its pain be pried.
Brief-weary and forespent, a dark Shekinah
Runs to each nook and cannot find its rest;
Wishes to weep, but weeping does not come;
Would roar; is dumb.
Its head beneath its wing, its wing outspread
Over the shadows of the martyr’d dead,
Its tears in dimness and in silence shed.
And thou, too, son of man, close now the gate behind thee;
Be closed in darkness now, now shine that charnel space;
So tarrying there thou wilt be one with pain and anguish
And wilt fill up with sorrow shine heart for all its days.
Then on the day of shine own desolation
A refuge will it seem,—
Lying in thee like a curse, a demon’s ambush,
The haunting of an evil dream,
O, carrying it in thy heart, across the world’s expanse
Thou wouldst proclaim it, speak it out,—
But thy lips shall not find its utterance.
Beyond the suburbs go, and reach the burial ground. Let no man see thy going; attain that place alone, A place of sainted graves and martyr-stone.
Stand on the fresh-turned soil.
Such silence will take hold of thee, thy heart will fail
With pain and shame, yet I
Will let no tear fall from shine eye.
Though thou wilt long to bellow like the driven ox
That bellows, and before the altar balks,
I will make hard thy heart, yea, I
Will not permit a sigh.
See, see, the slaughtered calves, so smitten and so laid;
Is there a price for their death? How shall that price be
Forgive, ye shamed of the earth, yours is a pauper-Lord!
Poor was He during your life, and poorer still of late.
When to my door you come to ask for your reward,
I’ll open wide: See, I am fallen from My high estate.
I grieve for you, my children. My heart is sad for you.
Your dead were vainly dead; and neither I nor you
Know why you died or wherefore, for whom, nor by what
Your deaths are without reason; your lives are without cause.
What says the Shekinah? In the clouds it hides
In shame, in agony alone abides;
I, too, at night, will venture on the tombs,
Regard the dead and weigh their secret shame,
But never shed a tear, I swear it in My name.
For great is the anguish, great the shame on the brow;
But which of these is greater, son of man, say thou—
Or liefer keep thy silence, bear witness in My name
To the hour of My sorrow, the moment of My shame. And when thou cost return Bring thou the blot of My disgrace upon thy people’s head, And from My suffering do not part, But set it like a stone within their heart!
Turn, then, to leave the cemetery ground,
And for a moment thy swift eye will pass
Upon the verdant carpet of the grass—
A lovely thing! Fragrant and moist, as it is always at the coming of the Spring!
The stubble of death, the growth of tombstones!
Take thou a fistful fling it on the plain
“The people is plucked grass; can plucked grass grow again?”
Turn, then, thy gaze from the dead, and I will lead
Thee from the graveyard to thy living brothers,
And thou wilt come, with those of shine own breed,
Into the synagogue, and on a day of fasting,
To hear the cry of their agony,
Their weeping everlasting.
Thy skin will grow cold, the hair on thy skin stand up,
And thou wilt be by fear and trembling tossed;
Thus groans a people which is lost.
Look in their hearts—behold a dreary waste,
Where even vengeance can revive no growth,
And yet upon their lips no mighty malediction
Rises, no blasphemous oath.
Are they not real, their bruises? Why is their prayer false? Why, in the day of their trials Approach me with pious ruses, Afflict me with denials? Regard them now, in these their woes: Ululating, lachrymose, Crying from their throes, We have sinned! and Sinned have we!— Self-flagellative with confession’s whips. Their hearts, however, do not believe their lips. Is it, then, possible for shattered limbs to sin? Wherefore their cries imploring, their supplicating din? Speak to them, bid them rage! Let them against me raise the outraged hand,— Let them demand! Demand the retribution for the shamed Of all the centuries and every age! Let fists be flung like stone Against the heavens and the heavenly Throne!
And thou, too, son of man, be part of these:
Believe the pangs of their heart, believe not their litanies:
And when the cantor lifts his voice to cry:
Remember the martyrs, Lord,
Remember the cloven infants, Lord,
Consider the sucklings, Lord,
And when the pillars of the synagogue shall crack
At this his piteous word And terror shall take thee, fling thee in its deep, Then I will harden My heart; I will not let thee weep! Should then a cry escape from thee, I’ll stifle it within thy throat. Let them assoil their tragedy,— Not thou,—let it remain unmourned For distant ages, times remote, But thy tear, son of man, remain unshed! Build thou about it, with thy deadly hate Thy fury and thy rage, unuttered, A wall of copper, the bronze triple plate! So in thy heart it shall remain confined A serpent in its nest—O terrible tear!— Until by thirst and hunger it shall find A breaking of its bond. Then shall it rear Its venomous head, its poisoned fangs, and wait To strike the people of thy love and hate!
Leave now this place at twilight to return
And to behold these creatures who arose
In terror at dawn, at dusk now, drowsing, worn
With weeping, broken in spirit, in darkness shut.
Their lips still move with words unspoken.
Their hearts are broken.
No lustre in the eye, no hoping in the mind,
They grope to seek support they shall not find:
Thus when the oil is gone,
The wick still sends its smoke; Thus does the beast of burden, Broken and old, still bear his yoke. Would that misfortune had left them some small solace Sustaining the soul, consoling their gray hairs ! Behold the fast is ended; the final prayers are said. But why do they tarry now, these mournful congregations? Shall it be also read, The Book of Lamentations? It is a preacher mounts the pulpit now. He opens his mouth, he stutters, stammers. Hark The empty verses from his speaking flow. And not a single mighty word is heard To kindle in the hearts a single spark. The old attend his doctrine, and they nod. The young ones hearken to his speech; they yawn. The mark of death is on their brows; their God Has utterly forsaken every one.
And thou, too, pity them not, nor touch their wound;
Within their cup no further measure pour.
Wherever thou wilt touch, a bruise is found.
Their flesh is wholly sore.
For since they have met pain with resignation
And have made peace with shame,
What shall avail thy consolation?
They are too wretched to evoke thy scorn.
They are too lost thy pity to evoke,
So let them go, then, men to sorrow born,
Mournful and slinking, crushed beneath their yoke.
Go to their homes, and to their hearth depart—
Rot in the bones, corruption in the heart.
And when thou shalt arise upon the morrow
And go upon the highway,
Thou shalt then meet these men destroyed by sorrow,
Sighing and groaning, at the doors of the wealthy
Proclaiming their sores, like so much peddler’s wares,
The one his battered head, t’other limbs unhealthy,
One shows a wounded arm, and one a fracture bares.
And all have eyes that are the eyes of slaves,
Slaves flogged before their masters;
And each one begs, and each one craves:
Reward me, Master, for that my skull is broken
Reward me for my father who was martyred!
The rich ones, all compassion, for the pleas so bartered
Extend them staff and bandage, say good riddance, and
The tale is told:
The paupers are consoled.
Avaunt ye, beggars, to the charnel-house!
The bones of your fathers disinter!
Cram them within your knapsacks, bear
Them on your shoulders, and go forth
To do your business with these precious wares
At all the country fairs!
Stop on the highway, near some populous city,
And spread on your filthy rags
Those martyred bones that issue from your bags, And sing, with raucous voice, your pauper’s ditty! So will you conjure up the pity of the nations, And so their sympathy implore. For you are now as you have been of yore And as you stretched your hand So will you stretch it, And as you have been wretched So are you wretched!
What is thy business here, O son of man?
Rise, to the desert fee!
The cup of affl iction thither bear with thee!
Talc thou thy soul, rend it in many a shred!
With impotent rage, thy heart deform!
Thy tear upon the barren boulders shed!
And send thy bitter cry into the storm!
The Silver Platter by Nathan Alterman
The Earth grows still.
The lurid sky slowly pales
Over smoking borders.
Heartsick, but still living, a people stand by
To greet the uniqueness
Of the miracle.
Readied, they wait beneath the moon.
Wrapped in awesome joy, before the light.
A girl and boy step forward,
And slowly walk before the waiting nation.
In work garb and heavy-shod
Wearing yet the dress of battle, the grime
Of aching day and fire-filled night
Unwashed, weary unto death, not knowing Rest,
But wearing youth like dewdrops in their hair.
–Silently the two approach and stand.
Are they of the quick or of the dead?
Through wondering tears, the people stare.
“Who are you, the silent two?”
And they reply: “We are the silver platter
Upon which the Jewish State was served to you.”
And speaking, fall in shadow at the nation’s Feet.
Let the rest in Israel’s chronicles be told.