Israel holds a very special place in the American cultural consciousness. For many, it is a holy land, a promised place where they will finally be accepted. It is a place for pilgrimages and coming-of-age visits. This idea is perhaps best encapsulated in the program “Birth Right,” which provides funds for young Jewish-Americans to visit the Middle Eastern country. This Israel is somewhat of a utopia, made even more dream-like and perfect by its distance, by our infrequent visits.
However, there is another Israel. This Israel is real; it is the stuff of politics and war, battlegrounds both actual and ideological. The beauty of the country is made no less by its contentious political position, but, as Dorit Sasson points out in our newest feature article, there is a schism between the various visions of the country.
In a sense, this schism can be traced down to Israel’s rich past. This is a country seeped with tradition and history. It is a place of poetry and song. In order to understand her view of Israel more fully, Sasson returns to a poem of her childhood, “V’Ulai” by Rachel Blaustein. For her, the gentle poem speaks to the different versions of Israel, the Utopian image, the longing for a dream that never has been, and the reality of a place unfinished, imperfect.
Though I have never been to Israel, reading Sasson’s article, I am reminded of another great poet of Israel: Yehuda Amichai. Amichai was born in Germany, but he spent most of his life living in Israel (both the real country and the dream-land). Like Blaustein, much of his poetry is about his relationship to the relatively-new motherland, but in contrast to Rachel, Yehuda’s poetry is often not fit for children. Indeed, his poetry for Jerusalem often reads like love poetry, words written by a man to a woman. While I cannot speak for Israel, I will always remember Amichai’s words about Jerusalem:
But he who loves Jerusalem
By the tourist book or the prayer book
is like one who loves a woman
By a manual of sex positions.
Join us in nostalgia and melancholy this week by checking out Rachel Blaustein’s Kinneret, A Child’s Poem of Israel.