Thursday, May 8, 2008

On Israel's 60th Birthday/Amichai's "Jerusalem"

On the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, I think about the incredible founding of the state against all odds, and also the terrible losses that it meant for Palestinians. I also go back to the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, indisputably one of Israel's most important poets. As the celebrations ensue, the fireworks and flags, I think of the complex portrait that Amichai paints in this little poem, "Jerusalem," about what fireworks and flags distract us from.


On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight,
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy,
to wipe off the sweat of his brow.

In the sky of the Old City,
a kite.
At the other end of the string,
a child
I can't see
because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
they have put up many flags.
To make us think that they're happy.
To make them think that we're happy.

(by Yehuda Amichai, from The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell).

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