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Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem's Poetic Voice: Yehuda Amichai | Adi Peled UJS

Marking Jerusalem Day, UJS shlicha Adi Peled commemorates the works of Israel's famous poet Yehuda Amichai and expresses what the holy city means to her

Adi's piece

When I chose to study in Jerusalem, I didn't know how much this city would become a part of my identity as an Israeli Jew. The decision to study and live in Jerusalem was made with the intention of being close to the place where everything happened. I studied politics and communication and there is no other place in Israel that helps me learn and stay close like Jerusalem does. Nothing prepared me for the complexity of Jerusalem; I realized that I didn't truly know my capital city. The way of life is much different from the way I grew up, and daily conversations are not similar at all. As time passed, I learned to appreciate how unique Jerusalem is. I joined different groups and got to know the people who live here. I found a sense of belonging with a group of individuals who gave me a home away from home. There is a sense in Jerusalem that cannot be replicated anywhere else. There aren't many words that can describe how unique this city is. During my time in Jerusalem, I became familiar with the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, and his perspective on Jerusalem felt like he was describing something similar to what I see. Even though he passed away a few years ago, his words made it feel like he was describing things from a current perspective, and even the things that are less relevant to the times feel like they present the story of the Jerusalem of then, and the stories of many Jerusalemites.

Up to this day, Yehuda Amichai remains one of Israel's most beloved poets. His unique way of viewing Israel as a whole and Jerusalem specifically, is remembered and cherished by many. Even today, many young people see him as a Jerusalemite voice that describes their love for the city.

Yehuda Amichai has been Israel's best-known poet and the most widely translated. He was born in Wurzburg, Germany, in 1924, and immigrated with his family to Palestine in 1936. Although his upbringing was religious, upon reaching maturity Amichai became secular. At university he studied Biblical texts and Hebrew literature. W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas influenced Amichai's poems. Sketching from various strata of language - from Biblical, Talmudic and classical to post-modern Hebrew - Amichai was a magician of words. Much of his work is autobiographical. "My personal history has coincided with a larger history," he said. "For me it's always been one and the same." Ted Hughes made Amichai's work known to English and American readers. His poetry has been translated into 33 languages and his readings draw large crowds in Germany (German was his native language) and all over the United States. In many of his poems that are addressed to Jerusalem, Amichai express his deep love to the city, its history and commoners, while showing disgust and repulsion toward its politicians and agitators.

Poems by Yehuda Amichai

If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem

If I forget thee, Jerusalem,
Then let my right be forgotten.
Let my right be forgotten, and my left remember.
Let my left remember, and your right close
And your mouth open near the gate.
I shall remember Jerusalem
And forget the forest -- my love will remember,
Will open her hair, will close my window,
will forget my right,
Will forget my left.
If the west wind does not come
I'll never forgive the walls,
Or the sea, or myself.
Should my right forget
My left shall forgive,
I shall forget all water,
I shall forget my mother.
If I forget thee, Jerusalem,
Let my blood be forgotten.
I shall touch your forehead,
Forget my own,
My voice change
For the second and last time
To the most terrible of voices --
Or silence.

Jerusalem is a port city

Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity
The Temple Mount is a great ship, a pleasure yawl
In splendor.
From the portholes of her Wailing Wall, jubilant saints
Peer like passengers. Hasidim on the pier wave
Goodbye, yelling hurrah, bon voyage. She
Is always docking, always embarking.
And the fences and docks
And policemen and flags and churches' high masts
And the mosques and the smokestacks of synagogues and the chanteys
Of praise and mountain-billows.
The ram's horn sounds out sunset: one more
Has set sail.
Yom Kippur sailors in white uniforms
Ascend between the ropes and ladders of tried-and-true prayers.
And the profits of market and gates and goldencap domes:
Jerusalem is the Venice of God.

The city plays hide and seek among its names,
Jerusalem, Al-Quds, Shalem, Giro, Yero,
Whispers: Jebus, Jebus, Jebus, in the dark.
Crying with longing: to her, Capitolina, to her, to her.
She comes to everyone who calls to her
Alone at night. But we know
Who comes to whom.

Ecology of Jerusalem

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers
and dreams
like the air over industrial cities.
It's hard to breathe.
And from time to time a new shipment of history
and the houses and towers are its packing materials.
Later these are discarded and piled up in dumps.
And sometimes candles arrive instead of people
and then it's quiet.
And sometimes people come instead of candles
and then there's noise.
And in enclosed gardens heavy with jasmine
foreign consulates,
like wicked brides that have been rejected,
lie in wait for their moment.

View of Jerusalem

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.