I. Creation On Fire

In late November 2016 Israel was swept by fires, many of them apparently set by arsonists.  Miraculously, no one was killed.  But the flames destroyed many square miles of lovingly planted trees, hundreds of homes with all the possessions of their owners -- and the studio of the great Israeli artist Yoram Raanan, with 40 years of work.  Most of 2000 paintings are gone with no record; those that were photographed and can be viewed online, give an idea of the magnitude of the loss.  We have called for “ekphrastic” poems on these still-visible images, as a way of absorbing their energy and giving a little of it back, and as a prayer that the artist’s inspiration may rise, as he said after the fire, like a phoenix from the ashes.

There are a number of videos on YouTube, including a studio tour at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GxUbZcbues&t=219s.  and “The Seven Days of Creation” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdn8N6aErMA.  An important essay by Michael Chighel, written just before the fire, analyzing some of Raanan’s masterpieces and assessing their place in Jewish art and art history generally, may be found at http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3507880/jewish/Raanans-Incandescent-Kingdom.htm.  A search for Yoram Raanan on www.chabad.org will bring up some 120 images.  The largest collection of images, which may be purchased as prints, is posted on the painter’s official website, http://www.yoramraanan.com/



I Woke Up Crying This Morning


I cry for the beautiful land, that was green,

but is now black

I cry for the people, frightened,

fleeing from the flames

I cry for the students who have lost their schools,

and for their parents

who have lost their homes

I cry for the firemen, risking their lives.


I cry for the Yeshiva boys

who raced to save the small children in gan,

and returned to save their belongings,

only to see the building in flames,

their books turning to ashes.


I cry for the firemen,

making their way through the smoke and heat

to save the sifrei Torah

as the aron that housed them

was consumed.


I cry for the beautiful animals

the deer, the salamanders, the vultures,

breeding and preparing to live wild again.

Where will they go now?


I cry for those who hate so much

they would rather destroy the land

that they claim to love

than see others take care of it


I cry for the land itself,

for the longing of centuries

that returned its people

to reclaim it,

to nurture it,

to make it bloom again,

to love it,

to see it destroyed,

its green turned to ash,

blackened by hatred.


I cry that my tears are not enough

to drench the parched earth,

to douse the flames,

to extinguish the hate.


I cry.

                        —Yehudit Reishtein



Who by fire?—A Brush With Flames


Is it permissible to weep for things? 
Because I want to sit shiva
for this house that just
went up in flames.
Mourning a most tender 
box of paint.
Mourning the way 
life devastates.

You would tear your shirt too 
if you had 
ever stepped foot 
into that great forum
of form and color
now torn asunder by
flame and fume
and utter hate.

You would’ve dazzled at
the way it was scattered 
with a thousand
the way a king 
scatters diamonds
like a child’s 

A place where honest 
art was made.

It was a structure 
ever-lit-up and 
Like an altar. 
And forgive me if I 
but a eulogy is in order
For a great and epic 
loss of paint.
Honored and exalted 
be Thy Name,

O Master Creator
who gives and takes.
Restore the spirit of creativity 
to this painter
that his expression be but 
deepened and wizened
and all the greater 
because of his tragic 
with flames.

                                 Chaya Kaplan-Lester






No, no one died in the fires

set by our enemies

under the brass heaven

of a rainless November


no one

unless you count

assorted cherubim

throngs under mountains

or in the temple

transfused by light

that queen and king

emerging from the darkness of a canvas

and how many more

how many more

beings that embodied themselves

beneath the painter’s fingers

out of nowhere


how fortunate was the eye that beheld them

when our ears hear of it, our souls languish indeed

they were our exchange

they were our substitute

they were our atonement


they have gone back to the Source


may they appear again

and may we behold

                                  —Esther Cameron






After Yoram Raanan’s paintings that flew, as Torah letters in fire, heavenwards.


In the infinite of God

exist all poems and paintings.

Even the forgotten ones,

even just the thoughts that never materialized.


God is beyond human explanation,

in variations of radiant light.

With emunah faith we devote ourselves,

fortunate to be able to thank and pray.


With words, colors and music

we reach towards His eternal energy.

As we give back, we reflect

that all our art is part of  His manifestation.


Artists derive from the Divine

and absorb these higher messages,

then give creations back to the Source,

who holds them in His infinity.

                                                           —Hayim Abramson






Out of the fire was revealed a special color

no eye had ever gazed on.

It could not be described it could not be

reconstructed even if we mix shades of orange with shades of green and white

And the other colors protested that they too could not be described

if you have not seen the fire of dawn a tiny leaf folded on wet earth

And I said  true you cannot be described either

but there is now a newborn in our midst

may the redeemer come in his days.

                                                      —Tziporah Lifshitz

* At the end of days, all the arms of the armies of Gog shall burn for seven years (see Ezekiel 39:9).



The Master’s Paintings


Scintillating vibrant colors

Formations of other worldly dimensions

The soul’s invitation

To enter into its innermost chambers

Radiating enlightenment

courting with this worldly fire

Yoram guides us to walk the tight rope

of Redemption and insanity

As he rises from the ashes

A new, yet to be revealed beauty awaits us

                                                —Nechama Sara Gila Nadborny-Burgeman



“Jerusalem Landscape”*

            After a painting by Yoram Ra’anan


Perhaps you have stood on this hill

    where young dark poplars, tinted

in blue, command a place on the slope.

     Perhaps you have paused to take in

the stretch of hills before you that compel

     more than a glance, but a restless gaze.


Perhaps you have hiked down one of

    these hospitable valleys reaching

the ground to begin a climb to the next

     hill with its growing greenery, and the gold

present in the huge stones as you come

     by a narrow stream and its delicate waterfall.


No inhabitants or visitors interrupt

     this scene, but the hidden eye, and hand

of the artist who arrives at a landscape

     to step across—this place on earth

which stirs an involuntary, raw

     love that burns a certain fire to paint, to imagine anew.

—Reizel Polak






Shir Hama’alot, the song that ascends

on the hills of Yerushalayim, here and above.

Each House, three will be, a dream of color

and the Jew goes up in kedushah, holiness.


Valleys and hills, the ups and downs of history,

barren and fruitful generations, side by side.

We are surrounded by walls, ancient and new,

yet halachah laws bid us to shape the new world.

                                          —Hayim Abramson




The Promise of Sunset

after a painting “Abstract”* by Yoram Raanan


It appears at dusk on the horizon

slowly slowly.  Falling in the sky

as wispy clouds pass.  My eyes are drawn,

it appears at dusk on the horizon,

as I attend,  engaged.  As they respond,

this mystery that repeats itself each day

it appears at dusk on the horizon

slowly slowly.  Falling in the sky


with red and gold and blue displays.  Above,

endows my mind the rest of the time plays out

the truth of what is me.  Of where I strive,

with red and gold and blue displays. Above,

me.  Projects, recurrent images that revive

a daily miracle that reveals, no doubt,

with red and gold and blue displays. Above,

endows my mind the rest of the time plays out


all through the hours as I progress.

I fill the moments with that radiance

That keeps me going, and I know I’m blessed,

all through the hours.  As I progress.

discover meanings.  As the shadows pass

into the afternoon until days end

all through the hours as I progress.

I fill the moments with that radiance


off to some other venue . . . as I spy

a faint  light in the window.  A newness begins

what I saw earlier, then, a blazing in the sky,

off to some other venue . . . as I spy

what starts again, a miracle.  I understand why—

a cycle repeats itself.  As the globe spins

off to some other venue . . . as I spy

a faint  light in the window.  A newness begins

-- Zev Davis

* http://www.yoramraanan.com/dancer




“Jerusalem Moon light”*


Beyond the cypress trees escorting us

To the wall aglow,

The Temple Mount hiding

Beneath the blue heavenly presence.


Warmed by the gentle light of the moon,

A city golden with glory

In the quiet of the night.

—Yocheved Miriam Zemel




“Jerusalem Menorah”*


I feel it burning

Reaching upward

Bearing the beauty of the Holy City

In gold, pink and red splendour.


Grander than the walls and chapels,

Towering above the trees and walls,

Her rays of light fill the world,

Stretching to the pure blue heavens,

Beaming on the stairway to the sky,

Lighting the earth.


Heart on fire

Spirit of devotion

Flame longing for connection

With the Almighty on high.

—Yocheved Miriam Zemel




“Jerusalem Morning”*


Warm orange and green

Encompassed by rainbow of morning light

Temple mount hidden and glowing.


Blue heaven encircling,

Reflected in the mountains below.

A world encompassed  by light and warmth

In the rainbow of morning light.

Feeling of peace and hope.

—Yocheved Miriam Zemel




Midbar Blue


In Beer Sheva, my grandsons, all blond hair, all brown,

Blue eyes, and eyes like chestnuts, sleep desert dreams.


Silicon fuels sand dunes plus computers, affords traction

To ungulates, graduate students, would-be entrepreneurs.


If you hush, the music of the vacant spaces makes cities

Sing out, effects melodies out of humidity’s emptiness.


The Lord fashioned everything from nothing, erected,

In six days, a universe of possibilities. He then rested.


In the midbar’s cerulean heat, golden radiance, red life,

More than house geckos or snakes race shadow to light.

—KJ Hannah Greenberg




“Rockin’ Horse”*


A hand rocks the cradle,

Back and forth,

A child on a horse

Rides forth,

Back and forth,

The world is not still,

But still it is safe.


Going forward,

The world whirls wilder.

The horse can no longer be contained

Within four walls.

The sky darkens,

A dark shadowy hand

Reaches out, grabs hold

Of the horse’s glowing body.

The horse, looking back,

Cannot escape

Suffering first a loss of memory,

Then a memory of loss.

—Sara DeBeer





“For God will speak one way, yea, in two, though it is not perceived, in a dream, in a night vision …” (Job 33:14)


Inside a stable, mares and stallions sleep.

Although it’s said that horses do not dream,

They toss their forelimbs as they lie and seem

To be immersed in dreams of something deep,

Far deeper than a pile of hay.  They leap

Inside their nightmares towards a light, a beam

Of sunshine bursting through the dark, a gleam

Of day unseen by flocks of docile sheep.


But listen carefully—one stallion has

Awakened and is running on the roof,

Stampeding towards the east, beyond our grief,

Beyond our fear of death, as steadfast as

Tomorrow’s dawn.  I hear the stamping hoof

Of faith, the growing gallop of belief.

                                              —Yakov Azriel

(based on the painting “Flight of the Horse”




For the paintings on the Seven Days of Creation see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdn8N6aErMA and http://www.yoramraanan.com/seven-day-set


Yoram Raanan’s Bible


Why does Raanan’s Day Three

give me extra pause?  The blues,

greens, crimsons blend in other

days of creation, yet the Third

causes me to feel calm and

content.  My eyes look at a

vertical rush of color and I ‘feel’

water, and ‘see’ a path as if

carved by mountains of hue.

Trees with bright leaves combine

autumn and summer and I’m

caught in swirls of Nature.

Turbulence may have been

G-d’s intent as He hurried to

complete His work in one week.

However, this painting sends a

sense of pleasure and beauty with

its snapshot of an incredibly

colorful and yet gentle world.

                           —Lois Greene Stone





Perhaps also a god, Darkness always was

sufficient unto itself, a vast void filling the universe


until G-d brought forth an equal force called Light

which flashed and crackled as it tore through space.


Radiant as fire, Light grew dazzling and scorching hot.

Darkness and Light stared each other down


like ancient armies across a battlefield strewn

with expiring stars, shuddering clumps of wounded char.


Darkness hid in deep places Light would not enter.

Light spat lightning.  Darkness instantly closed


over the rent.  They met only at dawn and dusk

locked in an eternal dance.   As Light spread


forward, Darkness flowed behind, oozing restlessly

like black oil.  Around the earth with its fickle turning,


the daily ritual:  sunrise follows sunset, the night

the day.  Advance, retreat.  Victory, defeat.

 —Sarah Brown Weitzman





What was  it like

        on that first day

             in the cold

                 in the dark?


When did the music start

       the dance of gases

            in the arms

                of dust


a dervish of heat flung out

     from the sun

           a molten mass



and churning in fires

      of longing

            for the rest

                 of itself?


Like froth on the surface

       of a boiling pot

            did a crust

                 rise up


a rim for the globe?

      But how did it smell

            this earth

                 without grass?


How hot was that fog

       blocking out light




Did centuries of rain

       then lower the land

            until oceans

                  swept over                                                        


the scar left by the moon

      swept over

           the land, swept

                 over the globe


and round it again?

       How did it sound

            the crack that set

                  seven continents


 adrift?  How did it feel

       the sudden jolt

            of eons

                  of cooling

contracting the world

     shriveling the globe

           like rotting

                 does fruit?


As wrinkles that sprout

      on the skin

          of a peach

                did mountains


surge up that kept in the sea

      forms fermenting

           that breathed

                in ammonia


and dreaded what’s

      presently our air?

           How did it look

                to them


when the second coming

      of the sun


                 the poison                                          


of oxygen?  Did a great

      silence follow

         of ice

             when everything


died?  Was it a Friday

     as we have read

          when the ice



and somewhere beneath, the slime

     stirred?  Was this

          the beginning

               of us?

                 —Sarah Brown Weitzman





darkness prevails

then suddenly—light

and light begets color

pearly cloud jewels

set in celestial blues

yet more to come:

color reveals in land forms,

leafy, mossy,  grassy greens

and all that creeps upon

the  rust, gray, tan, brown, sandy earth,

its legions of rocks all hues and shades.


glowing luminaries appear:

sun unveils land

in peachy shades

of blushing dawn;

time-keeper moon

shines on glistening indigo seas

and beneath, creatures flit ablaze

in skins of silver, turquoise, cobalt, gold,

above, flying feathered rainbows soar.

on land, by divine design,

striped, spotted, dappled beasts

meander in herds, packs, prides

in deserts, jungles, forests, fields


and we who speak

with eyes to see

and hands to paint





Paradise of Blue


Lost in a paradise of blue

Dream in full daylight

Call to You

Through water, sky

The hither and thither

Up and down

In and out

With the wind


Inside a kingdom of my own

Where You sit me on a throne

My creations strewn

On endless floors hewn


Help me keep my book open

My children

My writing

My cooking

My home


My succah ablaze

Lion in a corner


The shimmering lamb

In the flashing, flickering

Then fading light.

                                      —Mindy Aber Barad




Birds and fishes

as angels of light,

thousands upon thousands

in unending motion and flight.


They come in a cascade

of a thousand colors.

The emotions of life,

flashing before of our eyes.


Our mind cannot hold


and their wonder— 

only the heart.

                                   —Hayim Abramson





Shabbat lights illuminate

and spread across the world.

The Jew becomes a beacon,

reaching higher with his soul.


The Divine glow from above

ignites the Neshamah soul below.

Then we sing, ascending

the Temple steps of our heart.

                                              —Hayim Abramson



The Divine Symphony

Dedicated to the artist Yoram Raanan


“The saintly lover of God acts as the foundation of the cosmos. The whole world joins in his ascent motivated by his dynamic inner personality.”

Orot HaTorah, Rav Avraham Yitachak Ha’Cohen Kook referring to the Ba’al Shem Tov.


Ba’al Shem Tov – 1700 – 1760

Beethoven – 1770 – 1827

Mozart – 1756 - 1791


When clouds lay bare a moonlit sky

like fireflies born of the unbroken beam of celestial light

divine sparks cast up the heart

to repair the fragmented world.


The Ba’al Shem Tov, sent to temporal time

to elevate the mundane, to open the portal to dormant wonders,

infused with the radiant word of God

the dark and the inarticulate.


Then men were born whose passion

to script the human soul brought forth

music of the spheres, the stars

the moon and the grandeur of the earth.


Then a man will be born to redeem with his music

each stroke of the human spirit

the sorrows, joys and suffering

that echo the Divine Symphony. 

                   —Shira Twersky-Cassel






they stand


each in his shadow


(which one is




as we walk toward this picture

we feel on our faces the glare

from the lava-core of Creation

and the Aleph inscribed in all being

brands itself on the field of vision

behind our eyes


we see

and help each other see


(behind us

the sea drawn up, down, up

not by wind

not by moon

not by heave of earth**


and behind that, Egypt

where fiery ice fell***)


for proof

that it happened

we have the memory

of generations


and this sight, beamed

from beyond time

                            —Esther Cameron

*http://www.yoramraanan.com/fire?lightbox=image1rm4 This painting, thankfully, survives. 

** http://www.yoramraanan.com/biblical-?lightbox=imagethv



Crossing the Red Sea*

            (painting by Yoram Ranaan)


The canyon of the waves, blue walls that rose

on either side of the fleeing horde, reached up

to touch diminished sky.  A stream of clouds

foaming and rushing, crested by the wind

that moved the people through, seemed poised to fall

and wash them away.  A terror of their God,

and praise for His great strength, echoed and swelled

to song, to laughter, wailing—only one

small boy, his hand crushed in his mother’s hand,

stared in silent wonder at a fish

which, gape-eyed and with rapid-flapping mouth,

stared back at him, blew prayers in bubbles to

some sea-deep God for mercy from this plague.

A flood of people surged and pushed him on

past shadows on either side that loomed and fled.

                                                                      —JB Mulligan

* http://www.yoramraanan.com/biblical-?lightbox=imagethv



The light shining in the forest at night

 (inspired by Yoram Raanan’s painting “Esther”**)


The first to awaken was Esther the queen

Only a mist-cloaked moon gleamed through her window

The night was cold, the floor smooth and hard under her slippered feet

She woke her attendants, she gathered her maidens

“O faithful ones, arise for a small repast. For from this sunrise until three days have passed, we must repent and refrain from all food. No drink must pass our lips. This you must do for me.”

The girls bowed and made obeisance to their mistress, to their beloved queen

Then she departed from them, silently finding her way in the darkened hallway

Down, down she went to an iron gate, opening to a secret garden

Away, away, past fragrant flowers and bubbling fountains

Into the forest of the night she ventured

She passed the blue-berried juniper, the thorny ficus, the tall cedar, the red-barked katlav

Under a row of white willows she sat and wept

“Protect me!” she cried

For three days and nights she sat beneath the willow, until she and the tree were as one

Only G-d heard her prayers, only the Eternal One watched her

The creatures of the forest did not approach her, no wolf or jackal disturbed her

As dawn broke on the third day, she felt a great light shine on her and through her

“My name is Esther, no, Hadassah, Esther-Hadassah,” she whispered, over and over again

She rose with a prayer of thanksgiving to the Almighty and walked back through the woods,

through the garden gate into the palace, to greet the king,

to meet her destiny, to save her people

—Brenda Appelbaum-Golani

6 December 2016/6 Kislev 5777



[6214] “ESTHER”**


We touch our Tehilim book

and the pages open to Psalm 22.

Queen Esther is there, bidding us

to wake up with the Morning Star.


A real fairy tale of green hope,

her royal diadem rests on a wise head.

She walks, praying to God, pleading,

“Do not abandon your people.”


Her every step, an angelic emerald

of modesty and understanding.

She dresses with heavenly light

inside her soul, and all can sense her worth.


There are steps to the forbidden throne

and she dares to climb them, unbidden.

God guides her way

to save her people for all generations to come.

—Hayim Abramson



On “Tent of Peace”***

(A painting by Yoram Raanan)


By the painter’s hand

Feel the diagonal slants

Of deep blue calm covering

Specked light surrounding

Darkly robed figures

Gathered together within

A white pool of peace

As one upward-raised

Hand acknowledges

The hidden vertex

Both shelter and source.

                                             —Connie S. Tettenborn

*** http://www.yoramraanan.com/tent-of-peace



Hakhel 5774: The Menorah*


Strands of gold, baubles of brightness, all lifting upward

Beyond—a background of purple darkness,

Within, spectacular  light emerges, reaching to the heavens

Fragments of brilliance, swashes of light,

Surrounding an impervious cavity of nothingness,


The mystery of holiness pervades,

It enters our souls.

It summons us to reach higher,

We feel the light reaching toward us

To climb within its chambers,


We are encompassed by its majesty,

But stand aside in awe of its power,

All senses unite, feeling its grandeur .

We embrace its glory with our bodies and souls.

We feel the warmth of its splendour.

—Yocheved Miriam Zemel

* http://www.yoramraanan.com/parsha-of-the-week-5774?lightbox=i20l7c



[6216] THE MENORAH (2) “BEHA’ALOTCHA 5775”*


The simchah joy of living of the painter Raanan

comes out to play in every dot everywhere.

The light of the Menorah is reflected thousand-fold

in triangles to the square, the dramatic increase of life.


There is the earthy brown base of this world

and building upon that the blue stars

that are splashes of the spiritual infinite.

Both are united in the diamond shine of the Menorah.

—Hayim Abramson

* http://www.yoramraanan.com/parsha-of-the-week-5774?lightbox=i20l7c




Fiery Sounds

a poem to honor the paintings of Yoram Raanan


Gold, magenta and ghostly whites

sung your vision upward

before the fire.


You excavated depths of soul

with brush and an ear

tuned to secrets of the Torah.


Few could translate

holy words into

soaring sight.


You did.




of hatred devoured

all you held dear,

all you conjured


up for us with love.

Despoiled, your

canvases are now


an ashen heap.

Lean in close:

from the mouth


of disaster rises

a new symphony,

a prayer


in the purified tongue

of Jewish recollection--

nothing but fiery sounds.

                                    —Vera Schwarcz



Of The Temple Menorah


Seven lit candles

call to mind the full radiance of Raanan’s studio

just before the fire.



loss smolders in a heap of ash,     in the terrible irony

of flame

extinguishing flames—                

Israel:  May you draw your first comfort

from memories of Raanan’s flickering gold,


      for light and warmth will grow, then soothe

      you,                       even as

      teardrops burn.

—Cynthia Weber Nankee

December, 2016






The light of your art

only now seen darkly

in a blackened snapshot

will emerge from the ashes

as an urgent tragedy of Job

in his seasons of waiting

was for a taught lesson

in Torah,

your art

being humanly universal

in figurative paintings

like the “Lion of Judah”*

now faintly icy blue

yellowish and charred

who lives in our Torah

and on the Menorah

cannot be roped off

for those who love Zion

in a repository of tapestries

not drained of color

for your art memory

will return again

in editorial honor

at your pictorial space

to do over

from your genius part,

you will be robed

in linen over

the shapes of your canvas

reminding us in a memorial

of the saintly sages

and insurgent predecessors

of rabbis, dreamers

and stories of fiddler’s acts

also robbed of our history

by the Shoah,

or seen in a rock of ages

here before Chanukah

upon a remnant of those

who remain for the task

of remembrance

from unsung choirs

of more than forty years

in a voicing chorus

of a liturgy and litany

in your memoir of abstracts.

                                —B.Z. Niditch


* http://www.yoramraanan.com/single-post/2015/12/28/The-Lion-of-Judah



Yoram’s appearance


Your now patched

up canvases

merely appear as a gesture

in a Joseph’s dream

of dreams

for you are a poet

of culture, it seems

in whose drawings

will outlive

any conduit of exile

or long suffering

with your ruddy

abstract paintings

inflamed by arson culprits

now on trial

they who have put your art

into the well of a pit

like Joseph

do not know the conscience

of their acts

but your coats

of many faint colors

will be shown to dwell

from a silent honor

in those who love Israel.

                                  —B.Z. Niditch



Prayer for Yoram Raanan

                after Raanan Studio Tour Panorama, June 2013


One views your impressionistic paintings

as one walks through the great halls of our spirit,

the columns of the practice of belief

lining the myriad mirrored visage


of our own colorful becoming and being.

Who enters your painting accesses their soul,

such iconic burning candelabra,

the holographic dove of peace, hovering,


providing resistance against reprisals for all of us.

What inspiration for us to choose

whether we may take retribution or not

before we follow the hallway with many


doors leading to our own tomb,

but it is in your reproducing

those crystalline goblets in oil,

that fills us with so much light,


at least as much as they hold

and allow to pass through so much so

that they chime with their own

illumination, which then intones our own.


How you gild sacred tincture to

the illustrated boards of a book of scriptures.

May the lights of your lavish Menorahs

burn within us for all of our days.


May their twinkling candles

always illumine our darkest hours,

as does the plentitude of luminous schools of

fish you have painted swim through


the inviolate blue of the ocean you envisioned.

How can we ever walk away

without forever being augmented after

viewing your painting of Esther, emerald queen


of deliverance from injustice,

suggestive of the irradiated mystical

painting of Gustave Moreau,

eliciting spiritual luster among the heavier elements,


not without flecks of gold reminiscent of

the illuminated fish of Paul Klee,

but it is the painting of the resilient soul, our true self,

portrayed as crystal arc in human form,


who is bolstered upon blue rays of light

in bright bands which lifts us up

in our own leap of exuberance,

in ever discovering the delight within, the joy without.


The perpetual transcendent not merely

emblematic, but alive, resurrecting itself

out of the flames that ravaged two thousand

of your paintings, whose fiery ash


sparked up amid the devastation among

the forest only to see you rise up, along with us,

to paint the light again in broad strokes

upon which there shines a path through the shadows.

                               —Wally Swist





The end of November was a hard time.

I hadn’t been watching the news;

I was trying to finish a long poem on the environment

which argued among other things that the nations

are not going to sort out the problems of the earth

unless they can come to terms with Israel,

because adam (man) and adamah (earth) are linked

and adam (as made, that is, in the image of G-d)

is sort of Israel’s specialty, despite

all the knockoffs that are giving us so much trouble.

Being thus preoccupied it was late Thursday

before I realized our land was in flames.

Then I heard about the paintings of Yoram Raanan.


I’d seen digital images on chabad.org,

but hadn’t quite focused on them, the way one doesn’t always,

as Mitchell said, know what one has got till it’s gone.

So then I look the studio tour on line

and read Michael Chighel’s essay, which explains

just what those paintings meant for Jewish art

and art in general, and did then see

the gift that was given and then snatched away.

Raanan himself, I gather, has called attention

to the fact that in his paintings there’s a lot

of fire.  Holy fire.  In the Temple, on the mountain

to which his paintings bring us back.  The fire

that can fuse souls, forge a vessel to receive

the power that could pour in from the Creator

and give us strength to fix what must be fixed,

face down what rears against us. 

                                                             Life itself

is fire.  We burn our food to make the forms

that hold the soul’s transcendent flame.  Without

that energy things fall apart.  The will


                   It was one loss amid so many.

People lost their homes, all their possessions,

letters, pictures, all evidence of their past.

At least no lives were lost, thank G-d.  But these

things too are life.  And in such visions as

appeared upon those canvases—the ones

of which we have these images, the ones

that now are only in G-d’s memory—

some of the energy that fuels the life

of Israel and of humanity

had been stored up. 

                                        And should have been released,

poured forth to activate, inspire, inform.


And has then something of it been released

in this most awful fashion?  He himself, with wry

bravery, remarked upon G-d’s kindness

in making him thus famous before death.

The flash of their combustion showed to us

these images, perhaps cracked our hearts open

to take in something of their warmth and light—

disaster offers us at least this gift

though dwarfed by the proportions of the lost.

O could we but absorb even a drop

of what was spilled, what might not be made new?


The days roll on, and bring us other news.

If our foes set, indeed, those fires, those fires

were seconded by international vote

pouring out blame where once they gave us blessing,

with hate only a holy fire might quench,

could such be found.  It could appear that all

Creation’s ill was visited on us. 

Whatever part was played by human malice,

the fires were also set by wind and drought –

which is possibly not a matter of one bad year

but of a change in climate, brought about

by burning of the remnants of old life

that fuels man’s life, now grown so artificial,

bound to material fatalities

material cunning only reinforces.

We have been eating of the Tree of Knowledge

and cannot wean ourselves of lethal food.


I once imagined—it was long ago,

before I moved, or thought of moving here—

that the great danger to our common home

would bring us back to Sinai—not just us

but everyone.  We’d need to find a fire

that could fuse souls and minds, could help us see

eye to eye to eye, till the great task

and every person’s part in it, comes clear.

It doesn’t seem like something human beings

could ever rise to, unless they were lifted

by spiritual force we can’t conceive.

Well, in one picture that was flashed before us*

I thought I almost saw what it might be.


It hardly seems worth writing all this down.

In the real world our friends and those of Earth

fight and malign each other, each side choosing

what part of truth it’s useful to ignore,

as everywhere effectiveness must wait

upon expedience.  That is this world.

But we must hope, as we have always hoped

that He who in the light of His countenance

once gave us laws of life, will once again

reveal Himself.  We pray with confidence

that Raanan will find fresh inspiration

and his new works a doubly-grateful welcome;

meanwhile we try to cup the holy sparks

that fell into our minds from this great burning.

                       —Esther Cameron

*”Mount Sinai II” (see above and back cover), which was sold before the fire and, thankfully, survives.