III. The Song of the Land
Jacob’s already broken heart beyond repair,
for his heart, so heavy with despair
could no longer leap for joy,
his brothers did not dare approach their father,
and so again, but this time with love, they conspired,
about how to convey the news
that Joseph was alive.
It was decided, Serach, Asher’s daughter,
would sit outside Jacob’s tent and with her harp
weave Joseph’s story into a melody.
Her sweet voice, which charmed the dove from its nest,
and the bees from their hive
would prepare him gently.
For O the bitter irony if he should die
without seeing his precious Joseph,
the boy whose dreams were prophecy.
At first Jacob was overcome with disbelief.
Joseph in Egypt, the Pharoah’s Viceroy,
revered far and wide and crowned with glory.
for the plan he devised so Egypt would survive.
“Oh grandfather,” she sang with all her heart and soul,
her voice becoming bold, her nimble fingers on the strings,
until he was slowly unburdened of his grief.
“Your beloved son Joseph, the dreamer, is alive.
The boy is now a man before whom all the world bows down.”
And Jacob listened till her words rang true, and his heart revived.
On the last note his sons broke the news
and confirmed that what he heard was not a fantasy,
that soon Joseph would arrive and lead his family,
seventy souls and all that was theirs,
with pomp and ceremony to Goshen where they would sojourn
for many years until the Exodus.
And on the wings of Serach’s song, the Shechinah,
who could not abide with Jacob’s tears,
but who delights in bliss, could again dwell in Jacob’s breast.
We are told that for this kindness Serach was blessed
to live for centuries, that after many years, beneath the stars
beside the endless desert dunes, she calmed her people’s fears,
and with her melodies restored their memories of God’s promises.
We are told that for her kindness, Serach never died,
but with her harp entered Eden like the girl she was.
Sometimes when a soft, sweet wind
sings over the hills of Jerusalem, it’s as if in Eden
she is playing still and we are given just a taste
of what awaits us at the end of days.
I cannot help but dream her song will fill our ears
and soothe our hearts from the terrors we have yet to know
and comfort us before Mashiach comes.
In 1190 no bells clanged when,
unprotected by a Christian or a Hebrew God,
York’s Jews huddled, needing a miracle
to save them from a mob.
Today pilgrims carry wooden crosses
through its narrow streets. A chatty English woman
guides me past teashops to the top
of the medieval wall, a municipal walkway now.
“Not one of our proudest moments,”
she says. A flag shakes over this parapet
like the prayer shawl of the rabbi
who killed his flock, then leaped from the tower.
When I walk to my car, York Minster’s bells ring out.
Marc Chagall’s I and the Village, 1911
I paint my father,
flail on his shoulder,
walking uphill toward my mother,
her hands outstretched,
as she dances upside down.
I put a woman inside a cow,
milking it, add a blue sky
and a goose down cloud.
Then the town church, cross on top,
and another cross on a necklace
worn around the neck
of the big green face.
His finger-nailed hand holds
a grape cluster like those in our garden.
As if I could stop
the annihilation to come,
with my canvas,
I keep Vitebsk in my heart.
Star of David's Dome
Tiffany stained glass ceiling window,
dominates the Free Synagogue of Flushing, Queens.
Ceiling stain glass emits
A burst of auspicious rays of Life,
blue, yellow, green, white.
Star of David gleams gracious golden light.
The night is a day.
Day silently glows dignified holy bright.
Breathe life into this congregation.
Guard this sacred site.
—Vincent J. Tomeo
THE OLD COUNTRY
Jacob told his wives about the “Old Country”—
I left my parents there, he said,
in the land engraved upon my father’s heart,
the land where the songs of angels echoed,
a land kissed by Heaven.
His sigh brimmed with yearning.
This is the Land, he told them,
to which I must return.
Naomi told Ruth about the “Old Country”—
it was good before the famine, she said,
There, we had community;
there, our prayers could gather
rise and enter Heaven. She sighed.
Her sigh surged from the depths of her soul.
What have I here, she shrugged.
To my home-town I must return.
Mordecai told Esther about the “Old Country”—
there, in the land of miracles, I saw
rays from the windows of the House
that bathed Jerusalem in light.
He heaved a heavy sigh
that welled from the recesses of his heart.
This is the place, he told her,
to which I dream to return.
And now, with our return, the Old Country is renewed
and Jerusalem is again bathed in light,
the unique light that shines from Jerusalem
and spreads forth to the four corners of the world.
A GARDEN IN JERUSALEM
In the States,
gardening was relegated to yard boys.
Perennials planted by previous owners
came and went
admired or ignored.
I did no planting
except in a dream.
Every year in early spring,
past fear of frost,
when the ground is soft
I dream I start a garden.
I dream of desire with no hesitation.
I am not belated.
One season follows another
with no chaotic rupture.
No illness. No Death.
Unafraid to risk,
I reach into the dark loam
and leave a seed,
confident of growth.
My smallest yard,
a ten-by-twelve walled enclosure
pulls me with the force of its gravity.
Now it is a catch-all for debris that blows in on the hot wind.
Drought marks our first three years.
The earth is deeply cracked in odd formations.
I peer at it to decipher a strange calligraphy,
to detect signs for a new life.
I observe the landscape for hours.
I wait for time to burn familiarity in me.
I search for the flag on the map that says:
you are here
Before me stretch the Judean Hills.
Slopes interlock like shoulders in dance.
In the distance a donkey brays.
Wood smoke rises against the pale dawn.
With the passion of an immigrant,
I study my position in every light.
Early morning sunlight dapples the floor of pine forests.
At noon, the sun is so strong no secret survives.
Later, light mingles with dusk
at the instant named between-the-suns,
at the last minute for afternoon prayer.
Finally, sun pours salt on a horizon
that loosens its contours in sleep.
Afternoons, the sky changes.
Clouds gather and move.
Do I smell rain,
or do I extract the smell of rain from cloud memory?
Every day, my olfactory illusion bursts.
One night I dream it rains.
The land receives it like a kiss from an ancient mother.
Hills zoom into view.
Glistening bones rise from under the earth’s surface.
They dot the horizon,
give new shape to its relief.
I move among the bounty of traces.
I divine history from skeletal hints.
Vestiges weave back into the sacred text: “These dry bones…
breathe life into them...and I will set them upon their land…”
The land bursts with the molecular makeup of memory.
Every particle of earth is encoded with the stories of ancestors.
I share in their epic arrival.
I arrive in my longing.
I am here.
I am no longer there
wishing I were here.
I will plant a garden,
its heart and its borders,
pungent herbs and fragrant blossoms.
First, I stack the refuse
and set fire to it.
At this make-shift altar,
I risk myself.
Old scars fall away.
Doubts burn off.
I wave my hands over the flames.
Idiomatic sparks scatter in seventy directions
I reach out to catch them.
— Judy Belsky
BETWEEN THE TIMES*
Between the times
the sounds of the house of study are muted
the pages of the books are subdued
the holy volumes are closed
With eager steps
the students go out
to the fields of freedom
there is no light in the house of study
the majestic building
is not illuminated
in the darkness it melts
into particles of energy
Between the times
is the time
to read between the letters
between the lines
between the books
beyond the words
A time of quiet
The house of study listens
The letters of the Torah
new insights are born
between the chinks from within the walls
the rush of doves' wings hovers
is heard in the hall
as if to revive the voices
heard constantly in the house of study
No one enters no one leaves
the still small voice is heard
The lofty melody of Sabbath eve
before the rabbi's sermon
which rises and raises
souls on high
sounds without sound
scatters and is absorbed in the walls
At the time of redemption
surrounding light -- holiness
wrapped in a pure aura
from within the holy ark
A perfect Torah will be heard
toward a repaired world
a world of wonder
of fresh-flowing springs
from beyond time and the times
*”Between the Times” is the yeshiva way of saying “between semesters.”
Rock Speaks to Jacob
There is a haven in me a cleft
where solitude hides and waits for want
and when it calls— it’s not
a siren song its voice is longing
and for that sheltered offering for you
some rocks will split other rocks
with their shaved edges or with their spite
shift the ridge you thought stable
some kicked loose by the recklessness of water
are flung between planets come home
honed and hallowed like prodigal children
some sift down to embers stay hot for eons
hold old disturbances then whisper by whisper
they climb back over themselves
until they cover the sun
so Jacob lay down your head
on this pillow of shale it will give you to sleep
and though when you wake
the stone is a stone the mountain has forsaken
and water has drowned the sand
your dream will last ten thousand thousand years
POEMS FROM MEITARIM
In the summer of 2017 an exhibition of art and poetry was held in Meitarim, in the hills south of Hevron, in memory of Michael Mark hy”d, murdered in a drive-by shooting on July 1, 2016. Following are some of the poems included (all originally in Hebrew, translations EC).
SEDER NIGHT 2017
You are not here
everything says so
I washed the house
with tears and grief
I polished the dishes
with the light that is missing
you are not here
everything is silent about it
The holiday called to you
I opened a door
for the sea was already split
and the heart torn
and we counted four four
winds of heaven
and pangs of birth
everything is set up and ready
knocks on the door
again and again
and refuses to sit down
at the seder
THE OUTCAST HEART
If the world had an ear it would hear
a call of heroism a call of praise
to touch the heart
if it had a heart and its eye
if it had an eye would fill with tears
and grow clear enough to see
to envision the image of a man still visible in the crater
he left behind and his absence is still fruitful
and this image would radiate to the brain
if it had a brain
and the brain would signal
to the heart not to grow faint
to the back not to bend
to the hands to fight and build fences
lest evil flood the world
the hole of the outcast heart
cries out to heaven
A song in my mouth and it is
the song of an orphan
hurting and missing
it will not be sung to the end
A tear on my cheek
and from it is seen
the destruction of the world
in pain and sadness
how beloved souls
are lost to them
dug in blood
crowned with radiance
and eternal beauty
Mountains of Judea
and mountains of Samaria
hush a last song
for rain and dew
for upon you is the blood of my dead
of the faithful of the lovely Land
and your song will be magnified and sanctified
when I bring my slain into your earth
ORPHAN, REED AND CEDAR
to the craftsman,
behold his wrath
and be calm.
Look at him
Come and go with the winds
of the storm,
breathe their breath,
be happy in your happiness,
peel off some of your rudeness
and be still.
This was his will
and you are faced with it.
a reed for your pen,
stand and gather
the letters that flew off in the wind of the burning
and write yourself a new Torah,
one that redeems.
EVEN IF I WALK
Even when I walk
between green fields
among red poppies in bloom
I feel your chains
Even if I run free on the shore
gaze at the infinite horizon
I feel your fetters
From a stolen glance at you
through the barred window
I know your secrets
The bars go with me
by night, by day,
knotted around my neck
like a scarf of suffering
towers and walls
you built with the labor of your hands
to keep your loved ones at a distance
and you abandoned me from your narrow world
which is confusing and hidden
even when I walk
between high tide and low tide
I will try to release myself
from slavery to freedom.
 THE SONG OF THE LAND
We submit that the world is kind
as it surges forth the song of the Land.
It is there for those who have the sense
to heed her call.