Monday, May 9, 2011

Israel Independence Day

Israel's Independence Day falls on various dates, according to the Jewish calendar: 5 Iyer, this year, today May 9. The official declaration of a Jewish state was May 14, 1948.

After more than 60 years, many Jews feel conflicted about issues to do with Israel. Many things have changed; public opinion has changed. Israel has become a touchstone for anti-Jewish hatred, on the rise again. In 1948, much was different.

I can only imagine the range of emotions that were felt in 1948 by American Jews who were still dealing with the full revelation of the Holocaust. In trying to imagine what the state of Israel meant to them, I find insight in this poem by Karl Shapiro:

When I think of the liberation of Palestine,
When my eye conceives the great black English line
Spanning world news of two thousand years,
My heart leaps forward like a hungry dog,
My heart is thrown back in its tangled chain,
My soul is hangdog in a Western chair.

When I think of the battle for Zion I hear
The drop of chains, the starting forth of feet,
And I remain chained in a Western chair.
My blood beats like a bird against a wall,
I feel the weight of prisons in my skull
Falling away; my forebears stare through stone.

When I see the name of Israel high in print
The fences crumble in my flesh;
I sink Deep in a Western chair and rest my soul.
I look the stranger clear to the blue depths
Of his unclouded eye. I say my name
Aloud for the first time unconsciously.

Speak of the tillage of a million heads
No more. Speak of the evil myth no more
Of one who harried Jesus on his way
Saying, Go faster. Speak no more
Of the Yellow badge, secta nefaria.
Speak only the name of the living land.

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