These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

My holy tongue

Posted on December 18, 2012 by Avi Benson-Goldberg

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The Earth Harp is my Jerusalem

Walking around Jerusalem by myself fumbling my tongue into the shapes of an ancient language taught me how to live in the modern age.  [cross-posted from my blog]

I’ve had a hard time telling this. Explaining why I left the United States in the beginning of this spring–just as I started to make headway (are temp agencies headway?). I have been unemployed (semi-employed) from the moment I graduated to now. But there’s a difference between being unemployed while in school and being straight unemployed.

I came to Israel in March to hide out. In order to wipe clean the slate I’d somehow dirtied irreparably in only 9 months. I could have at least had a baby. I came to Israel because I knew the language, I thought, and I had found an opportunity to make art. I had an opportunity to write poetry. I was to work hard, day in and day out, and at the end, in September, I was to come home to America, ready to apply to graduate schools with a portfolio I had slaved over.

Instead, I came home for a month before turning around and heading back to Jerusalem. I came home with 5 poems I was proud of in English, and 5 poems I had poured all of myself into in Hebrew. There is no Hebrew poetry market in America. Believe me, I have looked! To many people, too many people, Jerusalem is a city of holiness, a city where people are living some sort of Romanticized religious dream–some sort of oppressive, stifling homogenous society.

My Jerusalem is a place I walked around hoping to be inspired. A place with gay bars, and secret coffeeshops open on Shabbat, and pizzas purchased on the eve of the Fast of the 9th of Av–the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. My Jerusalem is full of public secrets and known mysteries. I have walked over all of my Jerusalem, ridden busses to every corner of this village on the mountain.

Two weeks after I arrived in Jerusalem, worried I had made the wrong choice I found myself on Emek Refaim; the valley of giants. I made eye contact with a sleepy little boy as the sun was setting, and I knew that I had a choice–I knew I had to either expose the insides I had been keeping hidden, or I could keep hiding. But I couldn’t use Hebrew, a language I can’t convincingly lie in, if I wanted to keep myself hidden.

לִילָה בַעֵמֶק

כְּשֶמֶש מִשְתַּקַּעַת, הָאֲבָנִים

בָּעִיר הִזְהִיבוּ מִתַּחַת עֲרָפֵל

אָבָק. אֵם מְשִיכָה

יֵלֵד קָטָן בְּגַבָהּ — טַפִּיל

חָמוּד, גוּר-קוֹפָהּ. עַינַיו

שְחֹרוֹת בּוֹרִים תַּמִצִיתִיִים ואֲנִי

לֹא אוּכָל לִסְבּוֹל מַבָּטוֹ—

הִסְתַּכַּלְתִּי לְמָקוֹם אַחֵר.

אֵין אֹור לְפֶתַע. הִתְנַתַּקְתִּי ו—

אֲנִי הוֹלֵך עוֹד. יָשָר. מְעֻנָּן.

This poem is about that moment. This poem was the first poem I ever wrote in Hebrew. Thanks to Edna Grad for teaching me how to use vowels–I hope that I’ve used the correct ones.
Hebrew is a language of poetry. It is not just a language of a religion, but one of romance, sex, hate; of need. It’s beautiful. It’s the language my heart beats in. That’s too trite. It’s the language that drives my blood stream, and fills it with words I need to draw off like plasma.