Kalei­do­scope: Three Poets from Israel

Ory Bern­stein, Raquel Chal­fi & Shi­mon Adaf
  • Review
By – October 20, 2015

A kalei­do­scope, as this book is enti­tled, is an instru­ment show­ing many dif­fer­ent pat­terns of con­tin­u­ing chang­ing forms, sug­gesting that poets Raquel Chal­fi, Ory Bern­stein, and Shi­mon Adaf are illus­tra­tive of just that. Drawn from three gen­er­a­tions of Israeli poets, their writ­ing rep­re­sents to us, as the edi­tor Howard Astor states, the foot­prints” of their per­son­al lit­er­a­ture, hope­ful­ly over time to reflect those of the nation. 

Raquel Chal­fi, already an award-win­ning short sto­ry writer when she began writ­ing poet­ry in 1975, con­tin­ues to write compas­sionately of life, com­bin­ing artis­tic sen­si­tiv­i­ty and humor. The Water Queen of Jerusalem/​has a bathing suit made of Yid­dish”) Her poems Ele­gy for a Friend Who has Lost her Mind,” Time, that Won­der­ful Wild Horse,” and her nine poems with a form of witch­ery” in the title, are at once beguil­ing and seduc­tive, as are her many allu­sions to non-human crea­tures: the chameleon, the bar­racu­da, the por­cu­pine. Her qui­et poem The love of trees” ends on an ele­giac note: There’s noth­ing like a qui­et hug with a large tree/​to chase away/​the demons.” 

Ory Bern­stein, born in 1936 devel­oped a law prac­tice spe­cial­iz­ing in crim­i­nal law when already a pro­lif­ic and high­ly regard­ed poet. In his matu­ri­ty he is drawn to the sad­ness of the pas­sage of time, and the help­less­ness of those who age around him. The tone is faint­ly remi­niscent of Theodore Roethke and late Philip Roth in My Father in Decliv­i­ty” (“I washed him in the tub/…Purifying his shy flesh” Father’s days passed/​and with them/​went the friends…who now appear in the obituar­ies”) or All My friends in their Gar­dens” (How many friends do I have?/ Only those who think about me/​before I fall asleep”) 

Shi­mon Adaf was born in 1972 in Sderot to Moroc­can par­ents. Con­trary to expec­ta­tion, the poet­ry of this writer from a Sephardic tra­dition reflects a strong pull to West­ern classi­cal imagery. He writes of Orpheus, Cas­san­dra, Icarus and Daedelus. Through his pro­found imagery, Adaf is able to bridge the chasm of clas­si­cism to the sad­ness of his own realm. In Daedelus Speaks” he writes, I had a son,/ and I was a ter­ri­ble tired­ness.” His lat­er poems Scab,” A Con­fes­sion,” and Remains” all har­bor a pro­found sense of irre­triev­able loss as does this, But now for­get­ting is the sole power.“ 

Kalei­do­scope, a slen­der book rep­re­sent­ing select­ed poems of Chal­fi, Bern­stein, and Adaf, is only a taste of the immense out­put of these three very accom­plished mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional poets of Israel, each of whom is already wide­ly rec­og­nized as a gift­ed artist. Writ­ten orig­i­nal­ly in Hebrew, the music of the poets’ words is pre­served for us the for­tu­nate read­ers through the art of excel­lent translation. 

Bio­graph­i­cal notes, essays, sum­ma­ry of pub­lished works.

Relat­ed Content:

Ruth Seif is a retired chair­per­son of Eng­lish at Thomas Jef­fer­son High School in NYC. She served as admin­is­tra­tor in the alter­na­tive high school division.

Discussion Questions