This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

Through these dark days, when there are no words to describe the hor­ror, when I tell friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers abroad that I do not know what to say, I allow myself the lux­u­ry to pause, and turn to poet­ry. In doing so I am not turn­ing away from the cat­a­stro­phe — it is impos­si­ble to avert my eyes from the count­less pho­tos of the dead, or the kid­napped, or those who are miss­ing. But we must pro­tect our souls in order to help oth­ers and con­tin­ue for the sake of our chil­dren. Per­haps it is only nat­ur­al for me to choose the poet­ry of Israeli poets I have trans­lat­ed, and let them speak for me. 

We told our­selves it would pass. 

We put every­thing in place 

The couch­es, arm­chairs. On the bal­cony, flowers 

spi­raled toward the sun.

We told our­selves those were the bad days,

The high holy days. We can­not forever

Await our des­tiny, we said. 

Some of us stood in the square.

We sang songs in closed rooms. 

These words are from Yonatan Berg’s The End of Naivete,”[1] a poem I trans­lat­ed back in 2019. Eeri­ly, these words per­fect­ly cap­ture what I and so many oth­er peo­ple feel right now in Israel. These indeed are the bad days, and yet the bees still hum in the tere­binth tree, and the sweet pea I plant­ed just two weeks ago is push­ing out of the earth and will soon spi­ral toward the sun. Right now, how­ev­er, it is hard for me to believe it will pass. Every­one has lost some­one, every­one is griev­ing. I can­not sum­mon up the name of even one per­son who has not lost some­one close to them; I know it is the same for the Pales­tini­ans in Gaza. 

There is a cer­tain inti­ma­cy involved in trans­lat­ing a poem — an atten­tive­ness to voice and an open heart. Right now, I need these famil­iar voic­es to offer words of wis­dom in a world that, for so many of us, has fall­en apart. Yes­ter­day, after return­ing from the funer­al of my friend’s son, and while mak­ing soup for neigh­bors who are in mourn­ing and fam­i­lies who have been evac­u­at­ed, I took a moment to steady my breath. I read the words of Diti Ronen, anoth­er poet with whom I work, who wrote the fol­low­ing lines in a poem enti­tled In Which the House Read­ies Itself for Battle”[2]: 

No one will get away; you will find us 

among the frac­tured ruins

clutch­ing each other

our inter­nal organs shattered

our faces pul­ver­ized, unprotected.

We are shat­tered; we clutch each oth­er. We do so in order to keep going, to help our sons and daugh­ters, our par­ents, friends, and neigh­bors. Every­one is afraid. One thing I am sure of is that we must find com­fort. Agi Mishol’s Cab­in at the For­est Edge,”[3] excerpt­ed here, offers this:

Not every angel is terrifying,

not every apple is poisoned

and not every look penetrates,

some gath­er us up from the way 

we have lost 

and illu­mi­nate a cabin

at the for­est edge.

I am look­ing for this cab­in, this pock­et of com­fort, and my heart is heavy.

[1] Yonatan Berg, Frayed Light (Wes­leyan Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019)

[2] Diti Ronen, The Mul­ber­ry Tree (Shears­man Press, forth­com­ing in 2023)

[3] Agi Mishol, Kefel (Hak­ib­butz Hameuchad, 2020)

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Joan­na Chen is a writer and lit­er­ary trans­la­tor of con­tem­po­rary poet­ry and prose from Hebrew to English.