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Poems for Reflecting on the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

Choose one or more of the following poems to read or listen to together and discuss. As you will see these poems are intended to make space for emotions and empathy, not to spur a political discussion.  

Then, consider inviting participants to write a poem or prayer in response to one of the poems. They might start their poem with the opening line of the poem they are responding to (e.g. Once in a village that is burning…. Before you know what kindness is… or Dear God help us…). Alternatively, you might open a Google Jamboard and invite each participant to write the most powerful line from the poem(s) that you read on a sticky. Then, create a collaborative poem from the post-its.  

Your Village

by Elana Bell

Elana Bell is a Brooklyn-based poet, educator, and facilitator of sacred rituals. She is the author two books of poetry: Mother Country (BOA Editions in 2020) and Eyes, Stones (LSU Press 2012). The following poem is from Eyes, Stones, a collection that was inspired by interviews conducted in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and America. Listen to Elana Bell perform the poem here.

Once in a village that is burning
      because a village is always somewhere burning 

And if you do not look because it is not your village
      it is still your village 

In that village is a hollow child
      You drown when he looks at you with his black, black eyes 

And if you do not cry because he is not your child
      he is still your child 

All the animals that could run away have run away
      The trapped ones make an orchestra of their hunger 

The houses are ruin      Nothing grows in the garden
      The grandfather’s grave is there      A small stone 

under the shade of a charred oak      Who will brush off the dead
      leaves      Who will call his name for morning prayer 

Where will they — the ones who slept in this house and ate from this dirt — ? 

Discussion questions: 

  • What words, images or ideas stand out to you in this poem? 
  • How did this poem make you feel? 
  • What do you think the poem is communicating? What do you make of the final line of the poem?  

The Diameter of The Bomb

by Yehuda Amichai

Yehuda Amichai is recognized as one of Israel’s finest poets. His poems, written in Hebrew have been translated into 40 languages including English, French, German, Swedish, Spanish, and Catalan.  

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God. 

Discussion questions: 

  • What words, images or ideas stand out to you in this poem? 
  • How did this poem make you feel? 
  • What do you think the poem is communicating through the metaphor of the diameter of the bomb? 

Kindness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother was an American of German and Swiss descent. She spent her teen years in Jerusalem and San Antonio Texas. She has received many honors and awards for her work, including the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Robert Creeley Prize, among others. Listen to Nye read this poem here.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever. 

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive. 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend. 

Discussion questions: 

  • What words, images or ideas stand out to you in this poem? 
  • How did this poem make you feel? 
  • How, according to the poem, can a person know kindness? Do you agree with her arguments? Why/why not? 

No Pain Like Our Pain

by Rabbi Tamara Cohen 

Rabbi Tamara Cohen is the VP and Chief of Program Strategy at Moving Traditions. More of her liturgical poetry can be found in Siddur Lev Shalem and on ritualwell.org. In this prayer she speaks of God as “the Divine Exiled and Crying One,” images that come from rabbinic tradition about the Shechinah, which are particularly apt for this last week of the period of the Omer, known as the week of Malchut/Shechinah.  

“Look carefully and see if there could possibly be pain like my pain, like the one bestowed by You upon me.” – Lamentations 1:12 

Dear God, help us look,
look closer so that we may see
our children in their children,
their children in our own. 

Help us look so that we may see You –
in the bleary eyes of each orphan, each grieving childless mother,
each masked and camouflaged fighter for his people’s dignity. 

Dear God, Divine Exiled and Crying One,
Loosen our claim to our own uniqueness.
Soften this hold on our exclusive right – to pain, to compassion, to justice. 

May your children, all of us unique and in Your image,
come to know the quiet truths of shared pain,
shared hope,
shared land,
shared humanity,
shared risk,
shared courage,
shared peace. 

In Sh’Allah. Ken Yehi Ratzon.
May it be Your will.
And may it be ours. 

Discussion questions: 

  • What words, images or ideas stand out to you in this prayer? 
  • How did reading this prayer make you feel? 
  • What meaning do you take away from the prayer? 

 

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