Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lament for Jerusalem

Several days ago Jews world-wide fasted and commemorated the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. That date marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, of the Israelite kingdom and the final expulsion of the Hebrew nation from the Land of Israel. Last Tuesday at the Wailing Wall - the last remnant of the Second Temple - 100,000 Jews gathered together from all over Israel and the world to weep and pray.

The story goes that Napoleon when told about this Jewish fast day said that a people who recall the exile from their land thousands of years past are destined to return home. The first Zionist?

Throughout the long exile, the Jewish people - homeless and oppressed - refused to relinquish their faith. The shock of the Holocaust caused the United Nations to vote for a Jewish state in the ancient Land of Israel. The Arab lands of the Middle East didn't take this well and declared war against the young state.

Today, a fundamental element of Arab anti-Israel PR is their claim that there never was an Israelite nation or a First and Second Temple on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem [on those ruins the Moslem Golden Domed Mosque now stands]. No prophets, no King Saul, no King David, no King Solomon. All figments of our imagination. The Jews are just some European colonial tribe that invaded a region foreign to them in the twentieth century. Ishmael was the inheritor of Abraham. [By the way, there was a constant Jewish presence in the Land of Israel - later called Palestine - throughout the centuries of exile.

The following poem-story appears in my English language collection, "Poems of Love and Exile."


In the year 70 AD Titus's army
set up camps on Mount Scopus
and the Mount of Olives
that overlook the Temple Mount,

dragging great wooden posts
round the walls of Jerusalem,
the Romans laid waste the bright gardens
and orchards to prepare for murder and siege.

Our resistance gathered on the Temple Mount
fought the bitter fight, the stubborn battle,
but on the 8th of Av the Roman Legion broke through
and many of us were killed that day.

Titus's legionnaires brought tens of thousands
the Jews of Jerusalem onto the Mount,
and on the place that we had rejoiced and
prayed to the Almighty,

for eleven days we lay dying, without food and water
as Titus selected who would be sold into slavery
and who left to starve and die on the Mount
and cast into the ruins of the lower city

After that Titus set about the destruction
of the beautiful upper city and
of the Holy Temple, burning and smashing
everything in his wake

for that was his way,
to conquer a people who would not
bow down to Rome's false gods
and to leave desolation and destruction.

In the year 70 Titus looted the Temple
he carried off the great Golden Menorah
and the Holy Temple treasures
to his camp at Ceasaria,

and from there to Rome.
[from the Book of Lamentations
written by the prophet Jeremiah
after the events described above

Our skin burns with the famine
the children faint with hunger on the streets
they cry to their mothers
- where is our corn and milk,

young and old lie on the ground
the dead fill the alleyways and burnt houses
fallen by fire and the sword.

Our inheritance has been given to strangers
to those who hate us without cause.

Fallen is our crown, we are captured
like caged birds, to be taken to distant lands.

(c) Shira Twersky-Cassel

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Israel's Coat of Many Colors

Jews settled in every corner of the globe during thousands of years, and in those diaspora lands of exile they were always singled out as the outsiders, as Jews. Yet in Israel, we bring with us the scent, the look and the mind set of the countless lands we wandered through.

A miniature United Nations, we come in every shape and color and language. There is friction between different ethnic groups but never hatred or violence. We are a family.
Current DNA research has proven that Jews are all related, linked to the gene pool of the Israelites of the Biblical Land of Israel.

This gives me a real kick and I especially feel privileged that my own family are multi-ethnic Jews. My beautiful grandchildren come in all colors and enjoy a genetic mix of Africa-Ethiopia, Spain, Venice, Poland, Russia and the US, back to the Middle East.

This poem appears in my current volume of poems, "Stories of Exile and Love"


First came dreamy-eyed Rachel
at the well, a jug on her shoulder,
she shyly offers water to Eliezer
to find a bride for Jacob.

Next is our wild-eyed clever beauty

dark as Queen Sheba and as wise,

don't try to trick her,
she will
catch you in it.

Three is twinkle-eyed
and pigtailed mischief,

the child her father was
with riddles and comic relief.

Four is our Greta Garbo,

pearl complected and grey-eyed,

she is Russia, haloed blond hair

frames her cameo face.

Five is our
bright boy, a prince born,
with the green-eyes
and high cheeks of my father,

who brought him to me in a dream.

Six returns us to Ethiopia
a round-eyed beautiful babe

with fat black toddler legs
running towards me

Sometimes they play-walk
in a row, "like we were born,"
connecting each to the other
in a golden chain of love,

that reaches back
that reaches forward.

Oh Lord, that I would be allowed
to see the generations
they will bring forth.