Israel, youngest and oldest of nations

Lockdowns, enemies, peace, politics? The eternal nation is not afraid of what lies ahead. Ode to Israel by Jorge Luis Borges.

Giulio Meotti, Italy ,

Storks fly over Beit Shean Valley in northern Israel
Storks fly over Beit Shean Valley in northern Israel
Flash 90
Jorge Luis Borges is one of the most important literary figures in the past century. Much has been written about this giant, less about his admiration for the State of Israel.

In 1969, Jorge Luis Borges met David Ben-Gurion. I have recentl read the exchange of letters between the two. Already afflicted by blindness, on 1966 Borges sent a few lines to Ben Gurion, remarking on “my admiration for your work ... Perhaps you are not fully aware of the affinity I have always felt towards your admirable people ... I studied in depth the work of Spinoza, I tried to understand the intricate, intriguing universe of Kabbalah through the writings of Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem… Beyond the blood, given by chance, we are all Greeks and Jews.”

Ben-Gurion replied without delay to the great novelist. “Thank you very much for the letter. Through the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, I heard about your personality, magnificent literary work and attitude towards Israel and its spiritual heritage. I note, in your letter, that we share a love for Greece and for Jewish wisdom. I would be delighted if you would like to visit our country as a guest in my home in the Negev desert.”

Borges accepted his invitation: he spent ten days in Israel, at the beginning of 1969, and met Ben-Gurion for the first time. Back in Argentina, Borges wrote: “I have visited the youngest and oldest of the nations.”

Borges also penned a poem. It reminds us about a great period, when famous writers used to defend and admire Israel and the Jews.

“I feared that in Israel there might be lurking,

sweetly and insidiously,

the nostalgia gathered like some sad treasure

during the centuries of dispersion

in cities of the unbeliever, in ghettoes,

in the sunset of the steppes, in dreams,

the nostalgia of those who longed for you,

Jerusalem, beside the waters of Babylon.

What else were you, Israel, but that wistfulness,

that will to save

amid the shifting shapes of time

your old magical book, your ceremonies,

your loneliness with God?

Not so. The most ancient of nations

is also the youngest.

You have not tempted men with gardens or gold,

and the emptiness of gold

but with hard work, beleaguered land.

Without words Israel has told them:

Forget who you are

Forget who you have been

Forget the man you were in those countries

which gave you their mornings

and evenings and to which

you must not look back in yearning.

You will forget your father's tongue

and learn the tongue of Paradise.

You shall be an Israeli, a soldier,

You shall build a country on wasteland,

making it rise out of deserts.

Your brother, whose face you've never seen,

will work by your side.

One thing only we promise you:

your place in the battle...”

Shoulder on, Israel!

Giulio Meotti is, an Italian journalist with Il Foglio, writes a twice-weekly column for Arutz Sheva. He is the author, in English, of the book "A New Shoah", that researched the personal stories of Israel's terror victims, published by Encounter and of "J'Accuse: the Vatican Against Israel" published by Mantua Books, in addition to books in Italian. His writing has appeared in publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Gatestone, Frontpage and Commentary.



top