Tonight, at 7:00 pm in the Gush Etzion Field School, there will be an evening dedicated to the Second Intifada, during which many of the bloc's residents were killed by snipers on the road leading to the Gush communities. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84095001304
About 20 years ago, On the eve of the Jewish New Year 5761 (2000), the land of Israel was on fire.
Accompanying the Days of Judgment, the Days of Awe, were scenes, sounds, smells of an erupting apocalypse. A terrible rage gripped the Jewish community in Israel. The entire country was turned into a frontline.
The initial shock of it forced me into months of mute silence. I no longer recognized in myself the optimistic Dionysian poet I had been, the one from whom songs of life would gush in joyful bursts and spurts, almost like a “song of the day,.” the chapters from Psalms recited each day in the Temple.
And within the land busy licking its wounds, we found ourselves, the people of the "settlement on the mountain," in a kind of “frontline of frontlines.
”Every day's cursedness was greater than its friendship. At night we said: would that it were morning; and when morning came: would that it were night; quoting curses from the Torah that had become fate that returned to strike again.
The first poem that “broke my silence” was born while listening to a newscast. Late morning in Kfar Etzion; as I sit at the small kitchen table in our kibbutz home, my hand automatically,grabs for the pen and pile of white paper at the table’s edge and with the “lines” and “verses” from the news broadcast the poem is committed to paper:
The news on the radio said
another terrorist attack at the Kisufim junction
and a woman met her death
(which until now was lost in the valleys)
they also said:
at the government meeting they will discuss the threat of earthquakes
(unaware that the earth is already trembling)
a wayward bullet is searching for its soft address
I saw a man seeking brothers all along the way
in the analytical mind a red light went on long ago
the weather will come in desolation and ruin
the sea will be calm when at length we reach it
With depleted strength.
And that’s the end of the news.
on the radio they said news
And in our hearts were olds, ancients
And we put our bundles on our shoulders
Wedges of cheese, a loaf of bread
We returned to our walking
I remember my excitement while writing and especially while rereading what I had just written; the clear knowledge that some serious, painful rift had been created within me, and things that had been hidden inside my poetry—are now crying out for expression.
I remember the small shock, the self-amazement: you, the smiling optimist, weave Diaspora into the “forecast” at the end of the poem, God forbid, the end of the rebirth of the Return to Zion?
Other poems followed after that poem, responding to the public and the private. How happy I was that love songs also began to be written. In them,also, new threads were woven in the spirit of those days, of some kind of desperate clinging, while all around raged a thundering storm.
When I recall those days I really cannot fathom how our day-to-day existence went on. How did we risk our lives and go about our business, each one off to work until the night, while on the roads, silent and alert, they lay in wait, seeking to kill us?
I tremble remembering how the “traveler’s prayer” became the queen of prayers for me, how I would whisper it on the way making it last as long as possible, until I would reach Jerusalem. How I would feel the wings of the great eagle spread wide to shield my head.
This protective wall crumbles all at once when Tzachi Sasson, a young father from the neighboring kibbutz in the Gush Etzion Bloc, ten minutes south of Jerusalem,, is murdered by sniper fire on the Tunnel Road leading to the Gush,, that same road I had driven on less than an hour earlier on my way home.
How Efrat, my wife, and I talk in our bedroom, “so that the children won’t hear,” how I say that not at all costs, that we do not have the right to make them into orphans, and how Efrat says one does not abandon one’s home . . .
But the next morning, when I pull myself back together, set out for Jerusalem, the wings of the protective eagle do not shelter my head. There is no “prayer unfolding like a wondrous cloth,” as the poet Amir Gilboa wrote.
A few days of calm, I stand opposite an iron divide that has driven a wedge between me and the sky, but I know that inside a poem is brewing. Its birth does not take long to come:
Prayer for the Driver on the Tunnel Road
May it be thy will
O King who hears the indigent
Who guards all openings and hidden places
May you save me from all the troubles along the way
May you accompany me in peace
May you lead me in peace
May you guard me form all manner of stones
ambushers who throw shoot infiltrate
conspire against these barriers that sift a curse
and from all the hateful looks that come suddenly into the
(and at night add: and from the aims of the night)
and bring me to my destination
in life. And in joy and in peace
and allow me to be born out of this tunnel into Jerusalem
and may the prayers of the wayfarers be heard before you
Here it is—a prayer that swings between judgment and mercy, precisely from this “pitiful” situation. The protective wings again spread over me.
Also the wings of the poem: it finds a place in our sector’s newspapers and people’s hearts. Now I know, the poem split open not only my own silence.
During this awful year 5761 (2000–2001) of bloody clashes, many poems were written, prayers from the depths. But in each new poem I felt that pain that is well known to every poet: this is not what I wanted. This – almost, this – near, this – not this . . .
Just when the year was drawing to a close, when fear and anger pile up like two mountains, it came. Precisely when being far from home, from wife and children, from the community; from the danger of an infiltration; of sniper fire on the road.
In these late sumer days of the Hebrew month of Elul, in the wonderful far away dunes of Tse’elim army camp , on reserve duty in the Negev, on a tank training exercise,in the fall and the different and free breeze blowing in.
The guys are talking and laughing underneath the giant camouflage net. I remember the nearly meaningless meandering of my legs that carry me on from there to the great sandy quiet before me. There in the yellow-brownish-to-orange expanse I hear a voice. At first it seems to me like a whisper. But the more it spins around and moves closer, a gathering storm, I hear in it as if a scream:
“Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One!”
My ears were struck by all these cries: the cries of the martyrs throughout the generations, from Rabbi Akiva and his contemporaries ] through those martyred at the ends of the earth, through expulsions, Inquisitions, pogroms. Those crying out from Majdanek and Treblinka to the burning tanks in the Golan and the awful desert of Egypt in the Yom Kippur War, to the spilled blood of this very awful year itself:
Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One!
But from within the scream I heard, enfolded in it, an opposite whisper. The one that was hiding, that had been there all the time. They are all shouting:
Hear O Lord – Israel Your people, Israel is one . . .
The hand, automatically,reaches for paper and pen from the pocket of the standard-issue IDF uniform, and within seconds the poem is written down:
Hear, O Lord
(prayer for days of awe)
Hear, O Lord, Israel, your people, Israel is one
And you shall love Israel your people
With all your heart
And with all your soul
And with all your might
And these sons who are being killed for you daily shall be
upon your heart
And you shall teach them diligently in your heavens
And you shall talk of them:
When you sit in your house
And when you walk by the way
And when you lie down and when you rise
And you shall bind them as a sign upon
your hand (phosphorescent blue numbers) and they shall be as
between your eyes (like the sniper's shot)
And you shall write them (in blood) on the doorposts of your house
And on your gates
What is to be done with a poem like this that settles on you just like that? That, seemingly, “was written” through you? That voices the fate of generations of Jews?
I remember the chills running down my spine when I read it over the first time, there in my soul, in the middle of the desert.
The instinct, practically an impulse, to bury it in the sand, as though it had never been
the hand calm,enfolding it back into the pocket,
the joy in the trembling, the knowledge that this is it!
Eliaz Cohen is a well known Israeli poet, editor of the "Mashiv Haruach" magazine and leader of the "Eretz Lekulam" movement. He lives at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion.
Translation of the poems: Larry Barak.
Translation of text: Dr. Sharon Assaf
Homage to Yehuda Amichai, from the opening of his poem Ohavim bestav (“Love in the fall”).
 Eliaz Cohen, Hear O Lord: Poems from the Disturbances of 2000–2009, trans. Larry Barak (Jerusalem and London: Toby Press, 2010), p. 17.
Ibid., p. 49.
 Ibid., p. 15.