Dr. Rachel Korazim, a world-renowned Israeli poet and educator, recently delivered a fascinating lecture at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Day School. She started by giving some brief autobiographical notes in order to fill the audience in on some pertinent contextual details. Korazim spent the 1980s in Montreal as a shaliach. Separated from her Israeli friends and family, she began to wax nostalgic for her home. She specifically missed Israeli literature, so she convinced a friend to send her regular packages containing the latest fiction and poetry from Israel. Korazim also pointed out that translation of Israeli works was not common at this time, and yet her Jewish, non-Hebrew speaking friends and acquaintances in Montreal insisted on reading contemporary Israeli literature. This, she explained, led to her informal entry into literary translation.
Dr. Korazim explained that, for many years, there were only three venues that utilized the Hebrew language: the pulpit, fundraising and the media. Yehuda Amichai ushered in a new age of colloquial Hebrew composition to rival that of the Hebrew Golden Age of Spain. Korazim presented a poem of Amichai’s entitled, “From the Songs of Zion the Beautiful.” She explained how the closest English translation we possess is riddled with inaccuracies that were intended to improve the flow of the English version.
Another poet that Dr. Korazim highlighted was Balfour Hakak who, as a young child, immigrated to Israel from Iraq with his family. In “Galut,” which translates to “exile,” Hakak details his family’s arrival in Israel. He describes his grandfather’s “priestly garments” and the blue robe of which “his mother had embroidered the hem… with beautiful gold bands.” Hakak makes a poignant analogy between his family’s aliyah and the acceptance of the covenant by the first biblical forefather. “Like Abraham from Ur, my grandfather came up / From that same land, in the same manner. / He came to the same homeland.” The poem becomes sad, however, as we learn that the grandfather becomes a “peddler in the markets, selling his treasures / Tattered clothing… / slow of speech, a forsaken profit.”
We also analyzed prose compositions by Amos Oz and Efraim Kishon. Kishon’s piece was called “The Essence of the Book” and detailed the journey of an elderly couple desperate to escape the pogroms of Hungary for the safety of Palestine. The story possesses a sharp, comedic wit surrounding the man’s temperament, which evolves as the voyage progresses. While he begins the tale desperate and pious, this abruptly changes when they reach Palestine. He complains that he left his green nailbrush back in Hungary and has the audacity to accuse the Jewish Agency of thievery.
All the pieces that we studied under the guidance of Dr. Korazim comprised a single, unifying theme, but it did not seem to relate to “Complex Images of Peace and Hope.” I thought a more apt title might have been “Israel Through the Eyes of the Immigrant.”
Perry is a contributing editor to Jlife magazine.