26 Hebrew Wordsmiths Added to Israel's National Curriculum in Bid to Revive Poetry

Education ministry has overhauled its entire poetry curriculum, from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century.

Talila Nesher
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Talila Nesher

Poems by 26 Hebrew poets have been added to the school curriculum in what the Education Ministry terms a "radical transformation."

The ministry has overhauled its entire poetry curriculum, from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century. "But there's no question that the radical change was in the second half of the 20th century," said Dr. Shlomo Hertzig, the ministry's Hebrew literature coordinator.

Until now, the curriculum for that period had included multiple poems by just seven poets: Erez Biton, Haim Gouri, Natan Zach, Zelda, Yehuda Amichai, Dan Pagis and Dahlia Ravikovitch. But starting in the upcoming school year, 23 other poets will be added.

"Our worldview isn't post-modernist," said Hertzig. "We made sure that no poet who was already in [the curriculum] would be taken out. We believe in the canon of poets, and these are the movers and shakers of Hebrew poetry. All the existing poets are remaining, to the extent of at least two poems."

The poets added to the list include Avraham Halfi, Nurit Zarchi, T. Carmi, Meir Wieseltier, Avot Yeshurun, Yitzhak Laor, Rachel Halfi, Agi Mishol, David Avidan, Ronny Someck, Yona Wallach and Shimon Adaf. Also included for the first time is a poem by a female Arab poet, Nidaa Khoury.

"But it's a Hebrew poem," Hertzig hastened to explain. Khoury, he noted, writes in both Hebrew and Arabic, and the poem chosen was originally written in Hebrew.

Another poem now appearing in the curriculum is "This Belongs to Me" by Avraham Sutzkever, which was originally written in Yiddish but translated into Hebrew by Benjamin Harshav.

"We've created a structure that allows teachers to focus less on the classics of Hebrew poetry," explained Hertzig.

The ministry also decided to change the way poetry is taught. Until now, teachers were required to teach one poem by each of the seven poets included in the curriculum. Now, poetry of the second half of the 20th century will instead be divided into topics: "Identities," "What is love?" "To be in the Land of Israel" and "Poetry in the wake of the Holocaust." Teachers will have to choose one of these topics and teach poems connected to it.

"Every regular reader understands that when works are organized by theme, the ability to absorb them is much greater," Hertzig said. "This enables [teachers] to take a topic and illuminate it from different angles with different poems. I hope this will be viewed as more interesting. In the past, there was also an expectation that the classroom teacher would organize the works in a thematic structure, but in our experience, it almost never happened."

The bagrut (matriculation ) exam will only begin covering the new format and the new poets in another three years. But schools that devote a full three years to the literature curriculum - "something that, unfortunately, has been happening less," Hertzig commented - will begin teaching the new format this September.

Poet Ronny Someck.Credit: Alon Ron
Nurit Zarchi is among 26 Hebrew poets that were added to the school curriculum.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik
Meir Wieseltier is among 26 Hebrew poets that were added to the school curriculum.Credit: David Bachar



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