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For this home
trees were chopped down before their time
some shrubs were uprooted
from the ground, anthills
crumbled, birds abandoned
their nest, a mole fled
from the flaming heat of earth overturning.
For this home,
villages were emptied of their inhabitants,
wells were blocked, sheep
scattered to the winds.
For this home
their mother tongue.
From Ir Uvehlot (City and Fears), Am Oved, 2011
Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden
“Home” is a big word in this election cycle. Beyond the state comptroller’s report on the spending habits at the prime minister’s residences, the major parties are promising to reduce housing prices. Moreover, two extreme right-wing political parties have the word “home” in their name: Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) and Habayit Hayehudi ("The Jewish Home", while both Likud and Meretz are urging teetering voters to “come home.”
In this poem, Eli Eliahu looks at the historical costs of “this home.” The first stanza focuses on physical aspects of readying the land for building -- the disruption of nature. The second stanza balances physical and political meanings of “home” in the eviction of a pre-existing population so the new home could be inhabited by newcomers from a and far.
The “history” is that of modern Israel; the “inhabitants” emptied from the villages were Arabs who lived there 1948 (neither “Jewish” nor “our” people in the eyes of the two “home” parties).
In the third stanza, “this home” is political and emotional. In this immigrant-based society, many Israelis have indeed lost their mother tongue, most notably families from the Arabic-speaking countries, for whom the language spoken at home was also the language of “the enemy.” Thus, even though Arabic is heard here live and in the media, the children of these immigrants tend not to speak it at all. Hebrew vanquished German early on as the language of modern education, Yiddish is pretty much a lost cause except among the ultra-Orthodox and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) remains only in folklore and music.
Speakers of Russian, French, and Spanish have a relatively easy time because of widely available media and literature in those languages, while other language groups are struggling to maintain a presence. Likud is grumbling about sinister “English-speakers” trying to topple the current government but readers of this newspaper are fortunate in that good English is still considered an asset in Israel.
Eli Eliahu, who works as a copy editor and writes about poetry and culture at Haaretz, was born in 1969 to immigrants from Iraq. He has published two collections of poetry that have won national awards.
*Musing: Elsewhere, Eliahu writes about his experiences as a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. In “History,” he makes no mention of blood as part of the price paid for this home. Why?
*Democratic bonus: Election Day is your chance to help make this home more worthy of the steep prices paid for it. For FAQs about how to do this, go here (http://bechirot.gov.il/election/english/Pages/FAQ_eng.aspx].