My friend Wendy Dickstein and I meet the first Thursday of every month. We call it Sacred Thursday. Wendy is an author and an editor, and I love her work because it has empathy and her language is beautiful. We worked together over twenty years ago, in a former life, when I was head of the documentation team at a hitech firm. Wendy applied for a job, and sent in part of one of her stories as a writing sample. We just had to find out how the story ended so we called her in for an interview.
A while back, on a Thursday, she showed me this poem:
Tzaddikim in Jerusalem
The first thing
is to show up
Forty days in a row.
Leave the open air market
Cross Jaffa Road
Find the burial ground
Folded behind the bakery and the dry cleaner.
Climb down the curved lane
Past the tin merchant
Past the flutter
Of grimy curtain from the study hall,
Small as a closet.
Enter the red brick
Room where the women pray.
Thread your way in
Among the schoolgirls in their heavy shoes
Swaying with prayer books held to their faces
And the women back from the market
Their shopping bags filled
With apples and eggplants curled at their feet
Perch yourself on the wooden bench against the stained wall
If there’s a place to sit.
And if there’s not
Peer through the window
At the graves in the courtyard –
Abraham Mordechai and Pinchas Menachem
Hassidic holy men
Father and son
Sunk on stone beds piled with pebbles and bricks
Scribbled notes of supplication tucked in the rocks
Memorial candles feeding them light.
When there are no men bent in prayer there
The women unlock the door
To the courtyard and step in
Nudge up to the graves with books of psalms
Bittersweet voices beseeching:
A husband, a healing, a child, a livelihood.
For forty days you pour out
Your will like water
Then wait for the miracle to happen
The stone gray heart to open
Pebble by pebble.
“Wow, you wrote about the Gerrer Rebbe’s house! I take people to see it on tours. Can I read your poem there?”
“I wish I had English poems like this to read at specific places. I translate Hebrew texts: Shai Agnon, Yehuda Amichai, Yehuda Halevi, Adi Caisar and others. But somehow a translation never matches up to the original.”
And so we decided that we needed to produce a book of English poetry about Jerusalem for tour guides; and Walking Jerusalem: Poems for Tour Guides and Others was conceived. The poems needed to be site specific. The book needed to be small and light enough to take on tour. Wendy sent out a call to Voices Israel and the IAWE – Israel Association of Writers in English and the poems started flowing in. The selection was difficult. There were many beautiful poems that touched heart strings in all sorts of ways, but we steadfastly stuck to our original definition of poems that a tour guide can read on site: Onions rolling down Agrippas street; summer nights in the old city; sculptures at the Israel Museum, and packing in the hotel that faces the old city the night before a flight back home.
The book came out this fall. Eleven poets are featured. The book’s launch was fitting: we invited the poets to a tour and read the poems on site. Ruth Fogelman, one of our poets, wrote a colorful photo-essay of our tour which gives yet another perspective: https://jerusalemlives.weebly.com/tour-of-machane-yehuda.html. Thanks Ruth! Our launch is now a tour called, unsurprisingly, “Walking Jerusalem: Poems for Tour Guides and Others”.
I once lived on an island off the coast of Maine and I thought it was the most breathtakingly beautiful spot in the world. And then I found Jerusalem.
Wendy Dickstein was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and also lived in Australia, England and India. In 1986 she found her true home in Jerusalem. She lives with her husband in Nachlaot, has published five books of poetry, short stories and memoir, studies Daf Yomi, and is learning to play the kamanche.
Ruth Fogelman has lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for most of her life. She is the author of five books. Her work has appeared in anthologies and publications in Israel, U.K., USA and India. Her Biblical poetry has regularly appeared on the 929 English website. Ruth holds a Masters Degree in Creative Writing.
Esther Halpern was born in Hungary, moved to England at 16, and made English her main language. She honed her writing skills at the Pri Hadash Women’s Writing Workshop in Jerusalem. Some of her poems have appeared in The Deronda Review. Esther lives in Jerusalem and her passions include Jerusalem, writing and her growing family.
Judy Stonehill Labensohn has been writing in Israel since 1967. Her work appears in, among others, Kenyon Review, Hadassah Magazine and Lilith. For 20 years she wrote a column in The Jerusalem Post. Labensohn lives in Haifa where she cuts hair and plays piano.
Seymour Mayne is the author, editor, or translator of more than 70 books of poetry and fiction. His recent books are In Your Words: Translations from Yiddish and Hebrew, Le chant de Moïse, a bilingual English-French offering of biblical poems, and Perfume: Poems and Word Sonnets. He co-edited Jerusalem: An Anthology of Jewish Canadian Poetry, 1996.
I am a woman of words and wine, sparkling or semi-dry. Be they written, sung, or proclaimed to groups of travelers from near and far.
Vera Schwarcz is a China historian and poet focusing on comparative aspects of memory and trauma. For the past four decades she taught at Wesleyan University where she held the Freeman Chair of East Asian Studies. Schwarcz is the author of nine books about Chinese intellectual history and six volumes of poetry.
Brooklyn-born Steven Sher (aka Shlomo Yashar) has lived in Jerusalem since 2012. He is the author of 19 books: two recent poetry collections, What Comes from the Heart: Poems in the Jewish Tradition, and Contestable Truths, Incontestable Lies, Dos Madres Press, U.S., 2019, and two forthcoming titles (poetry and non-fiction). His website is http://www. steven-sher-poetry.wixsite.com/writing
David Silverman is an award-winning poet from Skokie, Illinois, who has spent much time in Jerusalem and often writes about his experiences there. More broadly, his poems are carefully rendered appreciations for the transient nature of existence and the sheer randomness that dictates the circumstances of life.
Patti Tana is Professor Emerita of English at Nassau Community College (SUNY) and the Walt Whitman Birthplace 2009 Poet of the Year. She is editor of the Songs of Seasoned Women poetry anthology and associate editor of the Long Island Quarterly. Her ninth book of poems is All I Can Gather & Give. Her website is http://www.pattitana.com.
Walking Jerusalem: Poems for Tour Guides and Others. Edited by Ruth Schiller and Wendy Dickstein. 35 NIS. Please contact us for details: Ruth.Schiller@gmail.com and Wendy.Dickstein@gmail.com.
Note: The book is also up on Amazon, but we are having trouble with the cover colors. If you like green order it now; otherwise wait just a bit.
Most of Wendy’s books are on Amazon and they are wonderful: