When Karen Alkalay-Gut arrived in Israel
in 1972, and found herself in a non-English speaking environment, she began
holding dialogues with herself through poetry. “Poems became my means of
expression, my old friends from home, and my way of communicating with my
The communication began when she was
discovered by Israeli poets who began translating her work into Hebrew and
publishing them in local journals. Soon after, she started writing to journals
in the United States and England, and was pleasantly surprised to discover
that her work was considered a kind of bridge between the Israeli experience
and the Diaspora. “My private conversations became public ones,” she notes.
Since then she has had numerous books
appear in English in the United States, and four books of her poetry have
been published in Hebrew translation. The subjects, she points out, are varied,
but often deal with Israeli identity as well as feminist issues and interpersonal
relationships. “My favorite subject has always been love.”
Karen Alkalay-Gut has also translated
hundreds of poems from Hebrew, Yiddish, and with help, Arabic, and spends
much of her time in poetry activities. Besides teaching poetry at Tel Aviv
University, she chairs the Israel Association of Writers in English.
I EXPLAIN DARWIN TO THE REBBE
The old man and
I sit on the porch —
It is Indian summer and the weather
lures us with our books outside.
And the madness of the season
makes me stop the lesson of Bereisheit
with — “Rebbe, what do you think of Darwin?”
The rabbi of the
“Kippele” shul knows no English —
we discuss the Bible in Mamme-loshen.
And what has he read
that he should know of “The Origin of Species”
So he asks me to explain — and I do —
in my most grown up eleven year old tone —
about the apes, the jungle, survival
of the fittest.
It is eleven years
since the Holocaust.
In the twilight he is silent, rocking
very slightly as he arranges his decision.
he says, and I nod,
suddenly in revelation.
“You learn what you must for school
but of course no one can really
believe in such stories.”