A Poet Emerges from the Cash Machine

Lea Goldberg wrote poetry, short stories, plays, essays, and children’s books. She translated Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Shakespeare’s As You Like It into Hebrew. She was also a painter, and her drawings often illustrated her books.

A brand new, crisp yellow 100-shekel note popped out of the cash machine yesterday. I was delighted to see that it features a picture of Lea Goldberg (1911-1970) one of the most significant Israeli poets of the early 20th century. I came home and looked her up in my copy of The Defiant Muse: Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present, edited by Shirley Kaufman, Galit Hasan-Rokem, and Tamar S. Hess, and found this lovely poem that Goldberg penned in 1962:

Toward Myself

The years have made up my face

with memories of love,

adorned my head

with light silver threads

and made me beautiful.

 

Landscapes are reflected

in my eyes,

the paths I trod

have taught me to walk upright

with beautiful, though tired, steps.

 

If you should see me now,

you would not recognize

the yesterdays you knew.

I go toward myself with a face

you looked for in vain

when I went toward you.

(Translated by Robert Friend.)

אלי

השנים פרכסו את פני

בזכרון אהבות

וענדו לראשי חוטי כסף קלים

עד יפיתי מאד.

בעיני נשקפים

הנופים

ודרכים שעברתי

ישרו צעדי-

עיפים ויפים.

אם תראיני עכשו

לא תכיר את תמוליך-

אני הולכת אלי

בפנים שבקשת לשוא

כשהלכתי אליך.

Goldberg is one of two Israeli women poets to be featured on newly-issued Israeli banknotes: The other is Rachel Bluwstein, “considered the ‘founding mother’ of modern Hebrew poetry by women,” who appears on the new 20-shekel note. As Rabbi David Levin-Kruss pointed out to me, it is à propos that these two banknotes appeared in the same week that we read about the matriarchs Leah and Rachel, their travails and their children in the Torah portion of VaYetzei.

Lea Goldberg worked “in a vast range of creative areas: as a poet, author of prose for adults and children, playwright, gifted translator, scholar and critic of literature and theater,” Ma’ayan Harel writes for the Jewish Women’s Archive. She published nine volumes of poetry and translated Tolstoy’s War and Peace into Hebrew, a work considered her magnum opus. She was also one of the most popular writers for children in Israel; her books include a recently translated classic called Room for Rent.

I was intrigued to learn that Lea Goldberg and Rachel Bluwstein are the first women since Golda Meir to appear on Israeli banknotes. Meir graced the ten shekel note issued in 1985 (removed from circulation in the 1990s) as well as — yes — the 10,000 shekel note printed in the midst of the Israeli hyper-inflation in the early 1980s. Only one other actual woman has appeared on an Israeli banknote: Henrietta Szold, whose image was printed on a 5-lira banknote issued in 1973. Three other “generic” females — a pioneer-soldier, a kibbutznik and a schoolgirl — have appeared on Israeli banknotes at different times.

Goldberg’s Toward Myself, which she wrote at the age of 51, is a beautiful contemplation of encroaching age and resilience, celebrating the poet’s own beauty, her memories of love, and the landscapes “reflected in my eyes.” In a world in which older women are often dismissed or stereotyped as past their prime, or are rendered invisible, Goldberg expresses her serenity about the light silver threads that adorn her head, like a delicate crown, and her beautiful, though tired steps. It is a vision of aging that I myself would like to embrace.

About the Author
Josie Glausiusz is a journalist who writes about science and the environment for magazines including Nature, National Geographic, Scientific American, Undark and Hakai. Her Hakai Magazine article Land Divided, Coast United won the 2015 online media award from Amnesty International Canada. She is the author of Buzz: The Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects. Follow her on Twitter: @josiegz
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