Behold the Jew


On Wednesday January 11 2012, I had the unique honor and privilege to give the premiere recital in Israel of perhaps the greatest tribute paid in modern English literature to the Jewish people by a non-Jew, the poem Behold the Jew by the Warwickshire-born poetess Ada Jackson, which won the prestigious Greenwood Poetry Prize in 1943 and has since lain forgotten for upwards of 50 years. “Stunning!” “Incredible!” were two of the adjectives used to describe the impact of the poem on the Jerusalem AACI audience.

In her day Ada Jackson was called the “English Emily Dickinson” and her work was equated with that of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She was said to have been paid more for a single poem than any other author in her day. Her poem “Two Headed Penny” was praised by Eleanor Roosevelt and was posted up all over the United States. She also won the National Poetry Prize in 1933. Although known as Britain’s shyest poet, she disliked publicity. As guest of honor of the N.Y. Pen Club Annual Dinner in 1941, her speech consisted of two words, “Thank you.” Her work was published in many leading magazines and newspapers.
I have to thank my dear father, Rudolph Guy Herman of Blessed Memory, who bought the poem published by the Poetry Society in 1943 in London, and only a few years ago did I discover it among his effects after he passed away. Such an impact did this remarkable work have on me that I determined to restore it to public notice since not only is it an amazing tribute to the Jewish People, but it was clearly greatly influenced by the Holocaust and the cruel fate of the Jews in Europe at the time.

The long poem of epic proportions – it takes me a full half hour to recite- displays Ada Jackson’s remarkable affection and sympathy for the Jews, both those who she befriended and who befriended her, and for those victims of the Nazi terror and jackboot. And how bravely she stands to champion the suffering Jews and how she berates those in English society who stand idly by and make snide comments about the Jews.

In the poem she praises the Jews’ great contribution to humanity and civilization from Bible times to modern times, where she memorably lauds the great Jewish musicians – Mahler, Schoenberg, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Rubinstein, Milhaud, Mendelssohn; writers – Feuchtwanger, Zweig, Yehoash, Toller, Bialik, Werfel, Heine, Maurois, Golding, Pasternak Ehrenberg, Shalom Asch and Proust; artists – Pissaro, Liebermann, Jacob Epstein; scientists and thinkers – Einstein and Freud, Bergson and Spinoza; and also her many Jewish friends.
I have to thank the Jerusalem ACCI for giving me the opportunity to bring this poem, surely one of the greatest in modern English literature, to public notice once more after over half a century of unjustified neglect, and hope that through my recitals I can restore it to its rightful place at the pinnacle of English literature. Above all, I am thankful that I have been able to express the thanks of the Jewish people to this brave Christian woman poetess who spoke up for us so courageously and with such power:

Such is my heart towards you, Jew.

If I had gold, gold I would give you;
If I had land, land should be yours;
If I had strength of arm this day
I would make battle for your cause.

But I have neither gold nor silver;
Nor any acres; corn, nor wine;
Poor and frail and lowly, there
is but one talent I call mine.

One talent, yea. I have my words.
I give them to you, full and free;
will cry your name out without fear –
This will I do; thus shall it be.

I will lift up my hand for you
In all men’s sight, where all men meet

Till men awake to brotherhood
And the Jew comes to his own.

The full recording of the poem is also available on CD.

About the Author
London-born David Herman came on aliyah in 1966 after graduating from Cambridge University. In the 1960s, he founded the Good Times Publishing Company specializing in publishing newspapers in simplified English, French and Arabic for the Israeli school system. David currenty works as a translator, and is also very active in the field of songwriting and performing under the musical name, David Ben Reuven.
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