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If hills could speak

Jewish history has taught us that survival is less fragile than we have been led to believe (poetry)
Illustrative. Judean Hills.
Illustrative. Judean Hills.

If you could see what I have seen….

I watched the great empires
of Sumer and Akkad
bestow upon the world
the gifts of writing and literature
and mythology and civil society

I watched a group of nomads penetrate
the impenetrable
and struggle to maintain
a distinct identity
in a syncretistic world
where people and pantheons
and relationships and beliefs
and magic and worship
commingled effortlessly

A hilltop overlooking springs
and olive groves
I watched a warrior-king
purchase my threshing floor
and his crown-prince transform my face
with cedars from Lebanon
and architects from Tyre
and corvee labor from among his own

And then I watched the children of those laborers
reject tyranny
and build shrines
to rival my grandeur

I watched the north fight the south
and then I watched the north disappear
and the silence of the south
was deafening

The Land rejected Abel’s murderer
I understood
and so bereft, I watched
as she rejected the people
that had inherited the right
to live in my vicinity

I watched the words of prophets
fall on deaf ears
and then resonate anew
by the Rivers of Babylon
as circumstances and survival demanded

And then I watched some return
in waves
to rebuild
And all along the way
I watched them debate
autonomy and provenance
and walls
and the myth of the empty land

I watched the Ptolemies and Seleucids
carve up
my hearts
I watched the elephants
the refusal to bow
and the stars on shields
The valiant battles for sovereignty
and religion
And then how it devolved
and deteriorated
and destroyed

I watched purity define
and divide
as messianism and apocalyptic visions
filled the void
of arms locked
and eyes met
and orientations understood
and integrity

I watched right replace righteous
more eclipse moral
dogmatic interpretations
of The Divine Word
drown out voices
of human

So I watched them come
and I felt the burn
of the bloodshed
of the innocents
by their brothers
The daggers and the battering rams
of ideologies
that squandered opportunities
that bred contention and distance
and loss
Loss of independence
and immanence
of God
on my soil

But then I watched a few brave souls
in the aftermath
of failed revolts
watch me
while my embers flickered

I watched them reflect
on the hollow
and on the footprints
of trampling
that remained in my ashes

I watched them reconvene
and re-imagine
a system
that embraced debate
and dialogue
of simultaneous truths
and rigid interpretations
that bow in deference to peace

I watched them engage
in mental calisthenics
sharpening their minds
on the blade of the Other
I watched them implement
one line of argumentation
but quote its counterpoint in full
Articulate criteria
but leave man’s relationship with God
up to Him

I watched them create cohesion
through guidelines
and standards
to uphold and sustain
and flexibility and ingenuity
to perpetuate

and I watched them transcend
time and space
The globe

If you could see what I have seen….

On that day in May
and then June

You would bottle up the gratitude
and the unity
and vow to keep THAT sacred

You would know that what you are seeing
is but one iteration
of the whole
of our history
of the ongoing, raging debates
of the visceral desire to survive

But survival
you would also know
is less fragile than you are led to believe
You would know
that you owe it to yourselves
and to the orders you are committed to
to acknowledge
their inherent flaws
and trust
in their ultimate resilience

If you could see what I have seen
You would honor
but truly honor
that which was created
after that which was destroyed
And you would be looking forward
to a future
in historical consciousness

About the Author
Prior to making aliyah in 2014, Yael was a member of the Judaic Studies faculty at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. She has taught continuing education courses at Drisha Institute for Jewish Education and served as resident scholar at the Jewish Center Of Manhattan. She is currently teaching at Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Learning, and lectures widely on topics in Jewish biblical thought.
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