Texts & Translation

New Yiddish Poetry from the Israel-Gaza War

Zackary Sholem Berger, Tal Hever-Chybowski, Eli Sharfstein, Miriam Trinh, Refaat Alareer and Ber Kotlerman

Translation by Zackary Sholem Berger, A. Z. Foreman, David Forman, Jessica Kirzane and A. C. Weaver

INTRODUCTION

Four months have passed since the Hamas attacks of Octo­ber 7th and the start of the war in Gaza. As edi­tors and schol­ars of Yid­dish Stud­ies, we have been anguished by the dev­as­ta­tion, loss and trau­ma of this con­flict. Over these painful months, con­tem­po­rary Yid­dish poets have doc­u­ment­ed, protest­ed, mourned, and expressed polit­i­cal and emo­tion­al respons­es to the unfold­ing events through the Yid­dish word. Through this col­lec­tion, we endeav­or to give a sense of cre­ative respons­es that have been per­formed or pub­lished recent­ly af der yidish­er gas. The poems in this col­lec­tion are strained with the process of artic­u­la­tion — some extri­cate his­tor­i­cal words that res­onate with fresh con­no­ta­tions, oth­ers cite pained, clipped frag­ments from rel­a­tives and radios, and all con­tend with the lim­its of an alpha­bet, and the des­per­ate need to call out, as an indi­vid­ual or a col­lec­tive. These poems express con­vic­tions across a polit­i­cal spec­trum, and it is our goal to bring them togeth­er to show the breadth of con­tem­po­rary Yid­dish expres­sion at this urgent moment, and not to endorse any par­tic­u­lar view. It feels impos­si­ble to find words for the present, yet we hope that this col­lec­tion, along with the list of teach­ing sources pub­lished ear­li­er, will be a resource for read­ers in this dif­fi­cult time. 

We are grate­ful to Zackary Sholem Berg­er for his co-edit­ing work in col­lect­ing, curat­ing and trans­lat­ing these poems. 

We wel­come fur­ther addi­tions to this list, writ­ten in orig­i­nal Yid­dish with Eng­lish trans­la­tion. Please send sug­ges­tions to translate@​ingeveb.​org.

“No” (Nisht) by Sholem Berger, translated by A. Z. Foreman
This poem was initially posted to Facebook on October 12, 2023 and read at the break-fast for a communal fast for Palestinian, Israeli, and any other victims of violence, in Baltimore on October 16, 2023.

נישט

נישט זייער טויט וועט מחייה זײַן די טויטע.
נישט זייער הונגער איז אונדזער ברויט.
מערן זייערע טרערן וועט נאָר טרערן מערן.
בלוט איז רויט. איז רויט.

דער שאַרבן אויפֿן וואַסער. דאָס קינד געקעפּט---
דאָס קינד אונטער חורבֿות. האָט קוים געלעבט.
דער געכאַפּטער אָטעם פֿון ייִד און גוי
לופֿטערט נישט קיינעמס נויט.

איך זיץ און שרײַב, אות נאָך אות
ייאוש איז גאָרנישט, אחיה? אמות?
נישט זייער צעשטערונג האָט אויפֿגעבויט.
טויט איז טויט.

No

No their death will not revive the dead.
No their hunger is not our bread.
More tears from them just make more tears.
Blood is red. Is red.

The beheaded child. The floating skull... 1 1 Literally “the skull on the water,” a reference to the story of Hillel from Pirkei Avot: “He as well saw a skull floating on the surface of the water and he said to it: Because you drowned others they drowned you; and those that drowned you will in the end be drowned” (Trans.).
The child under rubble. Lived hardly at all.
Snuffed breath of Jew and Gentile will not blow
Anyone’s grief away. No.

I sit and write. One letter. At a time.
Despair is nothing. Live? Maybe. Or die... 2 2 This line, written in Hebrew, reads literally “Despair is nothing. Shall I live? Shall I die?” and is a reference to Psalms 118:17 (Trans.).
No their destruction has not built one shred.
Dead is dead.

“The Destruction of Gaza” (Khurbn Gaza) by Tal Hever-Chybowski, translated by David Forman
This poem was initially published in the פֿאָרווערטס/Forverts/Yiddish Forward on January 26, 2024 and has been translated into multiple languages including Lithuanian, Hebrew, Dutch, German, and French.

חורבן עזה

אין מיטן גרויל
פֿאַראַן אַ רגע
ווען עס גלוסט זיך מיר
אַרויסצונעמען זיך פֿון כּלל.
פּונקט דעמאָלט רעדט אַ שטים אין מיר:
ווי קענסטו לייקענען דײַן שטאַם
אַז טרערן אויף דײַן ייִנגלס באַק
דערמאָנען דיר אין חורבן
בית־המיקדש?
ווען חורבן עזה הייבט זיך אָן
געפֿין איך זיך אין גערניקאַ.
ניט מעטאַפֿיזיש,
ניט פֿיגוראַטיוו,
נאָר דאָרטן ממש,
ווי אַ טוריסט,
אַ פֿרישער טאַטע מיט זײַן זון און מיט זײַן מאַמען
אין אַן אַלטן קאַראַוואַן,
אַ פֿאָרנדיקער היים וואָס איז מער ערד
פֿון אַלע לענדער אין דער וועלט
אין דעם מאָמענט.
אין טעלעפֿאָן
דערמאָנט מײַן טאַטע מיר
אין אַבא קאָוונערס שורה:
„גערניקא אויף יעדן בערגל“.
אָנגעשריבן האָט ער זי
אין נײַנצן הונדערט נײַן און פֿערציק
ווי אַן אָפּרוף אויף דער ערשטער נאַקבאַ.
מיר פֿאָרן ווײַטער
ביז סוף־מערבֿ —
פֿיניסטעראַ —
„סוף פֿון לאַנד“.
אין קאַראַוואַן אין דעם פֿאַרמאַכטן
רעד איך צו דער מיזרח־וואַנט
אַזוי צו זאָגן:
שמע ישׂראל, אין דײַן נאָמען
און אין מײַנעם טוט מען דאָס.

The Destruction of Gaza 3 3 The word ‘khurbn’ in the Yiddish title literally means ‘destruction’, but is stronger than the English word. It is used most often to refer to the destruction of the First and Second Temple, the total annihilation of a town, such as in the pogroms in Ukraine in 1918-1920, or the Holocaust.

My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west -- Yehuda HaLevi

In the midst of horror
comes a moment
when I feel an urge
to pull myself from the community.

Just then a voice inside me speaks:
How can you deny your origin
when the tears on your boy’s cheek
remind you of the Destruction
of the Temple?

When the Destruction of Gaza begins
I find myself in Guernica.
Not metaphorically,
not figuratively,
but actually there
as a tourist,
a new father with his son and his mother,
in an old caravan, 4 4 “Caravan”—the British English term for a mobile home (Trans.).
a mobile home more grounded
than all the countries in the world
at this moment.

On the telephone
my father reminds me
of Abba Kovner’s line:
“A Guernica on every hill.“

He wrote it
in nineteen hundred forty-nine
in response to the first Nakba.

We drive on farther
to the uttermost West –
Finisterra –
“the end of the earth.“

In the caravan, shut tight,
I talk to the Eastern Wall
saying:
Shma Yisroel, in Your name
and in mine, they are doing this.

“Sevenfold (A Lamentation)” (Zibnfakh, A kine) by Ber Kotlerman, translated by Jessica Kirzane
This poem was initially posted to Facebook on October 14, 2023, and was recited on November 22, 2023 on the French Radio Yiddish Pour Tous and for Fishl’s Yiddish Group on November 21, 2023. The poet will read this poem, among others, on February 19, 2024, at a poetic Yiddish rally for the Israeli hostages, sponsored by the Argentinian IWO (YIVO) and the Rena Coster Center for Yiddish Studies at Bar Ilan University.

זיבנפֿאַך (אַ קינה)

שטאָל און אײַזן, קאַלט און האַרט און שטום
שמיד אױס אַ האַרץ פֿאַר זיך, דו מענטש — און קום!
ח. ן. ביאַליק, „אין שחיטה־שטאָט“

רײַס אָפּ די אױגן פֿונעם גרױען נײַעס־שטראָם,
זיץ אױפֿן דיל און װײן, און װאָי, און הױל
פֿון הױלן גרױל,
װײַל דאָרט, װוּ ס׳האָט אַ בלום געבליט אין פֿעלד,
אַ קערפּער פֿון אַ מײדל אײַנזאַם ליגט,
און װוּ אַן עופֿל האָט געפּאַטשט די הענט מיט פֿרײד,
מיט בלוט פֿאַרפֿלעקטע ליאַלקעס צװישן װענט
געחרובֿט שרײַען אָן אַ קלאַנג און אָן אַ קול
און װאַרטן נאָך, אַז עמעץ זאָל זײ הערן...
שמיד צו דײַן פּײַן און האַרץ אױף תּמיד
צו יענעם צױם, צו יענעם עמוד,
װאָס האָט געמוזט זײ היטן
פֿאַר דער שחיטה.
דו—גיב אַ װאָרט פֿאַר זײ, אַ נדר—
זיבנפֿאַך.

Sevenfold (A Lamentation)

Steel and iron, cold and hard and dumb
Forge your heart, oh man – and come!
Ch. N Bialik, “In the City of Slaughter”

Tear your eyes away from the grey news stream
Sit on the floor and weep, and moan, and keen
At the sheer horror, obscene.
For there, where once a flower bloomed in the field,
A girl’s body lies, forlorn
And where an infant clapped its hands in glee
Blood-spattered dolls strewn between the ruined walls
Wail without a sound, without a voice
And wait for someone to hear them…
Forge your pain, your heart, forever
To that fence, that watchtower
That should have protected them
From the slaughter.
You - swear your ancient oath, be now their voice:
Sevenfold.

“A Dark Dawn” (Der shvartser frimorgn) By Eli Sharfshteyn, translated by Jessica Kirzane
This poem was posted on Facebook on February 1, 2024.

דער שוואַרצער פֿרימאָרגן

אַ שוואַרצע כמאַרע אויפן הימל
און בלאָזן בייזע ווינטן.
און ווידער העלפֿן נישט קיין תפֿילות,
און ווידער פֿאַלן קינדער.
און ווידער "הֻתַּר לְפִרְסוּם"
מיט פּנימער מיט שיינע,
און ווידער וויינט מען אוּמעטוּם,
און העלפֿן העלפֿט נישט קיינער.
און וואוּ'ז דער אויסוועג? די אַדזשענדע?
ס'איז דאָ נאָך ליכט אין טוּנעל ענדע?
שוין הונדערט זיבעצן טעג אוועק,
און נישט קיין ענדע, נישט קיין עק...

A Dark Dawn

Angry winds blow
and clouds blacken the sky.
Prayers are still of no avail
and children still die.
“These names are shared with permission” they go on saying,
showing those beautiful faces.
And still, everywhere, weeping,
and no one can help.
And what’s the exit strategy? The agenda?
Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?
One hundred and seventeen days have passed.

Untitled, by Miriam Trinh, translated by Sholem Berger
This poem appeared in the Fall-Winter 2023 issue of Afn Shvel. The entire issue was devoted to the tragic events in Israel on October 7 and the resulting war against Hamas — featuring various perspectives and experiences, and testimony from both victims and those who came to their aid.

א - אָקטאָבער אין „ארץ“ און אַצינד איז אַלץ אַנדערש אין אונדז, אַרום און אומעטום
ב - באַשרײַבן, באַװײנען, באַגראָבן -
ג - גאָר גרױס גװאַלד געשריגן - גאָרנישט: גרױזאַם געשװיגן
ד - דײַן
ה - הײם
ו - װאָס
ז - זאָל
ח - חרובֿ װערן, חס־ו...
ט - טרעװאָגע! טאַקע? טראַװמע. טאַקע? טאַקע טױט! טאַקע?
י - יאָ
כּ - כּלות כּלפּי כּלבֿים - כּולו חייבֿ
כ - כליפּען, כאַפּן, כליאַניען
ל - לאָזט לעבן!
מ - מיט אַנאַנד? מוט. מורא. מע מעג? מע מוז? מײַן מדינה! משוגע מײַנע שׂונאים...
נ - נישט נישטערן נאָר נאַרײַען נאַראַטיװן: נײטיקע, נישטיקע, נאָגיקע
ס - ס׳עט סטײַען - - - װאָס? דער כּוח צום סך־הכּל, צו זאָגן
ע - עדות: עזה. עזות־פּנים. העזה.
פּ - אײן פּײַן־פּנים.
פֿ - פֿעלקער
צ - צװײ
ק - קרײץ
ר - רױטער ריטער. רעטער? רויִק.
ש - שאַ־שטיל!...שלום - חלום
שׂ - שׂימחת־
תּ - תּורה, תּרבות, תּל
ת - ס ו ף
(און אין אָנהײב: װאַרט דאָס װאָרט. נאָך אַלע. נאָך אַלעמען. נאָך אַלץ)

Alarms. All around, abandoned, annihilated.
Beginning: Bearing, beweeping, burying.
Catastrophe. Crying, calling: communications completely closed.
Dismal: Dead? Despair. Definitely – dead?!
Egregious (Enfeebled Eretz!)
Failure.
Guilty. Godforbid. Grieving guests.
Homes
Incinerated, immolated – Israeli
Jews
Killed, kibbutzim
Lost. Liquidated. Left? Let live!
May, must, mettle and morale, my medina, my mutiny (my enemies mania)
Not nose around – narrate! Not nothing; necessary. Nettling, needed –
Ongoing obligation of October.
Personal, powerful, painful
Questioning countenance. Cross,
Red rider. Rescuer.
Shhhh. Shalom – simchat
Torah. Tarbut. Tell.
Unfinished
Valedictory.
We will
Expect, yearn, see.
All. Around. After.

“If I Must Die” (Az ikh zol umkumen) by Refaat Alareer in English, translated by A. C. Weaver into Yiddish
This poem was published on the author’s Twitter on Nov. 1, 2023. It has been translated into over 40 languages and performed in a variety of forums. The Yiddish translation was performed at an evening cabaret of Yiddish New York on December 25, 2023.

אַז איך זאָל אומקומען

אַז איך זאָל אומקומען על-קידוש-השם,
לעב:
פֿון מײַן לעבן זאָלסטו דערציילן
מײַנע פֿאַרמאָגן זאָלסטו פֿאַרקויפֿן
כּדי צו קויפֿן אַ שטיקל טוך, מיט שנורן
(ווײַס זאָל עס זײַן, מיט אַ לאַנגען עק).
און ווען ערגעץ וווּ אין עזה
זאָל אַ קינד קוקן גן-עדן אין די אויגן:
אַ קינד, וואָס וואַרט אויף זײַן טאַטן
װאָס איז אַוועק אין אַ שׂרפֿה
אָן קיין אָפּשייד-וואָרט
פֿאַר זײַן אייגענע, פֿאַר זיך אַליין…
וואָלט דאָס קינד דעם פלישלאַנג דערזען,
מײַן פֿלישלאַנג, וואָס דו האָסט געמאַכט,
וואָס פֿלאַטערט אין אויבן—
דאַן גלויבט דאָס קינד, אויף אַ רגע,
אַז אַ מלאך פֿליט דאָרט
וואָס ברענגט צוריק די ליבשאַפֿט.
אַז איך זאָל אומקומען על-קידוש-השם
לאָז עס דעם ביטחון שטאַרקן
לאָז עס זײַן אַן אַגדה.

If I must die

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze—
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself—
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love
If I must die
let it bring hope
let it be a tale

MLA STYLE
Berger, Zackary Sholem, Tal Hever-Chybowski, Eli Sharfstein, Miriam Trinh, Refaat Alareer, and Ber Kotlerman. “New Yiddish Poetry from the Israel-Gaza War.” In geveb, February 2024: Trans. Zackary Sholem Berger, A. Z. Foreman, David Forman, Jessica Kirzane, and A. C. Weaver . https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/new-yiddish-poetry-war-2024.
CHICAGO STYLE
Berger, Zackary Sholem, Tal Hever-Chybowski, Eli Sharfstein, Miriam Trinh, Refaat Alareer, and Ber Kotlerman. “New Yiddish Poetry from the Israel-Gaza War.” Translated by Zackary Sholem Berger, A. Z. Foreman, David Forman, Jessica Kirzane, and A. C. Weaver . In geveb (February 2024): Accessed Apr 22, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Zackary Sholem Berger

Zackary Sholem Berger writes and translates in Yiddish and English. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Tal Hever-Chybowski

Tal Hever-Chybowski, born in the United States in 1986, grew up in Jerusalem where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in history. In 2008, he moved to Berlin to continue his studies and earned a master's degree in history from the Humboldt University of Berlin. He then relocated to Paris in 2014 to lead the Maison de la culture yiddish - Bibliothèque Medem. In 2016, he launched Mikan Ve'eylakh: Journal for Diasporic Hebrew, a project between Berlin and Paris. The following year, he founded Yiddish in Berlin: Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Literature at the Free University of Berlin. In 2021, he directed the Yiddish play Jacob Jacobson at the Théâtre de l'Opprimé in Paris. Engaged in writing, translation, theater, and cinema, he is currently working on his doctorate at the University of Göttingen.

Eli Sharfstein

Eli Sharfstein was born in Vilnius in 1950 to a family of Yiddish actors. As a child he spoke Yiddish and Russian. In 1971 he made aliyah to Israel and learned Hebrew. Since the pandemic, and following his father’s death in 2020, Sharfstein has written stories and poems in Yiddish. In 2021, his short story won first place in Israel's National Yiddish Short Story Contest. His works have been published in Yidishland, Yidish Branzhe, Afn Shvel and Grine Medine, and he has published two books: Plutsem Yidish (an e-book of poetry) and Mayn Vilner Zavulik (stories about Jewish life in Lithuania). He is currently at work on two more short story collections.

Miriam Trinh

Miriam Trinh was born in Poland and raised in Germany. She earned her B.A. in Yiddish and Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and her M.A. from the Sorbonne in Paris and Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg. She wrote her doctoral dissertation at Hebrew University and held a post-doc at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Since 1999 she has taught Yiddish language and culture in Paris, Oxford, Vilna, Strasbourg, New York and Tel Aviv, among others. Currently, she teaches at Hebrew University. She has published work on modern Yiddish literature, and Holocaust literature in particular. She translates into and from Yiddish, and together with Eliezer Niborski she founded the Yiddish center “Yo—Yiddish Ort,” which offers both online and in-person Yiddish programming.

Refaat Alareer

Refaat Alareer (1979–2023) was a poet, translator, and professor of English literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza. He edited Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine (2013). He was killed by an IDF airstrike on December 6, 2023, along with his brother, nephew, his sister, and three of her children.

Ber Kotlerman

Ber Kotlerman is Professor at the Department of Literature of the Jewish People and Director of the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies, Bar Ilan University, Israel. He also holds the Sznajderman Chair in Yiddish Culture and Hasidism. He is the author of a number of monographs in the field of Yiddish culture. Among his literary awards are the Canadian Dr. Hirsch and Deborah Rosenfeld Award for Yiddish and Hebrew Literature and the American Jewish Press Association's Simon Rockower Award.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS

Zackary Sholem Berger

Zackary Sholem Berger writes and translates in Yiddish and English. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

A. Z. Foreman

A. Z. Foreman is a literary translator, poet and language teacher currently working on a doctorate in Near Eastern Languages at the Ohio State University. He received his B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Chicago, and his M.A. in Arabic Language from the University of Maryland. His translations from Arabic, Chinese, Old Irish, Italian, Russian, Old English, Ukrainian, Yiddish and Welsh have appeared in sundry anthologies, journals and a BBC radio broadcast. He divides his time between the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen.

David Forman

David Forman is a poet and a student of the Yiddish language, based in Ithaca, New York.

Jessica Kirzane

Jessica Kirzane is the assistant instructional professor of Yiddish at the University of Chicago. She holds a PhD in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University. Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief of In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies.

A. C. Weaver

Weaver is a playwright, actor, director, oral storyteller, Yiddish translator and union stagehand who lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. They are the co-artistic director of The People's Puppet Parade (a Yiddish processional theatre collective) and are currently translating and adapting Sholem Asch's drama "Shabbtai Tsvi" for immersive performance.