#14

Much like yesterday’s poet, the native language of today’s author was not English. Yehuda Amichai was born in Germany but relocated to Palestine (modern-day Israel) at the age of 12. He is remembered as one of the great, if not the greatest, modern Israeli poets. Amichai was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on several occasions though he never received the award. He was widely respected by his fellow poets and wrote in very accessible, yet profound, language.

As you might expect, this author’s work often focuses on religion and personal connections to it. Although his work is most often found in translation, it is said to have lost some of its clever subtlety. In many instances, Amichai chose to use older Hebrew words rather than modern to add biblical connotations that do not exist in the current form of the language.

Today’s poem, “The School Where I Studied”, really speaks to me. A large part of the Jewish experience and religious teachings is about education and asking questions. It is important to reflect back on prior education and what can be learned from the learning process. We see that in this poem as the poet connects to his youth and reminisces about personal growth. “All my life I have loved in vain the things I didn’t learn”; that really resonates with me, more than it possibly should.

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The School Where I Studied

(Tr. by Chana Bloch)

I passed by the school where I studied as a boy
and said in my heart: here I learned certain things
and didn’t learn others. All my life I have loved in vain
the things I didn’t learn. I am filled with knowledge,
I know all about the flowering of the tree of knowledge,
the shape of its leaves, the function of its root system, its pests and parasites.
I’m an expert on the botany of good and evil,
I’m still studying it, I’ll go on studying till the day I die.
I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room
where we sat and learned. The windows of a classroom always open
to the future, but in our innocence we thought it was only landscape
we were seeing from the window.
The schoolyard was narrow, paved with large stones.
I remember the brief tumult of the two of us
near the rickety steps, the tumult
that was the beginning of a first great love.
Now it outlives us, as if in a museum,
like everything else in Jerusalem.

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