Yom Kippur’s Poetry of Awe – Israel in Translation


Today we explore Yom Kippur through the poetry of Yehuda Amichai and Shelley Elkayam, and the music of Leonard Cohen and Chayim Moshe.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, when God seals the verdict on each person’s fate for the coming year in the Book of Life.

Amichai’s poem refers to the Ne’ila – the closing prayer, shortly before sunset, when heaven’s ‘gates of prayer’ will be closed for the year. The subject has a moving encounter with an “Arab’s hole-in-the-wall shop” near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, which reminds him of his father’s shop that was burned down.

Shelley Elkayam is an eighth-generation native of Haifa, from a bilingual Ladino-/Hebrew-speaking family. The excerpt from her poem ‘Yes Indeed I’ll Answer God’ is written from the point of view of God. It ends: “Enough. / This is judgment. / And I take the verdict upon myself / at its word.”


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Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing. Edited and translated by Ammiel Alcalay. City Lights Books, 1996.

The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell. University of California Press, 1996.

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