May God’s Love Be Taught in Jerusalem

Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

Spiritual Sunday – Yom Kippur

Today is Yom Kippur, the day when Jews seek to atone for their sins against God and their fellow human beings, both publicly and privately. Grace Schulman’s Yom Kippur poem “Prayer” focuses on repairing relations with Arab Palestinians, as daunting a Yom Kippur task as one could imagine.

Because Jerusalem is not only Judaism’s most important city but also of special significance to Islam (the Dome of the Rock is one of its holiest shrines), Schulman moves beyond Judaic tribalism to see the promise of cross-cultural intermingling in the city. Yom Kippur becomes a chance to reflect upon what it would mean for “Jerusalem” to live up to its potential as a city of peace.

Schulman herself is wearing an Arab dress that points to commonalities between the contending parties:

My Arab dress has blue-green-yellow
threads the shades of mosaics hand-wrought in Jerusalem

that both peoples prize, like the blue-yellow Dome of the Rock,
like strung beads-and-cloves, said to ward off the drought in Jerusalem.

Schulman doesn’t ignore Israeli-Palestinian violence, mentioning car bombings. At the same time, however, she speaks of an Arab poet translating Hebrew verses, and her poem is dedicated to Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shadid Ali. According to Poetry Foundation,

Ali was noted as a poet uniquely able to blend multiple ethnic influences and ideas in both traditional forms and elegant free-verse.

Both she and Ali, she observes, tap into poetic legends, she to the 12th century Jewish-Spanish poet Judah Halevi, he to the 19th century Persian poet Ghalib. Their respective traditions yield rich images:

Stone lions pace the sultan’s gate while almonds bloom
into images, Hebrew and Arabic, wrought in Jerusalem.

Such richness, she asserts, cannot be found in the violence (“No words, no metaphors, for knives that gore flesh”). Instead, she returns to images of woven threads, including spider webs and the colors of the rainbow. Pointing out that her first name means “chana” or “God’s love” in both Hebrew and Arabic, she prays, “May its meaning…at last be taught in Jerusalem.”

Prayer
For Agha Shahid Ali
By Grace Schulman

Yom Kippur: wearing a bride’s dress bought in Jerusalem,
I peer through swamp reeds, my thought in Jerusalem

Velvet on grass. Odd, but I learned young to keep this day
just as I can, if not as I ought, in Jerusalem.

Like sleep or love, prayer may surprise the woman
who laughs by a stream, or the child distraught in Jerusalem.

My Arab dress has blue-green-yellow threads
the shades of mosaics hand-wrought in Jerusalem

that both peoples prize, like the blue-yellow Dome of the Rock,
like strung beads-and-cloves, said to ward off the drought in Jerusalem.

Both savor things that grow wild—coreopsis in April,
the rose that buds late, like an afterthought, in Jerusalem.

While car bombs flared, an Arab poet translated
Hebrew verses whose flame caught in Jerusalem.

And you, Shadhid, sail Judah Halevi’s sea as I,
on Ghalib’s, course like an Argonaut in Jerusalem.

Stone lions pace the sultan’s gate while almonds bloom
into images, Hebrew and Arabic, wrought in Jerusalem.

No words, no metaphors, for knives that gore flesh
on streets where the people have fought in Jerusalem.

As this spider weaves a web in silence,
may Hebrew and Arabic be woven taut in Jerusalem.

Here at the bay, I see my face in the shallows
and plumb for the true self our Abraham sought in Jerusalem.

Open the gates to rainbow-colored words
of outlanders, their sounds untaught in Jerusalem.

My name is Grace, Chana in Hebrew—and in Arabic.
May its meaning, “God’s love,” at last be taught in Jerusalem.

Previous posts on Yom Kippur
A Ninth Century Prayer for Yom Kippur
Adrienne Rich’s Yom Kippur Thoughts about Conflict 
Jane Kenyon: Thirsting of Disordered Souls
Rashani: Out of Darkness, Sanctified into Being 
–Stanley Kunitz: Live in the Layers, Not on the Litter 
Philip Schultz: Believe in the Utter Sweetness of Your Life  

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