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In 1910 my life was saved

And Halley’s Comet brushed the earth

Which passed  right through the comet’s tail,

Though this did not foretell my birth;

And George the Fifth was now the king

While Asquith led from Downing Street,

And HG Wells and Bernard Shaw

Had literati at their feet.

The town of Tel Aviv was named

By pioneers who travelled far

From pogroms led by Cossacks

Who loved Nicholas, the Russian Tsar;

And this is how I come to hold

A faded passport in my hand,

My great-grandfather’s document,

Which freed him from his native land.

A stamp from Tulchin on one page,

For here was Yaakov’s residence,

Not near the Palace, I should add,

Owned by some ducal eminence.

A city in Podolia,

Two hundred miles south of Kiev

Was somewhat closer to the towns

Of Zhitomir and Kishinev,

The former being known to house

A Hebrew language printing press;

The Black Hundreds  active there

Enjoyed some sinister success

They murdered Jews in Zhitomir

The  police chose to avert their gaze

Like Kishinev, two years before,

The pogrom of the Easter days.

Yaakov then resolved to leave

With Chaya, his devoted wife,

Whose age that year was sixty-two;

Her name in English: ‘Eve,’ or ‘Life.’

Their daughter had a family,

Yaakov was her husband’s name.

Three generations sailed away,

To London’s thrumming docks they came:

This rough and ready sanctuary,

The city which I love and trust

And where my grandparents lie,

At peace amidst the English dust.

Then Malka was again with child

Her father now had passed away.

She wrote the number of the grave

In Edmonton where Yaakov lay

On the front page of her siddur

In Yiddish, using Hebrew script.

She was now forty. In due course

The well-known pains of labour gripped.

The child she bore was Yaakov too.

He was my father. Jacob. Jack;

A child of London, as am I,

To Russia we do not look back;

But when the revolution came

His grown-up sister Leah returned,

Inspired by the Soviets,

And how she died, we never learned,

In World War Two, she disappeared;

Among the ranks of those who died

Because they lived on Russian soil

When German forces occupied.

I firmly believe that document

Issued with the Tulchin stamp

Saved my father from the Nazis,

From the concentration camp,

He learned from newsreels of the Shoah,

Read of hideous events

But he survived and so I live,

How good, O Jacob, are thy tents!

Repeat These Words

It’s harder than ever to pray
God’s heard it so often before,
I don’t want to repeat myself,
I don’t want to repeat myself,
I’m afraid of being a bore
And some things I just cannot say.

It’s not easy getting to grips
With eternity and infinity,
I don’t want to repeat myself,
But rather to complete myself,
But how should I speak of divinity
If God doesn’t open my lips?

The words have endured wear and tear,
While I worship, petition and bless.
I don’t want to be insincere,
I wait for the meaning to reappear,
Sometimes I believe more, sometimes less,
And I’ve nothing, at times, to declare.

If my mouth will declare Your praise
The language may fashion the thought,
And the words of supplication
Determine the meditation
To which they gives support
Through each time-honoured ancient phrase.

At times, when my heart’s in my mouth
I’m in tune with a great cosmic beat
Then I don’t believe that I cheat myself
It’s all right to repeat myself,
It’s different each time I repeat,
With my right hand, yemini, to the south.