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!