I thought the historian wept,
At least, his voice cracked,
As well it might: his words for the past hour
Had exceeded the speed limit
The lecture hall was his fast lane.
Now, in his closing remarks, he spoke of tears –
Not specifying who shed them,
Nor did he need to, our tears and his,
And the tears of our enemies
And of our fathers and mothers,
Of martyrs among us and of victims we made,
Of top hatted politicians
And the indigent Eastend Jews
Who gathered in Fieldgate Street
Outside the synagogue (established 1899)
And sang Hatikvah, ‘The Hope.’
November 1917, the Balfour letter
Spoke with favour of a homeland
On excessively holy ground
Overflowing with history
And conflicting rights from time immemorial,
So this, after the rootlessness,
The pogroms and the libels,
Rekindled the dormant spark.
A century passes and hope mutates;
Hope of reconciliation
Hope of affirmation
Hope for the abiding nation.
‘Notwithstanding all the tsures,’
The historian said and halted,
I thought he was overcome,
But he picked up his burden
Like the prophets of ancient times:
‘Notwithstanding all the tsures
It seems right to celebrate
The Balfour Declaration.’
The audience rose up and applauded.
Perhaps many thought as I did
Of the remnant of Israel
And the Guardian of that remnant,
Of beachside hotels, milk and honey,
Venality of power, Iron Dome,
The dispossessed neighbour
The blood lust of enmity
Digital innovation, medical progress,
The borders, the strictures, the wall,
The West Bank Barrier, sprayed
By Banksy’s mandatory enlightenment.
And the other wall, where we pray,
‘Suffer not Israel to perish,’
Tangled and tenacious flora persist,
Obtruding between the bricks.
Visitors pressing their hands against the wall,
Feel the heat of accumulated prayer,
Some wail aloud but some are silent
Always weeping, always hoping.
2 November 2017