“…by the power of my yearnings/ I am in the family./ And if I will not yearn,/ I am not in the family.” So wrote Avot Yeshurun (1904-1992), an Israeli poet who knew something about the fragility of familial ties, whether by blood, nationality, language, or religion.
Born Yehiel Perlmutter in Ukraine to a Hasidic lineage, he broke first with “the family” by emigrating to Palestine in 1925—not, at the time, what was expected of a Hasidic youth. Working as a laborer and publishing poems in a Hebrew that soon developed a unique tone, far from the language he had learned in heder, he also became attentive to the plight of Arabs as the Zionist project developed. Of the traumas of Palestinian displacement in 1948 and the Shoah, he wrote [PDF]: “The two gaze directly into one another’s face.”
In his poems, which mostly escaped the notice of the Israeli literary elite until late in his life, he blended the worlds he knew through language: Yiddish, Polish, Arabic, Hebrew. Judging by the work he left behind, he may have been skeptical of the power of human-constructed borders—even stubborn political ones—to divide humans. After all, he wrote in “All The Rivers,” “All the rivers/ run into/ the sea and the sea/ is not full/ because all/ the rivers return/ to the rivers.”
» Delve into Avot Yeshurun’s poetry.
» Discover the legacy of Israeli protest literature.
» Read a tribute to the poet.
» Explore the poet in context.