The Landscape of Israel in the Poems of the "Generation of Transition"

By Abraham-Eitan, Chelly | Hebrew Studies Journal, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

The Landscape of Israel in the Poems of the "Generation of Transition"


Abraham-Eitan, Chelly, Hebrew Studies Journal


In my book The Heartache of Dual Roots, (1) I dealt with the unique qualities of the literary generation of poets from Islamic lands belonging to the "declaration of the State" generation--or more specifically to the "generation of transition"--that underwent a cultural upheaval and in turn created a cultural upheaval in the Hebrew literary scene. (2) Among other things, I presented the "heartache of dual roots" poetry of this group (which includes Erez Biton, Ronny Somek, Dror Peretz-Banai, Balfour and Herzl Haqaq, Joseph Ozer, Sammy Shalom Shitrit, Eli Amir, Sammy Michael, Shimon Balas, and others), whose own personal social and cultural crisis emerges in their literary work, and whose description of Israel's landscape carries a note of protest as a projection of their own absorption process.

An exception to this phenomenon may be found in a group of poets of Yemenite origin (Ratzon Halevi, Tuvia Sulami, Mordechai Tabib, and members of the second and third generation such as Aaron Almog, Avivit Levi Kapah, and others) who despite the difficulties they encountered upon their arrival in Israel, describe the country's landscape in a manner reminiscent of the work of the anonymous Yemenite poets of previous generations. (3) If protest appears in their work, it is in relation to an event grounded in a specific time and place and not as a general phenomenon. (4) One can sense in their poetry a real affinity with the country's landscape, which they dreamt about, prayed about, and chanted about throughout the generations. Now their abstract longing for the land in the Diaspora was replaced by a concrete and sensual attachment to the landscapes that surrounded them in their new home, as if they had been born to work the land. An explanation of this is that they actually considered the Land of Israel to be their homeland; for them Yemen was the Diaspora, and their poetry expresses the relative ease with which they left it behind. (5) Anthony Afeyah claimed, as did others, that travel to a distant place results in self-revelation. Conflicts of identity are resolved abroad. Transferring the conflict to a foreign country strengthens the affinity with the homeland. The powerful yearning for the Land of Israel from their place of residence in the Diaspora and their strong feeling of belonging despite the conflicts and hardships they experienced on their way to the land may be explained by how they lived in their country of origin. (6)

A careful study of selected works of "the generation of transition" can reveal a number of common traits, both thematic and structural, among the poets who emmigrated from Islamic lands. Most striking is "the heartache of dual roots" and the dual landscape (of Israel and of scenes of their childhood in their country of origin), to which may be added dual language and dual culture. (7)

Some of these poets began their literary careers only after leaving their countries of origin, but due to their young age--most were in their teens or early twenties--they could not detach themselves from the landscapes of the Diaspora, which formulated their spiritual being and cultural heritage. Scenes of palm trees, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, village scenes, green fields, major cities such as Baghdad, Basra, Istanbul, and Alexandria abound, parallel with descriptions of the actual Israeli landscape of the time: transit camps, villages and kibbutzim, and major cities, especially Jerusalem.

Their descriptions of the country's landscape are emotionally and socially charged and express the following:

a) The difficulty in breaking emotional ties with the landscapes of the Diaspora due to nostalgia for scenes of childhood and youth, especially for the family atmosphere and the religious heritage that was an integral part of Eastern Jewish culture.

b) The difficulty in overcoming the sense of estrangement in face of a physically and culturally desolate landscape. The immigrants from Islamic lands were sent to border areas as part of the national security network. …

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