Tapping into famed Israeli poet and musician, Nancy Pelosi’s recitation of lyrics struck the right note
By David E. Kaplan
They say Israeli food in New York has never been hotter!
This is tantalizingly reflected in the ever increasing number of restaurants owned or run by Israelis with such alluring names from ‘Operation Falafel’ conjuring up the image of a culinary Middle East offensive on the palette to the mouthful ‘Balaboosta’, a term of endearment in Yiddish, which means “perfect homemaker” suggesting someone who loves to bring family together by cooking. However, the smorgasbord of delicious delights from Israel does not end at its cuisine, for Israeli culture has an endearing irresistible resonance that permeates American life and even its politics. This was spectacularly illustrated this week by none other than the United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who in an emotional response to a controversial Supreme Court ruling rolling back reproductive rights in the United States by half a century, recited a poem by the celebrated Israeli lyrist and poet, Ehud Manor (1941-2005).
At a pivotal disturbing moment in America’s history where the leading country in the world is shown to be as “never-so-divided since the Civil War”, one would think there was no shortage of fine words to recite from an American poet that would capture a frustrated people’s torment. None quite cut it for the Speaker because America’s leading Democrat in the House – while directing the cataclysmic cause for America’s backward somersault into the past on former president Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate for a decision that gives American women in 2022 “less freedom than their mothers”, Pelosi found solace in the words of an Israeli.
With this divided America facing an uncertain future over the Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade, a downhearted and dispirited looking Pelosi walked to the podium at the press conference at the Capital and recited Ehud Manor’s poem:
“I Have No Other Land” (“Ein Li Eretz Aheret” in Hebrew)
The words that were heard by American ears – her intended audience – were heard too in Israel whose citizens are however more familiar with the words in Hebrew.
“I have no other country
though my land is burning
Only a word in Hebrew
penetrates my veins and my soul –
with an aching body and with a hungry heart.
Here is my home
I will not be silent,
for my country has changed her face”
For Pelosi, her country has indeed “changed her face” as Americans have been heard saying, “We have awoken to a new America”, and not an America they feel comfortable with.
Emotionally distraught throughout the recitation of Manor’s poem, Pelosi felt compelled to repeat which might have been for her the most compelling line “my country has changed her face” and were in not for who she was – and where she was – one sensed she could have gone on repeating that line over and over again like a stuck gramophone needle so shocked and shaken was she.
Her fighting spirit to ‘march on’ returns when she concluded with Manor’s final line:
“I shall not give up on her. I will remind her and sing into her ears until she opens her eyes”.
The poem having ended, Pelosi laments:
“Clearly, we hope the Supreme Court will open its eyes”
With a conservative 6-3 majority of the judges this is unlikely to happen and with multiple states, including Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee where abortion will now be illegal under all circumstances – including in cases of rape and incest, there is little wonder that a protest movement is mobilising with its voice heard loud and clear as well as in Israel.
On Tuesday evening, 28 June, over a 100 people gathered in Habima Square in Tel Aviv to protest the US Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade. Filling the square were loud chants of carefully crafted wording such as:
“Pro-life that’s a lie,
you don’t care if women die”
A young 8th grader with family and friends in Texas – one of the states where abortion will be banned without exception, even in instances of rape or incest – was Rut, holding a sign that said, “Women just want to have fundamental human rights”. Devastated, she told The Jerusalem Post that she decided to attend the protest for more than one reason.
“I’m really young, and I already have friends who have gone through incredibly hard things. I think it’s incredibly important that we have rights over our own bodies. I spent three years in the US. I go there every summer. It’s extremely important to me to be here today.”
Not everyone at the protest was born in the US or even had a personal connection to the country like Rut. While many expressed feelings of solidarity with the women in the US who have had their access to reproductive healthcare revoked, others shared fears that their own rights would be taken next, that the ‘infection’ that has inflicted the US could spread like an all-to-familiar pandemic.
“Is this another Covid coming our way?” was the prevailing sense of fear.
This fear was emphatically conveyed to The Jerusalem Post by a protestor who requested to remain anonymous. Having no connection whatsoever to any family or friends in the US, she said that the overturning of Roe v. Wade indicated:
“worse things to come for women everywhere, not just in the US.” She went on, “…. It doesn’t make a difference where in the world it’s happening – a woman is a woman is a woman. It can happen to all of us.”
This was not the first time that Pelosi had responded to worldwide events through poetry or even the first time she has cited this particular Israeli poem by Ehud Manor – “I Have No Other Country”.
Awarded in 1998 the Israel Prize, the country’s highest cultural honor for his contributions to Israeli music, Manor remains an icon in Israel. Why his songs remain ever so popular, his widow Ofra Fuchs, whom Pelosi has met on her visits to Israel, explains:
“the perfect language, which sounds contemporary to this day. That is why young singers keep performing his songs, and that means that Ehud is still alive. He had the ability to create perfect harmony between the words and the music.”
May the day soon dawn when Nancy Pelosi might find cause to recite another of Manor’s poems In the Year to Come (BASHANAH HABA’AH), where the refrain reads:
“Just you wait and you’ll see
How much good there will be
In the year, that’s to come, that’s to come.”
Clearly, major battles will have to proceed before!
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