Hebrew Poems for a Muslim Nation

Selection of poems by modern Israel’s top female poet make a big splash in a Muslim-majority state

By Yossi Aloni |
Photo: Wiki Commons

The works of one of Israel’s best-known poets have been translated and published for Muslims. The works of Rachel the Poet, as she is known in Israel, whose poems are included in the mandatory curriculum in Israeli schools, have been translated into the local language of Azerbaijan, a 96% Muslim country in the Caucasus near the Caspian Sea.

The publication of the Rachel’s poems is at the initiative of the Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Dan Stav. The book in Hebrew and Azeri brings together 25 of Rachel’s poems and includes an introduction by the ambassador that provides background on the life history of the poet and the importance of her work in Israeli society.

The majority of Rachel’s poetry is set in the pastoral countryside of the Land of Israel. Her poems touch on the hardships and laments of her life as a pioneer in Israel laboring in the land to make it a home for her people. Born Rachel Bluwstein, she immigrated to Israel at the age of 19 and settled in the agricultural town of Rehovot. Her writings include biblical stories and the literature of the Second Aliyah pioneers. In some of her poems Rachel expresses identification with biblical figures such as Rachel, her namesake, and Michal, wife of King David.

The Embassy held a book launch at the Azerbaijan National Museum of Art with 60 guests from the arts and academia, the diplomatic community and representatives of the Jewish community.

During the event a number of poems were read, and two Hebrew songs composed on Rachel’s poems were performed. The event was covered by a number of local media channels, including the Azerbaijan state television, civil news agency and more.

Rachel was the first female Jewish poet in Israel to receive recognition in a genre that at the time was the purview solely of men. Her poems remain bestsellers to this day, and many have been set to music and are widely performed by Israeli singers. Selections of her poetry have been translated into numerous languages, including English and German. Naomi Shemer, Israel’s most prolific songwriter, was buried near Rachel overlooking the Sea of Galilee, according to Shemer’s wish.


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