The port city of Jerusalem

(Artwork by Daphne Odjig)

Most countries that are not landlocked have their capitals on a coastline. Jerusalem is the rare exception, a capital city that does not flow into an ocean, river or sea. But in a poem created by Yehuda Amichai, Jerusalem is a port city, where the ebb and flow is prayer—the tide between heaven and earth. The flow is vertical, rather than horizontal.

I asked the Canadian literary journal, KI1N, if they could acquire permission to use a painting by Daphne Odjig, a First Nation Canadian artist, to illustrate my English translation of Amichai’s poem. I felt her silkscreen of Jaffa Gate brought to life the nautical spirit that Yehuda Amichai evoked in his poem. When I discovered her art, I learned that El Al had commissioned Odjig to paint Jerusalem from her perspective in 1976.

Daphne Odjig passed away in October 2016, a month after her ninety-seventh birthday. She was of Poawatami heritage, a Native American word which means “those who tend the hearth.” And Yehuda Amicha, who died in 2000, was a poet who stoked the homefires of the Hebrew language and Jerusalem. Their spirits are sojourning on distant shores. But I hope that their art, when placed together, honors both their legacies.

***

Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity.

The Temple Mount, a ship, a pleasure boat,

so grand. From the decks of the Western Wall, the saints gaze,

elated, as they set sail. On the pier, the pious ones wave farewell

and shout, ahoy. Always a ship at shore,

and another at sea. The rails, passages,

the navy command, the flags and the tall church spires,

the mosques and synagogue-canoes, hymn boats

and sea crests. The call of the ram’s horn is heard: another

ship asea. The Yom Kippur sailors in their white togs

swing from the ladders to the ropes of their measured prayers.

The freight and flow, the locks, the golden domes.

Jerusalem is the Lord’s Venice.

(Yehuda Amicha, translated by Eva L.Weiss)

Eva L. Weiss

Posted by Eva L. Weiss

Eva L. Weiss is a writer, editor and translator. Eva (also known as Chava) was born in New York City and grew up there. She studied English literature and began her career as a book editor in Manhattan. She made aliya in 1992, and since then, is grateful to be at home in Jerusalem, while preserving strong ties with family and friends on both sides of the world. Eva is an instructor at David Yellin College. She is the author of the children's book, I am Israeli (Mitchell-Lane, 2016), which offers first-person life stories shared by five Israeli children, including her son Yakir.

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