Being served a soda or some fresh nuts by an unassuming man in the small, crowded kiosk across from Jerusalem’s central bus station, it would be hard to know that you were in the presence of one of the most powerful and original Hebrew poetic voices alive.
The story of this poet, Yehezkel Kedmi, is just as unlikely, and presents the true anguish of those parts of Jerusalem so often swept under the rug. Living by his wits on the streets since the age of 13, and still homeless, Kedmi depicts the struggle and suffering that shaped a generation of Jews from the Arab world. Through a dramatic, almost epic structure, Kedmi’s language parallels that of the prophets and the great classical medieval Hebrew poets of Andalusia.
A complete autodidact who has published his own work, Kedmi remarks that: “What has kept my equilibrium was the idea of perpetuating something. In other words, I had a stake in creating a document, a literary document that would serve as testimony of this generation, of this time and of these events because the work was written on the great historical moment of the redemption of the Jewish people. But right alongside this were the darkest moments possible, that is, daily life in the state and most importantly — and this is the emphasis in my book — the phenomenon of class segregation. One class for Orientals, another for Ashkenazim.” The following is from Gehinnom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem the Inferno), a book-length poem in progress:
It’s a pity that rocks and boulders, traitors and satraps came not mysteriously to pass judgment upon you, Father, on your way to this city, or that a gang of highway robbers had not also welcomed you with drawn daggers and violent cries and stolen everything you had and banished you from their midst until you became frightened and fled and never arrived to the city of Jerusalem. Why couldn’t a moon yearning for the world have arisen to kindle fear of the night in you, a silvery light to keep you afraid of the dark…. An earthquake, why was there none that time then, my Father, when you marched on the road ascending to Jerusalem, and were the earth to tremble beneath you then you would have gone back again, returned and never have arrived to the city of Jerusalem and your desire for her, the city of Jerusalem, would never have been rent from you. Oh Father, my Father, if you only knew your fate and the fate of your family to be in the city of Jerusalem.