Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Culture

Why Israel’s Street Lamp Poetry Seems All Too Apt Today

Look up on some of the most famous streets in Jerusalem, and you will see poems or poem-excerpts affixed to streetlamps. I found the one pictured here, on a light-blue banner, high above Emek Refaim Street, which means The Valley of Ghosts Street.

The phrase emek refaim appears in the Book of Isaiah (Chapter 17, verse 5) as well as the Book of Joshua (17:8) and Chronicles I (11:15). In Isaiah, the verse, as translated by H.L. Ginsberg for The Jewish Publication Society, reads:

After being like the standing grain
Harvested by the reaper—
Who reaps ears by the armful—
He shall be like the ears that are gleaned
In the Valley of Rephaim.

Today, the street named after the valley is very un-ghost-like, and entirely devoid of standing grain. It has bustling cafés, bookstores, and boutiques — but despite all these markers of modern life, Isaiah fans can still smile at the nod to the prophet.

The following poem excerpt by Israel Eliraz can be seen just outside Tamir Books, as you wait at the bus stop for number 18, and it also has a quiet nod to the Bible. Here is my translation of the poem-excerpt, from the Hebrew:

Suddenly the light
pushes all this aside
and reveals a material full of clever-deceit
and you contain the world that contains you, don’t explain,
don’t give up

Translated from Israel Eliraz’s book, *Dvarim Dechufim, which is his “Selected Poems 1980-2010,” published by Kibbutz HaMeuchad.*

Aviya Kushner is The Forward’s language columnist and the author of The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau.) Follow her on Twitter at @AviyaKushner

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.