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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

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