The Poet of the Return to Zion
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016 for his mastery of “poetic lyrics,” it highlighted the deeply intertwined relationship between song and poetry. Is Az Yashir a song or a poem? The answer, of course, is that it is both. Poetry differs from prose in the musicality of its rhythm and language; throughout the ages, poetry was read, remembered and passed on through song. Indeed, the most powerful songs are poetic verses that are brought to life through music.
For the passionate Religious Zionist, the poetry of Yosef Zvi Rimon (1889–1958) is music to the ears. Considered by Rav Kook to be “the poet of the return to Zion,” Rimon studied in Lida at the yeshiva of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, founder of Mizrachi, before moving to Palestine in 1909. Rimon’s poetry expresses his love and longing for the Land of Israel, capturing its holiness and beauty through deeply religious language at a time when the emerging culture in the New Yishuv was avowedly secular. He was awarded the President’s Prize from President Yitzchak Ben Zvi in 1958, and his writings continue to inspire and uplift us to this day.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council, believes his grandfather set a powerful example that we would be wise to follow today, in our own generation:
“One of the unique things about my grandfather was that he was incredibly connected to G-d, while remaining incredibly open minded in a way that allowed him to connect with a diverse range of people. My father remembers that he grew up spending lots of time with the leading secular poet Yosef Chaim Brenner, who loved my grandfather and publicized some of his writings. Other singers, some of the greatest of that time period, who from a religious and philosophical perspective were very different from my grandfather, were nonetheless close with him, and would love to read his writings. It is incredible to see where my grandfather’s writing was published: in publications of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook and HaTzofeh (the Mizrachi newspaper), but also in secular publications like HaMishmar and Hapoel HaTzair. I miss that in our world today, and I sometimes ask myself: is it possible in our time for people with different views to be connected to one another, bound together by their Jewish heritage?”
December 29, 1931
…It may be that it is specifically from the great suffering in his life that our beloved poet’s soul has been elevated and sanctified, rendering him particularly capable of blazing a holy path to the renaissance of the poetry of Israel. This poetry, silenced for hundreds of years, has again found the voice to speak of exalted things. Though external circumstances have found this new voice focusing in the majority on secular topics, yet, being the poetry of Israel, it cannot help but draw from its holy source.
Now behold, our beloved poet Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon buds like a myrtle in the desert, irrigated from the holy life deep in his inner spirit, a holiness guarded by a life of purity and a special sensitivity of spirit. We hope that days will come in which he will be not just one of the poets of Israel, but a model, in his own unique way, an example for all future poets of Judah, who will sing with a full voice for the name of G-d, the Rock of Israel…
With the blessing of his friend who strengthens his hands with love,
Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook
I Came to the Sharon בָּאתִי אֶל הַשָּׁרוֹן
אָהַבְתִּי סַלְעֵי אַרְצִי
כָּל אֶבֶן אוֹמְרָה שִׁיר.
אֲנִי עוֹלֶה מֵאַחַת אֶל אֶחָת,
וְקִרְבִּי תִּתְעוֹרֵר רִנָּה:
אֵלֶּה חָיוּ כְּמוֹתִי,
חָלְמוּ הַרְבֵּה, הִתְגַּעְגָּעוּ, —
חֲלוֹמָם רָחַק מִבּוֹא —
עַל קִבְרוֹת הַקְּדוֹשִׁים
אֶאֱהָבֵם כִּשְׂדוֹת הַפְּרָחִים
בָּם הֵם טְמוּנִים.
וַאֲנִי מִתְפַּלֵּל לָאֱמוּנָה,
I loved the rocks of my land
On its mountains.
Each stone sings a song.
I go up from one to another,
And inside I stir with glad song:
They lived like me,
They dreamed much, they yearned —
Their dream was long in coming —
And they became stones…
On the graves of the holy ones
I will pray.
I will love them like the fields of flowers
In which they are hidden…
And I pray for faith,
My heart relates to them
From The Poetry of Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon: A Myrtle in the Desert (Gefen Publishing House, Ltd., 2016) www.gefenpublishing.com