When I heard the theme of this year’s High Holy Days was Rise Up, I was immediately taken back in time to my Pre-Military Academy, to Pioneer class, where we learned about different historical figures and groups that came here before the founding of Israel. Particularly, I thought of a set of letters between two prominent pioneers: Rachel The Poet, and A. D. Gordon.
In the letters, both used incredibly poetic words, while Rachel describes her conflicted emotions about having to leave Israel to study agriculture in Toulouse, France. Rachel was sent there so she could bring her expertise back to Israel and share it with other groups, and while she was happy to partake in the founding of the cornerstones of society, she felt set apart and alone during her studies abroad, and communicated those feelings to Gordon in the next letter.
“היום הלך והחשיך, דעך היום
זהב מועם צופו שחקים והרי רום
סביבי השחיר מרחב שדות, מרחב אילם
הרחיק שבילי, שבילי בודד שבילי שומם
אך לא אמרה פי הגורל, גורל רודה, אלך בגיל לקראת הכל, על הכל אודה.”
“The day has gone dark, the day has dimmed,
the mountains and skies covered in faded gold.
Around me the expanse of fields has gone dark, a mute space.
My path is long, my path is lonely, my path is desolate,
but I will not defy destiny, a tyrannous destiny, I will gladly go, giving thanks for everything.”
Rachel shares her sadness, loneliness, and bitterness in beautiful words, describing the setting sun over her mountain, her gigantic mission. She is alone, set apart from everyone else, doing some obscure work that will one day bear fruit, but that does not make her journey there any easier. She calls destiny a tyrant who commands her to go and complete the mission, and she bitterly complies, saying she will praise whatever heavy burden is assigned to her.
As an Olah, she uses a made up word (מועם) to describe “faded”, unintentionally reminding the viewer that even given everything she has done, she is still learning,
Gordon then responds:
“לכי בשבילך, עלה תעלי
איש אל יעצרך, אל יאמר עלי
והיה כעלותך יאור לך היום והנה את אינך בודדה במרום”
“Go on your path, you will rise up.
Let no person stop you, insisting you stay here.
And when you rise up, the day will shine upon you and you will not be alone in the heights”
Gordon both chides and encourages her, pushing her to stay the path, to rise up to the challenge emotionally, but also warns her against stopping her mission and doing Aliyah, returning to Israel.
In Hebrew rising up and coming to Israel are the same, and so while the words share the same root and appearance, this line talks about Aliyah, and will therefore look like this: no person shall stop you, and tell you to do Aliyah to Israel”. In the last line Gordon talks about the end goal: When you’ll achieve your mission, you will feel the enormity of how this will impact pioneer agriculture, and you will help others learn to “rise up”, and you will not be alone. At the end, though your road is dark and lonely, you will return to Israel, to the promised land, stronger and better, and you will make Israel stronger and better, and you will be surrounded by your loved ones, in your right place in the world.
During my time in Shlichut, in times of sadness and loneliness, this exchange, which later became a poem and is beautifully sung by young adults all over Israel, really helped me feel understood, that even though Rachel the Poet described her general experience in Toulouse as a positive one, she also had moments of self-doubt. During COVID-19 and times of grave social injustice, this exchange also takes on new meaning: We rise to the challenges of our time, we will continue to help support each other emotionally, all rising up together. Then, light will shine upon us all and we will not be alone.
Love, all the way from Bet Shemesh,