Leonard Cohen turns 80

Aviva and I were married in June, 2007, in Jerusalem. I began this poem a week after the wedding, although it still perhaps is not yet finished. On the occasion of Leonard Cohen’s 80th birthday and the release of his latest album, Popular Problems, though, I am posting the current iteration (Popular Problems can be ordered on iTunes). Happy birthday, Rav Cohen. #LeonardCohen80

The Uninvited Poet


We invited Leonard Cohen to our wedding, but never sent the engraving.
So he arrived on a bright plastic disc in the car and the band played Hallelujah
near the end of the evening.


                                                      Did I mention that the view from the promenade
swept over the wooded valley of a monastery near an Arab village
to the walls of the Old City perched above?


                                                                                   On the crest of a hill on another
the separation wall snakes its way along indifferently.


Aviva’s ginger hair framed her face, a picture frame around us both,
as the photographer played postmodern. We stuck out our arms
through the frame, and it made us laugh so hard tears came to the eyes
of the crowd.


                          A father, a brother, two daughters, a mother accompanied
us to the Chupa. Aryeh danced, celebrating life, as did Mordechai, born
Michael, now a soldier. Rivkah and Julia joined Ya’el to move in a line
around us as we danced, husband and wife, for the first time,
in the Taverna on the Tayelet in Jerusalem.


                                                                                     The guests all sang Hallelujah.


Perhaps an old monk would have come, a poet may have greeted us
warmly, his voice deep and laugh full-throated.


                                                                                           Seven blessings later,
after we’d swum in the Mediterranean Ocean, our bodies rose in waves.
I hope that you are happy, whoever you are that reads these few lines
scrawled at the beach.


                                            Aviva and I threw out the flowers my daughters
arranged so nicely. The petals started to fall; the water had begun to turn.
The memory lingered—well it was only a week, then—of how beautiful they
were, but the thought lasts forever.


                                                                    Jazz plays in some dark bar
and we sway to the rhythms we call love, but the musician knows it is
the poet who came as the wedding guest we never invited.


my good friend, Mr. Cohen—though we’ve never met, should you have
felt the urge that June to attend a wedding in Jerusalem, then now I
invite you to come play us a tune.

Digital image / art of Leonard Cohen

Happy 80th Birthday, Leonard Cohen



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Klezmer evenings…a poem from Tzfat

In Tzfat this Evening

The Klezmer festival music plays on
and the fireworks blast into the sky
exactly on time at ten, brilliant and loud.
But the ceasefire broke apart before
then, hours before—and Code Red
sirens blasted in the South, in Tel Aviv,
in Jerusalem, shortly after then. Still,
sitting in the courtyard we hear
music from three stages echoing
around us.

                       Moshe’s Lego rockets became
fishing rockets and fireworks rockets here,
but when we go back they will remember
that they are Hamas rockets. The Legos
fit together so well. He builds them like
planes, with wings, and like spaceships,
with elaborate purposes and missions.

Tonight he enjoyed the fireworks;
he wants them every night. These
first rockets an aesthetic echo of
war rockets; a rhetorical trope to
resemble tractors where spears
fly into the sky at night and clatter
loudly in our conscious minds—enter
our sleep and crack open our fears.

Like last night when I dreamed that
a mortar shell came over the Quneitra
Crossing while we picked apples, and
tore you apart. I took the children
away from the burning orchards
and woke aware of a small miracle—
your breathing next to me,
our children sleeping calmly.

And I imagine Gazan children who
will find fear in fireworks, only fear—
reminders of destruction instead
of wonders of color and light.

Let Lego rockets take the weapons
into space and carry them into the sun.
Let us watch the lovely fireworks
as they burst open approaching
our star, explode amid the melted
plastic of a child’s imagination
run up against the realities of
fire, heat, fusion—physics

teaching adults that entropy wins.

Even the Klezmer music must stop.

But the wonder and fear of children
continue to grow—their energy indestructible.

—August 19, 2014 (revised version posted September 16, 2014)

Musicians at Tzfat Klezmer Festival 2014

Musicians at Tzfat Klezmer Festival 2014
©2014 Michael Dickel


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A Poem from Jerusalem

As the War Continues

That war in the little southwest strip,
its violence drowns out all sounds—
words drain of meaning and become
white spaces against blood-red paper.
The numbers rise up, a large pile
of bodies reaching toward the sun
to ignite and burn, a pyre signaling
the beginning or end of a sacred time—

the bodies pile up, reach for the sun,
hoping to burn like stars to light this dark,
dark night…
but we all seem to have lost track,
our watches no longer ticking but
vibrating with technical accuracy
seconds and microseconds while
this flame of flesh, a mere candle wick,

flashes out into space in search
of extraterrestrial compassion. And
Gaza’s heavenward tower of bodily Babel
is even small against so many others,
this massive world-war of death
spreading out around us while we
shout out who is to blame, who
except for ourselves, ourselves

Sunset in Israel on Tu B'Av

Sunset, northern Israel 9 August 2014 (Tu B’Av)

turning away into silence and denial,
pointing at someone easier than seeing
a world around us in un-holy flames
cremating the innocent along with
the bloody-handed ones. Yet,
the sunset is so beautiful below
the clouds and over the sea, the
moon so light floating in the sky
above an orange cloud this Tu B’Av.


Tu B'Av1

Full moon on Tu B’Av (9 August 2014)


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Jerusalem Update—14 July 2014

In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv it was relatively quiet today. Most of the rockets were aimed closer to Gaza, in the southern communities. I had a faculty meeting in Tel Aviv today so drove in. There were no sirens or rockets while I was there, or for most of the day.

There was a volley sent in the early evening I know, as I was on the phone with a friend and colleague at the time the sirens went off on her end. We had just decided to postpone indefinitely a meeting scheduled for this Wednesday of the Israel Association of Writers in English, of which she is chair and I’m secretary-treasurer.

I have another faculty meeting in Tel Aviv tomorrow (I’ve been teaching in two departments at HaKibbutzim College of Education this year). I hope it is as quiet. I don’t think it will be.

It seems that we are all waiting for the army boots to drop and the ground operation to commence. Media report that Israel has sent leaflets and used robo-phone systems to warn residents of the northern area of Gaza to move down south. The UN apparently has opened schools as shelters for the tens of thousands who have heeded the call. There are reports that Hamas has told residents to ignore the warnings, saying they are psych ops.

The deadline was noon yesterday, I haven’t heard of anything as yet.

Once a ground operation begins, it will all get much worse in Gaza. At first there might be an increase in rockets coming out, but it will soon be more difficult to fire them with artillery, tanks, and troops moving into the launch areas.

I would just like to see it end. It would be convenient if the end was definitive, as in no rocket fire toward Israel afterward and resumption of serious peace talks. That seems unlikely until all sides sit down and sign a meaningful peace agreement. I don’t see that happening soon.

My friend and fellow writer Joanna Chen wrote on her blog post, “Breaking Bread” (July 13, 2014):

So many of us, Palestinians and Israelis, all want the same thing at the end of the day: to sit down with our families at the dinner table and to break bread together. We want to hear how school was, what work was like, to look at our children’s beautiful faces and to feel how lucky we are. There is nothing lovelier than tucking up your children at night and knowing they are safe. Is this so much to ask?

What is happening here is devastating. Over the past week, 30 children in Gaza have been killed and many more injured. Thousands of children on both sides have been traumatized. And it’s not over because the leaders on both sides say it’s not over.

Read the rest, it’s really good

Joanna ends by noting “drops of humanity in all of this.” These drops help alleviate our desert thirst.

A Palestinian I know on Facebook (through a mutual friend) posted statuses saying that she believes the Palestinian frustration and anger has increased past a tipping point after “Operation Brother’s Keeper.” She thinks that there won’t be a quick end to the violence inside Israel, which has continued, although at a somewhat lower level than just before the war broke out. As an Israeli citizen, she worries that she and her fellow Israeli-Palestinians will be distrusted by both the West Bank-Gaza Palestinians and the Israelis—in the end not wanted by either.

I still see our only hope for a real resolution as being through people to people connections growing to a critical mass that joins together across the divide in order to say, “enough.” If the fear and anger that have boiled into rage on both sides continue without the burner being turned down, this will not be possible. Many of us call for this to stop. Too many—on both sides—want it to continue and increase. As Joanna writes: “it’s not over because the leaders on both sides say it’s not over.”

Yet, if those feelings, instead of being aimed at the Other Side, could be channeled into indignation and “righteous anger” that no peace agreement has been signed, into roaring of voices calling our leaders to account and demanding a functioning peace, then perhaps there would be reason to hope.

If we let anger eat at us or turn us to rage against, it controls and eventually destroys us. However, if we let that anger fuel action toward real change, toward justice, toward peace, then it becomes a dynamic engine. We don’t control it, but it provides us energy and does not control us. We do not destroy it, but we burn it up to achieve what we want: a lasting peace where we don’t have to wonder if it is too much to ask that our children be safe from attack, we know that we shouldn’t have to ask for it. It should be a given.

Update: The situation here changes quickly. Media reports emerged, apparently while I was composing this blog, that Egypt has proposed a ceasefire agreement that both sides have accepted. It is not clear whether both sides really have accepted it or will abide by it. However, the reports say that beginning 9 A.M. 15 July (Tuesday) there should be a lull, followed by talks toward a final ceasefire. This is not a peace agreement and does not seem to include any mention of peace negotiations—the talks seem intended to determine the conditions of a continued ceasefire only. Story here. Already, face positioning about which side lost has begun, for example, Israel saying “ceasefire makes Hamas weaker.”

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A poem from Israel—14 July 2014

Flowering trees, parking lot of HaKibbutzim College of Education, Tel Aviv, Israel<br />Photo by Michael Dickel

Flowering trees
HaKibbutzim College of Education
Tel Aviv, Israel
Photo: Michael Dickel

The Cost of Yellow

I know there’s a war going on,
but yellow flowers cover trees
in the parking lot as I pull in.
True, missiles shatter lives
while destroying buildings, but
fallen petals cover the tarmac
with a fairy-yellow glow. Yes,
sirens send us underground
while rocket’s dread flares,
and these, too, crash
stupendously, but the
sea air waves a soft, humid
blanket spread out by
soothing breezes. So
easily I forget the price
of wind, the cost of yellow;
so hard to forget the lone
cry of a carrion crow
perched high in the tree
with sharp eyes turned
toward the horizon.

Flower petal blanket on parking lot Tel Aviv, Israel 14 July 2014 Photo: Michael Dickel

Flower petal blanket on parking lot
Tel Aviv, Israel
14 July 2014
Photo: Michael Dickel



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Jerusalem Update—11–12 July 2014

Friday was quiet for us in Jerusalem. In the morning we met with friends with whom we share Johrei, an alternative Japanese energy-healing practice. We included the situation and region in our meditation and prayers for peace. Other than making sure we knew where the safe area was located, it was much as our other monthly gatherings where we study a short text, exchange Johrei with each other, visit, and eat some food.

The afternoon was our usual Friday shopping, preparing for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner, the kids playing and not napping. What we call “Friday” or “Yom Shishi” in Hebrew (Sixth Day).

Today we went to a friend’s synagogue to join in honoring his retirement from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, then joined other good friends for lunch. They have a son Moshe’s age (and in the same preschool) and a daughter just a little younger than Naomi. Another couple with a baby daughter in the same age-range joined. The kids played together as well as kids ever do (actually better than some times). We returned home and the day was just as any other Shabbat (on the Seventh Day, we rested).

It was particularly hot today, so we had the AC on and windows closed. A little before 7, later than usual for the kids, we were getting supper together and then eating in the kitchen with the usual family hubbub going on: conversation, kids chatter, dish clatters. I had plugged my phone in to charge in the bedroom and left it there, apparently still on silent from when we were at the synagogue.

So, we didn’t hear the sirens or the alert on my phone around that time. We also missed the booms that other friends reported hearing on their Facebook posts. It wasn’t until I thought of my phone and went to get it about 45 minutes after the “Code Red” alert that we knew anything had happened. Frankly, it was a pleasant way to go through the attack, albeit not the safest.

Reports are that rockets fell short of the city, in Bethlehem (Palestinian Authority territory) and near Hebron (also PA area). One hit near a family member’s house in Efrata (next to Bethlehem). Since then, Hamas launched rocket attacks at Tel Aviv and several other targets. We seem to be on an every-other-day schedule here in Jerusalem.

The reports of the number of deaths in Gaza (over 150 as of this writing—source), many civilians and children, are horrifying reminders of the need to resolve the situation here. Many see it as unresolvable, but where does that leave us? A constant state of war cannot continue. I don’t know how to arrive at the solution, but we need two states, economic sustainability for each, and reliable security for both. The devil is in the details…

Update: The deaths and injuries in Gaza are indeed tragic. As of this update, the count for deaths has been put by Gaza’s Health Ministry at over 156, injuries at over 1,000, according to the AP, which also cites a statistic of over 1,200 air strikes [source]. The fact that many of these deaths are civilians and children grieves me as it should any person.

However devastating the numbers of deaths and injuries, these numbers also show that Israel is not likely “targeting” civilians or even enemy combatants for that matter, to borrow a phrase from the US. A quick calculation shows the ratio is 1 Palestinian killed for every 7–8 air strikes (taking the 156 / 1200 numbers), and still not even 1 injury for every air strike.

I don’t condone the violence or the heavy military response. Yet, the tolls could easily be dozens dead and two or three times that injured for each air strike. The fact that they are not that high supports Israel’s claim that it targets infrastructure, weapons stores, and does not target civilians. The numbers point to evidence of restraint and not an act of “massacre” as some Pro-Hamas protestors claim.

—13 July 2014

Illumination flares are seen above the northern Gaza Strip July 11, 2014. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that Israel had attacked more than 1,000 targets as a part of Operation Protective Edge against Gaza militants and that

Illumination flares are seen above the northern Gaza Strip July 11, 2014. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that Israel had attacked more than 1,000 targets as a part of Operation Protective Edge against Gaza militants and that “there are still more to go”.
Reuters/Amir Cohen
Int’l Business Times (Click on image to go to story)


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Jerusalem Update—10 July 2014

Aviva and the children are asleep on this hot summer’s night. Today the temperature reached 36 C., well into the 90s F., and it hasn’t cooled as much as usual yet. Unfortunately, the heat of conflict also was high. We are all fine, of course, other than Moshe’s bug (finally on a second round of antibiotics).

To the situation here in Jerusalem: I’ve read that over 100 rockets from Gaza were fired. The anti-missile system, Iron Dome, seems to be intercepting most of those that are headed for populated areas, which is being cited as a major reason why there have been no deaths yet in Israel from the rockets. Let’s give a cheer for Iron Dome.

I was going to go to Tel Aviv today as I have a student exam to pick up there, but the first rocket barrage on Tel Aviv began before 8 this morning. So, I decided the exam could wait until Sunday, the next time the college campus will be open. It allowed me to accompany Moshe and Aviva on the medical circuit that resulted in antibiotics.

This evening at bath time, literally when I had both children in the bath, the sirens went off for the second time during this conflagration. Aviva joined us in the bathroom, which is an interior room and relatively safe. The estimates are that we have 60 seconds from the siren to the rockets hitting, so it was not practical to grab them from the bath, especially as Naomi still requires diapers.

We could hear the booms, something like the big bangs during a firework show heard from around the corner of the fireworks. We now have a song that Aviva found on the internet that is used by some schools in southern Israel for the alerts. Aviva sang it with me joining where I could understand the Hebrew. We have played it for Moshe and Naomi on the computer, and both like it, so it did its job for them.

Moshe has been trying to work through this, talking a lot about spaceships (=rockets), telling them not to be wild (like the “wild” kids at pre-school), finding them and making them small; also about teaching lots of people how to be nice and not hit other people (like the rockets “hit”). He wanted his bedroom window closed tonight to keep the rockets out, too.

He is doing what kids do to deal—playing, imagining, taking control in the play. He told me that a rocket hit the roof of his pre-school and he saw a crack and could see the spaceship. So he showed the spaceship to the teachers, and they took it away while he fixed the crack. I think that is about as healthy a response we could hope for, under the circumstances, but the fact that he has to do this perhaps pisses me off more than the rockets themselves.

I don’t want to go much into the politics of it all here and now, but one thing I read in the BBC today I think is worth sharing.

The house (and cafe) that were hit by Israel today where there were multiple civilians killed, including some children, had been warned by Israel. The report says that Israel had actually telephoned and told them to evacuate due to a pending attack. It seems that they even called twice. The house, according to the BBC, was that of a Hamas Commander.

Now, after the warnings, according to a Palestinian news service (not an Israel outlet that could be spinning propaganda), “dozens” of civilians gathered on the roof. The Israeli spokesman, who called the deaths tragic, said that when they realized civilians were at the house the missile had already been launched (okay, that could be spin). Add to this news reports locally that the Hamas Ministry of Interior ordered residents to ignore warnings, saying they were intended to spread fear (psych ops, I suppose). Hamas publicly states that they target civilians and has never, that I have heard, described an Israeli death as tragic.

I don’t agree with violence and war as solutions. However, the war is on now.

And I think there is a remarkable and significant difference between one side, which actually calls on the phone to warn people to get out, and the other, which tells their own citizens to ignore these warnings and (reports in Israel say) encourages or even forces residents to go on the rooftops of buildings when the warnings come.

Sorry to be on a soapbox. Yet, this difference needs to be pointed out. It is important.

I am appalled that Israel’s missiles kill children and civilians. I don’t like that we are at war. However, I think the moral responsibility for those deaths belongs to Hamas in this case. It’s horrendous. Yet, it benefits Hamas either way—if Israel refrains from attacking because of the civilians, Hamas’ infrastructure remains intact; if Israel strikes and civilians, including children, die, Hamas gains propaganda points when the deaths are reported in the media.

Golda Meir is supposed to have said: “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.” This episode in Gaza gives some sense of what she could have meant, if you substitute children for sons.

I am aware that Netanyahu probably contributed more than Hamas to this conflagration’s start with his heavy-booted arrests of West Bank Hamas supporters, cynically using the search for three kidnapped teens (that he knew were likely dead already) as an excuse.

Yet Hamas took the bait and began firing rockets at schools and nurseries, toward civilian populations. And Netanyahu and his cabinet didn’t need much encouragement to enter into full battle.

There is more than enough blame to go around.

Yet, Hamas continues to act in ways that are reprehensible and not justified by any amount of aggression from Israel—like deliberately putting civilians and children in harm’s way.

So, enough of that. It is not as though our days are filled with dread or anger. We are paying close attention to the news all day, and I have my iPhone alerts app on, so we are constantly paying attention in some ways.

On the other hand, after doctor, labs and chest X-ray for Moshe, we rode the light-rail a couple of stops, had some sorbet with Moshe, stopped in a few shops and bought him some bubbles, blew bubbles in Ben Yehuda market (a famous tourist area), and then went back those couple of stops to the car. Moshe loves riding the train, so it was great fun for him, even though he was not feeling well.

And we were not the only ones out and about, downtown looked more or less normal.

Now, I’m going to do what I normally do—make my next move in Scrabble, Lexulous and Words-with-Friends online, read a bit, and go to bed.


An update, thanks to a friend’s post on Facebook. An Slate.com column by William Saletan makes the same point about Israel’s efforts to prevent casualties. Saletan provides more details of the attack on the house that I wrote about above:

“The worst civilian death toll—seven, at the latest count—occurred in a strike on the Khan Yunis home of a terrorist commander. Hamas calls it a ‘massacre against women and children.’ But residents say the family got both a warning call and a knock on the roof. An Israeli security official says Israeli forces didn’t fire their missile until the family had left the house. The official didn’t understand why some members of the family, and apparently their neighbors, went back inside. The residents say they were trying to ‘form a human shield.'”

Read the whole story here.

BBC Map of Gaza (insert: range of rockets in Israel)

BBC Map of Gaza (insert: range of rockets in Israel)


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