I Am Israel — A Poem by Neil Leifer

Last night I finished teaching our second cohort of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel program. Over the past 10 weeks I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing learning and discussing a wide variety of topics with a devoted group of students.

At our final session last night, Neil Leifer shared the following poem which he wrote in the past few days as his response to the Engaging Israel class. With his permission I share it here:

I am Israel,
Even though I do not feel the presence of a living God.

I am Israel,
Even though I see the words, living God, as words that
Turn upon each other;
As words that cannot inhabit the same space;
Just as a flower cannot both
Become and be forever

I am Israel,
Even though I do not see that each is created in the image of God;
But sense that each is unique in the experience of Life,
Denoting an exquisite equality of value,
Such that the saving of a single life, saves a world.

I am Israel,
Even though I do not celebrate Shabbat
As a commandment,
But simply and wisely as a time to punctuate
The end of a week of toil.

I am Israel,
Even though I am not of Beit Shammai or of Beit Hillel;
And if the halachah is in agreement with my views,
It is not because they are the words of a living God
But because they are sound and just.

I am Israel
Because I am of the loins of those whose descent
From the Tribe of Levite is unbroken
Across centuries and continents.

I am Israel
Because my ancestors were strangers
In the land of Egypt,
Who came to dwell in this land;
Because my ancestors devised a wise and kind
Set of principles by which to live;
Because those values denoted we from others;
And I am of the we.

I am Israel
Because I am a People, not a Faith.

Neil Leifer

February 16, 2012

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One thought on “I Am Israel — A Poem by Neil Leifer

  1. Mary Jane says:

    What a beautiful, beautiful poem! I hereby nominate it to be an added text every time the class is taught in the future.

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