A few comments on this Amichai poem, part 5 of Jerusalem 1967 (below the translation).
בְּיוֹם כִּפּוּר בִּשְׁנַת תַּשְׁכַּ״ח לָבַשְׁתִּי
.בִּגְדֵּי חַג כֵּהִים וְהָלַכְתִּי לָעִיר הָעַתִּיקָה בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם
,עָמַדְתִּי זְמַן רַב לִפְנֵי כּוּךְ חֲנוּתוֹ שֶׁל עֲרָבִי
לֹא רָחוֹק מִשַּׁעַר שְׁכֶם, חֲנוּת
כַּפְתּוֹרִים וְרוֹכְסָנִים וּסְלִילֵי חוּטִים
.בְּכָל צֶבַע וְלַחְצָנִיּוֹת וְאַבְזֵמִים
.אוֹר יָקָר וּצְבָעִים רַבִּים, כְּמוֹ אֲרוֹן־קֹדֶשׁ פָּתוּחַ
אָמַרְתִּי לוֹ בְּלִבִּי שֶׁגַּם לְאָבִי
,הָיְתָה חֲנוּת כָּזֹאת שֶׁל חוּטִים וְכַפְתּוֹרִים
הִסְבַּרְתִּי לוֹ בְּלִבִּי עַל כָּל עַשְׂרוֹת הַשָּׁנִים
וְהַגּוֹרְמִים וְהַמִּקְרִים, שֶׁאֲנִי עַכְשָׁו פֹּה
.וַחֲנוּת אָבִי שְׂרוּפָה שָׁם וְהוּא קָבוּר פֹּה
.כְּשֶׁסִּיַּמְתִּי הָיְתָה שְׁעַת נְעִילָה
גַּם הוּא הוֹרִיד אֶת הַתְּרִיס וְנָעַל אֶת השַּׁעַר
.וַאֲנִי חָזַרְתִּי עִם כָּל הַמִּתְפַּלְלִים הַבַּיְתָה
Translation slightly different from that of Stephen Mitchell:
On Yom Kippur in 1967, I put on
my dark holiday clothes and walked to the Old City in Jerusalem.
For a long time I stood in front of an Arab’s cave-like shop,
not far from Damascus Gate, a shop with
buttons and zippers and spools of thread
in every color and snaps and buckles.
A precious light and many colors, like an open ark.
I told him silently that my father too
had a shop like this, with thread and buttons.
I explained to him silently about all the decades
and the causes and the events, why I am now here
and my father’s shop was burned there and he is buried here.
When I finished, it was time for closing.
He too lowered the shutter and locked the gate
and I returned home with all the worshippers.
My few notes on this poem, verse by verse: the date in the first verse (1967) reminds me of my daily walks from the Collège des Frères to the École Biblique, via Damascus Gate. Sometimes four times a day, between August 1966 and June 1968. There were people selling vegetables, bread, drink, haberdashery. A dense and jostling crowd came from the Gate on their way to the Holy Sepulchre or the Western Wall, or emerged from the two large shuqs where they had shopped for food or clothing. I didn’t stop to contemplate the goods of any seller, especially since I had been warned not to do that. I don’t think that the Jaffa Gate was yet open and allowed orthodox Jews and Christian pilgrims to go directly to the Western Wall. So, visitors usually came to the Old City via Damascus Gate. Gone was the tall cement wall and the no man’s land that ran along the Old City’s northern wall and that separated Jordan from Israel since 1948. That Yom Kippur was on Saturday, October 14, 1967, about four months after the Israeli victory in June and the immediate taking over of Arab Jerusalem as part of Israel. The initial shock of the loss and victory was beginning to wane.
1967–68 corresponds to תשכח in Hebrew, which can be vocalized to mean: “Forget,” or as Stephen Mitchell translates, “the year of forgetting?” The poet puts on his dark holiday clothes, though on Yom Kippur, it is an old custom to wear white. Dark clothing, as in a scene of mourning or rather because of the all-around sadness of the situation? The Arab’s shop becomes the ark in the temple, or rather the souvenir of this long-disappeared ark. A heavy curtain, the parokhet, separated the hekhal (sanctuary) from the holy of holies, where this ark rested and the divine presence was expected to abide. This parokhet was embroidered in threads of all kinds and must have been an extraordinary sight, if the book of Exodus and Josephus’ accounts are to be believed. The liturgy’s or poem’s ark and the temple extend to an Arab’s shop and the souvenir of the poet’s father’s livelihood.
The poet stands and later gives in petto explanations, as in the Amidah prayer, recited standing and silently, three times a day in synagogues, but five times on the day of atonement. Can peace arise between the two displaced peoples, without a house they can call home, caught in a concatenation of endless events?
Closing time and locking of the gate(s), late in the day. Closing is the name of a special ceremony of closure at the temple when the amidah, the prayer of repentance, was recited, silently again, for the fifth time. Closure: messianic solutions to historical conflicts are for dreamers. After closing, it is time for all the praying masses to go home to their mini-temples, in peace for now, neither in triumph nor in shame.