By Yehuda Amichai
On Yom Kippur in 1967, the Year of Forgetting, I put on
my dark holiday clothes and walked to the Old City of
For a long time I stood in front of an Arab’s hole-in-the-wall
not far from the Damascus Gate, a shop with
buttons and zippers and spools of thread
in every color and snaps and buckles.
A rare light and many colors, like an open Ark.
I told him in my heart that my father too
had a shop like this, with thread and buttons.
I explained to him in my heart 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 the Closing of the Gates
He too lowered the shutters and locked the gate
and I returned, with all the worshippers, home.
Today’s poem appears courtesy of NPR. Hear the poet read this poem for NPR here.
Editor’s Note: It has been forty-seven years since the day Yehuda Amichai stood in Jerusalem and took stock of his losses. Of the shared losses of Israel and Palestine. Of the cumulative losses of humanity when we fail to make and sustain peace. Little has changed in those 47 years, but today is Yom Kippur. A chance to acknowledge our wrongs, to leave them behind us, and to become better than we were last year.
Yom Kippur is the Jewish ‘Day of Atonement.’ Throughout the days leading up to the holiday, followers of the tradition ask for forgiveness from those they have wronged in the preceding year and cast away their sins. On Yom Kippur they ask for forgiveness from God. Your faithful editor is a secular Jew. I do not typically fast on Yom Kippur, as the holiday asks me to. I do not always manage to ask forgiveness. But the idea of the holiday resonates with me nonetheless. That once a year we might take stock of our humanity, meditate on those things we are sorry for, and then let them go so that we might begin again.
As today is Yom Kippur, I wanted to share with you a poem that speaks to the crimes of humanity. To war and destruction. To neighbors fighting neighbors. There has been too much of this in the past year. Too much hatred. Too many deaths. May today’s poem help us reflect upon our wrongdoings, and may we begin again with a new hope for peace.