12th Elul

Elul 12th 20th August

Born on this day 1875 in Mikhailovka, Crimea (now part of Ukraine) Shaul Tchernichovsky is considered one of the great secular Hebrew poets of the modern era. As a young boy he studied in Hebrew school, but later attended a Russian school and then studied languages at school in Odessa. He qualified as a medical doctor and was drafted as an army doctor during the first world war.  In 1931 he made Aliyah to Israel.

He was twice awarded Israel’s coveted Bialik Prize for literature and is one of four poets whose portrait appears on Israeli currency (although this scandalised the orthodox establishment). He died in 1943 and is buried in Tel Aviv.

Tchernichovsky wrote on universal themes,  he sometimes attacked what he saw as petty ritual activities, and he was particularly fascinated by Greek themes and also by nature, neither of them traditional Jewish areas – but his poetry embodies belief and hope.

His poem Sachki is one of the most famous and particularly compelling

Laugh at all my dreams, my dearest; laugh, and I repeat anew
That I still believe in mankind as I still believe in you.
For my soul is not yet unsold to the golden calf of scorn
And I still believe in man and the spirit in him born.
By the passion of his spirit shall his ancient bonds be shed
Let the soul be given freedom, let the body have its bread!
Laugh, for I believe in friendship, and in one I still believe,
One whose heart shall beat with my heart and with mine rejoice and grieve.

Let the time be dark with hatred, I believe in years beyond.
Love at last shall bind the peoples in an everlasting bond.
In that day shall my own people rooted in its soil arise,
Shake the yoke from off its shoulders and the darkness from its eyes.
Life and love and strength and action in their heart and blood shall beat
And their hopes shall be both heaven and the earth beneath their feet.
Then a new song shall be lifted to the young, the free, the brave
And the wreath to crown the singer shall be gathered from my grave”.

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