Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Weight of Emptiness: a poem by Hava Pinhas-Cohen

The following poem is the third in a series of 3 poems by the Israeli poet Hava Pinhas-Cohen that I translated and published recently in The Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought:

The Weight of Emptiness

Hava Pinchas-Cohen

Lord, the whole weight of emptiness
You placed on my shoulders. The whole weight of emptiness
Bends my back
Pulls my neck
To follow you.

The power of your touch that hovers
Over my neck and earlobes
The power of longing
To make you present for me

In my lying down and my rising up
And especially
My going out. My going out in the morning
On my journey where a shadow of a white dog
Whose simple desires are before me—

And you are with me. To you I tell
My wishes, I hear my voice
Fill the emptiness with words.
And you inhabit the chambers of my body, my throat, my guts,
Every place that is open and hollow is yours.
Cleaving to your silence. No voice, no word on the phone,
No letter, no touch. No human thing I can claim.
I went out to declare it in the streets
Gathering signs for my children to find their way through this cold and empty place.

Translated by Sharon Green

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Request: a poem by Hava Pinhas-Cohen

The following poem is the second in a series of 3 poems by the Israeli poet Hava Pinhas-Cohen that I translated and published recently in The Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought:


Hava Pinhas-Cohen

When a baby is in my arms
Its life woven with human milk
At nights there come heartbeats, thumping voices

At a certain station in that land
Barefoot and weak
I spread my arms
Like the horns of a ram in a thicket
The earth whispering to the heavens
Hear, make a canopy of your mercy
Like shade for the vine and the fig tree
Please, do not put me to the test.

There is wood and thicket, a smell of fire
And the sight of smoke. Don’t play hide-and-seek
With mothers—

Weakly I cover my eyes
My voice is lost in a scream
That can’t be heard
Where are you

Translated by Sharon Green

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Mother's Prayer Before Dawn

The following is one of three poems by the Israeli poet Hava Pinhas-Cohen that I translated and published in the recent issue of the Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought.

A Mother’s Prayer Before Dawn

by Hava Pinhas-Cohen

At the hour when I am about to cook porridge
May all my strange thoughts recede
And when I touch my baby’s back to check his temperature
Let all my troubles leave me
and not confuse my thoughts.
Give me the strength to wash my face
So that each one of my children
Will see his face in mine
Like a mirror cleaned for a holiday.

And may the darkness that is sunk within
My face---be covered with light.
So that my patience not break nor my throat grow parched
From a troubled thickening scream
May I not become powerless
Against the unknown
And may I never cease for even a moment
To feel the touch of my children’s flesh against my own.

Give me your love so that I will have enough of it in me to stand at my doorway
Sharing it simply as slicing bread and spreading butter each morning anew
The aroma of boiling milk overflowing and the lingering smell of coffee
Is an offering of thanks and an eternal offering
That I do not know how to give.

Translated from the Hebrew by Sharon Green

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jewish Fiction Comes to the Web

I was pleased to be interviewed for Barbara Trainin Blank's article about (reprinted from

People of the Web Site
by Barbara Trainin Blank

Jews have always been disproportionately represented among both authors and readers. However, with the affects of technology and the economy on the publishing industry, it is more difficult than ever to see one’s works in print—especially if you are a fiction writer.

With fewer—and possibly less challenging—options available, avid readers seeking high-quality contemporary fiction are being shortchanged.

“If you look at [traditionally published] Jewish fiction, most of the names are very well known and much of what is published is nonfiction,” says author Nora Gold. “Many publishers can’t take chances on new writers or difficult topics.”

In response, she founded Jewish (, the only English-language online journal devoted exclusively to the art of literary fiction as practiced, and consumed, by Jews. Launched at Rosh Hashanah 2010, Jewish posts original works every three to four months.

With each new edition, subsribers have a wealth of literary fiction to choose from. During its first 15 months, Jewish viewers read 77 short stories or novel excerpts—“originally written in eight languages [besides English] by writers on five continents,” says Gold.

Without the site, she adds, “First-rate writing may be lost. We’d like to share it with as wide an audience as possible.”

And audiences are responding. Readers hail from 83 countries, and as of the end of February, the site had 20,000 visitors—and the number keeps growing.

If not a virtual United Nations, Jewish has featured works in translation by Elie Wiesel (French); Marcelo Birmajer (Spanish); Grigory Kaovich (Russian); Gordana Kuic (Serbian); Shira Gorshman (Yiddish); and Nava Semel (Hebrew), among others.

English-language writers include Sharon Hart-Green and Gold herself; Clive Sinclair of England; and Ora Mendels of South Africa and England.

The latest edition, out last month, includes translated works from Mario Levi, “Where Were You When Darkness Fell,” an excerpt from Levi’s Turkish novel, and “Purimspeil” by Jasminka Domas, originally in Croatian.

About half of the works published are by “not-yet-well-known” literary figures. “We’re flooded with submissions from these writers,” Gold says. “We’re quite anguished over what to pick.”

The site publishes “a very small percentage of dead writers,” says Gold. But viewers will sometimes encounter familiar writers, such as Israel Prize and National Jewish Book Award winner Aharon Appelfeld. In the sixth edition, posted last December, for example, fiction lovers could read the first-ever English translation of S.Y. Agnon’s novella, Ve’haya He’akov Le’Mishor.

The first issue featured Israeli novelist Yoram Kaniuk and George Jonas, the Hungarian-born Canadian writer whose book Vengeance about the Munich Massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes inspired two films.

Although she is also from Toronto, Hart-Green didn’t meet Gold until both attended a literary conference in Israel when Gold was launching the journal.

“ I was so impressed with the quality of the first issue that I decided it was a journal in which I would like my work to appear,” says Hart-Green, the author of Not a Simple Story: Love and Politics in a Modern Hebrew Novel (Lexington Book, 2001), and a debut novel recently submitted to publishers. “Nora has attracted some of the leading figures in Jewish literature internationally.”

Readers can find Hart-Green’s short story entitled “A Sign”—about a lonely single woman in Boston who meets an injured Israeli she may connect with—in the second issue of Jewish

Her hope was that the story work would receive broad exposure by being published in an online journal that “reaches thousands of subscribers who love Jewish literature… “I believe that my story did reach a broad audience, since I received many responses from near and far,” the writer says.

For Gold, art is a way to bridge differences among Jews around the world, whether these are geographic, religious, or ethnic. “We want to provide an online community for writers and readers,” she says.

Now in her fifties, this is Gold's third career. A trained social worker, she has also been an activist in her home city, as well as a tenured professor who left that career to write full time. Thinking like a social worker and activist, the online publisher says that when she sees a problem or need, she tries to link it to a resource or create one of her own.

Gold’s first book, Marrow: And Other Stories (Warwick Publishing, Canada) won the Louis Lockshin Prize for Short Fiction. Recently she completed her first novel, Exile—which does not yet have a publisher.

Choosing a Web site rather than a print publication stemmed from Gold’s desire to be “accessible not only to people of means” as potential readers but “to any Jew with a computer.”

Gold admits, “It’s both a labor of love and a huge amount of work.” Looking forward to the next edition, she expresses the hope that someone will emulate her model—create a Jewish and a Jewish