ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998

Poems by Galit Hasan-Rokem.


photo of Galit

Photo by Varda Sahm-Pollak.

Galit Hasan-Rokem was born in Finland, and has lived in Israel since 1957. Her third book of poetry, Tsippori: Forty-Minus-One Byzantine Haiku from the Galilee and a Poem (Am Oved:2002) can be seen in translation at

Hasan-Rokem is a professor of Jewish and comparative folklore at Hebrew University, and the author of Web of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature (Stanford U. Press 2000) and Tales of the Neighborhood: Jewish Narrative Dialogues in Late Antiquity (U. of California Press 2003). She has also translated into Hebrew a selection of poems by Tomas Transtroemer.


"Acts of Reminiscence: Paris in January 1992"

For Mohammed


In the Jardins du Luxembourg, on the first anniversary of the Gulf War,
Mad wings sprout on us to take off to the Land yours and mine

Isma’il sowed sweet peas that ripened in my yard
Only twenty kilometers between
Garden and garden and even though this winter is drier than usual
Maybe something will grow out of all this
But what about the water


Where did I come from is the skewed answer to the question who am I

Ruth the Moabite became the mother of kings
And so through her we became aware of the strangeness within ourselves,
And by the third wineglass Kristeva, who wrote all this,
Mentions a Sephardic grandmother.
But even the grandmother, like Paris
Like France (says Montesqieu),
Is but a transitional object, like a child’s teddy bear, suggesting
Real warmth before sleep, but not needed later


Anemones bloom from the earth, a seasonal bleeding

The obedient girl at the airport was taught to prod my deodorant,
The soles of my boots, before I fell asleep with teddy bear Angel of Death


To write a poem is necessary: to create a knife
That cuts through language into its bare night.
In the Musée d’Orsay naked geometry wears Cezanne’s landscapes.

A cold wind blows on the northern bank of the Seine. What is more frightening
Islam in the heart or Islam in the street?


Translated from the Hebrew by Vivian Eden and the poet. The poem was published in: Galit Hasan-Rokem, Voice Training, Poems (Hebrew. Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad 1998, pp. 58-59.)
The poem was written in the hopeful days leading to the Oslo agreement, on a trip to receive the Hiroshima Price awarded that year to the Israeli Women’s Peace Net and to Dr. Mohammed Abu-Zayyid. Julia Kristeva and Taher Ibn-Jelloun were the honorary speakers of the ceremony. Indeed the poem cuts into the night of language laying bare the mutual fears that were partly responsible for the collapse of the peace process. 



And now you dance

For Alma

The love signs that you send out to the world
Grow more and more elaborate

The head turns to a sound
A gaze focuses on movement

Eagerly sucking milk
Pulling a hair tuft

Sending out your arms
Calling out in recognition of a face 

Eating your first vegetables
And the soup, especially for you

The first syllables
Of our name’s halves

A smile erupts
At every new encounter

Sharing love
Through a soft toy

First steps toward
Open arms

Bringing a new book
To read for you

Bells of laughter
And sparkling eyes

Behind the wall

And now you dance!

Link to Hebrew pdf file.



Love at First Sight

For Alma

Yom Kippur 5766 San Francisco


Alongside your head's tiny dome
And the thumb pushed into your mouth
In the ultrasound picture
Your sex remains enigmatic

The question marks of the fetal position
Anticipate the solution
hidden in the womb of a young woman.

Link to Hebrew pdf file.





A couple of minutes past my taking off
Your plane will land at the same airport

With a slight change of schedule
We could have met on ground for a moment

With a more significant change
We could have been on the same plane

It could have been worse:
Fortunately we are not on colliding planes


Link to Hebrew pdf file.



Three weeks ago I called Samaher and asked her: May I pick the olives now?

No, she said, first the rain has to fall, and the olives swell.

I thought to myself, what difference for my two olive trees, and their computerized irrigation.

But I waited and waited until the first rain. Not really a first torrent, a light first rain.

We did like the Arabs, I thought, invited the extended family, some friends, and picked the olives.

Nobody disturbed us, even the weather was nice. We ended with a feast
sitting under our vine, although the fig tree refuses to take root in our garden. We have tried twice.

Following the Arabs’ traditional recipe we laid the olives in water for a week.

Later we’ll press. The olives. The details – cutting by knife, not breaking,
adding grappa and cognac to some of the jars – (legitimate?) variations on the theme.


There are more and more news about the olive robbery in the villages of Samaria.

With their small prayer shawls and shortened M-16s the thieves take in the name of the ineffable Name what is not theirs.

They did not plant, neither prune, nor dig, but they pick the olives.

‘Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary stone  
Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" in front of Mount Ebal’

‘A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce,’

And as it is written: ‘You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not enjoy the oil, because the olives will drop off’


For years the women from the village near Bethlehem picked the olives of the Valley of the Cross.
Gathered them in the folds of their wide embroidered dresses.

These are the lands of the village where we were born, they said. Or possibly where their parents were born. I have forgotten the name.

This morning up the road to the museum, a group of young feisty men
had laid a plastic cloth like the material of the Central Asian immigrants’ suitcases that sometimes heap up, full of expectation, at the airport.

A small but noisy generator was working nearby. I cannot say why.

An armed guy from Ma’ale Hever (where is that? I still refuse to learn)

Yes we asked the municipality for permission and they were happy to approve.

Part of the oil goes to families in need.

Whose families. We didn’t ask.

What shall we say when our children will ask what we did in the fall of 2002?


Translation from the Hebrew: Galit Hasan-Rokem.
Link to Hebrew pdf file.


To bio notes for Galit Hasan-Rokem


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