Else Lasker-Schuler: Land of the Hebrews (1937)

From her refuge in Switzerland, Lasker-Schüler made several visits to Palestine — the idyllic land she yearned for and embodied in her drawings and poetry. During her second visit in 1934, the poet was deeply disillusioned by the harsh reality of social tensions and political turmoil in the land. The impressions of this visit to the Holy Land as recorded in her prose work The Land of the Hebrews, represent, nonetheless, a visionary account which glorifies the Palestine of her dreams. The following is a selection from Land of the Hebrews (Das Hebräerland).

Palestine is the land of the book of God, Jerusalem — God's veiled bride. I came out of the desert, journeyed to the sacred marriage, a guest at the festivities that always encompass Jerusalem. Beneath its heaven's canopy, it is always wedding-day. God adores Jerusalem and has enclosed it in his heart. He has chosen this eternal city of cities. Every guest who enters this city exchanges his clothes for holy garments. This pious transformation obliges all to behave solemnly and courteously, so as not to startle the devout spirit of the select, exalted city. I must say, I have never perceived a piercing voice, nor a shrill sound in Jerusalem, neither in its streets nor in its houses and palaces. Because of this, you can hear all the more clearly God's breathing. Overwhelmed by His presence, you begin to tremble. One must accustom oneself to God. And it is well to cleanse oneself, to be ever better. The soul is seized by the deepest fear and begins to burn. Often I have wished to hide myself from God.

Hebrew ballads title drawing
Hebrew Ballads (title drawing)
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Not everyone who comes to the land of Palestine lives there conscious of his duty. Palestine makes demands!!! for recovery in the spiritual sense, Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, is the proper place, the healing bath of the soul. For the city blesses those who long for its blessing, the devout city comforts those who wish to be comforted. Jerusalem is the observatory of the hereafter, the heaven before Heaven. In this heavenly creation the First Temple was built.

The towns of Palestine are all small in size, but manifold within. For its part, the countryside around them exceeds the surroundings of all the towns and villages on earth in breadth, in immensity of extent. I have no wish to set a stage of fantasy yet I do believe that I must stress the boundless distances with their pyramids of rock and dizzy chasms, to allow those who have never seen Palestine with their own eyes a reasonable idea of the enchanted land. Words cannot encompass it. Jerusalem itself is of small build, God's chosen bride in the land of Palestine, but of stature so immense in her lilac-sky cloak and stone-chasm robes. A little town, a winsome citadel His Zion — rises up with every stone in a frame of rock. Palestine cannot be compared with any land on earth. Palestine is not entirely of this world, it borders on the hereafter ad like heaven is not to be measured in time or space. Some may even look benevolently on the "exaggerations" (?) of a poet, but the blessed land needed a poet to come extol it….

The Hebrew pioneer awakened Palestine from its thousand-year biblical fairy-tale sleep. He lifted up the goblet, the lost promised land. He filled it with the vine of his blood, sacrificed his life to God to win it anew — in a higher form. It was the pioneers, the first colonists, who took upon themselves the fever of the cool waters; some died. They dug not for gold, but for God!! All those who left life young and those who remain alive, are the Princes of the land! And yet they who till the fields and bring the fruits to ripeness move with modesty among their brothers and sisters of the cities. Proud are the stones — between them blooms a small, green bush, beneath which rests a weary pioneer. A bedouin of hills gently urges on his camel: "Ana hatu inaha ana! La la la, la . . . la la la, la!" March and the month of April embroider the carpets of the countryside with incomparable flowers and grasses….

To question no more the truth of our sanctified books one must live or have lived a while in Palestine. A sojourn in the Promised Land, above all in Jerusalem, strengthens one's belief in God, in the "reposing deity," upon whose cheek Jerusalem reclines.

I asked the nice Talmud students if they could tell me how old God is? Even their great Rav, they all agreed, could not answer this question, but I might ask Rabbi Kook personally, or his little two-year old granddaughter Zipora, for Adonai is not only the oldest of the old, but also the youngest of the young — according to his own words: "I am that I will be." Ceaselessly the glow of future eternity flows about the Lord. from one of the darkening corners of the Talmud classroom, a murmur of agreement echoes across to us chatting students. They asked me to recite for them one of my favorite Hebrew Ballads. "To God". . .



Translation: Durchslag, Audri and Jeanette Litman-Demeestère. Else Lasker-Schüler: Hebrew Ballads and Other Poems. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1980, pp. 51-55. Used by permission of JPS.




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