The temple of loneliness of Zvika Szternfeld
As he belongs to an ancient tribe, Zvika Szternfeld a well-known poet (not that well) of Jewish literature has knowledge that lies in his genes about three things: 1. Old Faith; 2. Old-time Hopes; 3. illusions - and all three things together are what make a literature to exist.
In fact for the non-Jewish literary world it's hard to understand this literature in its true essence. It comes precisely from the conceptual difference that lies in the gene and inherited for centuries, according to these three important issues mentioned above. I do not mean to say that these things do not exist into the ethnicity of other nations and tribes. Yes they do exist. But they are different.
It’s different, the thread that connects them and makes precisely this difference that in many cases it’s a great one. We may pretend that we understood it, but I believe that is our involuntary and innocent illusion. Maybe what "confuses us" more for understanding this literature is the first issue - Old Faith. As for the other two, hopes and illusions, they are present more as a universal human existence.
"kin'at sofrim tarbeh chochmah - the conflict of scholars increases knowledge" – Talmud.
In our case we do not have conflicts and let's call it lack of information. Talmud guides to understanding the real depth of that process that happens in the mind of the poet, the faith to which he belongs. I read the poetry written by Zvika Szternfeld and find in front of me the symbols, metaphors, allegories, ironies, that have their origins in this very important part of the Jewish faith. "Judaism demands a commitment to a set of beliefs and values that transcend the authority of the State and its political boundaries." (Trialogue of the Abrahamic faiths/The faith community and world order in the perspective of Judaism / Henry Siegman , in Albanian page 121, 2009, Tirana).
It’s already a well known historical fact that actually shows one of the major differences, which is the Jews living in the non Jewish countries, in many cases hostile ones. This fact led many Jews to protect even more fanatically their old beliefs. In fact this is only an impetus because this old belief leans mostly just by its ancientness which is preserved in sacred texts that educate every Jew, whether resident in Christian countries, or resident in Islamic countries.
We live in a time when the daily life has a different rhythm and where the global elite opinion has increasingly raised discussion of the existence of these values jealously guarded by facing the pace of change in mentality. Szternfeld of course is informed very well about it and obviously he is the protagonist in choosing his attitude towards these values, so his belief. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel laureate writer, who also comes from the Yiddish culture, says: "... faith in God and Providence is the very essence of literature ... literature is a story of love and luck mixed together, a description of the crazy Hurricane of human passions and the fight he has with them."
But let's go back to very sensitive issue of belief. How is this faith of Zvika the poet?
If in the first modern period of development of Hebrew literature, this belief is the only possibility of existence, it’s the testament, the blood, the past and the future, the existence itself, that you can feel almost in all publications of that time, for Rahel, Haim Nahman Bialik, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Yosef Brenner, it is the leitmotif of their work.
They vivify through this faith that would lead them to the Promised Land; to the next generation of poets after World War II, the Promised Land is already there, the whole for them, so it makes even the attitude towards religion change direction. Already they have become more sensitive and more visible to such elements as hope and artistic illusion.
But they are doing that without skipping in any way the protection of this territory which they already have. In these conditions even the literature was undergoing changes. Especially it begins to be obvious around 1960, when authors such Yehoshua, Amos Oz, Yoram Kaniuk and Yaakov Shabatai bring new forms of writing of the old Jewish language where they interweave in beautiful ways many symbols, allegories and psychological analyses by the teachings through the holy scriptures of Torah, Kabbalah and Talmud - where again the issue of belief remains primary. So was established a tradition which was further developed by the authors of the years 1980- 2000, including Zvika Szternfeld. The main trend in their texts is the opening toward new cultures and artistic forms, which comes into view through the selection of topics as well as the artistic forms. A dignified successor of Avraham Shlonski, Natan Alterman, Yehuda Amichai, Leah Goldberg, and Uri Zvi Grinberg, a contemporary just as dignified of Asher Reich, Arieh Sivan, Ronny Somek, Naim Arad and Moshe Dor, is Szternfeld who brings a poetry "highly symbolic and crowded with conceptual metaphors."
Being born in Poland he could not escape the dual attitude of belief which was a phenomenon that affected all Jewish poets and writers born in other foreign countries. First, Zvika preserves and evokes the faith of his genes and ethnicity. Secondly, also he preserves and evokes the faith of the country of origin, in this case Poland. The love for his native land is divided into two areas: a) the de facto country in which he was born, and it is impossible not to love it because of those thousands of threads of life passing as memories, b) the de jure the country for which he had dreamed and actually is at the same time the location of ancestral genes which also cannot be avoided. At this point it becomes interesting. Well we have a love, a homeland, and two countries. A faith is simultaneously convex and concave, a state of the soul that only mathematics can create.
Before saying ABA (ABA – Hebrew for "father")
I have said TATA (TATA – Polish for "father")
Before saying ABA (ABA – Hebrew for "father")
I have said TATA (TATA – Polish for "father")
He reaffirms as below:
I answer him who sits up in bed in Polish,
he hurts in Hebrew, (Polish, page 19)
This attitude is one by which Zvika conveys his own faith. But beside this I observe some other viewpoints. Let’s mention a few of them:
Man is not just a complex being, but:
I was a ship,
my skills were as numerous as the winds
(Father, my hand is warm and large, page 17)
There are two figures, the ship and the comparison of skills with the winds. The first has an easily readable symbol which may be the ego, search, adventure, exploration; faith in hope, escape - in any case the most visible meaning remains that of the Leader / Ego. In this case, the belief is identified with confidence and when we say faith that means belief in God - and God for his part conveys the attitude towards the Past, Tradition, Ethnicity, Genes and Nationality. It’s the only country in the world where faith is identified with nationality. If I say Jew, at the same time I realize both nationality and religion.
The poet describes this situation as history, so ... it has been, which means that it isn’t anymore. Maybe his faith was overshadowed by his way of life? Or he left it to us as an opportunity to understand the silence which the past left behind? Winds in the classic explanation of artistic figures symbolize exactly the historical landmarks. Here are no direct mentions of them, but he focuses on the revelation of his own, of the inner attitude of his ego in relation to time, in relation to the Faith, which unwittingly appears to us unified. We can see that belief is the cornerstone, the backbone of the Poetic Ego’s identity, easily similar to belief in God. And other than in a temple the Faith does feel safe anywhere.
Zvika never mentioned "synagogue" which is only for Jews, something that unwittingly narrows the concept of only one kind of Faith, the Jewish one. He refers to the Temple. Temples are present in ancient and modern world, not just for one belief. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and earlier paganism, all have temples - this fact is more universal. We know that sacrificial rites are performed in temples accepted by all as an opportunity to get closer to God. Seen in my context even the poet is offering something - his soul towards that which is closest to all. He says in the title: Temple of loneliness. So now I know why the temple, but with the addition of loneliness he leads to another dimension: in the temple we may contemplate, among others. And what can a poet contemplate beside the mysteries of Creation puzzles? Is not this another way of being closer to Providence, where everything happens in Oneness? It’s the loneliness of soul and thought that makes intellectual edification, which provides me some Biblical answers.
Szternfeld revives in this way the tradition of the poet as a perfect master of the specific contours of a whole culture in modern times. Academic questions: what to keep from the past; how much weight does it need to take place in our lives; even as art, which is the message of the past and what role it can play in the configuration of the future - are present in one form or another in poetry of Zvika:
The cross descends from the church,
takes a broom
(For Maayan on her fourteenth birthday, page.31)
There is nothing else but adaptation of old faith to modern times. Metaphors in this case clarify the poet's position toward the faith in the time of technology. He, Faith / God, is getting more human because his mission is just the happiness and peace of the people. The simple act of our daily life in this case leads us to the contemplation that history and humanity should probably wipe out the memory of unnecessary things that hinder us from seeing clearly. It is a moderate stand, an innovation, if we compare it with the traditional interpretation of the image of God in Jewish literature.
“Elohim gadol”/ God is great - it’s an expression that accompanies every moment in the Jewish world. Zvika doesn’t mention God, but the Cross, placing a degree between himself and his Faith and between him and God itself. However he, God, always remains Elohim gadol, but others can be changed to fit the times.
The soul looks for a scale,
neither for climbing,
nor for descending,
wishing to have it differently. (A man, pg.55)
But which will be this scale? Is this where:
The prayer that had torn the skies
returned because it found out
that the sea is superior (Preference, pg. 49)
The poet Zvika Szternfeld doesn’t reveal that.
In conclusion, I can say that I have seen a poet extremely interesting who besides the other more social topics, is paying important attention precisely to the Faith, because through that it conveys the message that modern man should not lose that belief and that Faith should remain the promoter of all human activity. Just in this way we can get closer to the knowledge of ourselves, knowing the rapports that we ourselves create to the world and our orientation towards peace and universal happiness.