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The Sacrifices Made in Israel for Independence

Rani Jaeger analyzes Natan Alterman's famous poem, "Silver Platter"
Dr. Rani Jaeger is a Research Fellow of the Kogod Research Center and founder of Tanakh Initiative at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where he currently leads the  Tanakh Initiative Alumni Network. He was also one of the founders of the Institute’s Be’eri Program for Pluralistic Jewish-Israeli Identity Education. Rani received his doctorate from Bar-Ilan University on Jewish-Israeli culture as perceived by the poet Avraham Shlonsky. He was a participant in the first cohort of the Beit Midrash

Reading and analysis of Israeli poem, “The Silver Platter,” by renowned Hebrew poet Natan Alterman.

Lecture from May 5, 2008, just days before the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary, as well as just before Israeli Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers. By Memorial Day 2008, 22,437 soldiers had died in Israel’s wars of Israel’s independence and defense.

The poem was published in a Hebrew newspaper in 1947 before the establishment of Israel and was not about the fallen in Israel’s wars, but a prediction of the deaths that would occur in upcoming wars for freedom and the State of Israel.

Below are several English translations of this emotionally transfixing poem.

The Silver Platter

Translator: David P. Stern

…And the land will grow still
Crimson skies dimming, misting
Slowly paling again
Over smoking frontiers
As the nation stands up
Torn at heart but existing
To receive its first wonder
In two thousand years
As the moment draws near
It will rise, darkness facing Stand straight in the moonlight In terror and joy
…When across from it step out
Towards it slowly pacing In plain sight of all A young girl and a boy
Dressed in battle gear, dirty
Shoes heavy with grime
On the path they will climb up
While their lips remain sealed
To change garb, to wipe brow
They have not yet found time Still bone weary from days And from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue
And all drained of emotion
Yet the dew of their youth
Is still seen on their head
Thus like statues they stand
Stiff and still with no motion And no sign that will show If they live or are dead
Then a nation in tears
And amazed at this matter Will ask: who are you? And the two will then say
With soft voice: We–
Are the silver platter On which the Jews’ state Was presented today
Then they fall back in darkness
As the dazed nation looks And the rest can be found In the history books.

The Silver Platter

Translator not identified

The earth grows still.

The lurid sky slowly pales over smoking borders. Heartsick but still living, a people stand by To greet the uniqueness Of the miracle.

Readied, they wait beneath the moon,

Wrapped in awesome joy before the light.

Then soon,

A girl and boy step forward, And slowly walk before the waiting nation; In work clothes and heavy-shod They climb In stillness.

Wearing still the dress of battle, the grime

Of aching day and fired night Unwashed, weary until death, not knowing rest, But wearing youth like dewdrops in their hair. – – Silently the two approach And stand.

Are they of the quick or of the dead? Through wondering tears, the people stare. “Who are you, the silent two?” And they reply: “We are the silver platter Upon which the Jewish State was served to you.” And speaking, fall in shadow at the nation’s feet. Let the rest in Israel’s chronicles be told.

The Silver Platter

Translator not identified

So the land grows still. Red fades in the sky
Over smoking frontiers in Israel.
Heartsick but breathing, the people greet
The wonder that has no parallel.
Beneath the moon, they stand and wait,
Facing the dawn in awe and joy;
Then slowly towards the waiting throng
Two step forth – a girl and a boy.
Clad for work and for war, heavy shod and still,
Up the winding path they make their way,
Their clothes unchanged, still soiled with the grime
Of the battle-filled night and the toilsome day.
Weary past telling, strangers to sleep,
But wearing their youth like dew in their hair,
Dumb they approach. – Are they living or dead?
Who knows, as they stand unmoving there.
Tear-stained, wondering, the people ask,
“Who are you?” – softly reply the two,
“We are the silver platter, on which
The Jewish State is handed you!”
In shadow they fall when their tale is told –
The rest let Israel’s story unfold.

Magash Hakesef (The Silver Platter)

Translator not identified

Weary beyond bounds, deprived of respite

Exhuding the sweet dew of Hebrew youth, Silent, the pair shall approach and stand without motion.

Without sign that they be living or deceased Then shall the Nation, drenched in tear and enchantment, ask: Who are you?

And the silent pair shall answer without words, “We are the silver platter upon which the Land of the Jews, to you has been offered.”

So shall they speak and, shades, shall fall at her feet And the rest shall be recounted in the History of Israel.

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