The Voices Israel Group of Poets

in English

Reuben Rose Winning Poems 2004

Judge: Willa Schneberg, USA

1st.  Prize:  Johnmichael Simon -  To hold the notes
2nd. Prize: David Silverman -  What Jessica hears
3rd. Prize:  Zvi A. Sesling -  The final tune
4th. Prize:  Yakov Azriel -  Rachel and Joseph

Honorable Mentions

Neither the titles of the poems nor their texts were preserved on the website.

Sarah Antine
Tom Berman
Ira Director
Judy Foner
Phil Ginsburg
Anna Hughes
Mike Koenig
Gretti Izak
Nahum Steigman
David Silverman

First Prize

To hold the notes

by Johnmichael Simon

There was a time
when the notes slept, hibernating,
breathing thumbed parchment,
quiet as cathedrals locked up for the night
while around parish hearths
stout voices sang their pious words

Then came wax cylinders
wound tightly as bobbins
and squashy shellac blobs
that pressed out and dried the notes to brittle patties
where winding roads and bumpy paths
guide scratchy thorns along their quavering circuits

Scant revolutions later notes hiss over speeding decks
in and out of skimpy see-through dresses
while jockeys whirl them back and forth
like dolls at a barnyard square dance
and singles stand around waiting to join the jig

Still fading, the notes, collapsing further
sought refuge in wires, shiny ribbons, skin thin wafers
that held hieroglyphics of their shrinking glory
while packets of ones and zeros
carried them from ear to busy ear

Amidst this impersonal mechanical going on
we set our feet upon the northern road
that leads between the towering peaks and rushing streams
where bird song, rosy apples, fields of cyclamen
and shady cypresses walked beside us down the peaceful ways

And in the valley, beneath the spreading oaks
a classroom beckoned, just a wooden shack
but from its open windows came forth such a blessed sound
that we, compelled by its beauty approached 

There seated on simple wooden chairs four youngsters sat
at cello, viola and two violins
and as we watched them play and pause
and play again and annotate and then again
our hearts began to sing with them
and as we smiled and listened on
we knew the notes had found their home

Second Prize

What Jessica hears

by David Silverman


My daughter was born on the first day 
of Rosh Hashanah.
And on that day, instead of hearing 
the 100 blasts of the shofar in 
my synagogue, I listened to
Jessica's cries — at least 100 of them,
with the other members of her
first congregation: a minyan of doctors,
nurses, and orderlies, her mother leading
the service, in an elegant hospital gown.
It is taught that the notes of
the shofar  - the single, uninterrupted t'kiah, 
the wavering calls of shvarim and
the staccato sobs of t'ruah — describe
the condition of the soul during a lifetime. 
We are born clear and straight, succumb to
to crookedness as adults, and grieve for our mortality 
in old age. But the final blast of the shofar,
the breathtaking t'kiah g'dolah -  an extended t'kiah, 
powerful and pure -  reminds us that God 
receives the penitent, who seeks to return 
to a state of innocence.
Walking to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah 
when Jessica was 10, she told me that
the shofar sounded like a starving child. 
Where she got this, I do not know,
my daughter, who has never gone to bed hungry. 
But that day, I prayed for all of the world's  

starving children, and for my daughter,
her soul still t'kiahlike. 
And as the sound
of the shofar filled the room, I could not stop 
thinking about her. Holding back tears, I hoped 
that one final time she might hear, in the sound 
of the shofar, that which becomes hidden: 
the sweet, uncomplicated voice of God. 

Third Prize

The final tune

by Zvi A. Sesling


Read this poem at a different pace,
A slow pace like a solitary solemn drum
At a funeral march.
Read it as a dirge,
The measured tune of taps, the slow single
Tear making its way through desert heat
To the lips, where the salt accentuates
Bitterness. It is the poem of the wail
And the howl, the chest beating, the
Torn black cloth, the plain wooden
Casket and the final toss of earth.
It is The poem of death, of sadness immortal
In the heart at the final goodbye.
It is the poem of the senseless and
Needless death inflicted by hate
Carried out by petty mortals for a
God supposed to teach love.
The poem knows love for the
Dead, while the living learn the
Never ending song of sorrow.

Fourth Prize

Rachel and Joseph

by Yakov Azriel

 "God remembered Rachel; and God hearkened to her and opened her womb.
She conceived and gave birth to a son .... " (Genesis 30:22–23)

My sister Leah's sons, with their sticks and stones. 
Are playing 'war.' They race back and forth
Over the hillsides, trying to catch
Bilhah's boys, who run and hide behind olive trees,
And Zilpah's boys, who kick anyone who comes too close.
But Joseph sits here next to me in the shadows,
Squinting at the brightness of sun-washed hills,
Watching ants climb flower petals and blades of grass.
He hums the lullabies and songs I sing him each evening,
Then kisses me and strokes my hands.
Leah's sons laugh when my Joseph tries to run
And stumbles, when he tries to climb a tree
And falls, when he sits next to me in the shadows
Reading, or staring at clouds,
Wincing when the others scream or curse.
What will become of my son? He cries
When dogs bark, and feats our flocks of sheep.
Yet he reads the scrolls of the Law his father teaches
Far quicker, far better than all the others,
And tells his father the meaning of each verse, each word.
At night I dream my Joseph dances with the moon
And leaps from cliff to cliff as stars applaud and sheaves of grain bow low.
I hear him sing; red cows, both fat and thin, no longer moo,
But join him in his song, and chirp like birds
That bring him baskets full of soft, white bread.
But Joseph sits next to me in the shadows.
I tremble;
What will become of him
When scorpions crawl out of pits,
Accompanied by the hiss of snakes?