Poetry Book Review: Planted Stars

Posted: 9/10/2009 9:24:00 AM
Author: Reviewed by Toby Klein Greenwald
Source: This review was first published on the Arutz 7 website on Sept. 10, 2009.

Poetry Book Review: Planted Stars
by Leah Epstein

Reviewed by Toby Klein Greenwald

Leah Epstein, who lives in Moshav Keshet in the Golan Heights, has realized the dream of any poet who has made Aliyah. She has published a collection of poems that are clear, poignant, and from the heart, and that document her emotions and experiences in the years since she made Israel her home and commenced raising her family.

The title of the book is derived a poem by the same name, subtitled “Life on the Golan Heights,” in which Epstein writes of the mountains around the Kinneret, “Galilee clusters of lights like planted stars.” She told me that the title is “a metaphor for those of us who settled on the Land,” that the people who settle the land are similar to the clustering stars.

Living, as we do, in a post-modern literary environment that reveres irony and fragmentation, Planted Stars is unabashedly Zionistic, reflective and spiritual. The five sections are all entitled “Songs of…” They are about our people, our times, Jewish women, and personal reflection.

Epstein writes with an abundant love about the Jerusalem, Hermon, Tzfat, Hebron, Eilat and elsewhere. She ends her somewhat lyrical poem on Ein Gedi:

Below, within the rocky walls,
Or at heights of azure bliss,
The flowing echo never stops,
Even as we plunder nature’s gifts.
Forgiveness at Ein Gedi.

Epstein concretizes important moments in recent Israeli history. This excerpt from her poem about the return of Ethiopian Jewry, titled “Lost Brethren Found,” echoes what many Israelis felt during those early years in which we tried to absorb this fascinating people, at once so ancient and so new to us.

Black dignity in white-draped garb,
Blue and white pride spanning dark and light skies
And khaki green, khaki green, khaki green
Eyes. Helping witnesses to a rare, noble moment
When forethought, feelings and design
Bring lost brethren home across distances that foment.

Leah shares with us the background of some poems. She mirrors the feelings of many mothers with this excerpt from a poem she wrote while pregnant with her first-born child, Baruch, titled “To My Baby Not Yet Born”.

When will I tell you there is G-d all around
Or do you already feel Him
When you are still and the sounds
Of the world not yet born muffle your heartbeat?

Tragically, Baruch died in a car accident 18 years later. During his lifetime, when the government was considering a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, she wrote this, in “Child of the Heights”:

A lad just finished building his room in the Golan Heights,
In a roof above us all with stairs to reach it besides,
And now the leaders are busy designing
The withdrawal of us all.
So he climbs the tallest poles, climbs high,
To hang signs that proclaim and cry
He’s not moving, he’s not buying their lie.

Leah touches on the army, Aliyah, the uprooting of Yamit and Gush Katif, the beauty of the land, everyday life, and extraordinary events, such as the Blessing of the Sun that occurs once every 28 years. An excerpt from “The Sun’s Birthday”:

“Today is the sun’s birthday!”
I told a child this, a little girl of four.
The day was cloudless and she supposed
There would be no sun on the cloud’s birthday.

“Today is the sun’s birthday!”
She learned so young to love beginnings
Like those bushes dripping sunshine droplets
Called forsythia.

The implication that once there was thirst
For warmth and blue sky and happy light
Helped her taste that first morning with her eyelashes.

Leah Epstein’s life has been steeped in diversity. She grew up in the Chicago area and, before moving to Israel in the 1980’s, earned degrees in Comparative Literature and Continuing Education (from Brown and the University of Wisconsin – Madison). She works as a translator and taught high school English for a while. As a teacher, she says, she used her writings and songs “to engage my students' souls in the process.” Although most of the book is in English, Epstein includes a short Hebrew section as well. Some of the translations from English to Hebrew were done by herself, and some were done by Edna Zussman. The Hebrew editor was Atzmona Abbu-Finkelstein, and the attractive layout and design is by Josia Kircher.

Planted Stars is a graphically attractive and colorful 140-page volume. A number of the poems have been set to music and Epstein includes, with the book, a CD with her own musical compositions, titled, Planted Stars, Songs of our Land, our People, our Times. One of the songs on the CD also appears in the book, although the words were written by a different poet, Edith Papert of Tel Aviv. It’s called “A Golan Lullaby” and even those who have never lived in the Golan can appreciate this excerpt, which transports us to the freedom and spirit of Israel’s northern fields and mountains,

Catch the dew-drop pearls
Born in the early dawn
Listen to the shri-shri-shri
Of your soaring birds
Breathe the sweet breath of clover lawns.
Let me share your green dreaming…

Planted Stars serves as an example to others who would like to share the experience of a new land with those who share it with them, or those who are yet to come home.

Planted Stars can be purchased in selected stores and online: www.plantedstars.com.

The reviewer, a poet and the editor of WholeFamily.com, lives in Efrat. She was among the founders of Moshav Keshet in the Golan Heights.