Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Rahel Halfi o l'entortolligada llargària del temps

Eduard Feliu i Mabres


Rahel Chalfi was born in Tel Aviv around 1945 and spent some of her
teenage years in Mexico. She went on to study English and Philosophy at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and subsequently drama and film studies at
Berkeley. She has taught film at the University of Tel Aviv and has worked for
Israeli radio and television as a producer of documentaries. Leading Israeli
critics have described her poetry as visionary and dramatic, independent and
daring. Her seven books of poetry published to date are the weft and warp of an
extraordinary fabric within contemporary Jewish literature. In 1989, and once
again in 1998, Rachel Chalfi won the coveted Prime Ministers Prize for Literature,
and in 2001 she was awarded the Ashman Prize for literary creation.
It has been said that the only distinctive group to have emerged in contemporary
Hebrew literature is that of the first generation of poets and prosewriters
of the State of Israel, known as the Palmah Generation, during the
1950s and 60s. Despite the differences due to individual circumstances and
literary conventions, the group constituted, as Glenda Abramson puts it, a psychological
unit. They all took part in the struggle and not only with the
weapons of poetry to build the social and political reality of the new State of
Israel. Distancing themselves from the traditional poetics of Shlonsky and
Alterman, they all showed a pugnacious spirit and a strong sense of collective
Hebrew poetry, however, has long since lost many of the convictions which
drove those poets to voice the deepest experiences of their collective life. Nowadays,
with collective life all but abandoned, experience rarely transcends the
confines of individuality, and poets tend to express the darkest and most intimate reaches of personal experience in an apparently more prosaic and obscure
language, the fruit of sweeping metrical, stylistic and even typographical innovations.
All living still in the grip of war and the rumours of war, they have
never lost the urge to express their dream of a life of peace and justice. Poetry
continues to be a vitally important part of Jewish culture today.
The literary generation of the last few decades often reflects a disillusionment
born out of the failure to build the Utopia of a polity governed by new
values of justice and solidarity. The dream of being a people like any other people
has taken on a cruel reality: like other European nations, Israel bears the
marks of the post-war period and its materialistic society, shaped by few objectives
other than the purely economic, trampling ideals and ideologies underfoot.
The stance implicit in many of the poets of the last thirty years takes the
form of a clear identification with the liberal, urbane values of Euro- American
western society, even though that often means sharing the values of those with
whom they are at odds. Although the themes of national identity which characterised
poets of an earlier generation have receded, the themes of political, social
and spiritual identity (including the manifestations of sexual diversity) have
never ceased to occupy an important role, since they are the fundamental elements
of the life of all individuals, irrespective of their circumstances. The purpose
of poetry, which still enjoys popularity among the reading public in Israel,
is to remind us all that there is a reason for living, that there are alternatives to
the ideas of those who believe they are in possession of cast-iron truths and see
themselves as the heirs to great cultures of the past. The weariness of things that
we sometimes find in Rahel Chalfis work is not to be confused with
despair, because she knows, even if it is for just a fraction of a second, that
«there is hope».
Rahel Chalfi belongs to a generation for whom the creation of the State of
Israel is no longer the fulfilment of a Zionist dream, but rather an unquestionable
historical fact which has become the bedrock of their identlity as Israeli
Jews. Through the means of poetry, Rahel Chalfi endeavours to understand
and render understandable the phenomena, both great and small, of the world
in which she lives, reflecting on them with imaginative restraint coupled with
unfailing insight and passion, while rejecting the dictates of any given poetry or
poetic form.
The real world of Rahel Chalfi is peopled by individuals who, as victims of
contradiction, «dig tunnels of hope» to illuminate «the darkness between chaos
and chaos». Fear, insecurity and uncertainty are rampant, life is fragile and at
every turn disenchantment threatens to close in. Relativity and a sense of the provisional are expressed through irony. Time is a ruthless, angry wild horse.
The difficulties inherent in facing the world force the poet to seek refuge in the
wakefulness of an inner life and to express nostalgia for the infinite for which
we all long. For Rahel Chalfi, the act of writing is a rough chase in pursuit of
the dream of freedom.

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