January 21, 2016

In Tel Aviv: Beit Bialik, home of Israel's National Poet

Selfie with painting of Israel's national poet (r.)
Hayim Nahman Bialik (b. Odessa 1873, d. Vienna 1934) is Israel's national poet. Bialik helped revive the ancient Hebrew language from one reserved for prayer, sacred text study, and scholarship to a robust modern language. I grew up on his poems, songs, and stories for children, and since have been singing his songs and studying his poetry and the classic Sefer Ha-Aggadah — compilations (with Yehoshua Ravnitzky) of thousands of stories and legends scattered through the Talmud and rabbinic literature, from the creation of the world to the world to come. 

On his 60th birthday, in 1933, all the schoolchildren of Tel Aviv were taken to meet him at his home on Bialik Street that has been converted into Beit Bialik, a museum and center for literary events and the Bialik Archive. Last night, Shmuel Avneri, director of the archive and an important Bialik scholar, treated me and two friends to a private tour. 

This selfie cannot hide my shock and awe standing behind Bialik's desk and in front of a painting of the poet (right) and Ravnitzky. Imagine standing behind the desks of USA national poets Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, and Maya Angelou. Or behind the desk of any national poet of any culture you love.