Ronny Someck: Handcuffs- A Street Song (From Hebrew)

A couple readers emailed me after my Amichai post, complaining that the Arab-Israeli conflict is all anyone ever hears about Israel, and that the country has more to offer than religious and territorial conflict. It sure does. In fact, it has a whole range of social ills often found in multi-ethnic first world countries. Like, for example, institutionalized class-disparity and a semi-racialized underclass. Ashkenazi Jews who settled in the Land of Israel brought over some of that good old European racism, and Mizrahi Jews (i.e. oriental Jews originally from the Near East) were on the receiving end of it. One of the most ironic examples of this is Hannah Arendt, who during her first visit to Jerusalem to cover the Eichmann trial, wrote a letter to a friend containing a passage which I cannot read without fantasizing about the complete works of Abraham Joshua Heschel falling from the clouds onto Arendt's doublethinking cranium and crushing her like the fist of a righteous deity:

My first impression: on top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attourneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks nothing but Hebrew, but looks Arabic. There are some downright brutal types among them. They'd follow any order. And outside the doors, an oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.
And Ashkenazi Jews still enjoy a great deal of humor and power at the expense of Mizrahi Jews. Sometimes it takes the form of countless racist jokes about the ostensible stupidity of Moshe Katsav, the Iranian-born former president of Israel (and the first Mizrahi to hold that position.) At other times, it takes sadder forms, such as the one touched on in this poem by Ronny Someck, a Mizrahi Jew who has worked a great deal with street-gangs.

Handcuffs: A Street Song
By Ronny Someck
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the poem in Hebrew

They cuffed his hands because there's just no love in the world.
He stole a sprinkler
To get the cops to come after him
Under his bed and teach him
What it means to steal a sprinkler you haven't even got a lawn for.
Got no father either, and his mother is one line in the casebook of
The social worker.
Such a white pair of legs on that social worker,
White like the cream cheese they served him every morning at the home.
And the way she told him how beautifully he could draw black crows.
He went to an Armenian in the Old City that same day
To get tattooed1 with one just like that, marking the muscle, as if his hand was
A wall in an ancient cave2.
Such a beauty of raven wings they saw there
And eyes
And a head cocked toward the skies that were
The ceiling of the lock-up.


1 Tattoos (the hebrew verb for tattooing "לקעקע" also means "destroy, undermine") have a somewhat unsavory connotation. In addition to being forbidden by Judaic law, their association with Nazi concentration camps gives them an added level of revulsion for many Ashkenazi Jews.

2 A reference to the Platonic cave dwellers (see The Republic 514a-518b) who are bound, from birth, opposite a cave wall upon which only the shadows of reality are cast. One day the chains are broken and realization occurs.

The Original:

אזיקים. שיר רחוב
רוני סומק

.שמו לו אזיקים על היד כי אין אהבה בעולם

הוא גנב ממטרה

כדי שהשוטרים יבואו ויחפשו אותו

מתחת למיטה ויראו לו

.מה זה לגנוב ממטרה כשאין לך אפילו דשא בשבילה

אין לו גם אב, ואימא שלו היא שורה במחברת של

.העובדת הסוציאלית
איזה רגליים לבנות היו לה לסוציאלית
כמו גבינה 9 אחוז שהגישו כל בוקר במוסד

ואיך היא אמרה לו שהוא מצייר יפה עורב

ובאותו יום הלך לארמני בעיר העתיקה
שיקעקע לו כזה בשריר, כאילו הייתה היד שלו

.קיר במערה עתיקה
יופי של כנפיים ראו שם


וראש הנוטה לשמים שהיו

.תקרת חדר המעצר


  1. I believe many of your posts lack a certain integrity by virtue of not listing the original date of publication.  Yes, when this Somek poem appeared in 1996, it was a statement referring to situations prior to 1996 - for the poem is a set of concluding thoughts;
    - and much has changed since then,
    - though from your remarks above, one would never think so. 

    Of the several poems I checked on your site, which has greatly expanded over the past couple of years, I find the lack of original publication date to be a major fault in understanding the basis behind many of these works.

    I would strongly suggest you add dates so that a reader receives a fuller, more correct aspect of positioning.

  2. Many things have changed since the mid 90's. But unless Israelis were  just putting on an elaborate and racist act for my benefit when I lived in Israel in 2008, I very much doubt that the alienation, marginalization and denigration of Mizrahim (and of non-Ashkenazim more generally) is a thing of the bad ol' nineties. 

    In any event, how would it help to know that a certain poem by Mois Benarroch (seen here: was written in 2005? 

    And I think I do, in fact, mention the original publication date when I think it is of especial relevance, as in my translations of Amichai's ירושלים עיר נמל and שניינו ביחד וכל אחד לחוד, or for Bialik's על השחיטה or La'or's הברית הכי חדשה. 


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