Kadya Molodowsky: God of Mercy (From Yiddish)

God of Mercy
By Kadya Molodowsky
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
(Click for a recording of the poet herself reading the original Yiddish)

God of Mercy,
Choose another people
We are tired of the death, the dead, the cost.
No more prayers.
Choose another people
We have run out of blood to sacrifice
To You in holocaust1.
Our home has become wilderness.
The earth is not enough for all our graves.
There are no more dirges for us left,
No more lamentations
In any old Hebrew text.

God of Mercy,
Make some other land holy
Some other mountain.
We've strewn each stone and every field2 with grave
Ash and consecration.
With our elderly,
With our young,
With little babies we have paid wholly
For every letter of that Decalogue3 You gave. 

God of Mercy,
Lift up that fiery brow of Yours,
Behold the peoples of the world.
Give them the prophecies, the Days of Awe.
In every tongue they babble4 up Your Words, 
Your revelations and Your law. 
Instruct them in the Acts5
And the ways of temptation. 

God of Mercy,
Give us common clothes
Of shepherds tending sheep,
Of blacksmiths at the hammer,
Of washer-women, skin-flayers,
And even lower...the uncleanest.  
And oh
God of Mercy
Grant us this one last blessing:
Strip us of the shekhina of our genius6.


1 — Read holocaust in its original sense of "burnt offering" and of course the later meanings as well. My translation choice, which does not duplicate the effect of the Yiddish, is nonetheless motivated by the attitude, linguistic as well as religious, which Molodowsky seems to be striking in Yiddish. An unorthodox take in translation seems justifiable given that there are at least two other translations of this poem out there in English.

2 — Feld has a more funereal feel in Yiddish than its German cognate. It can in fact mean "graveyard."

3 — The original refers to the ten commandments as di tsen gebótn using a Germanic term as opposed to the Hebrew term aséres hadíbres. The Germanic phrase is one used in Yiddish, but it has the effect of de-sanctifying the referent, objectifying it.

4 — The verb préplen literally means "to mumble." I recall a note from Max Weinreich somewhere to the effect that this verb that can be used (or at least was once used) to refer to non-Jewish prayer and to the language of non-Jewish religious ceremony.

5 — I think the implication is: teach them the máysim "deeds, acts" as they already know the máyses "tales."

6 — Shekhina: divine presence of God in Judaism. (The word is common enough in English writing about Judaism, and in the religious lexicon of English-speaking Jews, that I was comfortable leaving the word as is.) It is tempting to take the term גאונות in the sense of "scholarly inventiveness, textual brilliance" i.e. Torah study itself. It evokes exceptional skill generally, but also rabbinical learning and spiritual leadership. The term may also refer to esteemed rabbis. All of which proved useless, the author implies, against the tragedy that immolated European Jewry.

The Original:

אל חנון,
קלײַב אויס אַן אַנדער פֿאָלק
מיר זײַנען מיד פֿון שטאַרבן און געשטאָרבן,
מיר האָבן ניט קיין תּפֿילותֿ מער,
קלײַב אויס אַן אַנדער פֿאָלק
מיר האָבן ניט קיין בלוט מער
אויף צו זײַן אַ קרבּן,
אַ מדבּר איז געוואָרן אונדזער שטוב,
די ערד איז קאַרג פֿאַר אונדז אויף קבֿרים
נישטאָ קיין קינותֿ מער פֿאַר אונדז,
נישטאָ קיין קלאָגליד
אין די אַלטע ספֿרים

אל חנון,
הייליק אַן אַנדער לאַנד,
אַן אַנדער באַרג.
מיר האָבן אַלע פֿעלדער שוין און יעדן שטיין
מיט אַש, מיט הייליקן באַשאָטן.
מיט זקנים,
און מיט יונגע,
און מיט עופֿהלעך באַצאָלט
פֿאַר יעדן אותֿ פֿון דײַנע צען געבאָטן.

אל חנון,
הייב אויף דײַן פֿײַערדיקע ברעם,
און זע די פֿעלקער פֿון דער וועלט
גיב זיי די נבֿואותֿ און די יום–נוראים.
אין יעדן לשון פּרעפּלט מען דײַן וואָרט–
לערן די מעשים זיי,
די וועגן פֿון נסיון.

אל חנון,
גיב פּראָסטע בגדים אונדז,
פֿון פּאַסטעכער פֿאַר שאָף,
פֿון שמידן בײַ דעם האַמער,
פֿון וועשוואַשער, פֿון פֿעלשינדער,
און נאָך מער געמיינעס.
און נוך איין חסד טו צו אונדז:
אל חנון
נעם צו פֿון אונדז די שכינה פֿון גאונותֿ.

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