Rahel Halfi o l'entortolligada llargària del temps


  • Eduard Feliu


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 Minister's 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 prose-writers 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 B and not only with the weapons of poetry B 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 identity.

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 Chalfi's 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.