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Poetry, storytelling, and multiple truths on Israel's Independence Day

As a historian, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories -- what stories we tell about ourselves and the world, what stories aren't told, how our narratives change depending on context, mood, timing.

We generally think of history and poetry as very distinct fields -- one more straightforward, prose-based, rooted in something we call historical fact; the other more creative, subjective, and emotional. But in this postmodern age, we've come to understand that  what is "true" about either history or poetry is always up for debate, for there are many truths and many ways to tell our stories.

To my preschool-age kids, "telling stories" means making up something that is not true -- a developmentally important stage as they explore and test the boundary between real and imaginary. Grown ups do it, too, of course -- and maybe writers and poets most obviously -- as we try to understand different perspectives and competing truths.

Part of what I love about poetry is that it has the space to contain this process of storytelling to describe a larger truth that may also be imaginary. History, needless to say, is much less forgiving.

This week, as I've prepared to celebrate Israel's Independence Day, I've returned again and again to a poem written by the Canadian Jewish poet Carol Rose (who also happens to be my mother-in-law!), which has helped me reflect on and cultivate gratitude for the human ability (challenging as it is) to hold multiple versions of our stories.

Jerusalem: another version of the story
(for Di Brandt)

i wanted to tell you more
but you were leaving
the next day
with your daughters
for a place
that doesn't always appear
friendly to girlchildren
so i focused my telling
on that part of the tale
that would allow you
to take them
down narrow streets
that cross themselves
in filigreed patterns
praying your way
would be paved with dates
pomegranates figs
& women who grow
& bake & sell in the open
hoping you'd feed
on delicacies
Yemenite Bedouin Persian
embroidery dances
songs in threepart harmony
not a folklorama
but a taste of the spirit
is what i wish you
i suppose i could have told you
(in the words of the ten spies)
that this is a land
that devours
its inhabitants

i chose another version
of the story instead

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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Poetry, storytelling, and multiple truths on Israel's Independence Day." 26 April 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 16, 2018) <>.


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