Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
The Russian Jewish Rabbi
(Trans. Herman Bernstein)
OLD and gray, his shoulders bent,
  Tall and meagre like a cane,
To my door came up a man,
  When the day began to wane.
In one hand he held a staff,        5
  While the other wiped a tear,
Like the leaves on swinging boughs
  He had shrunk from cold and fear.
“Peace to you,” he quietly said,
  And a tear had filled his eye;        10
On his face I noticed grief,
  From his heart I heard a sigh.
“Can you take me ’neath your roof?
  I am tired, and weak and old;
Just like death, severe and sharp,        15
  Crude and merciless the cold,
I am hungry, bare and poor,
Orphan-like I am on soil
For I cannot tug for life
  By my hands, or mental toil.        20
I had been a teacher once
  And our children I had taught;
God’s my witness,—I had e’er
  Perfectly my duties wrought.
Now my children have grown up,        25
  Like grand flowers they still grow,
And I drink the bitter cup,
  Suffering in tears and woe.”
Silent then became the man.
  And the tears have rolled and rolled.        30
On his sad and wrinkled face
  A reproach I could behold,
This was meant for him, whose heart
  In the careless body sleeps,
Who is merciless, unmoved,        35
  When a struggler sighs and weeps.
When in slumber earth was hushed,
  My fatigued and suff’ring guest
Finally in pleasant sleep
  Found forgetfulness and rest.        40
The night’s queen, the wingy dream,
  Looked at him and sweetly smiled,
Carried him at once away,
  Where he lived while yet a child.
Here’s his father’s little house,        45
  Where he passed his childhood days,
Where his heart had freely breathed
  ’Mong his friends, and mates at plays.
Here’s the temple, where he oft
  With his father ran to pray,        50
“Tell me, dearest, why we haste,”
  To his ’pa, he used to say.
“Child, the Sabbath-hour is near,
  And the temple’s open wide,—
There our souls will find repose,        55
  Far from care’s and struggling’s tide.”
In the dismal synagog
  Darkness, gloom reigns over all.
Down the rigid sexton goes
  To the corner … By the wall        60
Stands a candle on a shelf;
  Fast to it he makes his way,
Then, by turn, he lights each lamp,
  And, when done, he walks away.
Thus the gloomy synagog        65
  Soon assumed an aspect bright;
And the boy with eager eyes
  Follows ev’ry trembling light.
“Where’s the candle and the shaft,
  That, like in a fairy land,        70
Instantly created light?
Told in darkness, ‘Be there light?’
  By the customary hand,
By the hand that used the light
It was slip-shod cast aside!”        75
Jewish, tired and suff’ring Rabbi,
  Such, poor teacher, is your fate!
Keeper of the Lord’s commandments,
  Was your toil not holy, great?
Have you not with holy blazes        80
  Lit our children’s heart and soul?
Have you not, inspired like prophets,
  Taught them life’s true end and goal?
Rabbi, did you not instruct them
  To believe, to love and wait,        85
To be honest, true and faithful,
  “With a heart for any fate?”
Well, and now?… With mute affliction
  You are wandering alone,
O’er your head a fearful darkness,        90
  In your heart a deathly moan.

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