The Smile of a Tree

In 2016, Rivka Basman Ben-Haim put out a dual-language, Yiddish-Hebrew book entitled Der Shmeykhl fun a Boym,  The Smile of a Tree. Its Hebrew translators were Hamutal Bar Yosef, Yehudah Gur-Aryeh, Asher Gal, Roy Greenvald, Benny Mer and the late Shalom Lurie.

For the poet, the past is ever-present. She recalls the days in a labor camp, when “a good word” was “bread”, but also how, in the eyes of the curious youngsters she taught in kibbutz Ha-Ma’apil, she found “the path to the land of the living”. Some of the poems in this book are pure ars poetica.  Others are portraits of the now living as well as those who live on in her memory. In a sly tone of self-mockery, she sees herself as others see her: “the silent old lady/who writes Yiddish poems for herself”.  She lives very much in the moment, enjoying “the smile of a tree”, living “in the beauty and glory” of Hebrew, even as she totally breathes “in the loneliness of Yiddish”.

Every one of the poets’s books had in them illustrations of the work of her late husband, the artist Mula Ben-Haim.  This book is no exception. Immediately after the front cover there is a full-color reproduction of a painting entitled “Figure of a Sitting Woman”, and the front cover itself has a photo reproduction of a vase of blue flowers. To see the front cover, click on the link below:

scan of Der Shmeykhl fun a Boym

Appropriately, the poet dedicates her book to her husband, The dedication reads: “To Mula, with you in the breath of a poem”.