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By Linda Stern Zisquit

“Ten measures of beauty came down into the world;

Nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

                                                                         Tractate Kiddushin

“Ten parts of suffering came down into the world; nine

were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

                                                                         Avot d’Rabbi Natan

Had Rachel not looked up

Jacob would not have seen her.

There would have been no water,

no winding dream,

no tribe or unrelenting

portion of sadness

dispersed on his land, his Jerusalem,

and I would not have promised

to gather then home. But Rachel

saw him and he loved her.

She was barren and she suffered

and she followed him.

So I have this heaviness

to bear. Her life before him

had also the dailiness of lives,

an hour at which she would rise and go

to the well. Then out of the blue

her future came crashing against her lids

when she looked up, those hours changed,

and I was moved to his, another well.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in the collection Ritual Bath (Broken Moon Press, 1993), was recently published in The Ilanot Review, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Linda Stern Zisquit has published four full-length collections of poetry, most recently Havoc: New & Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2013). Return from Elsewhere, her fifth volume of poetry, will be published in Spring 2014. Her other books are The Face in the Window (2004), Unopened Letters (1996), and Ritual Bath (1993). Ghazal-Mazal, a chapbook, appeared in 2011. Her translations from Hebrew poetry include These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam (2010), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (2006), Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (1997), for which she received an NEA Translation Grant and was shortlisted for the PEN Translation Award, and Desert Poems of Yehuda Amichai (1991). Her work has appeared in journals including The Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Salmagundi and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Born in Buffalo, NY, Zisquit has lived in Jerusalem with her husband and five children since 1978; she is Associate Professor and Poetry Coordinator for the MA in Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University, and runs ARTSPACE, an art gallery in Jerusalem representing contemporary artists.

The Ilanot Review, where today’s poem recently appeared, is a biannual journal of creative writing which publishes a stellar selection of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and literary interviews. The journal publishes two themed issues a year, inviting submissions from English-language poets and writers from anywhere in the world. The Ilanot Review is currently seeking submissions for its winter 2014 edition, through November 30th. The theme of the winter 2014 issue is sacred words.

Editor’s Note: Today’s selection contemplates the question so many of us are wont to ask: “What if?” In today’s piece the poet straddles two worlds; her own life and the biblical tales that shape so much of our modern lives. Within the poet’s words her own life is inextricably linked with the biblical love story of Rachel and Jacob. “Had Rachel not looked up / Jacob would not have seen her,” the poet posits, “But Rachel / saw him and he loved her,” and “So I have this heaviness / to bear.” Had the stories of our people unfolded differently, the poet seems to say, so, too, would our own lives now be different. Time, place, religion, literature, and the poet’s own path are conflated as the poem considers the universal themes of belonging, suffering, love, home, and self.

Want to read more by and about Linda Stern Zisquit?
Buy Havoc from Sheep Meadow Press
Sheep Meadow Press Author Page
Buy Unopened Letters from Amazon


  1. Ah, Joseph’s mother. Another, what if….she hadn’t had Joseph. Oh, so nice. So true…and again, it’s the women. The true heart of the journey.


  2. I like that beginning tractate~~~though it makes me wonder~~~since San Francisco most definitely got one measure of beauty, and Jerusalem nine~~~what of the rest of the world?? Somehow I can hear Sri Lanka in protest.

    And as for Rachel~~~Thank G-d she looked up and was seen. I hope to soon visit her tomb~~~counting on her presence to be there, outside Bet Lechem, for council, compassion,


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