Heavens! Seek mercy for me!
If there is a God among you and he has a clear path-
Yet I have not found him–
Pray for me.
My heart is dead and no prayer lingers on my lips,
The hand has lost its strength, nor is there any hope-
How long? When will this end? How long?
Hangman! Here is a neck–arise and slaughter!
My neck is like a dog’s, you have the arm of the axe,
All the world is for me a scaffold-
And we-we are the choice few!
My blood flows free-
Strike with the axe and the blood of murder will gush forth,
Blood soaks through your shirt-
And will not be erased forever.
If there be justice-let her appear now!
But if, after my extinction from the face of the firmament justice appears,
Let her seal be overturned forever!
And in eternal evil let the heavens rot;
You too go, wicked spirits, in this cruel injustice
And in your blood live and suckle.
Cursed be he who says: “Avenge!”
Vengeance such as this, vengeance for the blood of a small boy,
Satan himself has not devised-
Let that blood pierce the abyss!
Let that blood pierce the depths of darkness,
Let it eat away the darkness and there undermine
All the rotted foundations of the earth.
—Chaim Nachman Bialik (translated by Richard Silverstein)
Al Hashechita (“On the Slaughter”) was written by Bialik in response to the brutal, bloody Kishniev progrom (1903), which was instigated by agents of the Czar trying to divert social unrest and political anger away from the Czar and toward the Jewish minority. The word schechita denotes the ritual kosher slaughtering of animals for food. The juxtaposition of kosher slaughter (which is performed in according to sacred code) with the slaughter of Jews in a pogrom adds a ghastly overlay to the poem. Anti-Semitic incidents like this one helped begin a massive wave of Eastern European emigration that brought millions of Jews to the West and America (including my own family). Unfortunately, there have been so many slaughters in human history and this poem is as chillingly relevant to the most recent one (Israel, Palestine, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo…the list goes on) as it was to its own time.