5: Poem, “Isaac” (“Yitzhak”) by Amir Gilboa, 1953.
Amir Gilboa was born in Volhinya (Ukraine) in 1917. He immigrated to Palestine in 1937 and in 1942 volunteered for service in the Hebrew Unit of the British Army, which fought in World War II against the Germans. After the war, in which he lost most of his family, he participated in the efforts to bring Jewish survivors to Palestine. The poem “Isaac” describes the Akedah as a nightmarish experience, leading many readers to associate it with the Holocaust. Gilboa does not deal with the Akedah as a trial of faith, but rather as a recollection of the ordeal of the poet’s family, expressing perhaps his own guilt for not being able to save them. Gilboa died in Israel in 1984.
Suggested activity: Read the first stanza of the poem, and ask the students to draw a picture describing what happens in it. Ask them what the tone of their picture is, i.e., is it cheerful, dark, or something else? Why does the poem start out so peacefully and then turn scary? Who is the poem’s narrator?
Source: Amir Gilboa, “Isaac,” in The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, ed. T. Carmi (London: Penguin, 1981), 560.