International poet brings message of peace to campus

By Staff Writer
February 13, 2003

Lauren Joseph

Once again invited by Academic Affairs to read her poetry to students, faculty and community members, Rachel Tzvia Back returned to the Mansion on Wednesday, Feb. 5, to share her experiences as an Israeli poet, mother and English literature professor.

Dr. Seth Frechie, professor in the English and communications department, introduced Back as part of an “immerging generation of Israeli poets and writers, asking the difficult questions concerning peace and social injustice throughout the Middle East.”

Back has published two books of poetry including “The Buffalo Poems” and “Azimuth.” She read from both of her publications at the Mansion as well as selections written by Taha Muhammad Ali, a Palestinian poet.

She began her reading by introducing herself and her life to the audience in attendance. “I need to explain where I come from so that you will understand where my poetry comes from,” Back said.

She was first introduced to the word “Azimuth,” which means “compass bearings,” while enlisted in the Israeli army. The word comes from the Arabic word “as-sumut,” but is used in Hebrew, especially in the army. “The first time I heard the word, I thought it had to be poetry,” Back said. “It relates a lot to my experiences while in the army.”

As for the meaning behind the title of her first book of poetry, “The Buffalo Poems,” Back offered a short anecdote. ” I was pregnant with my daughter and I was driving in the hills [in Israel] and I pulled over on the side of the road,” she said. “When I got out of the car and looked out at these dry hills with strange shrubs and black patches, I saw a buffalo,” Back said. “There are no buffalo in Israel and there have never been any buffalo in Israel.” After a slight pause, she continued, almost whispering, “But I saw a buffalo.”

“He was very forcefully and concretely there,” Back said affirming her vision. “I keep on looking for the buffalo, but I have to accept that it was a one time thing.”

She concluded her poetry reading with a poem written by some of her students at Tel Aviv University. “The voices [of the poem] are intertwined – Arab, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian – no indicator who is speaking at any moment,” Back said.

In his closing statements to those who attended, prior to the reception following the reading, Frechie said, “I’m so impressed. I’m so grateful to all of you students, particularly, who took the time out of your day to join us this afternoon.”

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