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Return from Captivity
A lifetime now has passed since I,
Their strident call first heard,
Demanding that with harp in hand,
Our weary souls bestirred,
We sing for them of Zion's songs,
And merriment display,
To please our heartless captors on,
That weary, mournful day.
And there we wept beside the streams,
Of Babylon, there hung,
On poplar limbs our harps for how,
Could praise afar be sung?
Now into exile had we gone,
Our nation once so tall,
Though prophets had forewarned us well,
That great would be our fall,
For we had not the ways of God,
Remembered nor held fast,
And thus this fate had come upon,
Our wayward tribes at last.
And but a youth I yet observed,
The hopelessness of men,
And wondered if our God had not,
His love forsaken then.
Could he who led us through the wastes,
Of Sinai's heat and chill,
And by each morning's early dew,
Our hunger did fulfill,
Who struck such fear within the hearts,
Of those whose land we passed,
And safely in a promised land,
Established us at last,
Still harbor love for all our kind,
Who daily wonders saw,
Yet held in utter, base contempt,
His prophets and his law?
Now, many years was I to live,
In vile captivity,
And here would God decide, at last,
Our people's destiny.
And we survived this exile though,
At times 'neath whip and staves.
Our captors oft reminded us,
We were no more than slaves.
Yet one ascended to a post,
Of singular esteem,
For Daniel pleased the king and knew,
The meaning of a dream.
But we were in a foreign land,
Of tongue so strange, unknown,
Though Babylon its wonders had,
Like gardens finely grown.
A heartless people, as I've said,
With soldiers everywhere,
And quick they were to punish for,
Infractions one might dare.
We kept our place throughout the years,
We had but little choice,
And when assembled in our homes,
In prayer we raised our voice,
To him who ever faithful was,
In generations past,
From every woe delivering us,
His mercy unsurpassed.
"Twas not our sin alone that brought,
Our people to this place,
But that we might return to God,
And him alone embrace.
We learned our lesson well the day,
Our captors were themselves,
Beset by foreign armies and,
From off their dusty shelves,
They snatched their idols and false gods,
Nor offered them a prayer,
They had no faith their deities,
Would save in grave despair,
But in our greatest trials we,
Had always known our God,
Would hearken and deliver us,
And leave us fully awed.
And thus if other benefit,
We lacked in exile here,
'Twas needful that we pass this time,
Though suff'ring through each year,
Of late a man of Persian rank,
Has occupied the throne,
And to our people everywhere,
This kindness he has shown,
For we may now to lands afar,
That once we called our own,
Return and leaving Babylon,
Forget the grief we've known.
So on the morrow we begin,
The grueling trek once more,
And thousands will their voices raise,
As hopes and prospects soar.
The journey will be difficult,
We'll suffer on the way,
From spiny burr, from windstorm and,
From onerous heat of day.
And I who as a youth the trail,
Endured with little risk,
An aged man now venture forth,
Resolved, though not as brisk.
Yet with a single purpose we,
By morning's early light,
Shall tread the burning sands until,
Some rest we take at night.
And when arriving finally there,
Before Jerus'lem's gate,
Her sad condition then we'll see,
And know just what her fate.
And she will need most urgently,
Each willing, skillful hand,
Her temple gone, her wall destroyed,
Her streets beneath the sand.
And joyful shall each one of us
With heart and soul and strength,
Begin her ruins to repair,
Throughout her breadth and length.
We'll raise her temple to the sky,
And there our praises sing,
Avowing that we'll serve God well,
And ever to him cling.
Her walls we'll build both firm and tall,
That foes may not invade,
And thus assure most certainly,
Her glories will not fade.
But now I sense a weariness,
And must my story end,
The morrow beckons early and,
I've duties to attend.
from the July 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine