In January 2013, the Israeli writer Iris Eliya Cohen (warning: that link is in Hebrew) updated her Facebook status with a prose poem called “Ima” (Mom), in the voice of a woman reflecting on her hardworking yet unrecognized mother. When she checked back in an hour, the poem had been shared over 300 times. By the end of the next day, the Twitter and Facebook handle “Status Hunters” had sent it flying through the Israeli internet, where it garnered over 5,000 shares. A few months later, she recalled in a phone interview, her nephew called her with even more unexpected news: They’d studied the poem in his 10th grade literature class.
By the time “Ima” went viral, Eliya Cohen, a 40-something mother of four, had enjoyed her share of recent literary acclaim. Over the previous couple years, her writing earned one accolade after another, starting with her first novel, “Maktoub,” which she wrote while on maternity leave with her youngest son, and which won the Ministry of Culture Prize and the Ramat Gan Debut Fiction Prize. Her second novel, “Dushinka, Neshama,” was long-listed for the prestigious Sapir Prize.
Even so, Eliya Cohen, who was born in Israel in 1969 to parents who’d immigrated from the Jewish community of Cochin, India, is still amazed by the feverish spread of “Ima.”
“Most of the shares were by women,” she said. “I think they see themselves, or their own mothers, or mothers they know.”
Though the poem now appears in “Dark Lady,” (in Hebrew, Shcharchoret, Libi) a self-published volume of poetry mostly about her father, it continues to be reborn online. The poem came to me the way it’s come to many women, beamed into my smartphone from an Israeli cousin’s Facebook share with the following introduction: “A lesson on gender.”
Translated by Ilana Sichel, from a modified version of “Ima.”
Iris Eliya Cohen was born in 1969 to parents who had immigrated to Israel from India’s Cochin Jewish community. Her first novel, Maktoub (Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2011), won the Ministry of Culture Prize and the Ramat Gan Debut Fiction Prize, her second novel, Dushinka, Neshama (Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2013) was longlisted for the Sapir Prize, and her self-published book of poetry, Dark Lady, has been a popular hit. Her third novel, Albi, is slated for publication in 2015. Eliya Cohen lives in the town of Kiryat Tivon near Haifa, and also works in theater, sculpture, and ceramics. She is a mother of four.