I read this article in Haaretz a month ago, and it feels quite pertinent to this week’s topic, so I’m sharing it.

The author of this opinion piece, Uri Misgav, seems to take cultural criticism very, very seriously (stressing both culture, and criticism, in his article). I’m not entirely sure I agree with the essential truth of his core statement as a statement about Israel (it could easily be applied to several other countries):

In its short life, this country has not found the time to solve any existential problems, but its citizens constantly give the highest ratings to song contests.

Nevertheless, I find Misgav’s analysis interesting for at least two reasons.

One is that he does credit music, and especially communal singing, as carrying a highly charged social value. I couldn’t agree more.

Singing is first and foremost a personal act, sometimes even a totally private one. A person can get a great deal of enjoyment from singing in the shower. Not every singer needs an audience. My parents relate that when I was a kid I would make my way from kindergarten to their house on the kibbutz, singing all the way. I remember that story every morning when my young son walks to kindergarten singing “Ruah, ruah,” (“wind, wind” ) a song performed by Israel’s greatest singer, Arik Einstein. (The composer, Shalom Hanoch, one of the founders of Israeli rock and not a singer in the classical sense, later wrote that “children are the bridge to ourselves that time has granted us.” ) But singing is very often more than the pursuit of an individual, and its significance often transcends that of the individual.

Members of the Palmach prestate underground would sing around the campfire, and when they hastily prepared the illegal immigrants on board the Exodus in 1947, they told them to arrive at the shores of British-controlled Palestine singing with all their might. Their singing was in the spirit of the Red Army and the partisans in occupied Europe – a collective song, like that of a choir.

To this day, sing-alongs are still a popular Israeli national pastime. There have also been times this has gone beyond a cultural expression to become a form of real defiance, as in “We will not stop singing” – the name given to the first season of the Israeli television song contest, now known as “A star is born.”

The second is that his article “hits” on several of the themes that we have explored in “Music in Israel” since the start of the semester. I bet that any of us in class is now fully equipped to read between the lines of this fairly self-referential opinion piece in an Israeli daily. Who would have thought?

Here’s the PDF of the article, in case the link to Haaretz does not work for you.

View this document on Scribd

Oh, and here’s Arik Einstein’s cover of Shalom Hanoch’s song:

[youtube http://youtu.be/PgdTCFiVrDE]

And Shalom Hanoch, straight from the 1970’s (the song is Leylot shqetim, Quiet Nights):

[youtube http://youtu.be/v8LMmYLi_Z8]