This week, we are very fortunate to work with our colleague, Dr. Yahil Zaban, of Tel Aviv University, currently a visiting post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. His main research subjects are food in Jewish literature and Jewish enlightenment literature, and his book about food and sexuality in Hebrew literature will be published in early 2014.

While his talk will focus on Israeli songs (in Hebrew) about food, I suspect that one of the subtext of his teaching will involve the cultural clashes generated by the subsequent waves of Jewish immigration to (Ottoman and British Mandate) Palestine and to the State of Israel during the 20th century. A satirical television program, Lool (Heb. לול, or “chicken coop”), broadcast on Israeli television in four parts between July 1970 and March 1973, which among others also featured singer-songwriter Arik Einstein, perfectly summarized the way in which popular culture internalized this historical process: 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alp9scMfmjA]

Dr. Zaban’s talk will focus on two extraordinary Hebrew songs.

First, a song about the Tomato (עגבניה, 1931, lyrics by Yehudah Karni, music by Joel Engel), performed by Reuben Gornstein.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Y8T56TenBU]

Agvanyah (Tomato)

Hoy, hoy, hoy
Our land is poor
Sing, soul of every being
The tomato song
Tomato, tomato

Only yesterday we came by ship
And already you were in the borscht
The salad and the meatball
Only, only, only
Only tomato

From Bnei Brak to Degania
So, so, so
In the days of immigration
In every kitchen
Will sing the tomato song

Hoy, hoy, hoy
Our land is poor
We sang enough already
The tomato song

And then, of course, the Falafel Song (שיר הפלאפל, lyrics by Dan Almagor, music by Moshe Vilenski, 1952), which over the years has been performed in radically different versions.

For instance this (performed by Baruch Nadav, of the Ayalon army ensemble):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXt-MpyUw9U]

And this (performed by Nissim Garma, within the context of Israeli musiqah mizrachit):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCNGvjP88do]

shir ha-falafel (The Falafel Song)

Every nation in the world
Has a special well-known food
Every kid knows that
That Italians eat pasta
The Austrians eat tasty schnitzels
The French eat frogs
The Chinese eat rice
And cannibals eat one other.

And we have falafel, falafel, falafel
A present for dad
Mom buys old grandma a half portion
And our mother in-law will also get
falafel, falafel, falafel
with a lot a lot of spicy peppers

Once upon a time when Jews arrived to the Land of Israel
They would kiss the ground and recite the “gomel” blessing
Today, one only gets off the plane
And already is buying falafel and has a soda drink
(full translation here)

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