Archives for posts with tag: definitions


We recently reviewed Regev and Seroussi’s Short introduction to Israeli popular culture, which describes different modalities of “Israeliness,” or Israeli cultural identity.

To summarize:
1. Hebrewism
The work of early Israeli writers (in Hebrew) was a “realism without vernacular” (Robert Alter, UC Berkeley), leading to the creation of a “tradition of the new” that is musically expressed in the shire eretz yisrael, or Songs of the Land of Israel (SLI).
2. Globalized Israeliness
A paradox of Israeli culture: in creating a “Jewish state,” Zionism has had to reject Diaspora Jewish culture, and to normalize Jewish life by adopting global cultural traits. Musical expressions: rock and world pop.
3. Mizrachiyut
Or: location, location, location! A reaction to the “orientalization” of non-European Jewish culture that highlights Israeli culture on the basis of its geographic origins (the Middle East and the Lands of Islam). Primary musical expression: musiqah mizrachit.
4. Religious Israeliness
A wide cultural network that encompasses all Israelis who primarily identify themselves, as individuals and groups, through religion and religious practices. A wide variety of ubiquitous musical expressions, ranging from the revival of piyyut (Hebrew liturgical poetry) to rock.
5. Palestinian Israeliness
A hybrid and complex cultural identity fostered by ca. 20% of Israeli citizens seeking representation within the broader Israeli society.

But in class we also had the opportunity to speak directly with dr. Edwin Seroussi, the co-author of our textbook and a Professor of musicology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (The class is not sponsored by Skype, but we do use Skype a lot…).

Seroussi reminded us that the five modalities listed above were intended as a summary, and are neither a complete overview of the Israeli soundscape, nor mutually exclusive.

Eviyatar Banai‘s song is an example of the commutative power of musical cultural identity. We hear (and see) several of the modes listed above. Could you guess which ones? (I counted at least three…).


Hold on. This is going to be a bit long. But also, hopefully, quite fun, especially at the end. (Just skip there if you wish).

But first, here are some ideas about taking risks:

In this class we have discussed, over and over, about identity and its musical representations in Israel (and in Jewish culture, inasmuch as the two are related). As we have seen, identity is not a one way street, and is instead a process resulting from the dynamic interaction of diverse factors. How this interaction is represented, and performed, is key in our musical discourse.

Our textbook, Popular Music and National Culture in Israel, as we have seen, frames the conversation in terms of (variants of) “Israeliness,” or “the intricate web of contrasting human factors, backgrounds, memories, ideologies, and wills that shaped Israeli society and its modern culture […].”

One major point in this book is that Israeli national identity is not inherent in the specific sonic structures of the music perceived by Israelis as “Israeli” or as connoting “Israeliness.” There is, rather, an accumulated collection of items in diverse musical styles that over time and at specific historical and social junctures of Israeli existence acquired the signification of one or more variants of Israeliness. Our ethnographically oriented work thus tries to offer a pragmatic theory of how music can represent national identity. […]

Initially, in the formative period— the prestate Yishuv period (Yishuv, or settlement, is the term commonly used to denote the autonomous Jewish community in Palestine before 1948)—and the first ten to fifteen years of statehood, until approximately 1960, this logic resulted in the successful invention and public imposition of a dominant cultural package known as “Hebrew culture” (tarbut `ivrit). In subsequent decades, Hebrewism was challenged by emerging variants of Israeliness. Most prominent of these were what we call “globalized Israeliness,” which embodied a mixture of Hebrewism and the effects of the globalization of culture, and the variant known in Israeli public culture as “oriental Israeliness” (Israeliyut mizrachit or mizrachiyut), in which Israelis of oriental origin— that is, originally from Arab and Muslim countries— insisted on the Israeliness of their specific cultural hybrid. Additional variants such as “Religious Israeliness” and one that can awkwardly be termed “Palestinian Israeliness” (or “Israeli Palestinianness”) also emerged as self-proclaimed contenders for the definition of Israeliness. (pages vii, 7, and 16).

According to the authors (Motti Regev and Edwin Seroussi), “Israeliness” is thus manifested in several variants, which may not mutually exclusive but that are in opposition with one another (and especially with the first, Hebrewism):

  1. Hebrewism (‘ivriut): traditional Israeliness
  2. Globalized Israeliness
  3. Mizrachiyut (Orientalism): Ethnic Israeliness
  4. Religious Israeliness
  5. Israeli Palestinianness/Palestinian Israeliness

Two additional models emerged in class, and revealed themselves to be particularly useful.

One model was explored thanks to the visit and lecture by Ben Brinner.

Brinner defined Israeli cultural identity for us in class in the context of his investigation of Israeli-Palestinian musical encounters he researched for his book, Playing Across a Divide, as an identiplex comprising the following dimensions:

  • Citizenship (Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian)
  • Country of origin or descent
  • Ethnicity (Arab, Bedouin, Jewish)
  • Socioeconomic status (age, gender, income)
  • Religious affiliation (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druse, other)
  • Education
  • Musical training & experience

Another model, which I presented in class, envisions (musical) representations of identity not as the dynamic combination of exactly identifiable factors, but as the interpolation of dynamically ever-changing factors.

Essentially, the idea is that identity — especially its musical (or other) representations — is always multi-dimensional in each and everyone of its aspects. It does not fit in the paradigm of lists, charts, and variants, and cannot be categorized by fulfilling predetermined criteria (and filling preassigned check-boxes).

We explored this in terms of both Jewish and Israeli identity, each with its own layers of multi-dimensionality, and referred to an inspiring way of defining identity posited in the genderbread person concept map I found here.

The Genderbread Person

This map expresses the various aspects of (gender) identity through sliders rather than via binary or exclusive opposites. It highlights four identifiers relating to gender:

  • Gender identity (sliding from woman to man)
  • Gender expression (sliding from feminine to masculine)
  • Biological sex (sliding from male to female)
  • Sexual orientation (sliding from heterosexual to homosexual)

Make sure not to mis-read what I am suggesting here. I am not saying that gender identity can be used as a paradigm for the performance of Jewish and Israeli identities. Instead, I am pointing at a very interesting, and useful feature, that the concept map of the “genderbread person” (which emerged from a context that discusses gender identity) seems to put at the forefront. What the map does is suggest that identity identifiers are not mutually exclusive, are not “either-or’s,” and that they can vary from case to case.

If we transpose the map to our examination of how cultural identity is expressed/performed through music in Israel, we can soon see that the identifiers at play within this context are exactly the ones the authors quoted above pointed us to: traditional, globalized, ethnic, religious, and Palestinian Israeli identities (Regev and Seroussi), as well as citizenship, country of origin, socioeconomic status and education (Brinner).

These identifiers are never one-dimensional. They each coexist in a myriad of inner variables. And music, at times more than verbal language, can channel many of such variables.

Therefore, if you simply substitute the classifications in the genderbread person diagram with any of the terms identified by the authors mentioned above, positioning each of them on a slider, then.. tah-dah, you may start approximating what identity and its representations look like, feel like, and how they act out in real life.

Or, ditch all of the above and come to class on Tuesday, April 24, and meet our distinguished lecturer/presenter, playwright, comedian, and juggler extraordinaire, Sara Felder.

Sara began performing in 1984 with San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus. She has also toured with Jugglers for Peace in Cuba, the Women’s Circus in Nicaragua, Joel Grey’s Borscht Capades and at Festivals of Jewish/Yiddish Culture in Berlin, London, Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. Through juggling, she has been able to find her theatrical voice, create compelling performance, teach alternative populations and pursue social justice.

Sara’s body of work, including radical solo circus theater and witty multi-actor plays, explores political and social frictions: a lone cellist playing defiantly on the war-ravaged streets of Sarajevo; the scientists who – in a gargantuan effort to save the world from Hitler – ended up making the bombs that annihilated the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a gender-bending cross-dressing 19th-century vaudevillian; two urban neighbors who confront racism; victims of radioactive fallout from U.S. nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands; and women named Joan.

A Bay Area resident, Sara Felder juggles her Jewish and gender identities in text and body language. Her play, Out of Sight, a solo comedy, “brings circus tricks, shadow puppets and a Jewish queer sensibility to questions of family loyalty and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Out of Sight explicitly evokes Israeli music through dance, and prominently features horah mamterah (“horah of the sprinkler,” a song about irrigating the Negev Desert; lyrics by the Polish-born Israeli Hebrew poet, Yechiel Mohar, 1921-1969, found here and here). A classic Song of the Land of Israel (SLI) composed by Moshe Wilenksy (b. Warsaw, 1910 — d. Israel, 1997), horah mamterah was famously performed by the Yemenite-Israeli singer, Shoshana Damari (1923-2006).

Sara Feldman will be presenting excerpts of her work in class, and offer us a chance to see and discuss how identity can be performed in its multi-dimensional nuances.

For general reference, here’s a 1965 version of the song, by Itamar Cohen:

And here is a version based on Shoshana Damari’s classic rendition by Israeli drag queen, Galina Port de Bras (if you wish to hear a “clean” version, with Damari’s singing without the cheers of the crowd, click here):

For the sake of history, you may also want to take a look at an archival photograph Moshe Wilensky and Shoshana Damari (a mighty duo of Israeli music), performing for Jewish refugees (read: Holocaust survivors) in Cyprus, waiting to immigrate to Palestine in 1947-1948.

Moshe Wilensky and Shoshana Damari (Cyprus, 1947-1948)

I am sure you can appreciate how far this song (and the associated choreography) have come.

Let’s scan through ten (at times competing) notions of “Jewish Music” that have emerged during the last, well, 500 years.

Background information for this is in the articles by Philip Bohlman and Edwin Seroussi listed here, and in the Syllabus (they were last week’s assignments, so I’m absolutely positive that everyone has already read them carefully). These studies are also reflected in this week’s reading, and especially the “Jewish Music” entry in Oxford Music Online, which opens with the following statements.

‘Jewish music’ as a concept emerged among Jewish scholars and musicians only in the mid-19th century with the rise of modern national consciousness among European Jews, and since then all attempts to define it have faced many difficulties. The term ‘Jewish music’ in its nation-oriented sense was first coined by German or German-trained Jewish scholars, among whom the most influential in this respect was A.Z. Idelsohn (1882–1938), whose book Jewish Music in its Historical Development (1929) was a landmark in its field that is still widely consulted today . Idelsohn was the first scholar to incorporate the Jewish ‘Orient’ into his research, and thus his work presents the first ecumenical, though still fragmentary, description of the variety of surviving Jewish musical cultures set within a single historical narrative. In his work Idelsohn pursued a particular ideological agenda: he adopted the idea of the underlying cultural unity of the Jewish people despite their millenary dispersion among the nations, and promoted the view that the music of the various Jewish communities in the present expresses aspects of that unity. Moreover, Idelsohn’s work implied a unilinear history of Jewish music dating back to the Temple in biblical Jerusalem. This approach was perpetuated in later attempts to write a comprehensive overview of Jewish music from a historical perspective (e.g. Avenary, 1971–2). Despite its problematic nature, the concept of ‘Jewish music’ in its Idelsohnian sense is a figure of speech widely employed today, being used in many different contexts of musical activity: recorded popular music, art music composition, printed anthologies, scholarly research and so on. The use of this term to refer both to the traditional music of all Jewish communities, past and present, and to new contemporary music created by Jews with ethnic or national agendas is thus convenient, as long as its historical background and ideological connotations are borne in mind.

Below, I’m scanning through some of the connections that “Jewish music” elicits. I’m not pretending to be exhaustive, and I’m also having some fun in choosing related visual and musical examples to make my points.

1. Jewish music as “Musica Haebreorum”: the notion of a “music of the Hebrews (the Jews)” really begins with Christian Humanists and their heirs.

An example I particularly like (also because it has been eminently understudied, so far), and that one can read online, is from Ercole Bottrigari, Il trimerone de’ fondamenti armonici, ouero lo essercitio musicale, giornata terza, 1599 (Source: Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, MS B44, 1-23): Bottrigari specifically addresses “il Canto degli Hebrej” (the song of the Jews) and the musical rendition of the “masoretic accents” that govern the singing of the Hebrew Bible in synagogue liturgy. (Image source).

Il Canto degli Hebrej in E. Bottrigari, Trimerone (1599)

2. Jewish (musical) antiquity. But whose antiquity really is it?
Venetian composer Benedetto Marcello, and many many more after him, searched for “Jewish musical antiquity.” (You can read more about this topic here).
See a contemporary incarnation of the belief in Jewish musical antiquity by Jordi Savall-Hespèrion XXI, Lavava y suspirava (romance) (Anónimo Sefardí):

3. The Wissenschaft des Judentums (19th cent.) and the invention of “Jewish Music” as a Jewish notion

An interesting byproduct of 19th-century Jewish scholarship was been the construction of the “Italian Jewish Renaissance” as a golden age of musical production, and of Jewish music as “art music.” Listen below to Salamone Rossi, ‘al naharot bavel (Psalm 137), by The Prophets of the Perfect Fifth (I profeti della quinta)

4. Jewish music as “Music of the Jewish People” (with the related notions of Nationalism & Identity), as found in the “St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music” and in related Zionist musical agendas.
Lazare Saminsky (Odessa 1882- NY 1959), composed Conte Hebräique (Hebrew Fairy Tale) in Palestine in 1919, en route from Russia to America (via the UK).

5. Jewish music as “Judaism in Music” (an expression made quite popular by Richard Wagner) brings with it a certain passion for singling out “the Jewish elements” in the music of eminent composers of Jewish descent. This is a trademark of many 20th-century scholarly contribution to the field.
An excellent summary on the relationship between Wagner and modern Jewish sensibilities can be found in the form of a satire in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 2, Episode 3: Trick or Treat (October 7, 2001) (note when Larry David whistles “Springtime from Hitler” from the Producers). Link courtesy of my friend Kathleen Wiens (UCLA).

6. Jewish music as “Degenerated Music” and the passion of making lists of “Jewish” composers, compositions, etc., so that music can be purified from their influence.
Well, these are the Nazis… See them enjoying their right to free speech in John Landis, The Blues Brothers (USA 1980):

A book published in Nazi Germany, listing Jewish music professionals, is included in the music holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, and will be accessible to interested students as soon as these holdings are transferred to our new facility.

7. Jewish music as lost (or suppressed) music: in the view of post-Holocaust cultural agendas, any sample of Jewish culture is worthy of attention, and the enormity of the historical legacy of the Holocaust trumps any aesthetic consideration.
Watch, for example, this news report on Francesco Lotoro’s KZ Musik project, conducted with the support of the European Union:

8. Jewish music as revival. In her essay, Sounds of Sensibility (1998), Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett outlines several implications related to the (American) revival of “Klezmer” music.
In his fascinating eulogy of Adrienne Cooper (1946-2011), one of the protagonists of the American revival of Ashkenazi culture, Canadian writer, Michael Wex, thus articulated the special relationship that late 20th-century Jewish revivalists had with tradition:

[Adrienne Cooper] had a talent for subversion along with an innate sense of decorum that let her reverse a tradition, turn it inside out, before any of its guardians had actually noticed.

The New-York band, Klezmatics, turned the socialist song, Ale brider into an anthem for Queer rights. Here, they sing it together with Israeli folk music (and protest song) icon, Chava Alberstein, in Berlin, Germany:

9. Jewish music as “soul” and “fusion” (or, how to market Jewish culture to the “masses”).
An example by Argentinian-Israeli musician, Giora Feidman:

10. Jewish music as “world music” (or, how to market Jewish culture to the “elites”)
An example by Moroccan-Israeli cantor and singer, Emil Zrihan:

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