Archives for posts with tag: immigration

Russian Jewry: The Effect of Immigration on Israeli Music
Aaron Miller

1. Background

  • Believed Jews could have arrived in modern day Azerbaijan, Armenia
  • Driven out of Western Europe and persecuted in Germany, accepted and Dagestan, Russia around 8th century BCE from Babylon/Iran
  • Driven out of Western Europe and persecuted in Germany, accepted invitation to settle in Poland
  • Lived in shtetls (small Jewish communities) under halakhah rule
  • Muscovite Russia expanded into Eastern Europe, took over Polish Lithuanian lands in 1790s

2. Pale of Settlement

  • Catherine II: fearful of dissolution of Russian nationality, autocracy, and orthodoxy; separates Catholic, Jewish populations
  • Jews begin adopting language, customs
  • BUT life in the shtlets was not good, blamed for rebellions like Decembrist Uprising, etc., double taxation

3. Musical Influences in the Pale

  • Gusli: oldest Russian plucked string instrument
  • Klezmer: Ashkenazi musical tradition meant to complement liturgical and paraliturgical singing with expressive melodies reminiscent of the human voice

4. The First Aliyah

  • Majority of Jews in the world at the end of the 19th century lived in Russian Empire
  • May Laws passed and Jews were xompletely expelled from Kiev and Moscow
  • Hibbat Zion: pre-Zionist movement advocating revival of Jewish life and physical development of the land of Israel
  • Bilu: movement whose goal was the agricultural settlement (eventually joining Hibbat in founding Rishon LeZion)
  • Early conditions were harsh: marshy land, Turk tax, Arab opposition

5. Music in a Foreign Land

  • First major influence on music in Israel outside of locale
  • Although this performance by singer and actress Tova Piron is from 1947 it is exemplary of the trend of Hebrew lyrics on top of foreign (specifically Russian lyrics)

6. Second and Third Aliyahs

  • Arrived in the wake of more pogroms before the war, halted during the war, and then arrived again after the British mandate and Balfour Declaration promising a national home for Jewish people
  • Collective, agricultural communities that combined a mix of Zionistic and socialist beliefs

7. Purposeful Music

  • Haggadah texts (which are used to to set forth the order of the Passover Seder) set to Russian folk styles by Russian born composers like Postolsky’s “We were Pharaoh’s bondsmen in Egypt”

8. Society of Jewish Folk Music

  • Much of its importance lies in the fact that pretty much every organization for the promotion of Jewish music followed its methods: it sought to collect folk songs and harmonize them to aid Jewish composers and promote the R&D of religious and secular Jewish folk music
  • Most of them being students at the conservatory there
  • Joel Engel played a key role in its success as he had already formed an important circle of Jewish musicians
  • Founded similar societies elsewhere (Juwal-Verlag in Berlin)

9. Post-Soviet Aliyah

  • During the soviet regime, mass emigration was politically undesirable so the only acceptable reason was for family reunification (generally for elders)
  • One’s family had to quit their jobs just to apply
  • More than a million to Israel b/c US stopped granting unconditional refugee status to Soviet Jews in 1989
  • No attempt to assimilate the Eastern Ashkenazi folk music of the Russian Jews who survived the Cold War

10. Unassimilated High Culture

  • Danced at Russian discotheques, went out with Russians (could’ve been due to large size w/ neighborhoods of tens of thousands)
  • Yet, interestingly enough, according to a study done by Marina Niznik of Tel Aviv University…

11. Russian-Influenced Symphonic Orchestras

  • However many have not adopted a new Jewish (Hebrewist) or Middle Eastern style like the Germans Jewish immigrants did to represent their new national identity
  • Earlier this year, in June, the Israel Philharomnic Orchestra performed a concert comprised of an all-Russian program

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: 


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.


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):


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


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)

View this document on Scribd

This is the Land (1935, 50′), by Baruch Agadati (1895-1976; a quasi-legendary character, a dancer-choreographer-artist-film-maker, whom among other things is credited for introducing the Hora to the Palestinian Jewish Yishuv) is considered the first Hebrew language sound film, and was entirely produced in Palestine.

The soundtrack was composed by Yaakov Levanon. Around 25:00 there are various scenes with different types of music, underscoring the variety of musical cultures brought by Jewish immigrants to Palestine during the first half of the 20th century.

One date in Oakland (March 1st). Here’s HaDag Nachash‘ most celebrated hit, The Sticker Song (2004), written by Israeli novelist David Grossman, here with English supertitles:

More information on the band’s upcoming Bay Area appearance here.

The Sticker Song and the video that comes with it are an interesting complement to what we watched together at the beginning of the semester: 500 people in 100 seconds. It strikingly reminds of the clash of immigrant cultures we saw at play last week, as well as, in a similar vein, Spike Lee’s harsh “love song” to New York City in the 25th Hour (2002).

Because this too is a love song for a war-torn place, after all (originally by David Benioff).

PS: Of course, some may see the scene from Spike Lee’s film as an answer to Woody Allen’s other love song to New York City (well, Manhattan, actually):

Perhaps it it that, as well. Instead, I’d prefer seeing it as a (not so) gentle reminder that this week we discuss war.

Sometimes, an old Israeli television clip (this is Lul, or “Chicken Coop,” starring Arik Einstein) is worth a thousand words…


Allo Alaev has deep roots in the music of Tajikistan and the Jewish music of Buchara. Allo Alaev, a great master of percussion, took up the Doyra (a frame drum with metal rings inside), at an early age. He made rapid progress and was soon appointed the first percussionist of the folk Opera Company of the Tajikistan capital Dushanbe where he toured and performed for 50 years.

Allo Alaev composes pieces for percussion, manages playing on up to 9 drums at the time and has forwarded this dance- percussion virtuosity to his children and grand children. The entire Alaev family emigrated to Israel in 1991. Allo accomplished to continue the tradition in the family and has made this ensemble well known to all Israeli families, by numerous TV programs –host shows and continuous concerts in Israel and abroad..
An ensemble of three generations of virtuosos perform together on stage and create a happy feast of colors and music, where rhythms are dominant. The presence of the younger generation makes this a true cross over from the old to the new.

Today, the multi talented ensemble includes Allo Alaev’s two sons, Ariel and Amin and his grandchildren Zvika, Allen, Amir and Aviva. (Ages between 79 -15). The ALAEV FAMILY plays : Doyra – Bukharian Frame Drum, Darbukka , Alofon – percussion, Cajon Turkish Clarinet Garmon – Accordeon, Bayan (Russian accordion), Violin, Bucharian horn, Duduk – Armenian horn instrument, Bass- by Yonathan Levy ( Izabo)…

(Thank you to Ates Temeltas for pointing me to these resources)

Read more (in pure Soviet-Hebrew-English style) here. Or, even better, listen to a whole album by the Alaev family here.

The Jewish film that history overlooked – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

In July 1947, journalist and author Meyer Levin followed from afar the affair of the Exodus, the ship that illegally ferried Jewish refugees to pre-state Israel. Levin, an American Jew who was one of the first journalists to set foot in Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, was living in New York at the time. He was glued to the reports about the ship and its 4,500 passengers. These people, after the months-long exhausting journey that followed years of indescribable suffering, were not allowed to enter British Mandatory Palestine and were forcibly returned to Germany.

Levin decided to create a film documenting the journeys of displaced Jews. Levin had never directed a film, but that didn’t stop him. He set out for Europe and created a cinematic document of historical importance and impressive quality. The filming of “The Illegals,” which Levin wrote, directed and produced, began toward the end of 1947.

The rest of the article here.

‘The Illegals’ (1948), How Displaced Jews Get to Palestine, a review of Levin’s film that appeared in the New York Times on July 15, 1948, can be found here. (Link courtesy of my friend and colleague, Assaf Shelleg, University of Virginia).

%d bloggers like this: