Archives for posts with tag: SLI (songs of the land of israel)

San Francisco, in Israeli songs in Hebrew, is presented as a distant and pleasant place, which causes the songwriter to reflect on his/her land (or love) of origin. The similarity of facing West (the Mediterranean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean, respectively), indeed seems to prompt some unexpected connections, which are also reflected in the Jewish musical history that unites Israel to the Bay Area.

There are all kinds of wine houses, taverns and dives
In San Francisco, San Malo and Marseille….
There are blondes and brunettes that will eat you alive!
All waiting for some “beau” to sweep them away…
But as for me, despite it all, I swear sincerely,
I am chained down to some dilapidated dame..
If my harmonica sings out a weepy blues,
And if I hate myself, it’s not the wine or booze,
It’s that female, damn it, she’s the one to blame!

What’s come over me? The devil knows!
I am feeling confused and dazed…
Is it the night? Or is it this song
That has left me bewitched and amazed?
A harmonica spreads its wings in flight!
Singing a song of laughter and woes
oh good lord, will you explain the night?
Or is it only the devil that knows?

(Edna Goren and Kobi Recht, Zemer mapuchit, or “The Song of the Harmonica,” 1968; lyrics by Nathan Alterman and music by Sasha Argov, 1956; Hebrew lyrics found here, and English translation, by Achinoam Nini/Noa, available here).

Sitting in San Francisco by the Water
Carried away by the blues and greens
It’s beautiful in San Francisco by the Water
Then why do I feel so removed

Watching the ducks, roaming amongst the boats
and the Golden Gate Bridge, beautiful like in a movie
It’s a shame you’re not here
With me to see it
You’d say you’d never leave

I watch Doctor J, tear down the nets
and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, touches the sky
It’s a shame you’re not here
With me to see it
It’s so beautiful in San Francisco by the Water

Suddenly I want to go back home
Return to the swamp
To sit in Kasit with Moshe and Chatske
Give me Mount Tibor
Give me the Kinneret
I love and keep falling in love with my little Israel Warm and Charming

(Arik Einstein, san fransisqo ‘al ha-mayim – San Francisco on the Water, from the album Hamush bemishkafaim – Armed With Glasses, 1980; lyrics found here).

This week, with the assistance of a guest presenter, we will explore a host of musical relations between Israel and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dorothy Richman (BA Political and Social Thought, University of Virginia; Rabbinic Ordination, Jewish Theological Seminary) was a rabbi in San Francisco at congregations Shaar Zahav and Beth Sholom, and worked for several years at Berkeley Hillel (more here).

In her presentation, Dorothy Richman will discuss the life and contributions of Shlomo Carlebach, and the intersection of Bay Area and Israeli life and culture. As a point of departure, she reflects on a Hebrew poem by Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), Israel’s leading poet. (The English translation that appears below was done by Avshalom Guissin, and can be found here; a UC Press edition of translations of Amichai’s poems, by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell, is linked here).

North of San Francisco*

Here the soft hills touch the sea,
like eternity touching on eternity.
And the cows that graze on them
ignore us, like angels.
Even the scent of ripe cantaloupe in the cellar
is a prophecy of calm.

The darkness does not fight the light
but passes it forward
to another light and the only pain
is the pain of not staying.

In my land called holy
eternity isn’t allowed to be eternity:
they divided it into small religions
and demarcated it in deified departments
and shattered it into shards of history
sharp and mortally wounding.
And they turned its calm reaches
into a closeness that twitches with present pain.

On Bolinas beach at the bottom of the wooden stairs
I saw bare buttocked girls
bowing down in the sand
intoxicated with the kingdom of everlasting kingdoms,
and their souls within like doors
closing and opening,
closing and opening,
to the rhythm of the breaking waves.

* From: Yehuda Amichai, Me-Adam Bata, Ve-El Adam Tashuv (Schocken Publishing, Tel Aviv, 1985), pp. 99–100.

The history of the musical relations between Israel and the Bay Area go back to the 1930’s, when San Francisco’s became the first Jewish community in the Diaspora to raise funds for the founding of the Palestine Orchestra (which, as we have learned in a previous week, was the ancestor of modern day’s Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra). 

The Magnes will screen the film, Orchestra of Exiles (2012), about the creation of the Palestine Orchestra by Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, on December 5th (more information here).

The fundraising for the Palestine Orchestra, and the later commissioning of music to Israeli composers such as Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) and Marc Lavry (1903-1967), was the work of Reuben R. Rinder (1887-1966), who between 1913 and 1962 served as the Cantor of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. 

Reuben H. Rinder (1887-1966)

The Western Jewish Americana archives of The Magnes, accessible at The Bancroft Library, include the Reuben Rinder’s papers, a selection of which is available in an online narrative format (created by your instructor…). You can (actually, you are required, according to our Syllabus) check it out here.

Several decades later, the musical ties between the Bay Area and Israel were renewed, when a San-Francisco-summer-of-love Jewish phenomenon, the music of the House of Love and Prayer (a Jewish center founded in San Francisco in 1967, also documented in the Western Jewish Americana archives of The Magnes at The Bancroft Library (link here), was transplanted to Israel along with its creator, Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994).

Interestingly enough, Congregation Emanu-El and the House of Love and Prayer were located a few blocks from one another. See Google Maps directions for this 5-minute walk through San Francisco’s Jewish musical history.

Carlebach (who was born in Berlin), had studied in New York, and had moved to the Bay Area in 1966, as an emissary of the Habad movement, along with Zalman Schacheter, as detailed in this week’s reading assignment, eventually moved to Israel, after one of his songs won the Hassidic Song Festival, one of the many song contests created in Israel after the festival hazemer hayisraeli that we discussed last week.

Here’s a clip from an Israeli television broadcast of Carlebach (1973).

A more recent, and less explored connection between our Bay and the Israeli musical scene, is in the open-source-inspired creation of the website, An Invitation to Piyyut (as we’ve learned, a piyyut is a Hebrew poem included in synagogue liturgy).

This extraordinary resource (which is connected to a real-life cultural initiative, Kehillot Sharot, or “singing communities” (active across Israel in transmitting traditional liturgical-musical lore to new generations, defying the boundaries between religion, art, culture, gender, and religious affiliations) charts century-old Hebrew poems in their musical versions across the Jewish Diaspora through texts and melodies. These resources are fully searchable, and also organized according to several principles, such as author, religious occasion (liturgical and para-liturgical events, life cycle ceremonies), and Jewish culture of origin. For example, if you follow this link, you will land on a page listing 21 different poems for the upcoming festival of Hanukkah, in countless musical versions spanning the entire Jewish Diaspora.

The website exists though the efforts of Israeli musician and music promoter Yair Harel (and the formidable support of the Avi Chai Foundation. You can see Yair in action while presenting his project in a very US-minded, Bay-Area-familiar, setting, here:


Erev shel shoshanim, “evening of roses” or “evening of lilies” has been one of the most successful songs from Israel, with the exception of Yerushalayim shel zahav (1967), and of course Hava nagilah–which was actually composed, by Abraham Zvi Idelsohn, in pre-1948 Palestine (and that is now a movie…).

It is a love song with fairly explicit biblical references (see for example Song of Songs 14:4 for the reference to myrrh, spices, and frankincense), as well as a SLI (Song of the Land of Israel) in its agricultural references to roses and the bustan, the Middle Eastern citrus grove.

An English translation is available via

Evening of roses
Let’s go out to the grove
Myrrh, perfumes, and incense
Are a threshold at your feet.

The night falls slowly
A breeze of roses blows
Let me whisper a song to you quietly
A song of love.

At dawn, a dove is cooing
Your hair is filled with dew
Your lips to the morning are like a rose
I’ll pick it for myself.

The Hebrew lyrics (written by Moshe Dor, a poet, writer, and journalist born in Tel Aviv in 1932) are also available on line, via Shironet. The music was composed by Yosef Hadar (Tel Aviv 1926 – Even Yehudah 2006), the son of Polish immigrants and the author of many Hebrew songs, especially in the 1940s-1950s.

Here are some musical sources, beginning with Ha-dudaim, of course, whose 1958 version of the song, originally sung by Yaffa Yarkoni (who first recorded it in 1957), made it popular worldwide.

Israeli pop-rock-and-everything-else music icon, Arik Einstein, recorded it as well, 

A late performance of Ha-parvarim (a 1960’s duo that integrated folk guitar accompaniments and Latin American arrangements with the SLI repertoire) shows it performed along with a sing-along crowd, in the style of shirah be-tzibur, or communal singing, which characterized Jewish musical life in mandatory Palestine since before the founding of the State of Israel, and that continues to this day:

But the song has had a longstanding international recognition. See below.

Yaffa Yarkoni, who must have sung this song many a times, recorded it in Spanish:

Greek international star Nana Moskouri with Israeli-French singer Mike Brant:

Harry Belafonte (his Nava nagila is better, though, either solo or with Danny Kaye):

And Miriam Makeba:

As usual, YouTube is full of surprises. See for example Israeli performer Tal Kravitz’s “Israeli-Indian encounter” with Rajendra Prasanna, in a concert sponsored by  the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi:

But the love-theme of the roses (or lilies) can also be challenged. This is undoubtedly the case in Idan Reichel’s song, Shoshanim ‘atzuvot (Sad Roses). You can find the lyrics here.

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)

The iconic (and canonic) Israeli song, yerushalayim shel zahav (Jerusalem of Gold), a prime example of the SLI (Songs of the Land of Israel, or shire eretz yisrael) genre, was written by Israeli composer and singer-songwriter Naomi Shemer (1930-2004).
Shemer, an influential voice in the canon of Israeli mainstream and popular culture, rightfully deserves her own entry in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, authored by dr. Gila Flam, head of the Music Department of the National Library of Israel and “Music in Israel” Skype guest. (Note that links will only work with an account that allows access to certain electronic resources):

SHEMER, NAOMI (Saphir; 1930–2004), composer, song writer, and performer. Born at kevuẓat Kinneret, she studied at the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Academies of Music. Among her teachers were Frank Peleg , Ilona Vinze-Kraus, Joseph Tal , and Abel Ehrlich . She returned to kevuẓat Kinneret as a music teacher and there she composed her first songs especially for children. In 1956 she moved to Tel Aviv. Her songs, to most of which she composed both lyrics and music, became very popular and are considered as part of the Israeli song canon. In 1967, after being commissioned by the Israel Broadcasting Authority to write a song for the annual song festival, she wrote Yerushalayim shel Zahav, which immediately became popular. It became the theme song of the Six-Day War and achieved international fame. In many Reform movement services and among both Ashkenazi and Sephardi congregations in Israel and the Diaspora, the song was introduced into the liturgy for special occasions, such as Friday evening, the last hakkafah on Simhat Torah , and the synagogue service on Israeli Independence Day. Considered to perfectly express the love of the nation for Jerusalem, the song was proposed in the Knesset as a new Israeli national anthem. By the mid-1980s there was not an Israeli singer or ensemble that had not performed one of Shemer’s songs. Nicknamed the “national songwriter,” she demonstrated a unique ability to express the national mood. Although her first works were published in the 1950s, her first book of songs, Kol ha-Shirim (“Complete Songs”), did not appear until 1967. Later publications included four additional song books (1975, 1982, 1995, 2003), as well as various collections for children. As a singer, she recorded a selection of her own songs. Her honors included the Israel Prize for Israeli song (1982), Jerusalem Prize (1983), and honorary doctorates from the universities of Jerusalem (1994) and Beersheba (1999). (Flam, Gila. “Shemer, Naomi.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 18. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 457-458. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 13 Oct. 2013).

The song was presented at the Israel Song Festival of 1967, which

took place amid the growing tensions on Israel’s borders that led, three weeks later, to the Six-Day War in June of that year. The winning song was a sentimental love song, performed by Mike Burstyn, which was soon forgotten. The event, however, entered collective memory because of one of five new songs especially commissioned by the ma[y]or of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek. [including] “Yerushalayim shel zahav” […]. Performed (outside of the competition0 by Shuli Natan, who accompanied herself on acoustic guitar, the song “that changed the country forever” in Dan Almagor’s words, expressed almost prayerlike longing for the city, as though anticipating the eruption of national sentiment few weeks later, when the Old City of Jerusalem was brought under Israeli control. Interestingly enough, this was one of the first modern Israeli songs abut Jerusalem written from a national, rather than a traditional religious, perspective. (Regev and Seroussi. Popular Music and National Culture in Israel. UC Press, 2004: 117).

A YouTube user posted a recording of this original performance of the song by then 20-year-old Shuli Natan (born 1947):

The lyrics of yerushalayim shel zahav have been translated into English a number of times. They can be found on the website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as searched on, and even on an entire website devoted solely to this song, created by Yael Levine, whose translation appears below:

The mountain air is clear as wine
And the scent of pines
Is carried on the breeze of twilight
With the sound of bells.

And in the slumber of tree and stone
Captured in her dream
The city that sits solitary
And in its midst is a wall.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
Behold I am a violin [Hebr. kinor] for all your songs.

How the cisterns have dried
The market-place is empty
And no one frequents the Temple Mount
In the Old City.

And in the caves in the mountain
Winds are howling
And no one descends to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
Behold I am a violin for all your songs.

But as I come to sing to you today,
And to adorn crowns to you (i.e. to tell your praise)
I am the smallest of the youngest of your children (i.e.the least worthy of doing so)
And of the last poet.

For your name scorches the lips
Like the kiss of a seraph
If I forget thee, Jerusalem,
Which is all gold…

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
Behold I am a violin for all your songs.

The lyrics of yerushalayim shel zahav offer a Hebrewist re-actualization of the poetic tradition of the Book of Psalms, and are crowded with biblical imagery drawn from the Hebrew Bible itself, as well as from Hebrew poetry from late antiquity and early-modern times. In the song, the poet (embodied by two women: composer Naomi Shemer and performer Shuli Natan) speaks in the first person, singing the ancient glories and present demise of the city of Jerusalem, accompanying herself, like a modern-day female King David, on the biblical instrument, the kinor–a Hebrew word of biblical origin, which in modern Hebrew refers to the violin, as reflected in most English translations of the original lyrics.

The end of the Six Day War (the history of which can be studied through a wide variety of conflicting resources, among which two Twitter feeds, one in Hebrew, chronicling its events as if they happened in real tweet-time, and the official English Twitter account of the Israeli National Archives, became available only very recently) granted Israelis and Jews from the world over access to the Old City of Jerusalem (which had been denied during the Jordanian occupation (1948) and subsequent annexation (1950) of the city). Following Israel’s victory, Jews were once again allowed access to the Old City, and could pray at the Western Wall and restore the many synagogues and the Jewish Quarter.

In the aftermath of the war, Naomi Shemer added two new strophes to the song, reflecting Jewish return to the Old City:

We have returned to the cisterns
To the market and to the market-place
A ram’s horn (shofar) calls out on the Temple Mount In the Old City.

And in the caves in the mountain
Thousands of suns shine
We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho!

This version of her song became truly iconic of the Israeli experience. Shuli Natan began performing it throughout the world, and, of course, in Israel. Below are video recordings of a 1968 performance in France…

…and of a 1986 appearance on Israeli television (note the background of the TV set, depicting details of the Citadel of David in the Old City):

In 1993, the song was included in the soundtrack of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List

The powerful symbology of the nexus that the inclusion of yerushalayim shel zahav in this Hollywood movie established between the Holocaust, the founding of the State of Israel, and the Six Day War, did not go unnoticed, along with its anachronism. In Israeli showings of the movie, the song was apparently replaced by Eli Eli (lyrics by Hannah Senesh, 1921-1944).

By 1998, yerushalayim shel zahav had become part of the national patrimony, and could be performed by Yemenite-Israeli pop star Ofra Haza in the course of the national celebration commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, at the Hebrew University Stadium. (Note the “orientalist” vocal embellishments inserted by the singer at the end of the performance):

The process of canonization of yerushalayim shel zahav continued over the decades, since its original performance in 1967, and even took place in roundabout ways.

As Dalia Gavriely-Nury noted in 2007:

In May 1968, Knesset Member Uri Avnery proposed a law designating the song as Israel’s official national anthem and raised his proposal again 35 years later. (Dalia Gavriely-Nuri, “The Social Construction of “Jerusalem of Gold” as Israel’s Unofficial National Anthem,” Israel Studies 12/2, Summer 2007: 104-120; note: the online sources mentioned by the author are not available).

Avnery’s proposal was everything but nationalistic, and warrants some attention as it exemplifies the political uses (and appropriations) of popular culture.
Avnery, a former member of the Israeli parliament and a political activist, first attempted to use Yerushalayim shel zahav against Israel’s official national anthem, Ha-tikvah (The Hope) while at the Kenesset:

I thought that if I proposed Naomi Shemer’s song as a national anthem, I might be able to build a consensus for the idea of changing the existing one. I was not happy with several nationalist phrases added to the song, but I believed that we could change that along the way. (Uri Avnery, “Death of a Myth,” 14/05/05,, accessed on 10/13/2013).

In 2005, shortly after her death, it became public knowledge that Naomi Shemer had “unwittingly” used a Basque lullaby as the source for the melodic line of her song. Israeli reporter and writer, Tom Segev, reported about this in Haaretz.

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Following additional reporting by Haaretz staff, it appears that the lullaby was performed by Spanish singer, Paco Ibáñez (b. 1934), in a concert that took place in Jerusalem in 1962:

Ibáñez said yesterday that he was saddened to hear of Shemer’s guilt feelings over basing the song on the Basque folk melody and not admitting it. “It is a shame. She had no reason to feel guilty,” he said yesterday. “True, I think she heard the song from me, but that’s life and that’s how I see it. It wasn’t even a secret. I spoke to friends about it and mentioned it in conversations with people. I didn’t speak to Naomi Shemer since then because I didn’t see her again, and it didn’t really matter to me. If I had seen her, I certainly would have mentioned it, but of course, without anger.” Ibáñez said his mother would sing the lullaby to him when he was little and sat in her lap. He recorded the song, which is based on a folk tune, in his volume Songs I Heard from My Mother. Ibáñez said he first heard Shemer’s song in the summer of 1967, shortly after it was written. He immediately recognized it as his song, “Joseph’s hair.” “I didn’t consider this plagiarism but rather felt a lot of empathy for Shemer. Was I angry? Not at all. On the contrary, I was glad it helped in some way.” (Idit Avrahami, Nurit Wurgaft, “Shemer had no reason to feel bad, says Basque singer of copied tune, Haaretz, May 6, 2005,, accessed 10/13/2013).

The singer continues to perform the song as part of his repertoire: 

Despite Ibáñez’s statements, Shemer’s posthumous admission has since given rise to a series of accusations, which at times turn into veritable indictments against the “authenticity” (or lack of) of Israeli culture as a whole.  
Avnery, for example, renewed his proposal to promote yerushalayim shel zahav to the role of Israel’s national anthem immediately after Shemer’s “appropriation” hit the news cycle, this time with the intent of attacking Israel’s own “myths,” including those connected with the Six Day War:

Israel is a country built on many symbols and myths. What could be more symbolic than the destruction of the myth of the Six-Day war, now followed by the collapse of the myth of “Jerusalem of Gold”, that war’s symbol in song? (Uri Avnery, “Death of a Myth,” 14/05/05,, accessed on 10/13/2013).

The saga continues…


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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.

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:


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


Erev shel shoshanim, “evening of roses” or “evening of lilies” has been one of the most successful songs from Israel (exception made for Hava nagilah, which was actually from pre-1948 Palestine). It is a love song with clear biblical references (see for example Song of Songs 14:4 for the reference to myrrh, spices, and frankincense), as well as a SLI (Song of the Land of Israel) in its agricultural references to roses and the bustan, the Middle Eastern citrus grove.

Here are some sources, beginning with Ha-dudaim, of course, whose 1958 version of the song, originally sung by Yaffa Yarkoni, made it popular worldwide.

Then, Israeli pop-rock-and-everything-else music icon, Arik Einstein.

Followed by a late performance of Ha-parvarim (a 1960’s duo that integrated folk guitar accompaniments and Latin American arrangements with the SLI repertoire) with a sing-along crowd, in the style of shirah be-tzibur, or communal singing, that characterized Jewish musical life in mandatory Palestine since before the founding of the State of Israel, and that continues to this day:

But the song has had a longstanding international recognition. See below.

Greek international star Nana Moskouri with Israeli-French singer Mike Brant:

Harry Belafonte (his Nava nagila is better, though, either solo or with Danny Kaye):

And Miriam Makeba:

As usual, YouTube is full of surprises. See for example Israeli performer Tal Kravitz’s “Israeli-Indian encounter” with Rajendra Prasanna, in a concert sponsored by  the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi:

But the love-theme of the roses (or lilies) can also be challenged. This is undoubtedly the case in Idan Reichel’s song, Shoshanim ‘atzuvot (Sad Roses). You can find the lyrics here.

Directly from Classified Palestine Songs (which have nothing to do with any secret services, in spite of the title), here is a song for the festival that falls on the 15th of the month of Shvat in the Hebrew calendar, which this year happens to be this week. It’s the “new year of trees,” a semi-holiday with strong agricultural connections (planting new trees). Its celebration was first the object of a 16th-century revival on the part of Jewish mystics (kabbalists), who devised a complex (and delicious) ritual involving eating (rather than planting) a wide variety of fruits; in the early 20th century, it was at the center of a Zionist revival, which focused on the agricultural activities of the yishuv.

The song 15th Shevat, with the incipit, “ha-sheqediyah porachat,” which remains popular to this day, was written to underscore the political, rather than religious, or mystical, value of the traditional celebration.

Hasheqediah porachat

T”U bi-svhat – 15th Shevat
Words by Y. Dushman, Music by M. Rabinowitz
from Classified Palestine Songs, Volume 4 (Chage ha-teva’ – Nature Songs), rotaprinted in Jerusalem, Palestine (before 1948) by the Overseas Youth Department of the Jewish National Fund. n.d.

Originally meant for communal singing (shirah be-tzibur), it has retained its performative quality into the present. See for example it inclusion in the website and in the YouTube channel, of Zemereshet, a project devoted to the revival of early Hebrew songs (unfortunately, a Hebrew-only site).

There are some excellent resources available online.

The National Sound Archives of the National Library of Israel have published a playlist of early sound recordings, streaming online, including among other things two recordings of the boys choir conducted by Abraham Zvi Idelsohn in Jerusalem, recorded in 1922. You can listen to it here.

The Spielberg Film Archive of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has an excellent YouTube channel, which includes seventy film clips documenting life in pre-1948 Palestine (for a total of almost 28 hours of online video).

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