With Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) now behind us, Israel will move next week into the second and third of what are commonly called the National Holidays, or by some, the National High Holidays. Next week, Israel will mark Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and then Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day).
How might one take in the full power of these days when not in Israel? After all, the highways are not going to come to a full stop during an air raid siren, there will be no national ceremonies of mourning, no national ceremonies of dancing and flags and music, either.
I’ve often mentioned the great line by my friend and teacher, Yossi Klein Halevi, who remarks that “one cannot understand Israel if you don’t know the soundtrack.” It was with that in mind that I was struck some time ago by a great project sent to me by Jake Lefkowitz, the son of dear friends, a guy we’ve known since he was very, very young. In college, as part of an assignment for a course, Jake prepared a podcast using Israeli music as a way of showing some of the themes and trends in Israeli history.
There were many things that I loved about his podcast, including the fact that a college student (he’s since graduated) would think of using Israeli music in such a creative way. If he can do it, I thought, so can we all learn some of this, if we’re willing to put in the time.
So here’s a bit of material to help set the tone for Yom HaAtzmaut: Jake’s podcast above, and below, prepared by Haley Weinischke (the co-producer and editor of Israel from the Inside) additional materials on each of the songs.
In addition, there’s an Apple Music playlist for those of you with access to Apple Music, as well as a fabulous resource of some of the greatest songs and information about them at the Makom website, in a section called “Makom's New Israeli Playlist.”
The link above will take you to Jake’s full podcast, while the materials prepared by Haley Weinischke about each of the songs that Jake mentioned, are below.
On Israeli radio, next week, song becomes liturgy. You can listen to Israeli radio just by Googling some sites and choosing to “listen live.” No matter what you do, we hope the music enriches your celebration.
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1948: War of Independence
Hare’ut (The Friendship or Comradeship) by Haim Gouri
Haim Gouri is often referred to as one of Israel’s national poets. He was born in Tel Aviv in 1923 and would go on to serve as a commander in the Palmach.
Here is a performance of the song by Israeli singer Meshi Kleinstein at a memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin z"l.
Bab El Wad by Haim Gouri
Bab El Wad (in Arabic) or Sha’ar HaGai is a point along the road that connects Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Gouri’s unit in the Palmach fought in Sha’ar HaGai in order to secure the road to Jerusalem.
Here is an English translation of the poem along with some background.
1967: Six Day War
Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) by Naomi Shemer
Naomi Shemer is often referred to as the “First Lady” of Israeli song and poetry. Naomi wrote “Jerusalem of Gold” a month before the Six Day War and added a final verse after the war.
Here is a photograph of Naomi Shemer’s diary entry where she wrote the words for the fourth and last verse after the war to reflect the reunification of Jerusalem.
HaShir Al Eretz Sinai (The Song About the Land of Sinai) by Rachel Shapira
Rachel Shapira is an Israeli poet and songwriter. She was awarded the presidential medal of honor last year by President Herzog, who called her a “designer of the Israeli soundtrack.”
Here is the song sung by Israeli artist Shlomo Artzi and here is an English translation. Rachel’s songs have been performed by countless of popular Israeli artists throughout the years.
L’tzafon B'ahava (To the North with Love) by Dudu Barak
Dudu Barak is a songwriter who has written more than 400 songs, including nine poetry books and children’s books. He has lived in Jerusalem all his life.
For more on Dudu Barak, feel free to visit his website.
1967- 1970: War of Attrition
Shir L’Shalom (A Song for Peace) by Yaakov "Yankele" Rotblit
Yaakov Rotblit wrote “A Song for Peace” in 1969 and it was first performed by the Infantry Ensemble of the IDF, featuring Miri Aloni, in the middle of the War of Attrition. The song was controversial amongst more hawkish members of the IDF, like Ariel Sharon, who rejected the songs anti- war and pro- peace sentiment. In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated shortly after he sang the song with Miri Aloni. The blond- stained lyrics were found in Rabin’s pocket.
1973: Yom Kippur War
Lu Yehi (Let It Be) by Naomi Shemer
This song is Naomi Shemer’s adaptation of “Let It Be” by The Beatles. At the suggestion of her husband, Naomi eventually wrote her own original music to the lyrics. Here is a photograph of a draft of the song. At the top of the page you can see where she crossed out “The Beatles” and wrote her name instead.
Here is a performance of Lu Yehi by soloists of the Israeli Opera (The Beatles melody is more present here).
HaMilchama Ha’Achronah (The Last War) by Yehoram Gaon
Yehoram Gaon is one of Israel’s most iconic singers and actors. Yehoram’s parents were Sephardi Jews who immigrated to Israel and many of his songs are influenced by Ladino and Spanish styles. Yehoram has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico.
Here is the English translation of his song “The Last War”.
Einaiych (There Must Be Another Way) by Noa (Achinoam Nini) and Mira Awad
Noa is an Israeli from Tel Aviv and Mira is an Arab- Israeli from Rameh. Together they represented Israel in the 2009 Eurovision song contest, singing “There Must Be Another Way” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. You can read each of their biographies here.
Here is Noa and Mira’s performance at the Eurovision.
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