A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the influence of the Bible and classical Hebrew literature, on modern Israeli songs – specifically, songs for Shabbat. Today, since half the world seems to be on the move and on vacation, while I – for the first time in 18 years or so – won’t be going away for the summer, I thought I’d invite my readers on a musical tour of Israel.
You don’t need to pack a suitcase for this tour. No need to buy a plane ticket, take out travel insurance or arrange for a cat or dog sitter. Just sit back in your chair, relax and enjoy the beauty of Israel, her landscapes and her music.
We’ll start up in the north, on the Israel-Lebanon border. The north is my favourite part of the country, with green forests and streams and rivers. Not for nothing is the Upper Galilee known as “the Land of Springs of Water”.
In this video clip, we hear a biblical shepherdess singing, as she draws water from the well: “I have a white, tender lamb. A hungry lamb have I. He will come and drink from the water in my bucket.”
Proceeding in a south-easterly direction, we reach the Jezreel Valley – or, as it is familiarly known in Israel, simply The Valley (Ha’Emeq). The Emeq was one of the principal targets of the pioneer (Chalutz) movement in the pre-State years and many songs have been written about its beauty. In this one, for example, (lyrics: Nathan Alterman; music: Daniel Sambursky), we hear the Parvarim (a popular Israeli duo) singing: “Rest has come to the weary, and peace to the labourer. A pale night stretches itself over the fields of the Valley of Jezreel…..The sea of corn sways. The song of the flock sounds…..What is this night from another? Silence in Jezreel. Sleep, Valley. Land of glory. We are a guard for you.”
Browsing YouTube, I found another video clip of the same song, from the 1935 film “Land of Promise”, with the composer himself, Daniel Sambursky, at the piano. I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.
The multitude of songs praising the beauty of the Jezreel Valley pales into insignificance beside the many love songs to the Kinneret – the Sea of Galilee. From the poetess Rachel, to well-known Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer (who hailed from the same kibbutz), that fabled lake has inspired many of the greatest Israeli poets of modern times. Naomi Shemer, who wrote both words and music for her own songs, also set to music many of the poems of Rachel, such as this one, which tells about the Golan Heights, seen from the shores of the Kinneret – so close, you can reach out your hand and touch them. Rachel, who was forced to leave her home in the Galilee after developing tuberculosis (for which there was then no cure), remained faithful in spirit to the landscapes of her beloved Kinneret: “Could I betray you, could I forget the kindness of my youth”? she writes.
One of Naomi Shemer’s most famous songs, “The Eucalyptus Grove” (Hurshat Ha’Ekaliptus – חורשת האקליפטוס), tells of a young couple who built their home on a hill, beside a eucalyptus grove, on the banks of the River Jordan. Half a century passed, their hair turned grey, their children, who had paddled in the water of the Jordan, learnt to swim, became parents themselves, and then grandparents. Beyond the river, the cannon roared, but as the summer drew to a close, peace came again to the Jordan Valley. Once again, a young couple built a house on the hill: “But on the shores of the River Jordan, it’s as if nothing has changed – the same silence, the same scenery, the eucalyptus grove, the bridge, and the smell of saltbush across the water.”
Continuing south, we reach the Judaean Desert and the Dead Sea. Along its shores are a number of oases, the most famous of which is Ein Gedi, mentioned in the Song of Songs (Chap.1, v. 14): “My beloved is, to me, like a cluster of henna flowers in the vineyards of Ein Gedi“. In the following song, with lyrics by Eitan Peretz and a melody by Dov Aharoni, popular Israeli singer Yehudit Ravitz eulogises the greenness of this desert oasis where, though all the surrounding land turns yellow in the burning sun and suffocating dust is carried high in the stifling desert air, the colours of green and brown (of moist earth) still rule. “Ein Gedi, Ein Gedi, what made you flourish in the sun? Ein Gedi, Ein Gedi, how did your springs of water undermine the wilderness?”
It’s getting late and I’m afraid we haven’t the time to go any further south – not on this trip, anyway. So I shall bring you back to Jerusalem with a song written in 1972 by Yossi Sarig (words and music). A year and a half later, he was killed in the Yom Kippur War. There is an interesting story about how this song came to be written. Apparently, when Sarig was invited to write a song for the Givatron Troupe, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Liberation and Reunification of Jerusalem, he drew on memories of a family visit to Jerusalem seven years earlier, in 1965, when the city was still under Jordanian occupation. The reason for the trip, all the way from the family home in the Jezreel Valley, was the funeral of his grandmother, in Jerusalem. It was a rainy winter’s day, but as they approached Sha’ar Hagai, the sun suddenly came out and a rainbow appeared. This memory is clearly indicated in the name of the song – “Light and Jerusalem” (Or V’Yerushalayim – אור וירושלים), as well as in the refrain: “I saw a city, wrapped in light, and ascending in all the colours of the rainbow! And she plays within me like the 10 stringed harp. I saw a city, wrapped in light.”
And here we must part, for the time being.
I hope you have enjoyed this short visit and that you will come again, soon 🙂
Shabbat Shalom – שבת שלום