Musical Mystery Tour

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

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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19 Responses to Musical Mystery Tour

  1. CATachresis says:

    A wonderful tour! I couldn’t get the Ein Gedi one to play, though! I think my stay on the shores of Galilee was the most memorable, except for living in Jerusalem of course!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the tour! I think I might give my readers some more tours over the summer :-).
      I wonder why you couldn’t get the Ein Gedi one to play, though. Perhaps if you try to view it on YouTube, it will open properly.

  2. davidallon says:

    I loved this collection! Thank you!!

    One comment, about Naomi Shemer’s song, and how you translated ריח המלוח. It should be translated into “the smell of Atriplex” which is a plant.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. And thank you for the information about the plant Atriplex. I had a feeling, actually, that my translation couldn’t be quite right, as the Kinneret is a freshwater lake, but I couldn’t find any translation in my Hebrew-English dictionary for the word מלוח, other than “salty”. After reading your comment, I looked up “Atriplex” in Wikipedia and I find that it is commonly known as “saltbush” – since it retains the salt from the surrounding earth. That would account for its Hebrew name – and would, I suppose, also give it a salty smell, which would drift across the water. Anyway, I have corrected it and instead of “salty smell”, it now reads “smell of saltbush”.

  3. David says:

    Very nice blog – all the old songs and the memories!!!!!!

  4. Pati says:

    merci Shimona…. c’est merveilleux…….
    j’espère que cela ne te dérangera pas : je publie les youtube sur face…. c’est trop beau…….
    bises, Shimona.

  5. rambling1on says:

    This was wonderful, Shimona. I enjoyed each video and each recording. This is a sight I am never likely to see and now you have made some of Israel’s beauty available to us as well as its music and some of the culture.
    Thank you. I will look forward to more and more as you are able, my friend.

  6. bernard (berni) says:

    one of your best – I think. I t makes one wish to visit all the places (and hear all the songs ) again
    Do let’s have more of this kind – both places and music and people.

  7. Bridget M. says:

    This post – and especially the video-clips about the Jezreel Valley – filled me with pleasant memories of my gap year between the sixth form and Uni, when I worked for a year as a volunteer on a kibbutz. I never had to milk a cow though (lol).
    I’m afraid the kibbutzim, however, are no longer what they were in the late 1960s. I hear many of them have been “privatized”. But the music was lovely. Thank you for this tour.

    • Jan says:

      My Dad also worked as a volunteer on a kibbutz in the 1970s. that’s where he met my Mom – she was a volunteer from Sweden. The way he tells it, he snatched her from under the nose of a local boy, one of the kibbutznikim just back from his army service. She tells the story a bit differently, of course (lol) but – what the heck? They hooked up and here I am, as the living proof 😉

  8. I mentioned Possum’s and your blogs in my own this evening and I am hoping that both of you will be able to entertain even more folks. xo

    (Oh, I said not likely to happen because I don’t have anyone to travel with..don’t want to go alone.)

    • Yes, Possum and I saw that and we’re grateful for the publicity plug! 🙂

      I can understand and relate to what you said about not wanting to travel alone. I don’t care for it much myself – except for England, of course. But maybe you could organize a group from your church or something like that. (I didn’t write or post video-clips about the Christian holy places, because, naturally, I don’t know them all that well, but there are, obviously, many things that would be of interest to such a group.)

  9. TK says:

    What an pawsome post!!!! thanks so much for sharing so much about your wonderful country!

  10. Pingback: Noah’s Ark | THE VIEW FROM THE PALACE

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