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For All Your Songs - Song Selections

Click on the titles below to find more information about each song.

1. “Shir ha-Re'ut”/ “Song of Friendship” (1948)
Lyrics: Haim Gouri; Melody: Sasha Argov; Performer: Naḥal Troupe

2. “Hora Mamtera”/ “Hora of the Sprinkler” (1955)
Lyrics: Yehiel Mohar; Melody: Moshe Wilensky; Performer: Shoshana Damari

3. “Suddenly a Man Gets Up” / “Pitom kam Adam” (1973)
Lyrics: Amir Gilboa; Melody: Gidi Koren and Shlomo Artzi; Performer: Shlomo Artzi

4. “Had Gadya” / “One Little Goat” (1989)
Lyrics and Performer: Chava Alberstein; Melody: Folk

5. “Ma'aleh Avak”/ “Ascent of Dust” (1995)
Lyrics and Melody: Koby Oz; Performer: Teapacks

6. “The Sticker Song” / “Shirat ha-Sticker” (2004)
Lyrics: David Grossman; Melody and Performer: Ha-Dag Naḥash

7. “Habib Galbi”/ “Love of My Heart” (2015)
Lyrics, Melody, Performer: A-WA (based on Yemenite Folk Song)


1. We Will Remember Them All: “ Shir ha-Re'ut” / “ Song of Friendship” (1948)

Lyrics: Haim Gouri; Melody: Sasha Argov; Performer: Naḥ al Troupe

View the lyrics in Hebrew and English translation here

Listen and watch a historic performance of this song here

Written during the War of Independence, Shir ha-Re'ut commemorates and pledges to remember those who fell in battle. It is therefore often heard in Israel on occasions of national mourning and most especially on Yom ha-Zikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, which falls directly prior to Independence Day.

Always moving, Shir ha-Re'ut takes on a special poignancy this year, for its lyricist, the Israeli national poet Haim Gouri, himself passed away this past January 31st at the age of 94.

Gouri was the bard of the generation of the founders, of the fighters in the War of Independence and especially of the elite Palmach force, to which he belonged. Many of his poems commemorate the dramatic events of this period, including Bab al-Wad (Gate of the Wadi --referring to the narrow entryway into the valley that ascends to Jerusalem from the coastal plain), which immortalized the struggle to liberate Jewish Jerusalem from the blockade to which it was subjected in early 1948. Shir ha-Re'ut is certainly among the most celebrated and powerful of all of Gouri's compositions.

Set against the stark backdrop of a windy night in the Negev desert, Re'ut epitomizes the values of the Milhemet ha-Atzma'ut generation: the physical beauty and prowess of the soldiers (in contrast to the learnedness prized by traditional Jewish culture), their readiness for self-sacrifice, and--most importantly--the unshakable bonds of friendship that united the fighters one to another.

When the song pines that "only a few of us remain, how many are no longer with us," we should recall that 6000 Israelis died in the War of Independence, fully 1% of the Jewish population there at the time.

Ultimately the song declares that while wars may come and go, soldiers live and die, it is the friendship that they shared that lives on and inspires successive generations--and that ensures that the dead shall not be forgotten.

In the chorus we hear: "For friendship such as this will never let our hearts forget / O Love sanctified in blood: You shall return to flourish among us." And in the second stanza: "O friendship, you remain bright and luminescent/ O Friendship: in your name we shall smile and go forward." Its setting in the desert night--a lonely backdrop if there ever was one--can be said to heighten by stark contrast the value of comraderie.

A term of particular interest that appears in the chorus is "blorit" (בלורית) or forelock, referring in this context specifically to a wild tuft of hair above the forehead. In part thanks to Re'ut and other songs, the "blorit" became an essential part of the mystique of this generation: a sign of its rugged beauty and rebelliousness against traditional authority (including against the rabbinic requirement that the head be covered).

In these images we see two examples of the "blorit," both from members of the Palmach who died in the War of Independence: precisely the people this song bids us remember.


Photos courtesy of info.palmach.org.il

Also worthy of note is the group showcased in the performance of the song available here, Lahakat ha-Naḥal, the Naḥal troupe, from a special 1971 program celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding the Palmach. Naḥal (נח״ל), an acronym for "No'ar ḥalutzi loḥem" (לוחם חלוצי נוער), "Fighting pioneering youth," refers to a unit in the Israeli army that combined military service with agriculture, and established numerous new border outposts in the early years of the state.

Each unit of the Israel Defense Forces has its own entertainment troupe or lahaka, and Lahakat ha-Naḥal was both the first and the most important of these. Indeed, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Lehakot Tzeva'iyot (צבאיות תלהקו) or military troupes for the development of Israeli music, especially during their heyday in the 60s through mid-70s (the period in which this performance took place).

In particular, many of the singers in these groups went on to become leading Israeli musicians. For example, the woman emphasized in the video profiled here is Yardena Arazi, a leading Israeli musical personality throughout the 70s and 80s.

A few comments are warranted concerning the enduring resonance of Shir ha-Re'ut in Israeli life: Yithzak Rabin mentioned on numerous occasions that this was his favorite song. As a result, it has come to be associated in Israeli collective memory both with his legacy and with the period of mourning following his assassination.

In addition, in the Galilee you can visit the Re'ut Museum, dedicated in 2014, which commemorates a major series of battles in the War of Independence, and where you can view the original manuscript of Gouri's poem. Read more to learn about this site at:



Finally, the song also plays a prominent role in a particularly masterful episode of the award-winning Israeli sitcom Arab Labor, the creation of Arab-Israeli writer Sayed Kashua, who today teaches Hebrew literature at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

This episode, from 2009, manages to interweave the Israeli Independence and Palestinian Nakba or Catastrophe narratives with a power and emotion that I have not seen rivaled anywhere else. The protagonist Amjad is an Israeli-Arab journalist working in Jerusalem who has chosen to send his daughter Maya to a Jewish school, where he feels she will receive a better education.

A comprehensive summary of the plot is beyond the purview of this essay, but suffice it to say that things become increasingly difficult in the spring, for Maya is determined--against her parents' wishes--to participate in her school's Yom ha-Zikaron commemoration. In the end she lands a central role therein, singing as a soloist--you guessed it-- Shir ha-Re'ut.

But this seeming acquiescence to the Israeli narrative merely serves as the backdrop for the show's assertion of the contrasting Palestinian memory. For while Maya intones Haim Gouri's moving lyrics, the camera takes us to her grandmother's home. Here the older woman recounts her story to Maya "from the beginning"--as she says--showing pictures of the lost village their family once inhabited.

This is a remarkable instance in which the subservient minority exploits the canon of the dominant majority to tell that same majority about the minority's own story of loss. And in the process suggests a broadened definition of what "Nizkor et culam," we will remember everyone means. Watch this segment here, specifically 21:38-22:56.


2. Twist and Spray: “ Hora Mamtera” / “ Hora of the Sprinkler” (1955)

Lyrics: Yehiel Mohar; Melody: Moshe Wilensky; Performer: Shoshana Damari

(Special thanks to Dr. Lorry Black for his assistance with this entry)

View the lyrics in Hebrew and English translation here

At the close of "Ha-mayim nos'im daroma" ("Water is Traveling South"), a poem published in his long-running "Tur Shevi'i" ("Seventh Column") in May of 1947, the renowned Israeli poet Natan Alterman ruminated on the age-old question of who or what makes history. Alongside the usual suspects of government administration, president, and--of course--wealth, Alterman proposes one other figure be added to the list, namely the "plumber who [directs] a pipe with a spigot into the desert." [1]

The context for Alterman's rather unconventional suggestion was the recent inclusion of the Jewish settlements in the Negev in the Yishuv's [Yishuv denotes the pre-State Jewish population in Palestine] water system. As one member of UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, said to his Jewish escort in the summer of that year after examining the new infrastructure: "this water pipe will give you the Negev." [2] As is well known, the partition plan presented by the committee just a few months later did indeed allot this region to the future State of Israel.

Against this backdrop one can perhaps understand somewhat better how a mere sprinkler could become the subject of the rousing and saccharine song that is Hora Mamtera. But "mere" is absolutely the wrong word, for--as shall become apparent in what follows--the sprinkler turning and spraying in the desert is in fact a profound metaphor for what the Zionist enterprise at root is all about. The unabashed exuberance of Hora Mamtera embarrasses us today, but only because we have become so inured to the radical nature of its underlying ideology.

Composed by the famed duo of Yehiel Mohar and Moshe Wilensky (a kind of Israeli Rogers and Hammerstein), frequent collaborators who created numerous songs for Lahakat ha-Naḥal, Hora Mamtera was most memorably performed by Shoshana Damari. Both Mohar and Wilensky were Polish Jews who immigrated to Palestine during the Fifth Aliyah, while Damari, celebrated as both "Queen of Hebrew Music" and the "First Lady of Israeli Song," was born in Yemen, arriving with her family in the future Israel in 1924 at age one.

While best known for her distinctive Yemenite style of singing, Damari was unafraid to branch out, performing regularly in English and Yiddish as well. In a particularly memorable anecdote, Damari is said to have brought the audience to tears when she sang traditional songs for Jews in the DP camps on Cyprus in 1948.

Though Hora Mamtera's dramatic and catchy melody easily overshadows its lyrics, numerous features of the latter are worthy of close attention. There is first of all the personification of the Negev at the opening of the initial verse, with water pipes presented as its arteries: "tzinorot orkei ha-Negev."

In short, these very pipes are the lifeline of the desert. By stark contrast, the second verse instead associates irrigation with conquest, commencing with the couplet, "The whole expanse is held captive / The pipes have cast their net." To conceive of the desert in such terms should hardly surprise--in his 1950 Shirim al Eretz ha-Negev (Songs of the Negev Land), Alterman had already warned this region of its coming domination by Zionism.[3]

And yet the precise imagery employed here is nonetheless noteworthy, for the conquest of the vast Negev is described in terms reminiscent of the entrapment of a single animal. The impossible, i.e. complete mastery over the desert, is in this way cast as eminently doable.

Thereafter follows the artificial replication by the sprinkler of the rainbow: "And behold a sign and symbol: In the droplets, a rainbow appears." In the book of Genesis, after the floodwaters recede, God sets his "bow in the clouds... [as] a sign of the covenant between me and the earth" (Genesis 9:13).

Linked to this compact is the notion that (8:22) "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." In other words, after the great disruption that was the flood, God pledges forever after to maintain the natural order of the world as it is.

The rainbow of the sprinkler stands for quite the opposite:

The covenant of flower and furrow,

The covenant of stillness and melody

What is the relationship between furrow and flower, stillness and melody? Both are concerned with potential (furrow, stillness) and the actualization thereof (flower, melody), with the world as it is and with the world as man recreates it--whether involving nature (furrow, flower) or man himself (stillness, melody).

In other words, this is not a covenant that relies upon divine intervention or even consent; indeed, this covenant knows no God: "the earth will bear its fruit without rain from the heavens," resounds the close of the chorus and thus of the song as a whole.

Nor is it a covenant of preservation, but rather one of transformation. We may have inherited the Negev as a barren desert, the text implies, but we can and will transform it into a fertile plain: "The [water] pump means bread!" Hora Mamtera can thus be described as the anthem of the "making the desert bloom" myth.

Most persistent throughout the work, however, is the equivalency drawn between water and song. The roots for this notion go back at least to the Alterman poem with which we began, where reference is made to a "Concerto le-Zinor" ("Concerto for [Water] Pipe"); here Alterman puns on the similar sounding "Concerto le-Kinor" ("Concerto for Violin").

But the connection between flowing water and flowing sound is amplified further in Hora Mamtera, coursing through it from the opening line of the first verse ("The stream resounds in the pipe") to the last couplet of the second and final verse: "Sprinkler, your song is a song indeed / Sing it without end!"

Aside from the edifying literary character of such imagery, what meaning does it convey? Based on the theme of the potential and actualization of both nature and man himself introduced above, it would seem that the song-water association underscores the link between the transformation of the physical world and the transformation of society, with the blooming of the former ultimately a metaphor for the rejuvenation of the latter.

In other words, to sing about pumping water to the Negev is implicitly to contribute to shaping an amorphous mass of diasporic Jews into the new Israeli nation. Here it is critical to bear in mind that Hora Mamtera is not merely a song, but also a dance, and a hora, i.e. a circle dance, at that. As such it constitutes a collective celebration or, better, a collective enactment of its underlying message.

Just as the sprinkler is exhorted to turn and turn again ("Sovi, sovi, mamtera!"), so is each individual dancer. We might describe him or her (and by extension, each Israeli or, potentially, even each Jew) as but a cog in a much larger machine. To speak instead of a sprinkler in a vast field sounds much nicer.

In the very period in which Hora Mamtera was released, the first installment of what became the National Water Carrier was completed. This so-called "eastern line" ("kav ha-mizraḥi") of the "Yarkon-Negev project" ("Mif'al Yarkon-Negev") brought water from the springs at the source of the Yarkon River down to the northwestern Negev; it was dedicated in a festive celebration on July 19, 1955. Just a year before, former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had convened a series of conventions for young people, in which he encouraged them to settle the desert. [4]

Thus Hora Mamtera was very much suited to the national discourse and endeavors of its time, and quickly assumed an important place in the annals of Israeli culture. So much so that the caption to a photograph of plentiful water flowing out of a pipe in the desert--the frontispiece to an article on bringing water to the Israeli desert--required no explanation beyond: "ka-divrei ha-shir: 'tzinorot orkhei ha-Negev'" ("as in the words of the song: 'pipes, the arteries of the Negev'").[5]


3. It's Morning...in Israel: “ Suddenly a Man Gets Up” / “ Pitom kam Adam” ( 1973)

Lyrics: Amir Gilboa; Melody: Gidi Koren and Shlomo Artzi; Performer: Shlomo Artzi

Most commonly known as Pitom kam Adam (Suddenly a man gets up), the official title of this song isShir ba-Boker ba-Boker ( Song in the morning, in the morning; both names will be used in what follows). Renowned Israeli poet Amir Gilboa (1917-1984), the author of its words, was born in the Ukraine as Berel Feldman, came to Palestine in the 30s (where he took on this Hebraicized-name), and composed this poem probably sometime in the late 40s.

The poem became especially famous when sung by the up-and-coming Shlomo Artzi (born in 1949) in 1973 at the Festival ha-Zemer veha-Pizmon (Festival of Song and Tune), where it won second place (View this performance here).

It went on to reach the very top of Israel's charts later that year and was included in his album, Omrim yeshna eretz... (They say there is a land). One of Israel's most illustrious singers, Artzi got his start in Lahakat Heil ha-Yam (the Navy Corps Band)--another indication of the importance of the Lehakot Tzeva'iyot or army troupes for the development of Israeli music.

The text of this song (which can be viewed here) overflows with symbols of renewal, strength, and fertility, and its imagery is almost reminiscent of biblical prophecy. An individual wakes up feeling like he is a nation and the entire world reverberates from this discovery: whole stalks of grain magically rise up before him through cracks in sidewalks, trees shower him with their fragrances, and the dew of the ground and hills above are, as it were, at his service.

Not only nature recognizes his new status, but the rest of humanity does as well: shamed wars bow down before him, repentant presumably for the cruel manner in which they have treated this man, whose glory we now learn has been in hiding for one thousand years. A thousand more of great promise and fertility lie before him: young years, likened to "a cold brook," "a shepherd's song," and the branch of a tree.

But most striking--if also rather conventional--is the image of spring following upon winter that comes towards the poem's close: "And he sees that spring has returned and the tree become green for the first time since last fall." In short, the years of solitude and powerlessness are over, and a new rebirth is at hand.

On the surface, the song presents an individual who arises one morning and feels, indeed discovers, his entire circumstances have changed. He is compared in his new power and energy with an entire nation. Thus the nation supplies the metaphor and model for the rejuvenation and recovery experienced by the individual man.

But beneath the surface this poem in fact describes the rebirth of a nation; and it is thus to the arising of the individual in the morning that the freshness and exuberance of the national renaissance are implicitly analogized.

The man rising up is of course the Jewish people, the people of Israel, and the new world he encounters is the world of sovereignty and statehood, a world in which he can--at least in theory--stand up straight and call out "Shalom" without fear to whomsoever he meets on his way.

Here it should be noted that Gilboa lost almost his entire family in the Holocaust. There is, to be sure, a certain irony in Pitom kam Adam, because the description of the return of spring and of the tree that has again become green is much more suited to Europe than to the Middle East. Thus the song as it were betrays Europe as the very model for the Israeli nationalism that seeks to leave it behind.

The music for Shir ba-Boker ba-Boker, co-authored by Artzi himself, perfectly suits and indeed magnifies the energy and optimism of the poem. Note in particular the syncopated rhythm, which jars us, rouses us from our passivity, and makes us want to get moving.

Also listen to how the first half of the chorus ("Suddenly a man gets up in the morning / He feels he is a nation and begins to walk"), initially sung in a solo, is thereafter accompanied by drums and instruments, and then--in its repetition--by other voices, as if in confirmation of its collective truth.

That is to say, the very progression and development of the music itself underscores the experience of the individual rediscovering and merging into his national identity.

Shir ba-Boker ba-Boker continues to resonate in contemporary Israeli culture. In the summer of 2011, Israel was rocked by a wave of demonstrations protesting inequality, government corruption, and the high cost of living.

The phrase "pitom kam adam," at times revised to "pitom kam am" ("suddenly a nation rises up"), became a key mantra of the protests, and Shlomo Artzi even gave a special concert for the demonstrators in which he performed this very song (viewable here, the song commences at 2:00).

A video celebrating the protests, created by the "National Union of Israeli Students," also prominently featured this work (viewable here). Thus a song that had originally celebrated the rebirth of Jewish national identity came to stand for the recovery of the initial justice and solidarity of an Israel widely regarded as having lost its way.

In addition, Pitom kam Adam features in the same episode of the hit Israeli sitcom Arab Labor treated at some length in the essay on Shir ha-Re'ut. The show profiles the life of an Arab family living amongst the Jewish majority in West Jerusalem and the particular installment in question interweaves Jewish celebration of Israeli Independence Day with Palestinian commemoration of the Nakba. In order to understand the appearance of Pitom kam Adam in this context some background is first in order.

Amal, a female Arab civil rights lawyer, is being courted by Meir, a Jewish Israeli journalist who is both a colleague and close friend of the male Arab lead, Amjad. She is deeply attracted to Meir and they have twice slept with each other, but especially in this particular year, in which Yom ha-Zikaron and Yom ha-Atzma'ut overlap with Nakba Day, she sees no hope for the relationship and tries desperately to pull back.

This sets the scene for a wonderfully subversive deployment of the song. In this clip, which takes place early on Independence Day, the song about a man getting up in the morning, feeling like he is a nation, saying "Shalom" to whomsoever he encounters on his way furnishes the background music for a woman, alien to the excessive nationalist sentiment all around her, who refuses to say hello to the one person who calls her. You can watch it here (6:45-7:14).


4. One Controversial Little Goat: “ Had Gadya” / “One Little Goat” (1989)

Lyrics and Performer: Chava Alberstein; Melody: Folk

It's actually quite a violent song, that Had Gadya sung each year at the conclusion of the Passover Seder. (See its lyrics here) After all, aside from The Holy One, Blessed Be He, at its very close, everyone and everything mentioned therein meets with an unhappy end. The little goat is eaten, the dog winds up hit, the stick finds itself burnt--ironically even the Angel of Death gets slaughtered.

And yet thanks to the manner and melodies with which Had Gadya is typically sung (and probably the general exhaustion by this point in the night as well), the song typically comes across as utterly harmless. It is testimony to the genius of the great Israeli singer Chava Alberstein that, by changing and adding a mere few words, she transformed the sequence of destruction that lies at Had Gadya's heart into a subtle, yet gripping political critique.

The modern State of Israel and its policies are never mentioned explicitly, but they did not need to be: the message came through loud and clear, and Alberstein's reworked Had Gadya found itself initially banned and thereafter only rarely played on Israeli state radio. As if in keeping with the action and counter-action of the song itself, Alberstein retaliated in kind, reducing her performances in Israel--a policy she maintained until 2007.

Aside from the exchange of Aramaic for Modern Hebrew, the first two-thirds or so of Alberstein's Had Gadya for the most part dutifully follow their Pesach model. Nonetheless, two subtle adjustments at the very outset foreshadow the song's eventual reconfiguration.

First, the "father" (abba) is glossed as "our father" (avinu), introducing a collective dimension absent in the original: this song is now about "us," i.e. the people of Israel. Second, the explicit reference to the guiding text of the Passover Seder ("So the Haggadah says") implicitly differentiates this version from its model.

A sense of urgency builds gradually throughout the song as Alberstein raises the volume of her singing and is further heightened by the elision of the chorus ("Father bought for two zuzim / one kid, one kid") between the stanza introducing the butcher and that starring the Angel of Death.

But the real shift occurs thereafter, when the anticipated, conclusive arrival of "The Holy One, Blessed be He" (the Deus ex machina, we might say) is replaced by a series of increasingly fraught questions. The expected final resolution is thus exchanged for deep existential doubt as to whether such a resolution is at all possible.

In particular, God's failure to appear seems directly linked to the fact that Pesach, the season of divine deliverance, is not at all at hand:

Why are you singing "Had Gadya” now?

Spring hasn’t yet arrived,

Passover isn’t coming.

Alberstein has here cleverly worked in and subverted the classic Israeli children's song "Simḥah Rabah" ("Great Happiness"), which opens with the twice-repeated phrase: "Great happiness, great happiness: Spring has arrived and Pesach is coming." (See here for the text of Simḥah Rabah)

Then, from "Simḥah Rabah," Alberstein segues straightaway to probably the best-known Seder text, "The Four Questions," traditionally chanted by the youngest child present at the gathering. But these questions, too, have undergone revision. The introductory query, "What is different, what has changed?" ("Mah nishtanah?") has been adjusted to Modern Hebrew ("Mah hishtanah?") and is posed now in personal instead of abstract terms: "What has changed for you," not "How is this night different?"

The answer, offered immediately and expanded upon later, confirms: "I myself have changed this year." In addition, the questions' temporal valence and quantity have also been adjusted. The traditional "Four Questions" highlight Seder practices that depart from what is done "on all [other] nights," but here Alberstein sings, with repetition for emphasis that "on all other nights, on all other nights I have asked only four questions.

But tonight I have another question." The Seder evening is thus cast here as typical, at least in comparison with the truly extraordinary and pressing situation in which the singer now finds herself, in which she as an adult is brought back to the bewonderment of the questioning child.

Recalling God's failure to appear and resolve matters, the new fifth question asks "How long will the cycle of horror last?" or, in the reformulation that follows two lines later, "When will this madness stop?" (The Hebrew term translated here as "madness" is "tiruf," from a root meaning to prey upon, tear to pieces, as in "the cat that preyed on the kid that our father brought," thereby directly evoking Had Gadya's "plot.")

And yet the original question "What has changed for you?" has yet fully to be answered and is therefore posed anew. The direct response that now follows constitutes the core of Alberstein's transformation of the song:

I myself have changed this year.

I used to be a lamb and a calm kid,

Today I am a leopard and a predator wolf.

I've been a dove and I've been a deer,

Today I don't know who I am.

This answer amounts to a remarkable internalization of the sequence of animals recounted in Had Gadya. Instead of one creature striking and devouring the next, the singer--representing Israel as collective--recounts her symbolic transformation from one into another.

The "calm kid" (gedi) mentioned here of course evokes Had Gadya's title character and first victim, whereas the juxtaposed lamb reminds us of his docile counterpart, "led to the slaughter" in Jeremiah 11:19. [6] But taken together, the kid, lamb, leopard, and wolf here recall--and subvert--the famous prophecy of Isaiah 11:6, according to which "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid."

Likewise, the dove and deer are similarly invested with symbolic associations, the former signifying peace and resolution (as toward the close of the Genesis flood story), the latter as an object of longing (see Song of Songs 2:9). But just as Alberstein's Had Gadya as a whole is deprived of any redemptive conclusion, so "Israel" through its transformations has become unmoored and lost any sense of self.

Thus the end of the song marks no end at all--whether of a Passover Seder celebrating freedom and redemption or of anything else--but rather a new beginning, fated to play itself out again and again ad infinitum:

Father bought for two zuzim

one kid, one kid

Our father bought a kid for two zuzim

And it starts again from the beginning...

Instead of a linear history of redemption on the biblical model as per the original Had Gadya, Alberstein's version leaves us with something much more akin to the Greek cyclical, tragic conception of human affairs.

But Alberstein, of course, aimed not to offer a lesson in historiosophy but rather to provoke reflection within Israeli society. And to do so she turned to a song from the pre- or non-Zionist Jewish past in order to interrogate and critique the Israeli present.

Rather than resolving the question of Jewish identity as it had promised, Zionism, she implies, has instead intensified it. Since Jewish identity had traditionally been so bound up with being the underdog, the oppressed, the exiled, what does it now mean to be the dominant power, the oppressor, the exiler, as Israel has been with regard to the Palestinians?

While some might shrug off the shift as the inevitable price of independence or attempt otherwise to justify it, for Alberstein the effect is disorienting. If the individual person or people can assume such different identities, to what degree can he, she, or they claim to pursue or strive after particular values?

These questions, inherent in the revolution that is Zionism, assumed particular urgency against the backdrop of the First Palestinian Intifada, which erupted in December 1987 and, especially, the response of the Israeli military thereto. In light of its release in 1989, Israel's 41st year and Alberstein's 43rd, one can also suggest that we are dealing here with a case or two of mid-life crisis.

In an unprecedented move, Alberstein's Had Gadya was banned by the Israel Broadcasting Authority December 1989 from being played on state radio. Though subsequently overturned by the Attorney General, the ban nonetheless had its effect: the song has hardly been heard since on Israel's airwaves.

It was, however, prominently featured in the 2005 Israeli film "Free Zone," playing at both its beginning and end. In the first case, it accompanies a sobbing Natalie Portman in her role as the visiting American Rebecca, crying both on account of her problematic personal situation and that of the country in which she at the moment finds herself (see here; it is interesting to revisit this scene at this time in light of the recent controversy concerning Portman with regard to her refusal to come to Israel to accept the Genesis Prize in person); in the second, the Israeli and Palestinian female leads haggle over money, symbolic of the never-ending dispute between their respective peoples.

Though the title of the film specifically refers to a special free trade area in Jordan, it can be said to suit the openness of interaction between Israelis and Palestinians depicted therein, as well as the fact that the film opens and closes with a song that has largely been rejected by Israeli society: In a "free zone" even a censored song can be heard.

A final matter worthy of note concerns the melody of Alberstein's Had Gadya. It is taken from a popular Italian song Alla fiera dell'est (At the Eastern Fair) composed in 1976 by Angelo Branduardi. Aside from the fact that it features a mouse instead of a kid, the "plot" of this song is identical to that of Had Gadya and may well have been directly inspired by it. (Watch it here)

It seems somehow appropriate that Alberstein's Had Gadya, which emerged out of concern regarding relations between Israelis and Palestinians, features a melody that reflects another case of interaction between Jews and non-Jews. Alberstein's destabilizing choice to make use of this Italian melody complements the insistent questioning that is the hallmark of her song.

To her queries "am I a kid or a wolf, what am I?," we can add, "is Had Gadya Jewish or Italian or Israeli, what is it?" Identities are ultimately unstable and ever in flux. Perhaps the best we can do is to acknowledge and engage with this fact openly.

5. Another Lonely Point on the Map: “ Ma'aleh Avak” / “ Ascent of Dust” (1995)

Lyrics and Melody: Koby Oz; Performer: Teapacks

View the lyrics in Hebrew and English translation here 

In his article "Wall and Tower (Homa Umigdal): The Mold of Israeli Architecture," the architect and scholar Sharon Rotbard argues that the Israeli tendency to refer to newly established communities as "settlement points" "hints at the fact that the 'point' on the map was more important than the 'settlement' itself." [7]

In other words, the strategic value of the new "point" outweighed the quality of life to be enjoyed by this new community's inhabitants. The map has trumped the land it purportedly records! In "Ma'aleh Avak," the band Teapacks satirizes this top-down Israeli approach to settlement in a brilliant reductio ad absurdum.

The original point (pun intended) of such settlements was to expand the reach of Zionist colonization in the pre- or early post-State periods. But this song considers what happens (as did) when this approach to settlement persists long after sovereignty has been obtained and widespread settlement achieved.

In such a context all is reversed: There are now only "missing points" waiting to be filled and "empty patches on the map" that "[don't] make a good impression." The use of the Hebrew "marshim" in this last phrase is most clever, for the base root of this word connotes listing or recording in writing--exactly what one does on a map.

As opposed to people requiring homes, the houses of the fictional community recounted in this song are in need of people--pawns in the hands of powerful government officials--whose lives will "fill [them] up."

The bureaucratic story of the origins of this community--the result of government diktat--in conjunction with its isolated, forlorn character, as indicated by its "coffeehouses with drunkards, and people locking themselves up at home," "remembering the dream of the forgotten, the solidarity of the isolated," clearly marks Ma'aleh Avak as a development town ("ayara pituaḥ"), one of the two dozen or more small cities founded or built up in early post-independence Israel to ensure control over border regions ("ha-periFERiyah" or "periphery" in standard Israeli parlance) and house new immigrants.

Although the development towns were in fact carefully (though not necessarily well) planned, the economic and cultural isolation to which their residents were subjected gave rise to the impression that they were haphazardly constructed.

This view is reflected in the song's reference to houses built "as if they had tossed matchboxes." Most recently, the development town has provided the backdrop for the hit Broadway musical "The Band's Visit," based on the eponymous 2007 Israeli film.

The name granted here to this new, fictional "point"--the title of the song as a whole--is especially striking. The Hebrew "ma'aleh," meaning "ascent," references the numerous Israeli communities bearing such a prefix (e.g. Ma'aleh Adumim, Ma'aleh Gilboa, Ma'ale Tzviya, Ma'ale Levona, Ma'aleh Michmash), lending this imagined one a degree of verisimilitude. It also satirizes the tendency to grant places exalted names regardless of their underlying reality.

"Avak," Hebrew for "dust," raises, in addition, two closely related associations. On one hand, it evokes the large proportion (though actually still less than half) of the development towns located in Israel's arid south but, on the other, can also be said to refer to the new immigrants who chiefly populated them. The State of Israel's founder and first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, famously referred to this demographic, especially to the portion thereof that stemmed from Arab lands, as "human dust" in need of transformation. [8] This song implicitly satirizes that problematic goal, highlighting the negative results to which it led.

The band Teapacks, which first formed under a different name in 1988 and continues to perform today, is well positioned to sing about these travails. Its members hail from Sderot, a development town located close to the Gaza Strip, and--

stemming from Tunisian, Moroccan, Bulgarian, Romanian, Syrian, Polish, Russian, and Yemenite heritage--testify to the ethnic diversity of such communities as well as of the State of Israel as a whole. The mizrai- or eastern-inflected melody of Ma'aleh Avak (and indeed much of Teapacks' music) reflects in particular the demographic predominance of oriental Jews in the development towns as well as the increasing popularity of this style of song in 1990s Israel: from the 90s through the early 2000s, Teapacks was in fact one of Israel's most popular bands.

6. Stuck in Slogans: “ The Sticker Song” / “ Shirat ha-Sticker” (2004)

Lyrics: David Grossman; Melody and Performer: Ha-Dag Naḥ ash

(Special thanks to Amit David for her assistance with this entry)


Political stickers on Israeli car (2002). (Photo: Etan Tal/Wikimedia Commons) CC BY 3.0

The Bumper Sticker in Israel

We don't typically think of the bumper sticker as a literary genre. [9] And yet it is without doubt a specific art form driven (pun intended) by the exigencies of a highly particular situation: the desire to draw attention to and convey a point of view or piece of information in a memorable fashion, without so angering or entertaining its recipient that an accident is caused.

In a world in which clogged highways have become a kind of public space, displaying a bumper sticker is akin to what shouting out in the marketplace once was. Just as in the there and then you couldn't help but hear what was said, so here and now you can't help but see it--the bumper is a kind of screen to which you are held hostage (one wonders what will happen if and when driverless cars take off).

In Israel, the art and rhetorical power of the bumper sticker has attained a high degree of refinement, and -- as the car in the above image (albeit an extreme case) and the song to be considered in this essay demonstrate -- they have migrated far beyond the bumper itself. One finds them, in addition, affixed to bus stops, front doors, and even (as I once saw at a demonstration) on the jean skirts of young, religious women.

A distinguishing feature of these Israeli stickers is also the implicit dialogue and debate that takes place among them. This process can perhaps best be illustrated with regard to the crop of stickers that emerged in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination, specifically in response to President Bill Clinton's memorable farewell, "Shalom, ḥaver" ("Goodbye, friend").

Photo courtesy of e.walla.co.il

As can be seen in the image above, the initial motto, which clearly indicated political support for Rabin's pursuit of peace with the Palestinians, mutated via rhyme into a number of closely related cousins:

Haver, Ani Zocher (Friend, I Remember [You])

Haver, Ata Haser (Friend, You are Missed)

Haver, ha-Zeman Over ve-Ata Haser (Friend, Time Passes and You are Missed)

These supplementary stickers aimed simply to recall or reinforce the message of their predecessor, but triggered a response to or, better, appropriation of what we might call the "Shalom, ḥaver" genre by Right-wing forces in the wake of significant political developments.

Thus "Shalom, ḥaverim" (Goodbye, friends) evoked electoral victory for the rightist block (i.e. Rabin's leftist allies were headed home after their defeat), while "Ha-kol biglalkha, ḥaver" ("It's all because of you, friend") reflected the widespread belief that Rabin's concessions to the Palestinians were responsible for the waves of terrorist attacks that afflicted Israel in the 90s and 2000s.

The Song

The Sticker Song , the result of a rather unconventional collaboration between the celebrated author David Grossman and the popular hip-hop funk band "Ha-Dag Naḥash" renders the implicit dialogue between bumper stickers explicit and elevates it to a literary art, for its lyrics (view them here), including the chorus, are composed nearly entirely of such slogans.

In addition, the song frequently juxtaposes the stickers in such a manner so as implicitly to highlight the simplistic and insufficient character of their messages. Consider, for example, the opening salvo:

“An entire generation demands peace,”

“Let the IDF win,”

“A strong nation makes peace,”

“Let the army mow them down,”

These first two pairings make clear the high stakes of the debate, emphasize the stark differences of opinion in Israeli society, and thereby bring out the problematic nature of mere sloganeering.

For if an entire generation demands peace, who is calling for the IDF to win? How will those convinced that Israel is sufficiently strong to compromise for peace possibly manage to persuade those who insist that the army had best kill off the enemy?

Also worthy of close attention is the following couplet:

“The Holy One, Blessed be He, We Choose You”

“Direct elections are bad”

The first slogan presumably refers to support for a certain religious political party, which asserted that a vote on its behalf was a vote for God or in keeping with His will. The second announces opposition to a 1992 Israeli electoral reform (reversed in 2003), according to which the Prime Minister is elected by direct vote.

But as the Hebrew plural participle for choose, boḥarim, is from the same root used to refer to elections, here actually used in the singular, beḥirah, the second slogan takes on a new and humorous meaning when placed directly after the first. Voting directly for God, i.e. conceiving of democratic elections as if one can in fact "vote for God" turns out, the song suggests, to be the real problem.

Though David Grossman composed Shirat ha-Sticker's original text, Ha-Dag Naḥash did make a few adjustments. One was to change one Hebrew letter vet to a khaf, thereby transforming the slogan "Death to the Arabs" to "Death to Values." The band members explained that they did not relish the thought of concertgoers uttering this particularly vile slogan as they sang along.

One could add that the nihilistic petition for an end to values captures the essence of what it means to call for genocide. Another of the band's interventions inserted a moment of frivolous humor into an otherwise harsh and heavy text. "Test be-Yarka" ("Test [taken and passed] in Yarka") refers to a popular place in Israel for a car to undergo its safety inspection and to the bumper sticker affixed upon the successful completion thereof.

The Hebrew word "test," a phonological calque of its English counterpart, refers specifically to automobile-related exams, whether the driving test or the car inspection, much like lox in English only means smoked salmon and not salmon in general, as in German (in which it is spelled Lachs).

Yarka is a Druze village in the Galilee, where the inspection process costs much less than it typically would elsewhere. And while Grossman based his slogans on existing bumper stickers, he did admit in a radio interview to having exercised his poetic license in forging one of them, while demurring when pressed to indicate which one.

Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion in The Sticker Song's chorus of the phrase "Kama ro'a efshar livloa?" ("How much evil can be swallowed?") Repeated six times throughout the duration of the work, this slogan is in fact the most repeated line in the entire song.

In the slightly different form of "Kama akhzariyut efshar livloa?" ("How much cruelty can be swallowed?"), it was previously the motto of the ultimately successful campaign against the production of foie gras, of which Israel was the world's third largest producer until a 2003 Supreme Court ruling banned the force-feeding of geese necessary for making it.

The prominence of this line in the song is suggestive: did the pervasiveness of bumper stickers in Israeli society at the time render Israelis akin to geese, compelled against their will to an excessive diet of, in this case, unhealthy slogans?

To liquidate, to kill, to banish, to deport, to sanitize, to lock up, death sentence, NO FEAR (in English in the original--DSK), to wipe out, to annihilate, to destroy, to burn.

This final sequence of lyrics, a litany of violent rhetoric of the most extreme order, culminates in the allegation: "Ha-kol biglalkha, ḥaver" ("It's all because of you, friend") and the unmistakable sound of the cocking of a rifle prominently placed between the first and second words of this phrase.

That The Sticker Song ends with this evocation of the Rabin assassination emphasizes the high stakes of sloganeering--it can and does lead to murder. But it also brings us back to the origin of the song itself, for it was on November 5, 1995, the very day after that terrible event, that Grossman commenced the collecting of bumper stickers that eventually gave rise to it.

And the genesis of Shirat ha-Sticker is linked to yet another tragic death. “We have no children to spare for unnecessary wars” resounds the song at one point, words that Grossman himself can appreciate all too well, for his son Uri was killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War just two days after Grossman and fellow authors Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua called in a press conference for a ceasefire. It was Uri who had first introduced his father to Ha-Dag Naḥash.

The Video

Shirat ha-Sticker is best encountered through its remarkable video, which supplements the lyrics with additional layers of meaning (It can be viewed here or here,with English subtitles but somewhat inferior visual quality). The entire video is set in a closed--indeed, claustrophobic--mirrored space. The symbolism is clear: this song reflects Israeli society back at itself, implicitly posing the question: is this who or what we really are?

At the same time, precisely because of this mirroring, each performer appears in at least one, and at times multiple, reflections. Frequently we see the front and then, in the background, the back of the same performer. In addition, while sometimes the face we see is that of the actual person, on other occasions it is clearly merely a reflection thereof.

The attentive viewer is thus brought to consider who is the real individual, who merely an image thereof. Might there be more to these individuals than what appears to be the case at first glance?

Matters are complicated further by the video's practice of placing the sticker slogans in the mouths of seemingly stereotypical Israelis, e.g. a Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) man, secular female solider, kaffiyeh-clad Arab male, and West Bank settler. Ironically, however, these individuals are frequently assigned precisely the slogan most opposed to their core identity, one whose message they could never be expected to endorse.

For example, a religious settler opens the song with the leftist assertion "Dor shalem doresh shalom" ("An entire generation demands peace"); an ultra-orthodox mother insists "Kravi zeh ha-khi aḥi" ("Combat's where it's at, bro"), referring to fighting as opposed to office ("jobnik," in Israeli parlance) roles in the Israeli military; an Arab suicide bomber promises "Ein Aravim, ein pigu'im" ("No Arabs, no terrorist attacks"); and a Haredi man calls for "Giyus le-kulam" ("Military enlistment for all").

By far the most powerful moment of the video comes at its close, long after the song's lyrics have come and gone, as the performers cover up the mirror one by one with the very stickers about which they have sung until no space remains. This is a clear critique directed against the state of Israeli discourse.

What kind of dialogue is possible when views are expressed in slogans? And what space remains in such a context for nuanced, independent, and fresh thinking? The conclusion of the video suggests none at all.

This harsh criticism recalls and can be profitably juxtaposed with reflections Grossman himself offered at the 2007 International Literature Festival Berlin:

"At its best, literature can be kind to us: it can slightly allay our sense of insult at the dehumanization that results from living in large, anonymous global societies. The insult of describing ourselves in coarse language, in clichés, in generalizations and stereotypes. The insult of our becoming--as Herbert Marcuse said--'one-dimensional man.'" [10]

The characters satirized in the Shirat ha-Sticker video are precisely these one-dimensional men, their language undoubtedly that of "clichés, ... generalizations and stereotypes"--even as the mirroring effect alludes to other possible dimensions. Grossman and Ha-Dag Naḥash's handling of their slogans definitely allays our sense of insult, transforming it into laughter, and leaving us hopeful that a new kind of conversation is possible.

A Song that Sticks Out

Straightaway upon its release, Shirat ha-Sticker enjoyed immense success in Israel, coming in as the most listened to song of 2004, the first work of hip-hop to achieve this distinction in the country. And even as the bumper sticker itself has largely faded from Israeli life in recent years (The Sticker Song in fact appeared toward the end of its heyday), the song very much continues to reverberate today.

In a 2018 survey conducted in honor of Israel's 70th anniversary by Kan Gimel, the official state radio station for Israeli music, The Sticker Song ranked as the leading Israeli protest song of all time (for the sake of comparison, Chava Alberstein's Had Gadya came in at ninth place; ten songs were ranked in all).

One final note: it is especially appropriate that of all Israeli bands "Ha-Dag Naḥash" released The Sticker Song. For while the band's name literally translates as "The fish-snake," it also alludes to and constitutes a scrambled version of the standard Hebrew phrase "Naḥag hadash" ("New driver"), a tag of which those who have recently received their driver's licenses are obliged to place in their rear window.

7. Yeah, Arabic? “ Habib Galbi” / “ Love of My Heart” (2015)

Lyrics, Melody, Performer: A-WA (based on Yemenite Folk Song)

What is the place of the Arabic language in the Jewish state? The question is especially significant given that 21% of Israel's population is ethnically Arab and that approximately half of the country's Jewish majority has roots in Arab-speaking lands.

Recent years down to the present have demonstrated just how alive and contentious this issue is. Numerous political efforts to downgrade Arabic's status alongside Hebrew as a quasi-official language culminated in July 2018 with the Knesset's narrow passage of the so-called Nation-State Bill, according to which Hebrew is Israel's sole official language, with Arabic granted merely "special status."  

But if this legislation suggests that the language's position in Israel is threatened, there is substantial evidence to the contrary. This bill itself claims that it "does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect," and the very same Knesset that approved it also instituted Israel's annual National Arabic Language Day in 2016. Most significantly, a host of prominent Israeli films have recently been shot in part or entirely in Arabic: The Band's Visit (2007), Farewell Baghdad (2013), Junction 48 (2016), In Between (2016), and Sand Storm (2016).

One of the best indications of this increasing recognition of Arabic's importance as a language of culture is the striking success of the trio of sisters from a tiny village in Israel's remote south who together form the band "A-WA" (AY-wah), "yeah" in Arabic slang.

Born to a Yemenite father and a half-Ukrainian, half-Moroccan mother, Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim grew up in Shaḥarut in the Arava valley, and were exposed to traditional Yemenite songs (liturgical and folk, in Hebrew and Yemenite Judeo-Arabic) over holidays spent with their grandparents. Tair also served in the Israeli army's performance troupe, yet another indication of the importance of the Lehakot Tzeva'iyot for the cultivation of Israeli musical talent.

The sisters's Yemenite heritage became the source of their musical repertoire, to which they added elements of reggae, electronic, and hip-hop music. "Habib Galbi," the piece profiled here, became in 2015 the first-ever Arabic song to hit number one on Israeli pop charts and also won a substantial number of fans across the Arab world, especially--not surprisingly--in Yemen.

A woman's folk song, passed down orally from generation to generation, "Habib Galbi" tells of a lover who suddenly departed ("My love got upset and left running"), has not returned after a year and a half, and has left the woman who loves him bereft and inconsolable ("There is no other love like him...O people, he has left and driven me mad / To whom can I bemoan that will understand me? / To whom can I cry that will pity me? / Which of you will help me?).

See here for the "Habib Galbi" lyrics in Hebrew-transliterated Arabic, and in Hebrew and English translation. 

The video A-WA produced to accompany "Habib Galbi" subverts the song's lyrics in a most striking manner. In response to the text itself's single voice, mournful and passive character, and pessimistic end, the video (which can be viewed here) is collective and activist throughout, and concludes on a note of unification.

The three A-WA sisters and their matching partners are clearly delineated, and instead of merely bewailing their absent or unknown lovers, the young ladies set out across the desert in search of them. They are located easily enough, it seems, and relationships (represented by the couples dancing together) are entered into or re-established straightaway.

In this inverted world, it is the women (escaping from under the stern eyes of their paternalistic father) who set out in pursuit of the men, still living at home with their elderly mother. (The fairy-tale like structure that serves as their abode in the video--see 2:45-2:50--is the artistic center of Kibbutz Ne'ot Smadar, located not far from the sisters' hometown.)

This is not to suggest that the men are unprepared for their ladies' arrival--their blue sweatsuits and calisthenic-like dance steps point to intense training for the coming unions. A-WA has thus not only revamped "Habib Galbi" musically for the early twenty-first century, but also completely recast the role of women envisioned by the song and the society that produced it.

And as for Israeli culture writ large, as the sisters steer their jeep across the sparse desert landscape (a desert neither blooming or settled, we might add), the viewer senses Israeli culture being drawn in a "new-old" direction, to invert the title of Theodore Herzl's utopian fantasy novel about the future Jewish State in Palestine, back or at least towards its Middle Eastern context. If the first three songs profiled in this essay were myth-makers and the subsequent three myth-breakers, Habib Galbi can be described as unabashedly post-mythological.

It all seems so easy--to restore broken love, to empower women, to modernize tradition, and to redirect Israeli culture. Or is it? As the video reverts back in its final seconds to the women riding in their jeep across the desert, the viewer is left to wonder if the consummation s/he has just witnessed really transpired or is but a mirage, a castle made out of sand. It was certainly willed, but might it nonetheless still be a dream?

[1] Natan Alterman, Tur ha-sheviʻi: shire ha-ʻet veha-ʻiton (Tel Aviv: Hotsaʼat ʻAm ʻOved: 1947), p. 346 (Hebrew). The "Seventh Column" was published in the Labor Zionist daily Davar.

[2] Hillel Dan, Be-derekh lo selulah: hagadat Solel boneh (Jerusalem: Shocken, 1963), p. 246 (Hebrew), cited in Mordechai Naor, "Concerto for Pipe, Number 1: The Idea, Planning, and Execution of the First Water Pipe in the Negev, 1947," in Ibid., ed., Yishuv ha-Negev (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 1985), p. 80 (Hebrew).

[3] Zvi Zameret, "Natan Alterman and the Negev," in Yishuv ha-Negev, p. 215 (Hebrew).

[4] Ibid., p. 221 (Hebrew).

[5] The article is Mordecahi Naor, "'Concerto for Pipe' Number 1: The Idea, Planning, and Execution of the First Water Pipe in the Negev, 1947," in Yishuv ha-Negev, p. 74 (Hebrew).

[6] Might the metaphorical aspect of this verse--"and I waslike a gentle lamb led to the slaughter" / "va-ani ke-kheves aluf yuval litvoaḥ"--have inspired Alberstein's reconfiguration of Had Gadya?

[7] Sharon Rotbard, "Wall and Tower (Homa Umigdal): The Mold of Israeli Architecture," in Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, eds., A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture (London: Verso; Tel Aviv: Babel, 2003), p. 48.

[8] On the evolving semantics of this phrase in the early years of Israeli statehood, see Derek J. Penslar, "Broadcast Orientalism," in Ivan Davidson Kalmar and Derek J. Penslar, eds., Orientalism and the Jews (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press; Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2005), p. 185.

[9] Though it certainly can and has been conceived as such. See, for example, Sarah Greenberg, "Let's go for a ride: The genre of bumper stickers," Grassroots Writing Research Journal 6.2 (2016), pp. 21-32.

[10] David Grossman, "Individual Language and Mass Language," in ibid., Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics, trans. Jessica Cohen (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), pp. 83-84.