Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Thread: Shirim Ivri'im

Songs - or are they poems? - are an extremely important part of Israeli history and culture. There is an ever-growing canon of songs, called Shirim Ivri'im (simply: Hebrew songs), without which one cannot understand how Israelis tick. Since the songs Israelis sing are so crucial, it has long been clear to me one way to tell the evolving story of Israel would be by following these shirim.

This is one of the many books I'd like to write some day, but probably won't.

Yesterday my daughter and I decided it would be a nice idea to write a daily blog post introducing a shir each day from now until Independence Day, in three weeks. We decided to be post-modernist about it (though I mostly agree with Sergio that post modernism is a pernicious invention), by which I mean there will be no attempt to be systematic.

Halicha LeKeisaria - The Walk to Cesarea- was written before the phenomenon of Shirim Ivri'im was invented. The author was Hannah Szenes, 1921-1944. Szenes was born in Hungary, escaped Europe and moved to Mandatory Palestine in 1939, where she settled at the kibbutz of Sdot Yam, a fisherman kibbutz south of Haifa. In 1944 she parachuted into Yugoslavia, crossed the border into Hungary, was arrested, tortured, tried and executed by the Hungarian Fascists. She left behind a number of notebooks with a diary and some poems.

I have no pretensions to be able to translate poetry. Halicha leKeisaria is about a walk along the beach, the beauty of nature, and the yearning that it never end. Szenes wrote this poem shortly before she left, and it all ended.

This version is by Netanella, born in Tel Aviv in 1954 to parents from Uzbekistan. It was recorded in the mid 1970s (my guess: 1974).

Then there's this version. It is by the Breira haTiv'it group, in the late 1970s. HaBreira haTiv'it were (and still are) one of the most interesting creators of Israeli music. They use oriental music (which means, Arab music), sometimes for shirim of their own creation, and sometimes to rework Western music into the Arab format. That's what this one is:


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this Yaacov
Moadim LeSimha!

( Geoffic)

NormanF said...

At a time when Israel is hated and besieged, remembering what made the country weather past storms is more important than ever.

Recalling the Shirim Iv'rim can play an important role in Israel's present and future.

annie said...

What a beautiful idea Yaacov. I'd be happy if you continued this well past Yom Haazmaut if you wanted :-).

I never knew that this song was called halicha leKesariya. I thought it was simply called "Eli Eli". I learnt it way back in primary school in England. It brings back sweet memories, yet it's so haunting because of what we know happened to Hannah Senesz.

For the record, I prefer the old-fashioned version sung by Netanela.

annie said...

Rough translation:

"My G-d, My G-d
May these never end
The sand, and the sea
The rustle of the waters
The lighting of the Heavens
And the prayer of Man."

annie said...

Oops, typo in the translation:
Lightning of the Heavens

Anonymous said...

Adama v'Shamayim, good as it is, always struck me as a poor man's version of Halicha leKesariya.

I don't know the history of the former, but I would guess it is more recent as it de-couples nature from the creative and religious aspect of man, focusing only on the fundamental, emotional connection between man and nature. This primitive environmentalism strikes me as more modern.

But both are beautiful and interesting. Anyone know the history of Adama v'Shamayim? All I ever see when I look on You Tube is that it is shown as a "folk song" with nothing else

Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for starting this series of posts. I started listening to Hebrew language songs about four years ago, mostly to improve my Hebrew. Discovering the riches of Israeli music has been one of my principle pleasures ever since. I look forward to learning about new groups and musicians from your posts, as I just learned about HaBreira HaTiv'it.

David E. Sigeti

Anonymous said...

For anyone interested:

A web-site with over 4000 Hebrew songs translated.

For Hebrew speakers/readers -


David Boxenhorn said...

The roughly equivalent genre in the US is "Campfire Songs". The big difference between that genre and "Shirim Ivri'im" is that campfire songs ceased being productive around 1940 (if not 1900), though with a brief resurgence in the 60's.

The one absolute requirement for being a member of either genre is that the song has to be singable (by ordinary people). The reason the Israeli genre is still productive is that in Israel people still get together sometimes to sing songs, sometimes even around a campfire!

Anonymous said...

in case somebody besides myself has become addicted to Netanella - the song is on iTunes - spelled Netanela