Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Window to Hope and Despair

One more day with Yehuda Poliker's 1988 Holocaust record and we'll move on.

The Jewish calender has cycles. One ancient one is from Pessach, signifying liberation from bondage, until Shavuot (Pentacost), seven weeks later, signifying liberation to live as Jews. There has always been a tension to the period, in which the nation is free but still lacks positive content for its freedom. About 1,800 years ago an additional layer was added, when it was decreed that a month of those seven weeks were a period of mourning for the destruction of Judea by Hadrian (143CE), and the end of any hope for political renewal following the earlier destruction of the temple (70 CE). Weddings are forbidden, men don't shave, music isn't played and so on.

Then, in the 1950s, a new cycle was inserted into the double-layer ancient one. The date of the independence of the State of Israel was decided by the British who left on May 14th 1948. After the ensuing war, however, the Knesset decided (twice, in 1953 and again in 1959) that the day before Independence day would be Yom HaZikaron, the day of commemoration for the fallen soldiers; the day one week before that was designated to remember the Shoah. These decisions were the result of political horse-trading, but sometimes even politicians get it right, even beyond their wildest dreams, and without intending it they had added modern depth to the traditional cycle. (I once read the record of their deliberations: they really didn't intend anything so profound)

So now we're in the week of trepidation. It's a week of palpable sensitivity, even as everyone goes about their normal business. What better a way to introduce it, I tell myself, than with Poliker's Chalon el hayam hatichon, a Window to the Mediterranean Sea.

The lyrics were written by Poliker's partner Yaacov Gil'ad, but the story is that of Poliker's father. A man who had lost his entire family including his children at the hands of the Nazis. His wife, likewise. Now, in December 1950, he has traveled to Israel without his new wife and son, to scout for a better future. He has found a one-room apartment in Jaffa, and he writes her (no iPhones in those days) to tell that perhaps, perhaps (ve-ulay) there's a chance, one in a million, that they can still somehow forge a new, better life. Maybe there's a slim hope, climbing in the window.

To add to the poignancy, the window faces west, back to Europe, to where there's no hope only despair. On that level, the window is false; the hope, if it's there, is climbing in from the street of Jaffa, the local reality, not from beyond the view. But that's just my reading.

Hebrew lyrics
English translation
I promised to write when I left you
but I didn't write for a long time
now I miss you so much
such a pity you are not here
after I arrived in Jaffa
hopes were born out of despair
I found my self a room and a half
on the roof of a deserted house
I have a folding bed here
if the three of us want to sleep
you the kid and I
against a window looking out
to the Mediteranean Sea

And maybe from afar
there is a one in a million chance
and maybe from afar
some joy is sneaking up to the window

The end of December 1950
outside there is war between the winds
suddenly we had snow fall
so white and reminds me what I already forgot
The wound is still open
if only you were here with me
I would have simply told you
what ever a letter will not say
If you want you have a home here
and you will have me
much kid's laughter coming to the house
and a window looking out
to the Mediterranean Sea

And maybe...


Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

A few years ago there was a show on State TV here in Argentina which was devoted to the Jewish community. The program used an Israeli song as the musical interlude.

I can't remember the song's title or author, but on one occasion they played it with subtitles, and it was about when young people grow up and abandon the parental home like birds who leave the nest.

The melody haunts me to this day and I can play it on the piano, but I'd like to listen to the original version again.

As I write this I googled the description above and found it: Uf gozal. Thank you, kind of.

Yaacov said...

Yes, Arik Einstein's Uf Gozal is indeed one of the more important shirim. It's on my list, and I'll get to it by and by, but I'm glad you like it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this one. The music is beautiful.

I am happy to see that at least you and Ibrahim can agree about music!


Anonymous said...


I think you might want to check out Ibrahim's noxious comments denigrating the Jewish contribution to music on his blog: https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=2781379104401133933&postID=4470731505493856728