Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Yom Hazikaron - commemorating Israel's fallen

It's Yom Hazikaron again. The second holiest day of the year, in my book, second only to Yom Kippur. Independence Day, tomorrow evening, is perhaps more important for its historical stature, but Yom Hazikaron is easily holier.

I'm reading Yuval Noah Harrari's fun book Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, about which I may write sometime soon. One of his central ideas is that humankind is what it is because of its ability to tell itself stories and thereby create imagined realities which have no objective existence, such as the Catholic Church or the United Nations, and compelling ideas such as banks and human rights. He's a compelling storyteller himself, is Yuval. Having grown up in Israel, he would immediately recognize the power of Yom Hazikaron and everything it connects to, and would appreciate its centrality in organizing the world for Israelis.

The second most popular post I ever wrote here on this blog was the introduction to the Shirim Ivri'im series. (The most popular of all, sadly, was my dissection of that idiotic series of four maps which lies about the history of Israel and Palestine).

On this Yom Hazikaron I'm offering a random but chronological series of the songs with which Israelis come together and mourn.

Fania Bergman, Nigunim (Melodies). Bergman was born in what is now Poland in 1908, and spent her childhood dodging the calamities of the early 20th century in Eastern Europe. In 1930 she made aliya and joined a recently founded kibbutz, Gvat. She worked on the kibbutz as long as her failing health allowed, dying in 1950. She left behind a son, Giora, and many children songs which are taught to schoolchildren till this day. Nigunim, however, isn't for children, it's more about being a child. Written in 1944 and directed to her parents (who by then were already dead in the Holocaust), she tells how, try as she may to be a new sort of Jew in a new sort of life, the melodies they inculcated in her can never be erased, and indeed, they create a bridge from her to them over the impassable chasm.

Fania's only son Giora was killed in the Six Day War.

Speaking of the Six Day War, here's one of its quirkier songs: Jerusalem of Iron and of Lead and of Bereavement. It was written by one of the paratroopers, right after the battle for Jerusalem, who went on to become one of Israel's most original and unusual songwriters, Meir Ariel. The melody and structure are a copy of Naomi Shemer's Jerusalem of Gold, except that, as Ariel says in his song, Jerusalem is only mostly of gold.

40 years after the Six Day War Erez Stark wrote a poem for himself: Nothing Will harm Me. Stark was a soldier, and in his poem he promises that nothing will happen to him, he's promised his brother, his sister, his parents, his father keeps on saying "if anything happens to you what reason will I have to live" so he's promised nothing will ever happen to him, and if you're all standing around my grave I guess I didn't keep my promise and I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Erez was killed in 1997 in Southern Lebanon.

Finally, here's Ariel Horowitz's "20,000 brothers", from 2014. Sean Carmeli was killed in Gaza that summer, and when word went out that he had made aliya alone and didn't have family in Israel, the soccer team he'd been a fan of called on all the other fans to come to his funeral. His two sisters flew in from Texas, and thus the refrain "two sisters and 20,000 brothers, and you're in front". I suppose it's not great music, and the lyrics are spontaneous, not poetry, but you need to listen to them while watching the film. That will do it for you.

1 comment:

David said...

Thanks for the very nice post.

A detail: If Erez Stark was killed in 1997, he could not have written a poem 40 years after the Six Day War, which would have been in 2007. Maybe Stark wrote the poem 30 years after the war not long before he was killed?