Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Fourth and Final Twice Prophetic Song

There have been, and still are, many important creators of shirim Ivri'im, men and women whose names appear over and over in the annals of these songs. None are as central as Naomi Shemer. My thesis in this short series has been that unlike anyone else, she had the ability to offer us a shir around which we could come together at traumatic moments, even though she couldn't have known they were about to come. Yerushalayim Shel Zahav was the first and historically the most astonishing; Lu Yehi was the most healing at one of our moments of greatest need; Al Kol Ele offered a common place to weep when most of us agreed on the need but on little else.

Were I to hazard a guess I'd say the first is the one most likely to last, either because it will reverberate long after peace comes to Jerusalem, or because it will express regret for the second tearing apart of the city once that happens. The two probably contradict each other.

Naomi Shemer's final prophetic song took a quarter of a century to germinate, and became both a prophetic personal elegy and an expression of Israel's never-ending war for its existence. It was written long ago, in 1979, apparently at a moment when Shemer thought she might be dying, and it mourns a death that happens in the month of Tamuz, or early summer. It is sad to die in the month of Tamuz, when the peaches are plentiful - but in Tamuz I will die.

She didn't, fortunately. But eventually, in 2004, she did, just as she had said; that's when her cancer took her. The shir had been around all the intervening years, of course, but now it was suddenly true: she had known.

Then in 2006, again in the summer, we had another war, and the song about dying in Tamuz was so obviously right: just right. Four years ago this month.

Hebrew words
English words
It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz
summer flags are carried to and fro
on the ship's mast, noisy line and it won't stop
for on your summer and harvest, hurrahs fell

It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz
exactly when the peaches are plentiful
and just as all the fruit laughs in the basket
and on your summer and harvest, hurrahs fell

It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz
but/now in mid-Tammuz I shall die
to the fruit gardens that were orphaned
hurrahs afer hurrahs will surely fall
and on your summer and harvest and on everything

It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz

Here's a recording by Nurit Galron, the song's original and most famous singer; the images are all of Naomi Shemer or of her beloved kibbutz of Kineret, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

1 comment:

annie said...

Yaacov, thank you for posting this beautiful song, and all the others too.

I seem to remember reading that Naomi Shemer's father died in Tammuz, and that is why she wrote this song originally. I'll see if I can find a link.