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Galilee Diary: A New Song

Galilee Diary: A New Song

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

...How goodly, goodly are our tents;
We will yet return to an ancient melody.
-"Ancient melody," popular folk-song (anddance) by Michael Kashten and Amitai Ne'eman

Singunto the Lord a new song, sing unto the Lord all the earth.
-Psalm 96:1

Three pop musicexperiences in one week:

On Saturday, at the biennial convention of the IsraeliReform Movement, one of the study sessions was devoted to the text of asong by the popular singer Ehud Banai, which strings together acollection of expressions from the lingo of telephone talk (perhaps it'sa wrong number; no reception here; I hear you broken up; I'm waiting onthe line; etc.); each verse ends with "Are you still with me? / Answerme." While it might be a song about love or friendship, it is hard toavoid the impression that it is a prayer, and that at the other end ofthe bad connection is God.

On Monday Iattended the wedding of a friend. A member of the bride's family has abusiness connection with Mosh ben Ari, a popular singer whosedistinctive hirsute look (with a mane of dreadlocks) is instantlyrecognizable even to a nerd like me. And there he was, a guest at thewedding, who sang the opening song of the ceremony, a recent, popularversion of Psalm 121 ("I will lift up my eyes to the heavens...").

And on Tuesday, atthe graduation ceremony of the Mandel Leadership Institute inJerusalem, after the certificates had been distributed, Kobi Oz and hisband took the stage for a 40 minute show - banter and music. Quitepopular now, Oz's music often touches on themes of faith, and makesreferences to Jewish sources, and some songs are a deliberate fusion ofcurrent Israeli rock with traditional North African piyyut(hymns).

So what's the deal- what's God doing at rock concerts? None of the above musicianscomes from the Orthodox "sector" in Israeli society, and they certainlydon't aim their art at that population. All three of them (and a numberof others on the pop scene today) see questions of faith and identityand Jewish roots as legitimate material for songwriting, and/or usetheir music as a way to explore their own roots and their dilemmas inrelating to them. This seems to be a trend in popular culture in recentyears. Of course, it is pretty difficult to speak Hebrew and writeHebrew poetry without making references and including allusions tovarious texts from the Jewish classics (Bible, rabbinic literature), andeven those poets who rebelled against the tradition, like SaulTchernichovsky in the early 20th century, made frequent use of imagesand expressions from Jewish religious literature. Naomi Shemer was notan anti-religious rebel, but she was definitely part of "secular"kibbutz culture - however, if you are ignorant of classical texts, muchof the richness and depth of her lyrics passes right over your head.Naomi Shemer was in the tradition of folk song (indeed, many of her hitshave become folksongs), so perhaps this rootedness in tradition was tobe expected. The current wave of rockers whose music is an expressionof Jewish identity and Jewish searching is a little more surprising.

Perhaps it's just apassing fad, a product of the ongoing transition of Israeli identityfrom communal to individual, a stepping back from the secular Zionistrejection of the religious tradition. Or perhaps it is evidence of theimpossibility of decoupling Jewish culture from Jewish religion in thelong run.

Published: 6/30/2010

Categories: Reform Judaism, Israel, Jewish Life
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