Thursday, February 14, 2008


If there's anything Israelis of the younger generations find hard to stomach it is "good old Israeli songs". I'm refering to a genre that was popular around the fifties and sixties and remains a fav with people of my parents' generation, who get together in suburban homes and sing these songs with great pomp.

Musically, the style shuns both occidental pop influences and local Middle Eastern vibe, prefering to draw on Russian folk music and some European chanson. Textually, many of the songs speak of Israel itself, an imagined, utopian land that, once more, is devoid of both western commercialism and Arab flavors. The songs don't sound political to the Zionist ear, but they really are, which is why I'm not a real fan.

One such song, however, is haunting me now for a few days. I went on Youtube and found four pretty miserable versions of it. I'm trying to learn how to play it on the guitar but that's hard, because it is a musical masterpiece. Each one of the song's three verses is gently different than the other two. Good old Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer is responsible for a feat of Brahmsian variations and for the following lyrics:

To sing,
Is like to be the Jordan.
You start off up in the north,
Young, brisk, gushing and gutsy,
You hear birds in the brush
And each one of them -
The bird of Paradise
to sing is like to be the Jordan.

Your days
flow like the Jordan,
And like it - so you flow south,
On the banks wild grass grows
But onwards onwards onwards -
The roar of your waters.
After all,
Your days flow like the Jordan.

You're destined
To die like the Jordan,
To gather slowly into the dead sea
At the lowest point on earth
but from the crests of snowy mountains
In great cheerful sound
Along your tracks
Your songs ebb on,
To sing is like to be the Jordan.

So sue me! I'm touched! There's something about this that plays so well into life right now: The long nights full of red wine, the days shifting between meeting with diplomats and football trainings and post offices and rainbows over the skyline, Hummus mornings and old vynil records and television shoots and a congested sink and great tenderness, the promise of travel, The rain falling over the awnings in Jerusalem's Machne Yehuda market, The feeling that I'm several ages at once, the notion that I'm destined to die like the Jordan.

True romantics are contagious. I always knew Naomi Shemer was one and I was scared of catching what she's got. Now I've got it, so I might as well flow.


Anonymous said...

Naomi Shemer? I fucked her...

Yuval said...

She must have been one of your hottest.

Yuval said...

Anyway, here's the link to the most stomachable version of this song on Youtube. The guitar is pretty good and there's even something fetching about Yardena Arazi circa 1993 (oh dear, I'm really downgrading my coolness rating today), but the sound quality is abominable and the synthesizer sound ridiculous. Use your imagination.