Experience Israel’s Culture through Her Songs

When I was in 5th grade I started attending a Bnei Akiva summer camp. The mission statement of Bnei Akiva is to promote world Zionism.

I had never been to Israel and it was hard for me to connect on a personal note to the country or the culture. Almost every day towards the end of lunch Israeli music would blast from the loudspeakers.

I did not understand the words to the songs, but I did begin to develop a connection to the Israeli culture. When I moved to Israel at age 19, I heard one of the songs (“Oof Gozal”) playing on the radio.

I immediately became overcome with emotions and started to cry. For the first time this song belonged to me.

Songs From the Holy Land CD

Naomi Shemer: Naomi Shemer, was a leading female singer in early Israeli history. After the Six Day War her song “Yerushalyaim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) became the official second national anthem of Israel. When I was in 4th grade, two of my friends would go with me to visit a local nursing home every Tuesday. We used to go around singing the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful to the men and women we would visit. There was one man, Eddy, who I will never forget. He was a 40 year old Israeli man suffering from early onset Parkinson Disease. Eddy’s wife told us that he would love if we would sing to him – especially something Israeli.

The next day in school we asked our Hebrew teacher what song we should sing. She told us to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.” That night my friends and I looked up the words to the song. We practiced all week. I will never forget the way Eddy’s face lit up when we started singing. I think for him, we brought back some of his culture into the gloomy period he was in.

Arik Einstein: Arieh “Arik” Einstein was the pioneer of Israeli rock music. When he died on November 26th 2013 at age 74, Israeli’s all over the world mourned his death. He was considered the greatest singer in Israeli history and was the most played artist on Israeli radio. In fact, the song I mentioned above, about a little bird flying through the sky, was composed by him.

For me, Arik Einstein’s death symbolized one of the first times that I felt a strong connection to Israeli culture. There was something very meaningful about knowing the words to the songs being played over and over again, and being able to join in with the crowds and sing at his memorial.

I felt that I was not only watching the energy but that I was also part of it. As a new immigrant I often feel like a foreigner at cultural events, but it is during moments like those when I feel very connected and a part of the Israeli culture.

One of the songs that I find particularly meaningful has lyrics meaning “I and you will change the world.” To me, there is something about being part of such a dynamic state that gives that song particular meaning. For example, I remember the feeling I had when I moved to Israel. In February 2010 my husband and I stepped of the plane with our sixth month old son in Ben Gurion Airport – landing in Israel as Israeli citizens for the first time ever. I turned to him and with tears in our eyes we started singing Arik Einstein’s song “I and you will change the world.”

Children’s music: About three months after we moved to Israel, I took my son to the park. He was finally old enough to go on the swings and I was so pleased to be pushing him. My friend, Adina, who had moved to Israel 5 years earlier broke out in song “swing, swing, down and up and up and down…” in Hebrew. Suddenly, Adina turned to me and exclaimed – you don’t know the words?! Every mother in Israel must know the words to this song! As soon as we got back to her house, Adina pulled out a book and a CD – One-Hundred first Israeli songs. She explained that these were the songs that were played in almost every day care in Israel!

My husband and I began listening to the CD and sure enough I started hearing those songs everywhere. I can’t possibly thank Adina enough for introducing me to the songs. It is nice to be able to sing the songs with my son that he learns in day care – and of course to sing the popular song about swinging in the park. It certainly helps me feel part of the culture and allows me and listening to the CD helps me connect to the childhood that I missed in Israel.

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