Singing A New Tune

Boy, do I feel old. It can be a bit unsettling when the anthems of your youth risk becoming trite nostalgia and people now seem to be singing another tune.

Two recent articles about Israel, “Who Needs Peace, Love and Understanding Anyway?” by Dan Ephron in Newsweek and David Brook’s New York Times column titled, “The Tel Aviv Cluster” are both about what has gone well for Israel and what has not. They are about the dreams and reality of peace, and how they can change over time.

David Brooks

Brooks posits that Israel, a global leader in technology, has fully achieved the original Zionist dream of establishing a “normal” nation state. “The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.” Brooks predicts that contrary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bet that Israeli economic success will spill over to neighboring Arab countries and ultimately foster peace and stability, the gap between the Jewish State and its neighbors will widen, causing further tension and strife. He even goes as far as to say that Israel’s great success actually poses an existential threat to it – not only from the outside, but also from the inside. “To destroy Israel’s economy, Iran doesn’t actually have to lob a nuclear weapon into the country. It just has to foment enough instability so the entrepreneurs decide they had better move to Palo Alto, where many of them already have contacts and homes. American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the U.S.”

Dan Ephron

Ephron argues that Israelis have reached a point where they are more realistic about what they can expect in terms of peace and security. According to what he has heard from those he has interviewed and what he has deduced from poll results, it seems that Israelis feel they can expect the former, but not the latter. They are happy to live in their modern, technologically advanced country, whose economy is robust and shows signs of continued growth and conceivably forego any dreams of real peace with their Middle Eastern neighbors. The good life goes on as long as the security wall and fence is up, rockets are not flying in from over the border with Gaza, and no one is getting blown up in terrorist suicide attacks. “A combination of factors in recent years—an improved security situation, a feeling that acceptance by Arabs no longer matters much, and a growing disaffection from politics generally—have for many Israelis called into question the basic calculus that has driven the peace process. Instead of pining for peace, they’re now asking: who needs it?”

So, what then will become of all the peace songs that I and all the millions of other Israeli and Zionist youth of my generation grew up on? There are thousands of books of these songs out there, some professionally published and probably more produced by hand on mimeographs and xerox machines for use in camps and youth groups. Back in the ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s, total peace was the dream and objective. What are we going to have now – “Live and let live” songs? “Security” songs? “Just leave us alone” songs? Somehow, just not as catchy as the name of the traditional genre.

Yitzhak Rabin singing Shir LaShalom with Miri Aloni moments before his assassination

OK, I admit that when I look back now on videos, or listen to original recordings, of these old Israeli peace songs, I am embarrassed to think that I could have ever been so enchanted with something leaning toward the corny and naïve. But then I remind myself that these songs were not corny or naïve at all when they were first released. They were the heartfelt expressions of the genuine yearning for peace of a nation that, at the time, thought it was attainable in the not too far distant future. And on a personal level, these songs meant a lot to me when I first learned and sang them, as they still do today. They bring back fond memories and remind me of the years during which my Jewish identity and strong attachment to Israel took shape. Besides, I don’t think that the dream of a fully realized peace has completely vanished, and that is why these songs still have legs.

The song sheet found in Rabin's pocket

And it’s not just me who still sings these songs of peace. Even today, when hip-hop and techno (and whatever else is big nowadays – I can’t keep up) is the music of Israeli youth, it is not only the “old” people my age attending Hebrew folk and peace song sing-a-longs. These classic tunes, always popular with the Israeli public, found an even more prominent place in citizens’ hearts after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. He was shot at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo Peace Process, just as he came down from the stage after singing Shir LaShalom (Song for Peace) with a group of celebrities, including Miri Aloni who first popularized it. A bloodstained piece of paper with the song’s lyrics was found in Rabin’s suit jacket pocket after he died.

Here is Shir LaShalom as it was performed by some of Israel’s most famous singers, when they were young (in 1979) and starring in Halehakah (The Troupe), a film about the musical adventures and love lives of members of an army performance group and band. In real life, it was actually in such military troupes (each part of the IDF has its own) that the singers and actors seen in the movie got their start in show business.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Singing A New Tune”

  1. Bernie Says:

    The only peace that Israel will experience is a”peace” behind strong security parlty assisted by a succesful economy.
    This will change only if and when Muslims on the whole return to the Islam of the generation of their prophet. Sufism is the closest current branch of Islam in its philosophy to the Islam of that period.

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