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Israel Turns 75

Israel Turns 75

While preparing the sheet music for Friday night’s Musical Shabbat in honor of Israel’s Independence Day, I realized I’m living in the past. I know very little of Israeli music from the 90s and on. Here’s a bunch of the oldies but goodies that we’ll be singing this Shabbat:

Hevenu Shalom Aleichem

Hine Mah Tov

Hal’luya by S. Or and K. Oshrat

Ush’avtem Mayim

Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemer

Erev Shel Shoshanim

Hava Nagila

Tzena Tzena

BaShanah HaBa’ah

Am Yisrael Chai

Al Kol Eleh by Naomi Shemer

Oseh Shalom by Nurit Hirsh


These songs are beautiful, fun, and moving, but the most recent one is “Al Kol Eleh,” which became popular in 1982 after the war in Lebanon. While I am familiar with a few Ofra Haza’s songs and with the 2018 Eurovision winner, “Toy” by Netta, I lack decades’ worth of songs. Why am I so unfamiliar with modern Israeli music?

On the other hand, I’m acquainted with modern Israeli visual media. Ushpizin was my first Israeli movie, and it gained worldwide appeal. I have genuinely enjoyed Shtissel, Fauda, Srugim, When Heroes Fly, and Spy.

Why do I know modern Israeli TV but not its music?

The answer can be explained by what happened to me on my first trip to Israel in 13 years in 2016. I went to a pizza shop and was low on shekels. So, I offered to pay in dollars. In the ’80s and ‘90s, when I visited Israel, all businesses were delighted to receive American cash. In 2016, my dollars were no longer welcome; the owner wanted to be paid in the shekel. Israel had grown up!

When I first visited Israel in 1986, the country was second-class. The toilet paper was coarse, the tuna fish horrible, and most household items were inferior. There was minimal air conditioning, and one rarely saw parks with grass.

Thirty years later, not only does Israel have fountains, grass, and air conditioning, but it’s a worldwide leader in IT, cybersecurity, and bioengineering. Israel became a first-class country.

In Israel’s youth, the songs talk of conquest, growth, hope, and peace. These songs became popular worldwide among Jews, for their dreams were our dreams. More importantly, the songs were in a simpler Hebrew that American Jews could still sing. Yet, as Israel developed, becoming a nation among nations, the music became less about our shared Jewish ideals and more about day-to-day national and personal struggles. As a result, the music became more complex and challenging for a non-native Hebrew speaker to follow. Whereas this complexity works well in television, where subtitles enable all to follow along, such sophistication is a disadvantage in music.

Israel has come a long way in seventy-five years. Yes, it’s an imperfect country and is going through some substantial growing pains right now, but isn’t that the path of maturation?

So please join us tonight at 7:00 PM at Midway Jewish Center as we celebrate this marvel of a nation with a community-wide Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration, on Shabbat night at MHJC at 7:30 PM for a musical tribute to Israel and in marching in the Israeli Day Parade on June, 4.

Israel at 75 gives us many reasons to be grateful; let’s show our gratitude together this week and on June 4.

Happy Yom HaAtzmaut,

R’ Neil

Manetto Hill Jewish Center
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