Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lu Yehi: by Naomi Shemer

About to rehearse an old arrangement of this with the Baltimore chorus. It really is a great song...even it's Let It Be in exact reverse (minor key, depressing themes, reads from left to right....). Shemer, Israel's semi-answer to Bob Dylan, wrote this in response to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Like a great deal of Shemer's work, it holds up far better than the politics which may have informed it - a hardline nationalist who advocated the Gush Emunim settlements to the bitter end (she died in 2004, right before Sharon's evacuations of Gaza began). Critics have rightly taken her to task for her But however nutty and naive, Shemer was not a fanatic. For the first anniversary of Rabin's death, she translated Whitman's "O Captain, My Captain" into Hebrew. The result was 'Ho Rav Chovel.'

This was the beginning of Naomi Shemer's obituary from the Independent:

Naomi Shemer wrote the kind of songs Israelis wanted to hear: warm, patriotic, nostalgic, rooted in childhood memories and an idealised biblical landscape.

Soldiers were comrades, never oppressors. The land "belonged" to the Jews. In a verse she added to her "Jerusalem of Gold" after the 1967 war, she wrote: "The market square is empty." Critics pointed out that it was not empty at all, just full of Arabs."

It's a legitimate criticism, but tremendously unfair. Shemer was a poet, not a politician and almost completely adrift in the actual world of what politics means. She was the voice of Israel in its founding generation, which came of age with the first knowledge of the Holocaust and believed as so many of her time did that moral righteousness would always be at Israel's back. The idea that a Jewish State would ever have even been physically capable, let alone morally, of being an 'occupier' would never have occurred to her. When divorced from the poetry, the 'message' in the music hasn't dated very well, but then again perhaps not as badly as some would like to think.

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