Friday, July 25, 2014

Shlomo Artzi - July August Heat

The July-August heat then was very heavy
It was afternoon and the platoon went in the wadi
Write in the book a page, they speak of battles
Write of the wounded that are trembling, and this is normal

Youth is pleasant, the summer neverending
Va'aknin arrived to the platoon, the champion of Kiryat Gat
He burned down the barracks and ran off to Beit Gobrin
The police in pursuit of him only here relaxed a bit

All that I remember from this I write down
Floating souls in stretchers, two without a name
Lately thoughts return to me from there in my dim memory
A heavy screen of battles and hallucinations

July-August heat, when a pinecone falls
A helicopter lands, I lie alone in the field
When the helicopter leaves I suddenly feel hungry
Dying to eat you in the mother base

I return with a pass to you at your home
Close the room, even god won't enter here
Suddenly your father enters, looks like he's crying
In the canal a whole platoon was hit by anti-ship
fire in "tempo" [an outpost on the Suez Canal]

What I remember from this I write down
Catch a Haifa taxi, jump to the discotheque
Prostitutes on the fence, in me just a ghost burns
I go dancing with dead soldiers in my heart

Write it down, write it down; I write, I write...

(translation from the NMC Youtube page)

This might be a bit harsh but I think that the best thing that came out of Yair Lapid's political career is Shlomo Artzi's weekly column in Yediot Ahronot. When Lapid (finally) announced he was entering politics we all wondered about the weekly column-it was such a staple and so hard to imagine Friday afternoons without them-I wouldn't always agree with Lapid, and many times it was easy to laugh at his pretentious way of writing, but he did manage to eloquently express ideas which seemed to relate to all of us. People would cut out his columns and paste them to the refrigerator. I'm wondering how Lapid would address the current situation-probably invoke encouragement and say something about solidarity but it would be very calculated and thought through, something that had gone through revisions I guess. But Shlomo Artzi has a different way of writing. Like in his songs, he says what comes to his mind and you can tell that he's writing from the heart-as if to a close friend but well aware that he is addressing the whole nation. I love the idea of storing notes spontaneously written during day to day life, and then deleting them in order to start a fresh page. I'm happy that Artzi decided to share them with us-each one of them is a pearl and together they paint a pretty accurate picture of the atmosphere of these days-which is intense, and heavy, and at times bleak but it's also when you notice the small things that matter the most-like the Be'er Sheva students who live near Soroka and offered their empty apartments to relatives of the wounded soldiers staying at the hospital, or the field hospital the army set up in Gaza, for the Palestinians. These are little things that don't make it to the headlines but are worth knowing, especially when trying to get a clearer picture of life here these days, at least on our side.
There's really no need to introduce Shlomo Artzi but I don't think enough people are familiar with "July-August Heat", Artzi's double album from 1988. Some of the songs are huge hits, like "A New Country" and "Underneath Mediterranean Skies" but many are much more personal and in a way very exposing. They're not as easy on the ears and the main element is the lyrics but they convey a strong story and after listening to the album in full I felt that I really knew Artzi, or at least how he was in 1988. It's interesting to compare that with the columns he writes today-he's a bit less spirited but just as sensitive, and still very authentic. Here is the column he published today:

War Notes

Write it down, write it down/
Occasionally, while I'm sitting or standing, I write to myself letters in my iPhone, on what's happening to me at the moment, or something someone whispers privately to me in my ear, or on the T.V which talks non-stop.
But unlike all the whatsapps, I don't send the notes to anyone, but rather keep them to myself, until one day, in one second, I delete them and that's it.
So here is a random collection from what I wrote, but I haven't deleted in the last ten days, until this Tuesday.

A lone soldier from Texas/
The whole week the soul hurt. But despite the fact that we are discovering each minute more and more just how much this region is infected with Hamas, you can hear also some heartwarming things.
For example, a woman from one of the Kibutzim said after the prevented terrorist attack, "When I get up, I still see first of all the sun".
Tonight (Monday) a mass funeral was held in Haifa for Sean Carmely, may he rest in peace, of the Golany Brigade, a lone soldier from Texas, a loyal Maccabi Haifa fan, who fell in Saja'iya, and the crowds came to escort him like coming to escort a righteous Rabbi.
So before I go to bed, I listen attentively in my headphones to Mark Knofler singing "Brothers in Arms", and feel that we are again a nation.

Reading from Primo Levi, the Jewish-Italian writer, the following sentence, taken from "If This Is a Man": "A person who sees will never understand what is blindness from birth. A person who has never known hunger in his life, will never understand what is hunger".
In other words: A satisfied person, who lives today (let's say in Paris) and hasn't experienced lately shelling on the Champs Elysees block or dealt with tunnels coming out in front of his house in Provence, will never understand our life here.
So he should continue to watch the Tour de France and shut up.

Summer Tunnels/
Do you remember how once we would dig tunnels in the summer on the beach?
We would use at first the blue plastic shovel, and continue to dig with our hands (one on one side and the other on the opposite), until our hands would meet and clasp each other with warmth and friendship.

Saliva in the Mouth/
Again the saliva swallows hard in the mouth when I get a text from friends: "Something bad happened, probably casualties and wounded, lots of rumors, maybe you can find out?"
I begin to find out...and later I recall the french sentence 'a la guerre come a la guerre' ("at war as at war").

Shelter Under the Moon/
How complex is the human identity of each one of us. "Who here is who's relative", Chalfi once asked, and what did he mean?
I began to develop a superstition in which I keep in the freezer lemon popsicles, for sons of friends and family when they safely get back home from the war.
So in the evening, when I went out to get them from the shop, the siren caught me exposed in the street and I had no choice but to find shelter under the moon.

Hasamba in Gaza/
In the series of "Hasamba" books there was once a book called "Hasamba in street fights in Gaza". The hero of the story was according to my memory a boy named Sobchi. Hasamba went out to Gaza city to actually search Egyptian forces in the area.
Though I don't remember the details, even then Gaza seemed to me to be a horrid place.

A Sad Morning Night/
I turn on the T.V at 6 in the morning, and the heart burns with worry.
And later comes the squirming moment when we met for the first time our killed sons, children and brothers in pictures, and they receive faces and names (7 in the morning).
"At first we cry/then the tears harden,/Later we remember just one thing/the death of the son.../and we are silent./And we get up from the chair. And we sit. And we get up. And again./And we know just one thing:/He will not return" (Avraham Chalfi).

"My Dear Love"/
A women eulogizes her husband during a heartbreaking funeral at six in the evening.

Humanitarian Cease-Fire/
Every Israeli patriot accepts most of what's going on here with understanding, understands that we need to continue with the tasks of our lives, doesn't go on vacation abroad during these days, goes to the shelter when there are sirens, waits between five to eight to ten minutes. Sometimes is caught silent and contemplative.
I already get used to staring into the what is and what isn't on the television, and on commercials I clean fallen leaves in the yard.
This week, when I rode my bike in the open park, I suddenly recalled an old sketch, in which Sonia Gorivich, portrayed by Shaika Ofir says: "I hear shuts-(shots) and I abtematically (automatically) lie down".
This sums up for me all of the home front command instructions in an open area.

The Debt/
When Churchill finished to lead his people to victory over Hitler he said to his British people: "Never was so much owed by so many to so few". How fitting also for us.
I noticed a weird notice in the Sport section: "Hamas is on his way to Real". At first I was even happy. Then I realised that it's the deal with footballer Hamas Rodriguez moving to Real Madrid.
I open the radio and hear Uzi Fux ask again after many years: "Send me underwear and undershirts" Tell me, is this real?
And when someone on T.V says "We knew about the tunnels", someone in the living room whispers: Oy, wow, you really knew?

"In August, on a pleasant afternoon,/We went to the sea,/To rest, to watch the waves, to stare/and to swim" (From "Happiness" by Eitan Nahmias-Glass)

In their words/
1. One day afterwards we will talk about everything. In the meantime we will wait for it to be over, for our own good. (A father to his son asking what's happening)
2. There is no doubt that this is the most justified war we had since the Independence War, the Six Day War, Yom Cippur, the Gulf, "Pillar of Defense", "Defensive Shield" and more. (A reserve major, on T.V)
3. Remember how everything began from a summer that seemed especially happy, because a lot of bands from abroad were about to arrive to the country. (A music fan who still hasn't comprehended the situation).
4. "During the most difficult moments I treat myself right away with shopping" (Someone who bought perfume during a siren in the mall)
5. "Tired from wars and from dreams Don Quixote returned home" (The author Binyamin Galai)
6. "We're like tanks and APCs, passing each other on paths and disappearing into the green, reflected in the fighters' night binoculars" (A war poet).
7. We are worried and love our soldiers, so write an encouraging column. (Someone asks me at the grocery store).
8. So here, I'm trying to encourage: Shabbat Shalom, dear nation and its soldiers, despair is not an option.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Abraham Salman-Taksim Bayat Mawzoun

 Amidst all the headlines I almost missed the news item earlier this week regarding Abraham Salman's death at the age of 83. I had no idea who he was and after listening to a few of his songs I was heartbroken not only because such a talented musician passed away but also because it's a shame that he hasn't gained wider recognition, especially among the younger generations. Born in Baghdad, Salman lost his sight at the age of two due to Trachoma. He began to study music at the age of 5 and at the age of 11 he was charmed by the magic of the qanun instrument. His rare talent was discovered when he joined the Royal Iraqi Radio Orchestra. His music gained respect and high acclaim throughout the Arab world, and he accompanied top Arab singers. In 1950 he immigrated to Israel and became a leading member of the Israel Radio Arabic Orchestra, which was composed of immigrants from Iraq and Egypt, until 1988.
    The Israel Radio Arabic Orchestra played music as part of Kol Israel in Arabic broadcasts, intended for the Arab world and Arabs living in Israel. In an interview between author Eli Amir and Menashe Somech, a veteran broadcaster of the station, Somech recalls how the station made sure to present Israel in a positive light, at a time when Arab countries were calling it an "imagined country". The station emphasized the Jewish people's historical right for a country, which was supported by the international community. They also emphasized that Israel wants peace with its neighbors and essentially refuted the lies and false accusations towards the country made by Arab leaders. Somech notes that the Arab listener heard a very high level of Arabic and this was deeply appreciated. In addition, he never heard words that hurt his religious feelings. He was surprised to hear the enemy speaking to him with respect, without insulting or degrading him-even when there were discussions on sensitive and provocative issues. Unfortunately, the station's nature took a swift turn in 1993. The hasbara department closed, under the CEO's claim that due to the signing of the Oslo peace accords, there will be no more need for hasbara. In the same year the Orchestra disbanded, following the retirement of its musical manager Zuzu Musa. Somech explains that the developments that followed the disappearance of the hasbara department and the station's new nature were serious faults which basically abandoned the Arab public, leaving it exposed to malicious propaganda by opponents of peace and those who deny Israel's existence.
It's quite tragic when you think about it. The hasbara department was closed down because people were so certain that there would be actual peace. Instead the peace process collapsed and made way for extremism  influencing the moderate listener who just wanted to hear quality radio. In the last 10 days I felt that my news feed was in a constant state of shouting-many were shouting their own opinion and had trouble listening to what others were saying. But I also witnessed many, many intelligent debates between friends of friends who come from different countries, have different political views and also different values but share a thirst for real communication and are interested not only in sharing what they have to say but also listening with an open mind to others. I really hope that now that we have entered a new (and in my opinion inevitable) stage of this operation this tolerance will continue and will not be washed away by extremism.

To end things in a light note, here's the mythological Kaveret performing "The Left-Handed Octopus" with Abraham Salman and the Israeli Radio Arab Orchestra, a song that appears in "Pugi in Pita", the band's second album.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rockfour-Unquiet Again

On the way to reason
Fleeing to a secure place
I would change everything
If it was possible to know
Time passes, a year went by

On the way to reason
This isn't at all a romantic song
Going towards a right direction
Another never-ending story
Time passes, a year went by

Unquiet again
Doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo
Unquiet again
Doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo, ahh

On the way to reason
I hinder with no way out
On the way to a right ending
It's the text that's never-ending
That's never over

Unquiet again

 "Here we go again" a friend wrote when the first sirens were heard in Beer Sheva. It's the first big operation since I moved away and it's been surreal following the news from afar-I felt as if I could just as well be living in the States because everything was so normal while my friends were again under fire. But on Tuesday that changed when Tel Aviv and its neighboring cities (and later more distant destinations like Hedera and Binyamina) joined the range. It was all very expected but still very startling. I was at home in Ramat Gan (10 minutes out of Tel Aviv) and joined my neighbors at the stairway. It was actually pretty amusing-while the siren was blaring they argued on whether it's safe enough to be on the 3rd floor or if we should go even lower, in what direction Gaza is, and whether it might be better to wait for the boom in the hallway. A few of them recalled with laughter how they would sleep in the hallway during the Gulf War (Ramat Gan was severely hit). It all would have been very comical if I wasn't trying to comfort my 10 year old neighbor who was the only one at her home (the siren woke her up from a nap). But when the second siren came a few hours later she seemed okay as she was joking with her mom and brothers. Seemed. It's weird how easy you get used to the situation. So far, the sirens have always caught me at home or at work, usually in the morning when they know it's rush hour and before summer camps begin-today wasn't a work day so the siren came a bit later, when most were out during their errands. We hear the sirens, walk to the shelter and afterwards continue with our day. (Here's a cute video on the Tel-Avivian home front, from last time but still relevant). But that's because we have a luxurious minute and a half and we only hear the sirens a few times a day. In the south it's pretty unbearable with non-stop rockets and only 15-30 seconds. Even so, most are used to it (the gaps between operation to operation are only shortening) and if a few intense days (or even weeks) are necessary for a calm period so be it. The question remains when will things heat up again.
    I would always have this song stuck in my head after a bombing or incident, and then I would feel a bit weird about it because if you don't really pay attention to the lyrics it sounds like such a happy song-not the type you're supposed to hum on difficult days. It makes me think of the sunny late 60s-early 70s songs which were written in  dark times, and also of the dissonance that would sometimes appear between the music and lyrics-I'm thinking of Chirpy,Chirpy,Cheep,Cheep and Sunny Afternoon but I'm sure there are more examples. Along with this song Rockfour had another big single from their debut album "Butterfly Net"-a song called "The Anger" which sounds very restrained, and tense. They have a very impressive discography including quite a few accessible albums in English but their most experiential has to be their second album, the highly acclaimed "The Man Who Saw it All"-the only album I could really listen to this week. Every track on it is gold but one that particularly stands out is "Hole in the Moon":

Cannot forget, the moment when I wanted to,
Already gather everything, and I didn't have the strength
To continue and go through all that, which has no intention

Give me a milestone, and I'll know how to continue,
There remains a pain deep inside, I just wanted to go
Like being a ripped photo
Hole in the moon

In pale light, in the trap of the hour
An angel comes, see what he has in his hand,
What separates between good and evil,
It's my brother

Abusing with words, sometimes unintentionally, I remain
The last on a sinking ship

Like in a fantasy I return to the point
In which I began then to walk hoping not to crawl
Within all this it seems, I'm getting closer
Standing on the edge.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Meir Ariel-Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue

Monday feels like weeks ago. It was a pretty normal day-I met up with a friend at the flea market in Yaffo-on my way to the bus I caught a glimpse of the World Cup match screening at one of the bars and I also saw by a kiosk that someone had posted the newspaper from the day after Gil-ad, Neftali and Eyal were kidnapped. The newspaper was already yellow and I wondered why it was there-to raise awareness among tourists? Maybe to keep it in the minds of passerby as it was starting to feel that the story was losing attention. When I got on the bus I turned on the internet in my phone and immediately received a notification from my Haaretz app: the bodies of the kidnapped boys were found. I looked around the bus to see if the other passengers knew but it was hard to tell because everyone was staring at their phones or looking outside. But I did make eye contact with an elderly orthodox man-I can't say for sure if he knew but his eyes were so hollow and sad expressing grief and disbelief. I gave a small nod to him and was saddened not only by what had happened but also that it took a tragedy to make simple eye-contact with an orthodox man. By the time I got off the bus the news had replaced the World Cup and the streets were eerily empty. But there was one guy who quickly walked past me "Did you hear about the boys?" he said on the phone, "My mom started to cry, I've never seen her cry like that...I'm so...I'm so furious!!" and the way he walked suggested that indeed every inch of his body was furious. I was amazed how he was able to muster so much negative energy when all I could feel was weakness. At home there wasn't much to do but watch the news which jumped from interviews with mourning friends of the families to debates and analyses in the news studios while the Cabinet held an emergency meeting and we were all trying to guess what they would decide. One man in the studio said in a very calm voice that Hamas must be brought down and eliminated-a small reaction will only trigger more violence. "The question is-is that possible?" a journalist asked and it's a very important question to ask, especially when taking into account the international field and the fragility of the region. Not to mention what could happen the day after...After a very heated debate the cabinet decided on a limited air strike in Gaza after the day's rocket attacks. For many the reaction wasn't strong enough and they demanded revenge. Instant revenge. I was nauseated by all the hatred on the internet and demands for the murderers to be killed quickly became hatred for Arabs in general and then for those who opposed their views. The next day I watched the funeral and was in awe of how calm everyone was. It was clear that there was no intention for these boys to become martyrs, instead the funeral was about closure, a chance for the families to say their goodbyes together with the thousands who came and really with the whole country. Unfortunately this sense of solidarity was interrupted by reports of extreme right-wing activists in Jerusalem, demanding revenge, harassing Arabs, and confronting with the police. I was sure that this was as worse at it would get but the next day I learned that a 16 year old Palestinian from Jerusalem had been kidnapped and murdered. It was unclear whether the motives were criminal or nationalistic but before the body was even taken for examination the Palestinians in East Jerusalem began to riot and Hamas intensified its rocket attacks from Gaza (more than 20 were fired only today). It's horrific to think that the motive was nationalistic and yet, taking into account the tense atmosphere, it's a grim possibility. I must mention that there have also been anti-violence demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv mourning victims on both sides with thousands of participants from both sides of the political map.
A few years ago I clicked "like" on Meir Ariel's facebook page. I wasn't expecting much because Meir Ariel tragically died from typhus in 1999-I just wanted to share my love for his music. But the managers of the page have successfully managed to keep his legacy alive (I think he's more popular today than when he was alive) and often post his songs, especially when it seems relevant-and really any time is relevant for a Meir Ariel song. They posted this song on Wednesday and sadly, it fit the day perfectly. Words can't describe how deeply Meir is missed. He was able to create deep connections with so many different listeners, capturing with his playful use of language the complexity of life here, as well as universal problems and all in an effortless manner. You just want to hang out with him, hear what he has to say. I recently saw the famous 1987 "campaign tour" in which he travelled the country together with his bandmates Yehuda Eder, Miki Shaiv, Yoav Kutner and Rae Mociach. The documentary, available on youtube and worth seeing even if you don't understand the language, captures their performances in remote southern peripheries and in front of army troops as well as conversations on the road. One of the most memorable of them is when they talk about Judaism and he says to Kutner that he doesn't really feel at home in the secular society, the only situation in which he feels at home is 'the love of people', the company of people, talking with them on some kind of basis of equality while forgetting as much as possible that such a problem exists" (min. 42).  I think that this song can be understood on its own but there are a lot of nuances which could use a bit of explanation so I translated parts of Tal Belo's analysis (along with other interpretations) which relies on religious context-a world that is quite foreign to me.

Pursuer of justice Jimmy and Dean pursuer of peace(1)
Meet at the red pit
Peace and justice are hiding in the darkness
Lying silently in a puddle(2)
A puddle of intoxication in the darkness of blood
Or a dark intoxication in a puddle of blood(3)
Pursuer of justice Jimmy plays the harmonica
And Dean pursuer of peace taps on a can
And each sings his own song

Justice justice you shall pursue
Ask for peace and pursue it
Ask for peace and pursue it
Justice justice you shall pursue(4)

Dean peace throws to Jimmy justice
"Are you aware that justice sounds like trigger?"(5)
Jimmy justice spits to Dean peace
"Just as peace sounds like dream"(6)
Dean whistles to Jimmy "for you justice is a trunk
Which has a licence to rummage in my closet"(7)
Jimmy creaks to Dean: "for you peace is three
Blind, deaf, dumb and Shulman will pay"(8)
And again each sings his own song

Justice, justice you shall pursue...

And here they rise pursuer versus pursuer
Chuckle lightly and evaporate
In a dark poodle in a red pit(9)
No wonder justice escapes no wonder peace escapes(10)

And God will ask the pursued
Will not accept with, will not justify the
Drifter to the innocent(11)

How much longer? It's difficult to answer...
Those who despair go to Tel Aviv
She will give him delusion services on the spot
Like water in Neve Tzedek. shade from the Shalom Tower
This Shalom Tower on the junction of Hertzl and Ahad Ha'am(12)
(Who by the way were opponents in their time)

But the chuckle of Marlon Brando
In the face of Martin Sheen's rifle(13)
Remains like a record of greatness
For Jimmy and Dean
Who still each sings his own song...

Justice justice you shall pursue...

(1)-Possible reference to 'Din Rodef'-law of the pursuer
(2) Meir understands the complexity of making justice. A man who feels over-righteousness, peace will not be in his house.
(3) A person addicted to justice, like an alcoholist, will meet puddles of blood.
(4) "Justice justice you shall pursue" is found in parashat Shoftim and "Ask for peace and pursue it" is found in Tehilim 34. There is tension between the two, should you be just? should you be smart? Should you give up for peace or fight for justice?
(5) Peace challenges justice by hinting a light hand on the trigger.
(6) Justice challenges peace by hinting the loss of substance in peace as if it can only happen in a dream.
(7) Everyone has skeletons in their closet which can be rummaged. Is that the meaning of justice-rummaging?
(8) A legend from Haifa tells of a delinquent, a giant named Shulman. He is called by all "Shulman will pay" for he is a friendless giant, who would enter restaurants and order half of the diners to taste, on his bill, delicacies, in an attempt for them to like him. When waiters would ask to whom to serve the bill he would answer: "Shulman will pay". But Shulman never paid when the bill came, he would hit the owner with such strength that the waiters would pass out. They had to call many policemen to lie him down, as he was so strong.
Is it required in order for there to be peace for a man to be without senses? Blind, deaf, dumb?)
(9) The confrontation between peace and justice begins.
(10) In the confrontation between two values of such centrality the chance that both will be lost is high)
(11) "God asks the pursued" is found in the book of Kahelet, 3-16, and describes the relation of God to a pursued man. Private keeping which does not demand values like peace or justice. From God's view sometimes big words create big sins and God prefers to help the one who is pursued, whether he is righteous or evil.
(12) Ahad Ha'am stood at the head of Cultural Zionism (which saw the state of the Jews solely as a spiritual center) while Hertzl was the leader of Political Zionism (which tried to create a country for all the Jews of the world). In a song depicting eternal confrontations, Meir ironically notes the fact that the Shalom Tower stands at the corner of the streets named by the two opponents.
(13) Scene from Apocalypse Now

 Hoping for a quiet weekend and good luck Columbia!