135: Kaveret, ‘Medina Ktana’ (Little Country)

Sunday evening begins Israel’s Memorial Day, followed directly by its 76th birthday. This year we certainly have a lot to mourn, and a lot to celebrate.

We here in Israel often mourn and celebrate simultaneously. At a wedding, we break a glass and sing a mournful Psalm of longing for the rebuilding of The Temple (If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem). The most striking example is when Yom HaZikaron, our Memorial Day, seamlessly becomes Independence Day. These aren’t days of picnics or stock car races. We cry over the graves of those who died for the country. Then, without pausing to dry our tears, we dance out of joy for our country’s very existence.

Shortly after the October 7 pogrom I met David, a survivor from Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Of 400 residents, 52 were murdered, including 40 children. Forty children, did you get that? Many of their bodies desecrated by the emissaries of Hamas, the government democratically elected by 70% of the poor victims of Gaza.

At David’s request, my volunteer organization went to Kfar Aza, a closed military zone, to retrieve the prized possession of his murdered brother-in-law, Omer Hermesh, הי”ד (‘May God revenge his blood’), his very fine vinyl collection of classic Israeli music. The albums were kept on staggered shelves in Omer’s salon.

While packing them, I saw that a Hamas bullet had passed through one section of the LPs, including Kaveret’s 1975 album צפוף באוזן, ‘Stuffed in the Ear’. I guess you need to know Hebrew to get the humor of that. Believe me, it’s there, self-mocking, wry. 1975, two years after the trauma of the Yom Kippur war, it was the music we listened to while we were drying our tears and trying to smile.

For one week after October 7 I couldn’t function. I couldn’t listen to a single note of any music. After a week, I (and everyone else I talked to) decided that we have a war to fight, that we have to stop looking back and down, to raise our heads and look forward, to start moving and volunteering and helping people. I decided to force myself to listen to music, even though in my heart I really, really didn’t want to.

The album I put on was ‘Stuffed in the Ear’, because it was our solace after the Yom Kippur War. It was the first time we allowed ourselves to smile.

I was trying to tell David about the bullet hole through Omer’s ז”ל records, and stopped. It was too hard. David, whose world was shattered, comforted me. “We’re all suffering,” he said, “not just the families. This isn’t a private matter. All of Am Yisrael is in mourning. All of us from the kibbutz are aware of that.” This is the kibbutz of 400 that buried forty children.

I originally posted the SoTW below in celebration of Israel’s 64th birthday, about the song ‘Medina Ktana’, from ‘Stuffed in the Ear’, the album pictured here with two holes. I nominated the song as Israel’s unofficial national anthem.

We don’t distinguish too well between happiness and sadness. We’re all survivors of the Holocaust, surrounded by enemies who really do want to rape our women and behead our children, but we’ve created a great country here out of the ashes, against all odds. ‘Medina Ktana’ is a whimsical song about our survival. I wrote back then that “we live with an acute sense of fragility”. The song says “Wars and tragedies pass by, we within ourselves are always subject to obliteration.” If you’ve followed the news, I guess you know what that means. Fun song, huh?

That’s us, burying our dead and fighting a war and rallying around the flag and hugging each other.

No matter what Hamas does, no matter what the anti-Semites say, we’re not going anywhere. We live here. They can’t kill our music.

Kaveret, ‘Medina Ktana’ (Little Country)

The Center of the Universe

Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us, happy birthday dear Israel, happy birthday to us.

It’s our 76th this week, and the several millions of us here will be out on the roads, visiting air force bases, national parks, waving flags and fanning the grill with our families and friends. But not far below the surface there’s a patriotic sincerity in it all, a true recognition and celebration of our very existence, something we don’t take for granted.

Did you know that Israel is the only country in the world whose national anthem is in a minor key? Could be because after 2000 years of persecution, it was built on the ashes of a near genocide. Israel has fought three existential wars in its 75 years and has Iran looming to the north, hence we live with an acute sense of fragility.

It’s the only country in history recreated out of a tribal memory by a miraculous act of will , the only nation to return to its homeland after exile, reviving a dead language on the way. Despite the current turmoil over this government’s heavy-handedness, it’s the only democracy in this part of the world, a bizarre mix of refugees from every corner of the globe stuck in the middle of the Levant, hence a sharp sense of irony regarding our still-evolving national identity. People run around like crazy trying to be normal in the most abnormal of societies.

In the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which the country barely survived obliteration, a bunch of army buddies formed a band called Kaveret (‘beehive’), sometimes also known as Poogy (after the name of their first album, “Poogy Stories”). The leader and chief songwriter was Danny Sanderson, an Israeli who grew up in the US on rock and roll. In three years they recorded three albums as out of place and ahead of their time in the Israeli musical landscape as the country is in the Middle East – sophisticated in music, production, performance and content.

Patriotic symbol

Many of their songs have become cultural icons, still sung today by teenagers and recycled by rock stars. I’d like to share one with you, sort of a mock anthem, a modest little song that captures the spirit and ethos and self-image of this noisy, neurotic little country better than anything else I know of – ‘Medina Ktana’ (‘Little Country’).

We Israelis get pretty tired of seeing ourselves on the front page of the NY Times every day. On the other hand, we also see ourselves as the center of the universe. Go explain it. Well, Sanderson’s lyrics do it best – our wry perception of our very existence, our precariousness, our homey patriotism better expressed in self-effacing humor than in pompous parades.

Happy birthday, Israel. Here’s SoTW’s official nomination for our unofficial anthem.

במקום די רחוק, קרוב לכאן
אספנו את עצמנו
הבאנו חברינו
ולא אמרנו מי ומה

In a pretty remote place near here,
We gathered ourselves up,
Brought all our friends,
Didn’t say anything.

בדרום בצפון או במרכז
שכרנו קצת שמים
דמעות הביאו מים
פתחנו ארץ חדשה

In the north, in the south, or in the center
We rented some sky,
Tears brought the water,
We opened a new land.

מדינה קטנה מתחמקת מצרה
את הכתובת לא תמצא
היא שמורה בתוך קופסה
בעולם כל כך קשה
להתבלט זה לא יפה
נתחבא כאן ולנצח לא נצא

A little country avoiding trouble
You can’t find the address,
It’s kept in a box,
In such a hard world
Sticking out isn’t nice,
We’ll just hide here and never leave.

שני בתים, שני סוסים ,שלושה עצים
נוסעים תמיד ברגל
שרים שירים בלי דגל
נושמים שנים ללא סיבה

Two houses, two horses, three trees
Travelling by foot
Singing songs without flags,
Breathing for years with no reason.

מלחמות אסונות חולפים בצד
אנחנו בתוכנו
וכל מה שאצלנו
תמיד ניתן למחיקה

Wars, tragedies, pass on by,
We among ourselves
And all we have
Are always erasable.

יום אחד אם כדאי אולי נצא
כל עוד נעמוד לאורך
אני לא מרגיש ת’צורך
נחיה נמות ואז נראה

One day, if we should, maybe we’ll go out.
As long as we stand up straight
I won’t feel the need.
We’ll live, we’ll die, then we’ll see.

Additional Listening from Kaveret:

Medina Ktana (Little Country)

Shir HaMakolet (The Grocery Store Song)

Yo Ya

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