Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us, happy birthday dear Israel, happy birthday to us.
It’s our 70thtoday, and the few millions of us here are mostly 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 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 67 years, and hence lives with an acute sense of fragility. It’s the only country in history recreated by a miraculous act of will out of a tribal imagination, the only nation to return to its homeland from dispersion, reviving a dead language on the way. It’s also the only democracy in this part of the world, a bizarre mix of refugees from every corner of the world 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.
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 – ‘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
In a pretty remote place near here,
בדרום בצפון או במרכז
In the north, in the south, or in the center
מדינה קטנה מתחמקת מצרה
A little country avoiding trouble
In such a hard world
שני בתים, שני סוסים ,שלושה עצים
Two houses, two horses, three trees
מלחמות אסונות חולפים בצד
Wars, tragedies, pass on by,
יום אחד אם כדאי אולי נצא
One day, if we should, maybe we’ll go out.
Additional Listening from Kaveret:
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