Yom Hazikaron is a full day in Israel, not the half-hour prequel to Yom Haatzmaut that I’m used to from America. All of the memorial services were last night (Sunday night, erev Yom Hazikaron), all over the city.
I went to a shira b’tzibur (community sing-along) event with musician Matti Caspi at Beit Abba Hushi, a cultural center in our neighborhood that is named after a mayor who encouraged the development of culture in Haifa.
As far as I can tell, shira b’tzibur is not something that really exists in American culture. Sure, if there’s a concert, people will sing along and the performer will encourage it, but a performer will never be hired to stand up there for the express purpose of people singing along to his songs. If Americans get together for a sing-along, it’s at home or at camp–not the whole community in a public place.
It was pretty impressive. We were in a huge auditorium, and they had some musicians who facilitated very nicely–for example, during one song, the singer recited the words in a low voice while the community sang the higher melody very beautifully. The words were up on projector screen (except while Matti Caspi was performing, but nevertheless quite a few people sang every word).
I knew many of the songs, some from Yavneh and some that I learned as an adult, and I was able to sing along with the ones I didn’t know anyway because when 1000 people are singing it’s easy to follow along.
I cried and managed to understand, at least a little bit, how Israelis see military service as a terrible privilege and responsibility. One of the songs, “El Eretz Tzvi” (which I’d never heard before), describes Israel as a mother whose children are bound to her “in good and in bad.” The final lines are, “Her sadness and her happiness are the warp and woof of her daily wear” (my translation). Unlike other countries, whose military history you can take or leave, part of being Israeli is accepting the responsibility of fighting for one’s existence and accepting the inevitable grief.
Another very moving song was “The Winter of ’73,” which was also new to me. I could see myself in it because it’s told from the point of view of new parents looking ahead to the future of their children, promising them peace. It makes me cry just thinking of it now.
And of course we sang לבכות לך, “To cry for you,” which brought back memories of Yitzhak Rabin (I didn’t remember why and had to look it up–it turns out Aviv Gefen sang it at the rally at which Rabin was assassinated).
As we approached the end, the singer read a poem that took memorable lines from all the different songs woven together into one, and transitioned us into a song about how singing carries us forward (which was in a major key). They brought up the house lights and we ended with Hatikva.
Definitely a memorable experience and an amazing insight into Israeli culture.