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ListenIntroductionCredits • Guide • Lyrics

I had to open with something about Jerusalem, something that touched on its beauty, its centrality in human history and our longing for it, which, somehow, has never abated. A traditional song in Ladino from Salonika, home to one of the proudest Sephardic communities in the Eastern Mediterranean; a song written in Israel in the 1960’s, based on the poem by Yehuda Halevi, one of the greatest Jewish poets of the Golden Era in Spain and the third, a contemporary, neo-Hasidic setting of Psalm 22 make up this medley.

The Song of the Wanderer
Folk music does not get prettier than this. The lyrics speak of the longing of the human being, likened to a migrating bird, to find a resting place in this sad world. A quintessentially early Israeli song, shaping a Persian folk tune into something new; achingly beautiful, touching on the condition of the wandering Jew returning to his ancestral home.

Carry Us to the Desert
There is something ironic about the fact that the early Jewish settlers in the Galilee saw the horse-mounted, gun-toting Bedouins as their model for the new Israeli - a fiercely independent, self reliant native of the land. The melody is, indeed, Bedouin and the lyrics paint a romantic setting of shepherds in the desert night, being carried away on camels’ backs.

4. AVI
My Father
I wrote this song in 1990, following my father’s death. A hero who never fully got his just reward and acknowledgment for his sacrifce on behalf of the Jewish homeland, my father arrived as a volunteer for the War of Independence in 1948, a blond, blue-eyed Norwegian Lutheran, later to convert to Judaism and marry my mother in Tel-Aviv. My father was a pilot all his life, as well as an avid bird watcher, and birds, flight and nests somehow keep recurring throughout this collection of songs.

A Legend / Will You Hear My Voice
I joined these two songs together because they are both rooted in the shore of the Sea of Galilee - Yam Kineret, my heart’s nesting place. The first song is a romantic, somewhat messianic painting of an idyllic palace on the shores of the sea, where a young boy studies Torah from the mouth of Elijah, the prophet. The second song, written by Rachel, the tragic poet who died of consumption and rests on the shores of Yam Kineret, likens her lot to that of her namesake, our Mother Rachel. Tragedy, beauty and Messianic stirrings are as much a part of the Sea of Galilee as its waters.

I Passed by Your Door
This glorious Ladino folk song, ostensibly about matters of the heart, is rich with Zoharic, mystical allusions. Ladino, the lingua franca of Sephardic Jews, is still spoken by many Sephardim in Israel, as well as other Sephardic communities around the world, maintaining something of the Spanish exile even in contemporary Jerusalem.

An Eternal Meeting
Natan Alterman was one of the first great poets of the newborn Israeli nation. The stunning, convicted, painful, passionate and uncompromising beauty of his poetry is singular, as was his effect on the newly emerging Israeli consciousness of the 1940’s and 50’s. Naomi Shemer’s music adorns this heavily symbolic love song with simple beauty.

A Man Looks at His Son
My friend, my mentor, Natan Yonatan wrote this poem for his son Li’or, who was killed in battle. Natan’s poetry, idyllic and romantic in his early years, was transformed after his son’s death, laden with concussive biblical allusions, painful beauty and deep sorrow. I could not pass up the opportunity to compose music to this tragic setting and pay my teacher and friend a measure of my heart- broken respect.

It is inconceivable to do a retrospective of Israeli music without the Hora. I strung together six songs, mostly about wheat, throwing in a tomato, a cabbage and a strawberry for good measure and tweaked the attitude just enough to make them palatable for contemporary ears. In truth, these are beautifully written songs, every one of them, and the astounding optimism and naiveté expressed in these hyper- agricultural lyrics speaks volumes about the mindset of the early days of the Israeli experience.

My Young Brother Judah
Ever since my friend Ehud Manor’s song, dedicated to his fallen brother, Yehudah, was set to music by Yohanan Zarai, it was one of my favorite songs. I sang it in each and every concert I ever performed in Israel. I still have a hard time getting though this song with its plaintive melody and its simple walk through the streets of Binyamina, Ehud’s birth place, and the inconsolable absence left behind by his brother’s death.

Ballad for My Lad, Who Has Grown
One of the most haunting, opaque songs I know. In my opinion, it is Israeli lyric writing at its very best. We know nothing about the woman who is telling the story and even less about the object of her wrathful love - we know only that it ends ominously. My mentor, Sasha Argov, composed the deceptively simple music. I know he would have cried had he had the chance to hear Michael Skloff playing this song, in a way no one has played it before. This is, I believe, exactly what Sasha had in mind when he wrote it.

My grandfather, *Rabbi Harry S. Davidowitz, of blessed memory, used to live in an apartment overlooking the old Tel-Aviv Zoo. Right across from his terrace, on the other side of the zoo was the Tel- Aviv City Hall, a dull, rectangular, uninspiring building. With a twinkle in his eye, my grandfather would ask if I thought the clerks in the building secretly yearned to join the monkeys on the tree tops. The title of the song is my dedication to my grandfather, the body of the song is dedicated to all who yearn to break out of their cubicles and live their dreams, silly as they may seem to others.

In the Fields of Bethlehem
When I was a child, my family would make an annual journey to Jerusalem from our home in Tel-Aviv. Once there, my parents would take me up to the roof of a certain house and show me, through a pair of old binoculars, our family plot in Bethlehem. We could no longer go there, but we could imagine; we could dream of a day when fences would no longer separate any of us from our ancestral homes. This is the song my grandfather would sing to my mother as he put her to sleep. The poem is my long-overdue tribute to my mother and her lost dreams.

* Rabbi Harry S. Davidowitz won the first Tchernichovsky award for his translations of Shakespeare’s complete works into Hebrew. He was one of the first Liberal Rabbis to immigrate to Israel and was deeply involved in writing the first draft of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

The choice of songs reflects some of the myriad influences on early and middle Israeli music: Russian, Hassidic, Spanish, Persian, Bedouin, French, German and, finally, American.

ListenIntroductionCredits • Guide • Lyrics

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