Friday, September 6, 2002
Rosh Hashana Eve 5763
One of the things I love about Erev Yom Tov (the eve of a festival) in Israel is that they often play lots of my favourite old Israeli songs on the radio.
This morning I was treated to two popular tunes one after the other, both by Israel's number one songwriter Naomi Shemer, Al Kol Eleh (For Everything) and Hakol Patuah (Everything's Open). Both songs bring back wonderful personal memories for me, but the words of both songs have also been going through my head a great deal recently.
I first heard Al Kol Eleh as a little girl sometime in the early eighties. If I remember correctly, it was one of Naomi Shemer's first performances of the song. I vividly remember being in awe of the huge concert hall, the lights, the wood, the mass of people, and on the huge stage in front a little woman and a very big piano.
I was too young to follow all the words, captivated more by the soothing, gentle melody and the simple first lines of the chorus (my loose translation): "My good God, please watch over all these for me: the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet." As a little girl I wondered about that. I could understand the honey and the sweet, but why ask God to look after the sting and the bitterness as well?
It is only years later that the words have truly begun to speak to me in their entirety. They have become an expression of the most basic of prayers, especially for a Jew living in Israel today. The wish to just live life with all its ups and downs, the bitter with the sweet, the honey with the sting, the normal trials of normal people. In the last two years, with the fragility of existence an everyday concern, the prayer the song expresses has become such a deep yearning that it is almost a motto for the hopes and dreams of the Israeli people.
In 1994, during the first year of Oslo, Hakol Patuah became a big hit in Israel. It is a jaunty, upbeat song, and yet with all the apparent liveliness there is also a bittersweet undertone in the chorus: "Everything is still open, it isn't too late; the mood will improve tomorrow; it's conceivable, it's possible, so long as we keep on singing."
It was released as we were going through the first wave of terror which followed the start of the Oslo process. For me this was also the year I was dating my husband; the song came out around the time he proposed. It quickly became our song, our hope for a better Israel in which to set up our new home.
It felt like all the possibilities were open, not just for us, but for Israel in general. There was an economic boom underway, Jews were still flooding in from behind the recently opened "Iron Curtain", new diplomatic ties were being forged and there had been several rainy winters. Who knew what this new Oslo world would bring or how this "new Middle East" would develop? There seemed to be so many options and so much hope for a brighter future.
Today, even as things look bleak, there is again something of that hope, the feeling that in some way the tide has turned. Where last year it felt as though our future was fated to be forever terrorised, this New Year's there is the glimmer that we can truly fight it and win. All the possibilities are still open. It will probably still be a long struggle, and God forbid we may yet suffer terrorism, but as long as we keep our spirits up, as long as we remain determined to live and to fight for our right to live, there is every chance that we will know better times.
Our prayer for the new year, to paraphrase the beautiful words of Naomi Shemer, is that God "not uproot what has been planted," that He watch over "the fruit that has yet to ripen and that has been gathered," that He protect us "from anguish, from fear and from war". And, most important, may we never give up hope.
May we all be inscribed in the book of life for the coming year.