Thursday, October 26, 2017

Blue and white and red all over

I really didn't particularly want to go to the Red Army Choir concert tonight, but my daughter couldn't come and there was a ticket going, so I went and boy am I glad that I did.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't enjoy choirs or Russian music, I imbibed both with my mother's milk, I just had so much to do this evening that the thought of a late night out including schlepping in and out of the "big city" just didn't appeal, and maybe if it had just been the Red Army Choir and dance ensemble, talented as they are, it wouldn't have been worth the schlep and time right now, but tonight was so much more.

It all started out as a typical Red Army Choir performance, a military orchestra featuring a great many balalaikas and a troupe of uniformed men with deep voices singing Russian patriotic and folk songs, each baritone soloist showing off greater vocal flourishes than his predecessor while video screens showed clips of Second World War Soviet propaganda films of smiling Soviet soldiers and pilots or modern colour images of Russian landscapes and aerobatic displays. There was even a black and white sequence showing trainloads of soldiers returning from war being greeted by women bearing flowers, the front of the steam engine adorned with Lenin's stern visage.

In between songs the supremely talented dancers dressed in World War Two era uniforms or Russian folk costumes pranced and twirled and kazachkad  on stage to the strains of folk or military instrumental numbers, cheered on by the audience as the routines became more and more complex and gravity defying.

Then legendary Israeli radio announcer Dan Kaner came on stage to announce a guest artist, none other than even more legendary Israeli singer and musicals star Dudu Fisher, for a joint effort by an Israeli performer with the Red Army Choir: Adon Olam, Kol Nidrei and A Yiddishe Mameh. The crowd went wild, then hushed.

Beside me my 8 year-old son's eyes grew wide with excitement.

"Ima, it's Dudu from Hagan Shel Dudu!" (Dudu's kindergarten, a popular series of Israeli children's videos)

As the opening strains of the music were heard he couldn't contain himself, whispering in my ear "Ima, it's Uzi Hitman's "Adon Olam"!

On stage Dudu Fisher had been joined by one of the smiling rosy cheeked Red Army Choir soloists, clad in a pristine white and gold uniform and singing the well known modern arrangement of this ancient Hebrew prayer written by beloved Israeli songwriter Uzi Hitman.

A Red Army Choir soloist singing in Hebrew, and not just any old Israeli song, but a deeply cherished and ancient Hebrew prayer in a duet with Israel's most famous Orthodox Jewish singer. Who could have imagined such a thing?

Glancing to my right I saw that my uncle had tears streaming down his cheeks. All around me there were fellow Israelis watching and listening with smiles on their faces and eyes and faces glistening with tears that flowed more and more as Dudu Fisher led the Russian troupe in Kol Nidrei and A Yiddishe Mama.

You had to be there to believe it, like a taste of the coming of the Messiah.

After all the years of Soviet and Russian persecution of the Jews, all the years of oppression during which learning Hebrew and practicing Judaism were suppressed who could have conceived of an event like this, one of the most famous official Russian folklore and patriotic ensembles, an official entertainment troupe of the Russian military no less, standing on the stage of Tel Aviv's famous concert hall packed to the gills with Israelis, many of them religious, performing Hebrew language prayers alongside a religious Israeli singer?

The campaign for Soviet Jewry and non-Jewish Soviet dissidents was a fundamental part of my childhood. I was taken to my first meetings and demonstrations while still in my mother's womb. I grew up writing letters to Soviet Jewish children my age and drawing pictures to show support for imprisoned Soviet Jewish refuseniks, arrested on trumped up charges for the simple desire to make aliyah to the Jewish state or teach Hebrew to fellow Jews.

Back in the late 70s and 80s my family and family friends would have protested outside a concert by an official Soviet group like the Red Army Choir. Sitting in the audience tonight during the series of Russian folk numbers and dance routines part of me had a moment of confusion wondering if I should be jumping up in the middle of a Russian patriotic song and shouting "Let my people go!", the rallying cry of the movement campaigning for the right of Soviet Jews denied exit visas to leave the USSR and emigrate to Israel.

My uncle had travelled to the Soviet Union carrying suitcases with secret compartments stuffed with illegal items like Jewish prayer books, tefillin and teaching aids for learning Hebrew, the cassettes disguised as recordings of the classics, with music at the beginning, then a Hebrew lesson and more classical music at the end to hide the true contents of the tape. He was successful at smuggling these items to Moscow, along with vital medications for Refuseniks, evading the suspicion of the KGB with his innocent smile and copious purchases of official Soviet Communist publications at every tourist shop. 

And here he was sitting in the audience of a Tel Aviv concert hall crying as Dudu Fisher sang in Hebrew and Yiddish with the Red Army Choir like a vision of the end of days. Way to say "we won" and have the likes of Stalin and Brezhnev turning in their graves.

Looking at the weeping adults around him, many of them elderly Bubbes and Zaydes, my 8 year-old son was puzzled as to why the star of Dudu's Kindergarten had made them cry.

אני מאמין

אחרית הימים. דודו פישר עולה על הבמה בהיכל התרבות בת"א ושר את אדון עולם של עוזי חיטמן, כל נדרי ויידישע מאמע מלווה במקהלת הצבא האדום ואחד מסולניו. ששרים איתו בעברית וביידיש.

אני יושבת ליד הדוד שלי, שהיה פעיל למען יהודי ברית המועצות והיה נוסע למוסקבה כדי להבריח ספרים וקלטות לימוד בעברית, תשמישי קדושה ואף תרופות חיוניות למסורבי עליה. יש לו דמעות בעיניים וכשאני מסתכלת מסביב ברור לי שאינו היחיד, רחוק מאד מלהיות היחיד שחווה את המעמד ההזוי הזה ודומע מרב התרגשות.

והמופע הזה באמת הזוי. כל השנים האלה של דיכוי היהדות היהודים והשפה העברית והנה גולת הכותרת של הלהקות היצוגיות מרוסיה עומדת שם על במה בתל אביב לבוש מדי צבא רוסיים מפוארים מול אולם מלא עד אפס מקום בישראלים כולל לא מעט חובשי כיפות. היא פותחת את המופע כצפוי עם שירים רוסיים פטריוטים (מלווים בקטעי וידיאו עוד יותר פטריוטיים של הצבא האדום במלחמת העולם השניה) ואז מופיע דן כנר על הבמה ומזמין את דודו פישר חובש הכיפה לשיר עם מקהלת הצבא האדום את אדון עולם. והנה עומד ליד דודו פישר סולן הלהקה במדי לבן וזהב ושר דואט איתו, לא סתם שיר בעברית אלא תפילה בעברית, אחת התפילות הכי מפורסמות.

אין מה להגיד, אחרית הימים, מי היה מאמין.

ובן השמונה שיושב לידי לא מבין את פשר הדבר, למה מסביבו יושבים מבוגרים, בעיקר סבים וסבתות, ובוכים כשכוכב הגן של דודו מתחיל לשי