Sunday, 11 April 2010

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Ashes and Dust

Ashes and Dust

The climactic annual shirim ivri'im events are Yom Hashoah, the commemoration day for the Holocaust, and Yom HaZikaron, the commemoration day for the fallen in Israel's wars, a week later. Both begin, like any Jewish holiday or holy day, on the previous evening. On both all institutions of frivolity ("batei inugim"), i.e restaurants, bars, clubs and normal theaters are closed (restaurants may open the next day); this is mandated by law, and in the 1950s when the law was new it was not always effective, but that was long ago. I can't think of any restaurateur even dreaming of opening on either evening, law or no law.

The media is also effected. All normal programs are either called off, or dedicated primarily to the subject of the day - or they're replaced by shirim. Hours and hours of shirim ivri'im. This begins in the late afternoon before the official beginning of the day of commemoration, but there are gradations. Experienced listeners (which means, any Israeli ten years of age or above, more or less) will notice that the shirim of 3pm before the evening are getting ever more somber, while those of 3pm the next afternoon may be getting slightly less so, at least on some channels.

There are some shirim which are more Holocaust related and will be less likely to be played on Yom HaZikaron and vice versa, at least to an extent.

Shir Hapartizanim, which I posted yesterday, is a bit problematic. At the time, no more than a few thousand Jews sung it; the rest never knew of it. In the early years of Israel, on the other hand, the survivors of the partisan units and ghetto fighters enjoyed significant prominence, and "their" anthem reverberated nationally. As the decades went on, this changed.

Yehuda Poliker was born in 1950 to two parents from Thessaloniki who had each lost their entire family including children, then met after the war and moved to Israel in the hope of building a new life (The few survivors who returned to Thessaloniki after the war didn't stay. Almost all moved to Israel). Poliker stutters when he talks... but never when he sings. He has been around since the 1970s, and is one of the most creative musical artists in Israel.

He write music and produces for himself and for many others; only rarely does he write. Many of his songs were written by Yaacov Gil'ad. Gil'ad, born in 1951, is also the child of survivors, from Poland. He rarely sings, but has written important shirim for many artists; his partnership with Poliker was the longest and most important.

In 1988, at the peak of their fame, they produced a record which - so they tell it - was intended to be a private enterprise, of little interest to the broader public. It was titled Efer ve'Afar, Ashes and Dust, about growing up as children of Holocaust survivors. All indications are that it will outlive them longer than anything else they've done. Indeed, a year after it appeared and was a smashing success, a third child of survivors, filmmaker Orna Ben David, convened them with their parents in a harrowing documentary film called Biglal Hamilchama Hahi, Because of That War.

Here are two shirim from the record.

Tachana Ktana Treblinka - TheLittle Station of Treblinka was written in Polish, in the Warsaw Ghetto, in 1943, by Wladislaw Szlengel; it was translated into Hebrew by Halina Birnbaum, Gil'ad's mother. I'm not finding an English translation, but the most memorable line is "Sometimes the ride takes the rest of your life"
Hebrew lyrics

Then there's Lean at Nosa'at?, Where Do You Think You're Going? in which Yaacov Gil'ad asks his mother why she's going back to visit Poland, after all there's nothing there, only ashes and dust.
Hebrew words
English translation
A spring day the smell of lilac
Between the ruins of your city
A beautiful day to fish in the river
Inside me my heart is broken
There it was and it wasn't
Your child is a small woman
People that no-one knows
There isn't even a house that you'll remember

And if you're going, where are you going
Forever is just ashes and dust
Where are you going, where are you going
Years and nothing is erased…

Take a coat, it'll be cold
Money in your pocket, sugar crystal
If the days are hard
Remember me sometimes
And if it's a more desperate journey
To the hut, to the plot
On the path of the old city
No one will wait in the station…


Who will sweeten your nights
Who will listen to your crying
Who will stay by your side [while you are] on your way

Take a coat, it'll be cold.

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Ashes and Dust

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