“Daar’s a lied en a glimlag vir jou in hospital tyd onthou” Esme Euverard
Julian Resnick writes from Israel
Is there really a slightly battered, grey, metal cupboard somewhere in Israel?
Daar’s ‘n lied en ‘n glimlag vir jou,
In Hospitaal Tyd, onthou,
Verkleur die wolke van grys tot blou,
In Hospitaal Tyd, onthou,
Vanaf Maandag tot Vrydag, om half-een
Is daar musiek vir moeder, vader – en dogter en seun,
Ja daar’s ‘n lied en ‘n glimlag vir jou,
In Hospitaal Tyd, onthou!
Calm down Julian. Nobody out there wants to follow this slightly bizarre stream of consciousness. Enough.
But how on earth did you get there? There must be a story in this somewhere. Surely, you did not get to Hospitaal Tyd from over 45 years ago from Springbok Radio without there being a connection to your life in Israel today? This is what this column is supposed to be about. Remember? You write a regular column from Israel, and you generally write about life in Israel as you experience it as an Oleh from South Africa some forty-six years ago this coming July. Or perhaps about the experiences you have had here over those long years.
So, where does this come from? An explanation is needed.
This is how I got there. A month ago. Shabbat morning. We — Orly and I — were on our way to a Barmitzvah in Ashkelon. Our cousin Tali’s eldest, Nitzan from Kibbutz Zikkim (all these details are relevant – it will become clear soon) was having his Aliyah L’Torah in the Conservative Synagogue in that southern town. What does one do when driving south from Kibbutz Tzora (our home) to Ashkelon just north of the Gaza strip in 2021? Turn on the radio of course to check that there is no news about tensions which might morph into incoming missiles from Gaza or minimally incendiary balloons.
It is around 9am and of course it is Shabbat Olamit on Reshet Bet with Yitzchak Noy.
Now, Israel is divided around many issues: one state or two states, the laws of Torah or the laws of the State having priority, recognising the Bedouin villages in the south or not, Omer Adam or Ivri Lieder as the better recent interpreter of Israeli music, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv as the epitome of Israeli culture. You know, modern versions of Beit Hillel or Beit Shammai.
The Greatest Divide
And then there is the greatest divide of them all — those who turn up the volume when Yitzchak Noy is on between eight and ten on Shabbat morning, and those who switch the radio off and go into a rant about when he will finally be removed from the radio (he is 79 years old, a Sabra, has a doctorate in history, taught history at both the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at Tel Aviv University, generally talks down to his listeners and invites academics to talk at great length about issues from our past — nothing sexy about this programme and definitely not aimed at those with an average digital-age attention span of 60 seconds).
He and his guests on this Shabbat morning are talking about a battle in the War of Independence in an area we are travelling through, the Battle of Nitzanim; one of the few battles during the war in which our forces surrendered to the enemy and our soldiers went off into captivity as POWs. It has become an iconic moment, partly because of the notion of the ignominy of defeat and it being totally unacceptable in the culture of the IDF to surrender; and partly because of the statement written by Abba Kovner, at that time the Education officer of the Givati Brigade but more importantly one of the leaders of the Jewish Partisans who fought the Nazis in the Vilna Ghetto and later of course one of the most significant witnesses in the Eichmann trial.
Some of what he wrote that day has become etched into the collective memory of Israel and the IDF, “… this failure is grave… we do not defend our home only while it is comfortable.
We protect it with everything we have, with our bodies and our souls; and if fate dictates, it is better to fall while protecting the home and its very foundations than to surrender to the murderous invader. It is a disgrace to surrender, as long as we breathe and have one more cartridge or even a single bullet. Going into captivity is a disgrace and worse than death itself.”
After hearing this on the way down to the barmitzvah I began to think of what I remembered about listening to the radio as a young person in South Africa (I left at age 22 in 1976), and what the specific experience is in Israel of listening to the radio.
There was no television in South Africa during my years growing up there, and therefore the radio had a far greater impact on our lives than it has today. What do I remember about this experience? Forces Favourites, Hospitaal Tyd, Pick a Box, Pip Friedman, Mark Saxon and Sergei, Superman, Test the Team. Rather random and not exactly the material one can use to describe the culture of the society I lived in — and yet, maybe they did?
Coming to live here meant leaving Springbok Radio behind (and LM Radio too), but I hardly noticed it at the time as I was caught up in more significant feelings of loss, leaving my parents behind, leaving my grandparents behind, leaving Habonim, Clifton beach, UCT, friends, my dog Brutus (he went to my uncle and aunt in Caledon, not too far from the wild flowers, which anyway he could not see as he was losing his sight).
Greek (Hebrew) to me
In Israel the radio means different things to different people (the same of course was true for SA). For me it was initially unintelligible, as my Hebrew (or lack of it) meant that only the music — or some of it — was accessible to me. The talk-shows, the news, much of what makes radio here — in my opinion — so special was Greek (OK, Hebrew) to me.
But over the years, as my Hebrew improved, I began to enjoy and appreciate the radio more and more. I grew to love the moments which set it apart as the radio of the Jewish State of Israel.
The early morning שמע ישראל (the Shmah) on the IDF radio channel which I began to hear at about 6am during the early morning milking of the cows, first in the dairy on Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu and later when I moved, the dairy on Kibbutz Tzora, my home today.
The change in the music on special days of collective memory, Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron (the days we remember the victims of the Holocaust and the those who fell fighting for the State of Israel).
Those awful days during military campaigns in Lebanon and in Gaza and during the two Intifadas (Palestinian uprisings) when the tone changed, an indication that we had lost a soldier or that news of a deadly terror attack had just come in.
The evolution of the music mainstream as the music of the Ashkenazi musical establishment slowly gave way to a new generation whose melodies and harmonies reflected a Sephardi culture which initially was kept out of the serious musical programmes, and slowly became the dominant new voice in Israeli music.
The interface between our traditional Jewish culture and modern culture in the choice of names of one of my favourite music programmes which, if it were happening in English, would be called Oldies, but Goldies, but here is called מתוק מאז (Matok Me’az) a pun based on the biblical phrase, מתוק מאז known as Samson’s riddle, which is spelled differently, but pronounced identically (unless you are a Yemenite Jew with a pronounced Ayin).
So, radio can reflect a culture, a history, a past and most importantly an identity.
The slightly battered, grey metal cupboard? The one we were told held the music played only on Yom Hashoah and on Yom Hazikaron and, God forbid when a soldier fell; does it really exist? In reality I suppose not, but it is not only that which is real that creates culture.
Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah to 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and six grandchildren and is a member of Kibbutz Tzora
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