Music has been very important in the development of the Jewish state, says Cantor Ilan Mamber, who is offering a workshop on Israeli songs to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary.
According to the chazzan, who recently celebrated his own ‘0th anniversary at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, "Music has been a reflection of what has been happening culturally, politically, nationally, militarily, historically, spiritually, communally, and emotionally."
The cantor was therefore very receptive when a fellow chazzan in Ohio put out a call for Israeli songs to be used in a workshop celebrating Israel60 at his congregation.
"I sent him the songs, but I thought, ‘Why don’t I do this here?’" Mamber told The Jewish Standard.
He added, "Since I was already involved with various federation-sponsored committees in looking for programming for this coming year in honor of Israel’s 60th, I thought this could also work in our community. As an Israeli-American folksinger for the last 30 years, I have a lot of experience in singing and leading Israeli songs, and I thought that I could be the right person to lead it."
Mamber said he will begin his own course on Oct. 1 and offer classes free and open to the community through June. While he has not yet decided which songs to teach, the course is called "Sixty Songs for Sixty Years: Songs of Israel @ 60."
Participants are invited to bring guitars as well as percussion and other instruments, and Mamber will provide both translations and transliterations.
The chazzan explained that the music written before the creation of the state "was very much influenced by the music of the Eastern Europeans, and it depicted the hope and yearnings for a safe Jewish haven, a Jewish state," reflecting the socialist beliefs of the chalutzim, or pioneers. "Later," he said, "during the ’70s and ’80s, the music is influenced by the Sephardic and Middle Eastern cultures of the Jews that immigrated from the Levantine; and eventually there is the additional tremendous influence of American and British rock ‘n’ roll, as Israel becomes more part of the world community."
Mamber added that "as cultures become more globalized, Israeli music too has become more a part of what is called ‘world music.’ As we moved away from the establishment of the state, the themes have turned to love, peace, everyday life, and, because of the constant wars, every decade has its songs of tears and sadness."
Mamber said he will begin the series with a song by the late Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer. Her song "Sukkat Shalom," is not easy, he said, "but it seems right to do it now." Pointing out that many Israeli songs tell stories either outright or in a veiled manner, he suggested that "the less obvious the original context, the more potential for the song to have a significant universal message."
He explained that while Shemer’s song "Al Kol Eleh" was written about Yamit, the Sinai settlement handed over to Egypt as part of the Camp David accords, few people know the piece’s historical context.
"The song depicts a very Jewish concept that one has to deal with the reality that there is never a moment in one’s life or in national existence without having both happiness and sadness, the bitter and the sweet, at the same time," said Mamber. "Shemer was not a religious woman, but she caught that in her song," he said. "It was a brilliant song and it didn’t matter what she [actually] had in mind."
Mamber also cited "Ani Ve’Atah," a 1970s rock song by Arik Einstein and Miki Gavrielov, expressing the hope and difficulty of achieving peace. "It followed immediately after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, which suddenly exposed Israel to Israelis as being vulnerable, and it made them come down from the 1967 Six Day War high of being indestructible," said Mamber.
While knowing the historical context of a song is helpful, said the cantor, people can still appreciate a song without knowing its background. He noted that "most of the time, the first thing that we hear in a song is the melody and the beat."
For more information, call Mamber at (’01) 891-4466 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org