Getting to ‘Yihye Tov’

Getting to ‘Yihye Tov’

David Broza talks about peace, the past, his grandfather, the future, pain, and hope

David Broza
David Broza

Though it’s been almost 50 years, Israeli folk artist and peace activist David Broza remembers The Day as though it were yesterday.

We’re talking (on Zoom) because the former longtime Cresskill resident is stateside. He’s about to begin a tour that debuts at Town Hall in Manhattan on June 15. But we swiftly travel back in time.

“It’s November 19, 1977,” he recalled. That was the day when Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, arrived in Israel “for the first time for setting up the peace process. It’s the first country to set up a peace process with Israel.” (That is, the first country identified as an Arab nation to enter into a peace process.)

“A friend and I were watching this on television,” he continued. “He was feverishly writing.”

That friend was Yonatan Geffen, whom Broza described as “one of Israel’s leading provocative poets. He is a writer, a playwright, and performer, like the Lenny Bruce of Israel.”

What Mr. Geffen wrote while watching TV was “Yihye Tov” (“All Will Be Good”), a poem filled with the hope and optimism of the moment.

He handed it to his friend and “gave me 48 hours to write the music,” Mr. Broza said. “Then he said to me, ‘You sing the song a couple of months and the peace process will move along, and I’ll write another one for you.’”

The song became an anthem for the Israeli peace movement. It was the first song whose music Mr. Broza had written that he recorded. It became a number one hit and launched his career.

Of course, that was then and this is now. I asked Mr. Broza if it were still possible to believe in the song’s message.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Without a doubt. Yes, everything is so wrong now. But we have to get through it. This I can say: This is a war that was inflicted on us.”

But, he said, the Israeli government is at least partially responsible. “We’re talking about intelligence. Everybody knew” about a possible invasion. “When they start doing the investigation, they’ll find out that everything was on the table. Everything was clear and known. I don’t know anything officially. Just what I read in the newspaper.”

In any case, “we have to live through it now. The world has to help solve the problem. There’s a bigger picture here. Meanwhile, we have to ride the wave and hopefully not be toppled and thrown into the abyss.”

If Mr. Broza sounds like a peacenik, it may be genetic. His grandfather, Wesley Aron, led an extraordinary life. To simplify, he was, among many other things, a British businessman who convinced the powers that be to allow him to form a Jewish brigade, part of the Royal Army Service Corps, in Palestine. He was not a soldier, but a 39-year-old father of two, when he came up with the idea, Mr. Broza said. His unit fought against Rommel.

According to Wikipedia, that unit also ignored British orders and helped Jewish survivors get into the Holy Land. Mr. Aron went on to found Habonim, which began as essentially scouting with a Jewish tinge and became a Labor Zionist youth organization.

Later, inspired by his grandson David, he became active in the peace movement. He said that his interest started when Mr. Broza asked why there were war colleges, but not peace colleges.

Mr. Aron went on to help found Neve Shalom/Wahat as Salam, an Arab-Israeli village whose educational system, based on a principle he originated, has become a model for school systems around the globe.

In addition to Grandpa Aron, who died in 1988, Mr. Broza was heavily influenced by his own time in the military. He was called up as a reservist during the 1982 Lebanon War, which “was the one that really influenced me,” he said. “I spent 90 days on the front lines. I wasn’t a guy with a rifle or piloting an F-16.

“I was a guy with a guitar. I came to entertain. But we’re doing four, five, six shows a day for the troops to help get their minds off their daily chores. I came back a changed man because of what I saw. Fathers and sons in the same units, civilians stuck in the situation of war in which they had no part.

“War gives birth to a lot of catastrophic moments, and it made me all the more convinced that I must dedicate my life to somehow inspire people to search for ways in which we can live together.”

Mr. Broza has always used music as a springboard to generate interaction among Israel’s diverse populace. A decade ago, he recorded an album, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” that featured the Jerusalem Youth Choir — a mixed Arab-Israeli chorus — as well as a host of Arab and Israeli musicians.

He filmed a documentary of the process of recording the album, also titled “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” which he is considering re-releasing. It is reflective of his positive, even forgiving attitude, evident notably when the subject moves on to zealots who are occupying West Bank territory, in some cases violently.

“They don’t see themselves as villains,” he said. “They see themselves as good. They’re convinced their ideology is the right one. My ideology may be completely opposed to theirs. Yet I don’t boycott them because I have to keep an open mind, listen to what they’re professing and how they’re thinking, and sharpen my mind.”

Personally, Mr. Broza subscribes to the philosophy of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the Orthodox Israeli polymath who presciently predicted, after the Six-Day War, that “if we maintain control of the occupied territories it’s going to eat us up like cancer.”

What can any of us do to help the situation? That’s a good question, Mr. Broza said, but “I don’t know.

“Me? All I can do is come to concert halls and bring new energy, positive energy so that we feel good about what we are and who we are, and not feel so attacked and helpless, because we’re not helpless.”

The concert hall is where Mr. Broza “fought” in the aftermath of October 7. On October 8, he began to organize a series of concerts around the country for the families displaced from their homes. He’d do as many as five shows a day — a total of about 150 all told — “trying to give the citizens some kind of relief for an hour, to transport them to another reality.”

What are his views on young Jewish Americans protesting for Palestine? There is nothing wrong with that, he said, but they are in many ways naive. “Their mistake is that you cannot support Hamas. Its charter clearly says one thing: annihilate the Jews and destroy Israel. There is nothing in their charter that says we’re fighting to create a state for the Palestinian people.

“So going back to the kids who are protesting, they say they’re supporting a Palestinian state. But the problem is they’re not standing against Hamas. Hamas is dangerous to the Palestinian people. Forget about Israel. We will protect ourselves against Hamas. But the citizens of Gaza cannot.”

Mr. Broza lived in Cresskill for 17 years. The youngest of his three children was born there, and all his children participated in the Hashomer Hatzair program in New Jersey. The move here was a result of the success of “Yihye Tov.” “I decided, with all the success and recognition I was getting in Israel, it was time for me to go elsewhere in search of different influences and cultures,” Mr. Broza said.

He used Cresskill as a base as he toured the country, writing and recording music before moving to Spain, where he grew up, and then returning to Israel.

All Mr. Broza’s travels and collaborations will be on full display at Town Hall. “Just me and my guitar, which is one of my biggest strengths as a performer — the ability to play and present the songs that you know,” he said. “If you don’t know me, then you will know me. And if you do know me, then you’ll enjoy those hits that I’ve accumulated in the course of almost 50 years.”

read more: