Awake, Arise // Aviv Gegen (2000) Morning Song // Natan Alterman (1934)
"The Good Old Land of Israel"
The first six decades of the twentieth century included the major waves of Jewish immigration to Israel, the War of Independence, and the early years of Israel as an independent state. This was a period when the Zionist vision flourished, and it was also a period when numerous songs were composed emphasizing the pioneers’ determination and creative fervor. As in Alterman’s song quoted above, the songs of this period were dominated by an optimistic mood. They expressed a strong love for the homeland and a profound willingness for uncompromising sacrifice for its sake. The high morale, sense of strength, and determination of spirit are also manifested in the music itself. Most of these songs use a march rhythm or the rhythm of the Hora dance. Again, this contrasts sharply with Geffen’s sad, slow protest song.
The 1960s and 1970s were a period of ideological and cultural change in Israeli society. The ideology of Hebrew identity and Socialist values, solidarity, and agricultural labor slowly but surely began to give way to capitalist values of competitiveness, achievementalism, and individualism.
These changes also influenced Israeli musical culture. For the first time, criticism was leveled at the content of official national culture. The early homeland songs lost the hegemonic status in the media and were sidelined by the arrival of pop and rock culture. Some years later (in 1996), the songwriter Ehud Manor described this process:
“The personal song gained prominence around the world. The most notable phenomenon in the field of song was that we stopped singing in the first person plural. Instead of ‘We sing to you, homeland,’ we find ‘I gave her my life’ (referring to an individual woman, not to the homeland). The attitude changes because cracks were beginning to appear in Israeli society.”
Yet while love of the homeland began to dissipate as a component in the national ethos, it did not disappear in the emotional realm. We now find the love of the homeland manifested in nostalgia and longing for the way things once were. The songs composed during the period from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s highlight this longing for the “good old Land of Israel” – the land of vision, idealism, sacrifice, and giving. In her song “At the Nachal Settlement in Sinai” (1970), Naomi Shemer enthused:
"Suddenly in the corner I met
The old, lost, and forgotten Land of Israel
And it seemed to reach out its hand to me
To give and not to take."
In his song “Land of the Sabra” (1985), Uzi Hitman pleads:
"Whether it existed or not
I still live with it
Bring it back to me
The way that it was.
Whether it existed or not
I still live with it.
Bring it back to me –
The land of the sabra!"
At the Nachal Settlement in Sinai // Naomi Shemer (1970) Land of the Sabra // Uzi Hitman (1985)
In 1973, the songwriter Ehud Manor, who lost his brother in the War of Attrition five years earlier, composed a song entitled “Captivated by You.” In one line in the song, Manor changes the Bible expression “a land flowing with milk and honey” into “a land flowing with milk, bitter herbs, and honey.” The change reflects the difficult experiences of many Israelis – in Manor’s case, the death of his younger brother Yehuda.
During the Lebanon War (1981), Manor composed the song “I Have No Other Land.” Starting from a profound love and commitment for the land, Manor mourns the changes that have taken place:
"I have no other land
Even if my soil is burning…
I will not be silent, because my land has changed its face…
I will not give up, I will remind it
And sing here in its ears
Until it opens its eyes!"
From “We Love You, Homeland” to “Awake, Arise”
Changes in the Attitude toward the Homeland in Israeli Songs
Based on an article by Talila Eliram, P.h.D
The full article (in Hebrew) is available here:
In the year 2000, Israeli radio stations began to play a new song by the popular singer Aviv Geffen called “Awake, Arise.” In his song, Geffen turns to the homeland:
because we are very tired
we need rest.
once in our lives we are alive
give a bit of love."
Later in the song, Geffen begs: “Give me the strength to love you.”
As I listened to Geffen’s song, I could hear another song playing in my mind. It was a song that I had heard for the first time on my first day in first grade. The older children at school enthusiastically sang Nathan Alterman’s “Morning Song” (1934):
"On the hills the sun already blazes
And in the valley the dew still glistens
We love you, homeland
With joy, with song, and with work."
The stark difference between the two songs is evident at first glance. Alterman’s “Morning Song” (also known as “Song for the Homeland”) is full of joy, energy, and love for the homeland. By contrast, Geffen’s song expresses fatigue and uncertainty, along with a need to receive love from the homeland rather than the strength to grant it love. Some critics might respond that “Arise, Awake” is just one song by a particularly angry young songwriter. But it reflects something more than the private cry of its composer. After all, in the year it was released, the song won the title of “song of the year” at the annual ceremony of the Israel Academy for Music. The MC of the ceremony called “Arise, Awake” “a new homeland song.”
Geffen’s song is separated from Alterman’s by a period of 66 years – a relatively short period in the history of a people. Both the works are “Land of Israel songs” that reflect the emotions and moods of the people that sing them – and what a great change can be seen in these emotions over this relatively short period.
I Have No Other Land // Ehud Manor (1981)
Around the turn of the millennium and the early 2000s, we see an ongoing breaking of the collective and national ethos and a shattering of myths that had been regarded as close to sacred in Israeli society: love of the homeland, solidarity, and respect for emblems such as the flag and the national anthem.
These processes have not escaped the attention of composers and musicians, whose works touch on the crisis in Israeli society. In an article from the year 2000, the writer Aharon Megged described the following scene:
“A few days ago, at the end of a large ceremony at the Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University honoring one of its senior teachers, the audience sang the ‘homeland songs’ that the teacher so dearly loved, and about which he also wrote an academic study. One of the songs was Nathan Alterman’s famous work that begins with the words ‘On the hills the sun already blazes / And in the valley the dew still glistens / We love you, homeland / With joy, with song, and with work.’ While everyone was singing this song, I thought to myself: could an Israeli poet or songwriter compose any songs of love for the homeland today, even one in the spirit and style of our own times?”
The songwriter Ehud Manor also discussed the same song and the same idea:
“Alterman and his contemporaries wrote songs of love to the land and the homeland that we dare not write. It’s sad, because once when someone wrote ‘we’ they were referring to all of us. Today, when you write ‘we’ you are barely referring to yourself, your wife and children, and a few good friends. The range of political opinions is so wide and so extreme that if someone writes a ‘we song’ about the Land, it will usually sound very pathetic – and that’s really sad.”
It might indeed seem that songs such as Aviv Geffen’s “Arise, Awake” have taken a 180-degree turn from the songs of the pioneers and Sabras who declared their love for the homeland. However, the sociologist Motti Regev sees Geffen’s song as a Zionist work:
“This isn’t a protest song. It expresses a longing for a very national and very collective unity in the best tradition of Zionism. It is dissatisfied with the situation now, and it longs for something that few people in Jewish society in the Land of Israel would oppose.”
It is high time that the cry that comes out of the songs we have heard, and the message they convey, might encourage Israeli society to engage in a thorough process of stocktaking. We need to search for Israeliness, nationhood, and common goals, values, and actions that will enable us to continue to live in and build our land. This will give us a homeland to which we will be able to write songs of love and optimism.
 Aviv Geffen (1973 –) – an Israeli singer and composer who works in the rock genre. Geffen gained fame for his protest songs, which were very popular among young Israelis in the 1990s.
 Nathan Alterman (1910-1970) – one of the best-known modern Hebrew poets. Alterman was born in Poland and immigrated to the Land of Israel at the age of 15.
 The Hora – a folk dance of Balkan origins that was particularly dominant during the pre-state period and in the first few decades following independence. This dance style is also identified with a rhythmic and engaging musical style.
 Ehud Manor (1941-2005) – one the most prominent Israeli songwriters during the early decades following independence.
 “The Good Old Land of Israel” was the name of the ninth album released by the Israeli singer Arik Einstein in 1973. The title of the album became an emblem for the longing for the period around the establishment and early years of the State of Israel.
 Naomi Shemer (1930-2004) – an Israeli musician, singer, and songwriter who was one of the most prominent Israeli musicians during the early decades following independence.