Muzika Mizrahit, Rock and Roll, and Israeli Identity

January 20, 2013 2:16 am 0 comments

Bob Dylan in Subterranean Homesick Blues. Photo: Wiki commons.

As far as the music that makes my heart go pitter- patter, it’s always been bouncy, beat driven, three-chord rock ‘n’ roll for me. Happiness is a catchy opening riff, snappy verse, harmonized chorus, dramatic electric guitar solo and back again – all condensed into a three-minute sonic blast.

Rock ‘n’ roll, rooted in African American blues, jump blues, country and gospel music, has long filled a basic need among the young and young at heart for excitement, dancing, and freedom from societal constraints. No other style of music can compete with rock ‘n’ roll’s singular power and visceral simplicity.

The temptations of a sweet, blond haired blue eyed preacher’s daughter can be fought off by a strong, proud Jewish man; the appeal of shrimp scampi, cheese burgers and other prohibited foods can be easily countered by citing a few age-old laws first outlined in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But how can someone who seeks to assimilate into Israeli culture contend with the intoxicating influence of American rock ‘n’ roll?

I have opened my mind and ears to Israeli music in all its myriad forms yet my MP3 player remains loaded up with hundreds of songs by non-Israeli artists. And while such homegrown talents as Ladino singer-songwriter Yasmin Levy and popular Mizrahi singer Shlomi Shabbat are certainly appealing, my attraction to them is intellectual rather than emotional; Ms. Levy is renowned for her distinct, emotive style; Shabbat’s musical versatility is impressive. Yet, my musical inclinations remain thoroughly Western: are they destined to remain in exile?

In the throes of an identity crisis, peace of mind came by way of a chance encounter my wife and I had a couple of months ago at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. While taking care of the paperwork required to turn our sabra baby girl into a Yankee Doodle Dandee, we happened upon a young man who was busily filling out an application for a U.S. passport. Obviously struggling with the English, we helped where we could with translating the document into Hebrew. Amazingly, this thoroughly Israeli man’s father had moved to Israel decades ago from the United States. Within one generation any trace of any American connection had been erased: the poor kid couldn’t spell I-S-R-A-E-L and didn’t even know his mother’s “Christian” birthday.

A father’s long ago decision to eviscerate his pre-aliyah identity, apparently equating ‘American’ with ‘Pagan’, had far reaching consequences: a son severed from his cultural DNA; a young man denied the joys and beauty of the deceptively simple English language, “…an accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time…the free and compacted composition of all.”

And what a shame! Since the 1880s, Jews the world over have embarked on new lives in Israel, influencing their adopted homeland’s culture, language, education and, perhaps most significantly, Israeli politics. Over the last 20 years the Start-Up nation has absorbed 9,000 scientists from the former Russian Satellite States including 4,500 in industry and high-tech.

Returning to the airwaves, it is interesting to note that today’s most popular Israeli brand of music, Mizrahi,  was up until relatively recently restricted by the national government since it was not considered ‘authentic Israeli.’ The penetration of Muzika Mizrahit into the Israeli mainstream was the result of pressure by Mizrahi composers and producers , the overwhelming, undeniable popularity of the style and the gradual adoption of elements of Muzika Mizrahit by popular Israeli artists.

Listening to rock ‘n’ roll to my heart’s content doesn’t make me any less Israeli, it makes me more interesting since I’m indulging in a small passion; jogging around Gan Sacher while listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues (technically folk rock but mind-bending nonetheless…)only goes to show that I’m a bit of an old soul with a genuine fondness for the stylings one Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Getting turned on to Israeli music, cinema, sports and other aspects of the culture is a nice bonus but not a necessary component of what it means to be “Israeli”.

After all, many Israeli cinema buffs feel a much stronger connection to the films of Steven Spielberg than to those of Assi Dayan. Does such a preference in any way dilute these citizens’ “Israeliness”?

Listening to Jim Morrison belt out Wintertime Love last week as I merrily trudged through the surprisingly snow covered streets of Jerusalem crystallized a central point: life set to the right soundtrack enhances both the life and the soundtrack.

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.