Jun 2013 Journal
Letter from Israel:
By a strange coincidence, I found myself in three separate situations within the space of one month in which I was required to sing along - an activity in which I am not usually prone to participate. All three situations occurred in very different circumstances and were far from unpleasant, but I think they each show the society of modern Israel in a new and different light.
The first occasion was the annual gala evening laid on by the Israel Museum for its hundreds of volunteers. For a variety of reasons (demographic, medical, sociological), most of these volunteers seem to be female and of retirement age or more. Having been among their number for the last five or six years, I can also vouch for the general high level of culture, affability and intelligence of this group. Of course, there is a sprinkling of men among them, but they are a definite minority.
As is customary, the evening consisted of an hour or so of entertainment followed by a dinner. The entertainment segment of the evening started off with congratulatory speeches from various members of the Museum’s directorate and the volunteers’ organisation, followed by a musical interlude.
This year the music was provided by five young men calling themselves The Magical Mystery Tour and - yes - they played a medley of songs by the Beatles. As is obvious from the ages of the volunteers, many of them were young when the Beatles first burst onto the scene and thus feel quite attached to that kind of music. Even the most ardent adherent of classical music, such as myself, feels a certain affinity for those songs.
But the band on the stage were not content with playing their guitars and singing the songs. They invited us all to sing and clap together with them and - better still - dance in the aisles. No one who was there that evening will forget the sound of dozens of ladies of a certain age belting out ‘She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ and ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, or the sight of the more adventurous among them standing up and wriggling and writhing where they stood.
The second occasion was at a concert in the village of Abu Ghosh just outside Jerusalem. The church there hosts choral concerts throughout the year. At the concert I attended, the Stuttgart Chamber Choir sang cantatas by Bach and Buxtehude. The choir is semi-professional and its singing is of the highest quality. But lo and behold, when the audience demanded an encore the conductor turned round to us and explained that the driver of the bus that had taken them around Israel each year for the last ten years had taught them an Israeli song they would like to sing to us. After the choir had given a touching rendition (in Hebrew) of ‘Eli, Eli’, the conductor exhorted the audience to join in, which we duly did. Nothing could have been more surreal, or more touching, than to hear an Israeli audience singing that song in a church in an Arab village together with a choir from Germany.
And the last occasion, in that same month, was the first concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra subscription series in Jerusalem’s Binyanei HaOoma, a huge auditorium which can accommodate almost 2,000 people. The conductor, Zubin Mehta, is originally from India but is virtually considered an Israeli due to his longstanding association with the IPO. Since it was the first concert of the series it began with the national anthem, Hatikva. At the familiar drumroll everyone stood up and, accompanied by the orchestra, sang the words that have meant so much to so many people for so many years. It never fails to move me.