Shma Yisrael

April 18, 2010 by

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I was watching recently a live performance of Sarit Hadad on TV.

One of the climaxes of her show is the song When the Heart Weeps. Built upon the millenia-old prayer of every Jew, the Shma, Sarit Hadad moves her audience to tears with her oriental trills:

When the heart weeps only God hears

The pain rises from the soul

A man falls (in battle) and before he sinks

Cuts the silence with a tiny prayer

Hear O Israel you are all-powerful

You gave me my life, you gave me everything…

Her performance of this song, as well as being accompanied by the obligatory lighters held high, and full-blooded singing from the crowd, involves Hadad taking a large Israeli flag and wrapping it around her shoulders. This cell-phone video from a show in Paris shows the same move:

The seeming-natural blend of religion and nationalism is striking. The deepest prayer of the Jewish People (or is that the Jewish Religion?) is combined with the nation’s flag, which itself cannot be fully divorced from Judaism. After all, the flag was designed to echo the tallith prayer shawl worn in synagogues – precisely the way that Hadad wears the flag in her performance. Indeed, don’t get me started on the ironies of the traditional men and women in the audience cheering this woman wearing a tallith, when it’s unlikely they’d be so supportive were she to do so in synagogue…

As Israel reaches its 62nd birthday, the world is beginning to ask searching questions of its heated alliance between nation, religion, and state. I don’t believe that Sarit Hadad is playing with fire. But I do believe she lights a fiery torch. When she goes on stage at this year’s Independence Day celebrations, I hope that she takes precautions and handles the incendiary material with care. I think Sarit Hadad is a wonderful performer with an honesty and conviction that is admirable. (Though the official clip for this song is kitscheroonee ding dong…) I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this heady mixture of a nation-state, religion, and emotional performance. But I am struck by the terrifying power of such a combination of passions.

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