Over Yom Ha’atzmaut, I decided to dive in to the best of Israeli popular culture. For each new song of HaDag Nachash I managed to translate, I rewarded myself with a Goldstar Unfiltered Beer.
Both were tasty, but while the songs didn’t affect the quality of the beer, as the afternoon wore on the beer certainly began to affect the quality of the translations.
I got through three.
And then there was the back-and-forth with Shaanan Streett, over all the brilliant Hebrew word-play that is untranslatable. Three key examples from their latest single:
1. First of all, the title itself. On their youtube channel, עוד יהיה טוב yihiye tov b’eretz yisrael is given as “Things will get better”. In the end for the translation we agreed on “All will yet be well”. It has more of a classical ring to it, which the strangely-dated chorus sound hints at.
2. Early on in the song, the rapper asks: “From what do I draw cheer?” And then throws down a translation challenge. “Not from the Labor (party) and certainly not from the Likud (party) – well maybe a little from the labor.” My slight of hand in putting a small “l” instead of a capital “L” for labor hints very poorly at the neat ambiguity in the Hebrew. Does he mean that he tends to the left of the political spectrum, or is he already sliding into a conversation about his own job? In Hebrew he could be saying both or neither. The English? Meh.
3. בנינו פיס בהתנחלויות Baninu Payis behitnachluyot refers to the standard-design cultural centers, sports and arts halls, that are built throughout the country by the National Lottery (Mif’al haPayis). A more literal translation would be something like “We built Payis buildings in the settlements”. However since the non-Israeli is unlikely to recognize such a reference, we went for the double-meaning of “lottery” – not just that the institution builds structures in the West Bank, but that this is something of a gamble…
Here are the three songs in their agreed versions. Just click on the “cc” button to choose English subtitles. And crack open a beer…
And here they are performing a bit of the song on the banks of the Kinneret…
Why write about fantastic Israeli music trends, when you can just as easily listen to them?
This is the first in a series of podcasts about Israeli culture, narrated by Robbie Gringras. This episode looks at two classics, one Israeli and one American, that received a fascinating upgrade by two Israeli bands…
The Arik Einstein/Judy Katz version of “What’s with me?”
Teapack version of “What’s with me?”
To buy the Teapacks track, click here
Tracy Chapman performs “Baby can I hold you?”
Red Band and Sarit Hadad perform “Baby can I hold you?”
To buy the Red Band/Sarit Hadad track, click here
A Wider Bridge, the awesome organization for building LGBTQ relations with Israel commissioned us to build the educational envelope around five Israeli films addressing the community. Together we chose two feature films, two documentaries, and one episode of a TV drama series. Here you can download for no charge a pre-screening handout, a handout after screening, and a discussion guide for each film.
For screening rights and for access to the films themselves, we recommend connecting with A Wider Bridge in the first instance. To Full Post
Dorit Rabinyan was born in Israel to an Iranian-Jewish family. She is the recipient of the Itzhak Vinner Prize, the ACUM Award, The Prime Minister’s Prize and the Jewish Wingate Quarterly Award (London). Her first two novels PERSIAN BRIDES and A STRAND OF A THOUSAND PEARLS were both best sellers and translated into fifteen languages. In 2014 Rabinyan published her third novel, BORDERLIFE, an immediate best seller in Israel. In January 2016 BORDERLIFE became the center of a political scandal in Israel when the book was removed from high schools’ curriculum.
Borderlife, by Dorit Rabinyan
Winner of the 2015 Bernstein Prize
A chance New York encounter brings two strangers together: Liat, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, and Hilmi, a Palestinian born in Hebron. For one frozen winter away from home, on snowy streets, filled with longing for a Middle East sun, Liat and Hilmi demarcate the place reserved only for them, an intimate short-term place, a universe for two. At the fissures and margins of things, in corners and in gaps, the reality lurking in Israel peers at them and snarls. The story, with its passions and twists, follows them even when they each go their own way – Liat returning to Tel Aviv and Hilmi to the village of Jifna, north of Ramallah – refusing to end.
Chayuta Deutsch was born and bred in Tel Aviv. She has taught at Ulpana Kfar Pines, at Bayit VeGan College, Maaleh Film School, Hebrew University, at Bar Ilan University, and at Bet Morasha Academy for Jewish Zionist Leadership. She began her writing career with the children’s magazine “Otiot” in 1983. Between 1997-99 she edited “Otiot” and “Sukariot”. She was the literary editor of “HaTzofeh”, and the deputy editor of “Nekuda”. She has written op-eds for “HaTzofeh”, Ynet, Maariv online, and currently writes her own column “L’pnai ulifnim” in the Shabbat supplement of “Makor Rishon”. “Were I to hear another voice” is her first novel, after having published a collection of short stories “This is what redemption looks like”, and a biography of Nechama Leibovitz. She was among those who established Kolech, Israel’s first Orthodox Jewish feminist organization, and was on the Board of Directors for several years. She is currently the head of publishing for Bet Morasha, and the editor of “Akademot”.
Were I to hear a different voice, by Chayuta Deutsch
After having tried again and again to realize her dream of having a family, Uzia decides to leave her home town of Tel Aviv, and build herself a new life in a small village in the North of Israel. She leaves everything behind: Her memories of her life in Tel Aviv as an only daughter of National-Orthodox parents; the man she had loved all her life; her close childhood friends; and her work as a respected journalist.
A friendly little café in the village becomes her refuge and source of income. She opens up a writing workshop at the cafe for local characters both charming and mysterious, but the demons of her past do not leave her. As the writing workshops become an arena for secrets and confessions, it turns out that Uzia’s refuge is no safe space at all, and that those around her are not who they seem to be.
And all this while, threatening graffiti that appear throughout the country lead a team of secret police to set off in search of the members of a messianic sect who threaten to sow violence and destruction. At the head of the sect stands a charismatic man called “Levi”, who sweeps up youth into acts of rebellion not just against the State of Israel, but also against the world of Jewish religious law. When his dangerous teachings lead the State to the brink of civil war, his pursuers realize they must hurry and uncover the identity of this “Levi” before it is too late.
In collaboration with the Rabin Center, top Israeli band HaDag Nachash have just released a brand new song for Rabin Memorial Day.
Entitled “What would have been if?” the song remembers and laments.
Here is our translation, officially endorsed by the band:
The past we know, some of us even remember
How a few moments after the end of the speeches
We were all as one fixed to the receivers
Until the message reached our ears – and left us without words or utterance
And with a slightly bashful glance we were sucked back into the cycle
Of wounded and licking and wounded and flogging – like a wave
But you should know, that there are moments
When I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A bubble floats and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”
The present is known with no need to expand
How it drains and shakes how it pressures with no quiet
And how every winter we race after the left-overs of the left-overs
Because maybe in the summer we’ll be running to the bomb-shelters
But know that there are moments
In which I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A floating tear and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”
And our untrustworthy future what does it have in store
What more can it bury
Your Six Days blossomed a hundredfold
And nowadays not only we declare victory
And to think that you had the courage to change
And to think you knew how to plant hopes
And to think that you raised up to fly and went far enough to see
And to think that you managed to understand:
“What would be if…?”
I’ll admit that there has been little leading up to Rosh Hashana that leaves me looking forward to the New Year. The extremities of Climate Change, the extremities of Middle Eastern conflicts, the extremities of poverty, refugees, and public discourse.
And then, galloping in on its White Horse, Israeli popular culture comes to lift me up once more. I have been translating Israeli popular music for over a decade now, but today I celebrate the fact that Israel’s Song of the Year is untranslatable.
The song “Sweet when I am Bitter” is such a delightful reggae swing through the cutest of Hebrew word play, that it is no wonder it won the listeners’ award on top radio station Galgalatz.
Throughout the song, Eliad Nachum strings together a hidden list of top music stars, like a musical word puzzle of Israeli popular culture. The chorus in particular is a delight.
A direct English translation would have you understand that Eliad is praising his girlfriend while referring to a friend of theirs called Bob: “You create sweetness like Bob, when I am bitter.” But the word “bitter” in Hebrew is “Mar”, and “Li” indicates the bitterness is mine. In this way we can hear that the Hebrew is hiding the iconic reggae star: “BOB, ksheMARLEY”
As well as playing with pop stars, Eliad touches on the bible, too. “Just tell me, and I’ll run into the (lions’) den” he proclaims. But while referencing the Book of Daniel, he also gently plants a tribute to beloved performer Gidi Gov: “Rak taGIDI ve’arutz el toch haGOV”
The whole song pays tribute to HaDag Nachash, Eyal Golan, Dudu Tasa, Nomi Shemer, and many more.
I could have done one of Makom’s standard video translations, but more would have been lost than captured.
I think this is cause for celebration.
Hebrew culture has now reached such a thickness that even the hit parade is too dense to be easily translated.
Shay Charka perfectly illustrates the nine-day emotional roller-coaster from Holocaust Day (Yom HaShoah) thru Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron), to Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut).
We present a translation of Shay Charka’s moving and insightful tribute to satirist, writer, journalist, politician, and one of the most prominent standard-bearers of Religious-Nationalism, Uri Orbach z”l. His passing was mourned across the political spectrum.
This tribute first appeared in Hebrew in Makor Rishon.