Archive | March, 2012

Don’t just rewrite ‘Hatikvah.’ Go further.

Crossposted to Jewschool

I tip my hat to Philologos, the pseudonymous author of the Forward’s language column, for two reasons:

  1. In a recent column, he cited a column he wrote in 1998 about an incident in which an Arab Israeli member of the national soccer team declined to sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. In ’98, he wrote that it sucks for Arab Israelis and that he understood their reluctance to sing it. But in ’98 he concluded that there was no way around it. In this more recent column, he admits that he was wrong and….
  2. In this one he reacts to the recent silence of Salim Joubran during the singing of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” by going further than the other commentaries I’ve read on the incident; Philologos went so far as to make specific suggestions about how the song could be changed.

So bravo to you, Philologos for admitting you were wrong and for making some nicely conceived suggestions for rectifying the problem of “Hatikvah.”

And with that, let me explain why he’s still wrong this time. As identified by Philologos, the basic problem with “Hatikvah” is contained in this rhetorical: “How, really, can one expect an Israeli Arab to sing about a Jew’s soul stirring for his country?” But I’d go one step further: How can one expect a group with an equally valid claim on the land to sing a national anthem that is a clearly not just an Israeli song, but a Jewish song?

He concludes that “Hativkah” should not “be abandoned for another anthem, or sung to the same tune with new words” because “there’s not point in accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Again, I’d go even further, but we’ll come back to that. First, Philologos’ specific problems with “Hatikvah”:

  1. the word yehudi (Jew) in the first stanza;
  2. the word tziyon (Zion), also in the fist stanza — he points out that this word is uncomfortably close to tziyonut (Zionism), but I’d add that it’s also a term fraught with Jewish religious symbolism);
  3. in the second stanza, “That leaves us with… no Arab ever having yearned 2,000 years for Palestine”;
  4. and another appearance of the word tziyon, also in the second stanza.

If we accept his premise that the song should stay, receiving only minor textual alterations, these four are indeed the chief problems. I’d add a fifth: The geographical perspective of the song is distinctly western, since it refers to Israel as “the margins of the east.” That sweeps the Arab perspective under the rug and takes the perspective of Israel’s various African and Middle Eastern Jewish minorities right along with it.

In other words, the problem is not a few words, but the entire origin of the song. It is not an Israeli song, but a Jewish song. And it’s not simply Jewish, but Ashkenazi. I had never noticed the syllabic emphasis before, but Philologos points out that even in contemporary Israel the emphasis falls on the penultimate syllable as if the singers all spoke Ashkenazi Hebrew. (The pronunciation and syllabic emphasis of Sephardi Hebrew is the way Hebrew is spoken in Israeli society today.)

To solve the four problems he identifies, Philologos proposes these solutions, all of which he convincingly argues will fit the existing melody just fine (though he doesn’t go into whether they would fit into the existing Arabic lyrics, which seems to be a glaring omission):

  1. Replace yehudi  with yisra’eli (Israeli).
  2. Replace the first instance of tziyon (as le’tziyon) with le’artzeinu.
  3. Restore the original words written by poet Naphtali Herz Imber for the penultimate line so that “hatikvah hanoshana” (“Our ancient hope”) re-replaces “hatikvah bat shnot alpayim” (“Our 2,000-year-old hope.”)
  4. And restore the original words for the last line of the second stanza so that “b’ir ba David, David chana” (“In the city in which David, in which David encamped”) re-replaces “be’eretz tziyon ve’yerushalayim.”

For reasons that aren’t unclear, when he unveils his complete revised version of the second stanza at the end of the column, he has made on additional change. In the current version “lihiyot am chofshi be’artzeinu” (“To be a free people in our land”) replaces the original line, “lashuv le’eretz avoteinu” (“To return to the land of our fathers.”) Philologos restores avoteinu from the original so that (including the original and the current with strikethroughs) he ends up with:

Od lo avda tikvateinu
Hatikvah hanoshana bat shnot alpayim hanoshana
Lashuv le’eretz avoteinu Lihiyot am chofshi be’artzeinu be’eretz avoteinu
B’ir ba David, David chana Be’eretz tziyon ve’yerushalayim B’ir ba David, David chana

So replace yehudi with yisra’eli — fine. But the rest of his suggestions leave something to be desired. The situation doesn’t call for a of generic recognition of Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis. To rewrite this song so that each word is equally appropriate for both groups leaves both dissatisfied, exactly the problem that Philologos worries about when he talks about “accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Instead, revise to song so that it recognizes the two peoples on equal footing.

For example, tziyon doesn’t have to get the boot entirely. But why not acknowledge both Arab and Jewish terms for the land? “Tziyon veQuds,” maybe? (I have no idea if that makes any sense, nor do I have a strong sense of all of the implications of Quds for all parties is, but you see my point.)

Philologos suggests that one virtue of restoring the line about David is that “David, after all, belongs to Christian and Muslim traditions too.” Indeed, but he does not belong to the Christian and Muslim imaginations the way he does to the Jewish imagination. Further, he is the first Jew to conquer the city of Jerusalem. If he is to be the only individual to make an appearance in the song, perhaps he’s not the best choice. However, what if the song cited Jerusalem as the city where David encamped and the city to which Mohamed journeyed or the city where he ascended?

Perhaps these suggestions — Philologos’ and mine — are flights of fancy, but every proposed improvement to the situation in Israel and Palestine sounds fanciful these days. My truest, loftiest hope for Israel’s national anthem is even more fanciful: Do away with it altogether, this Jewish song, with it’s European tune, pronounced in a dead accent no one truly speaks in anymore. Get an Israeli song, something that recognizes the distinct and different yearnings of these two peoples, something with a mix of Hebrew and Arabic lyrics (or at least teach everyone both versions, like the Canadians).

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Weird press releases: How ‘Hunger Games’ is about the opposite of what it’s about

Weird press releases: When you have the word editor in your title, the laws of physics somehow provide for an automatic onslaught of email press releases. Of course the law of always getting the Special Treatment,  means that the majority of them have nothing to do with your job.

Today’s haul brought in this curiosity, with the subject line “Interview Opp: The Hunger Games – Too Violent for Children.” Let’s fisk!

The Hunger Games – Too Violent for Children

Guest Opportunity: Lyss Stern, Parenting Expert, Founder and CEO of Divalysscious Moms, New York’s Premier Network that influences over 380,000 Women

No, you don’t want to know what “Divalysscious Moms” is. I didn’t know that I didn’t want to know what it was when I googled it:

I’m gonna have to disinfect my brain’s aesthetic cortex when I get home.

“You here to finish me off, sweetheart?” This is just one of many lines that demonstrate the violence in the movie, The Hunger Games.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t read “The Hunger Games,” nor have I seen the movie — although I’d like to do both eventually. But from what I’ve heard, this particular line of dialogue is a weak way to make this particular point. Why not go with a description of an unnecessarily violent visual from the film? Or maybe the twitchy loons behind this press release are like me: Maybe they’ve only seen the trailer.

Based on the extremely popular series of books, this movie naturally appeals to girls 12 and older, but what message is it sending young children? For parents who are concerned about what their children watch, Lyss Stern can tell them what they need to know about this violent blockbuster flick.

I’ve read a few articles about “The Hunger Games” recently that have given me the distinct impression that the entire thinly veiled point of the story is that our exploitative media culture is brutal and morally bankrupt. The allegory relies on a comparison with the forced participation of teenage citizens of a dystopian future America in a televised battle to the death. So the violence is intended to disgust the audience. Everyone seems to agree that the violence in the book wasn’t gussied up and glamorized for film, but kept barbaric and unpleasant.

But sure, I guess that’s a terrible message to impart on kids these days.

“As a parent to young children and an aunt to Tween nephews, despite all the positive “hype” around this movie, I find the message in this movie downright scary. Someone needs to tell Hollywood that these movies are not for tweens and teenagers.” – Lyss Stern

“Tween” doesn’t need to be capitalized, and “hype” certainly doesn’t need to be in quotation marks, given that it’s neither a quotation nor a novel use of the word. And even if it did need quotation marks, nested as it within a larger quotation, they’d need to be ‘single quotes.’

All I’m saying is copyedit your press releases people. The press is full of assholes like me and we are not interested in your typo-ridden drivel.

Lyss Stern is ready to address The Hunger Games by answering the following questions:

« What types of messages is this movie sending?

I’m not sure what this question is asking. Is this a suggestion that interested parties might ask about how to categorize the assorted varieties of messages this films is sending? Or is it a poorly worded attempt to convey that the messages themselves are worth asking about, rather than the message types, as the wording implies?

« How can this movie impact young and impressionable children?

If this press release never says anything, preferring instead to stick with paranoid rhetorical questions, what could Lyss Stern’s real intent be?

« What can parents do to protect their children from the impact of violence portrayed in the movie?

Well, you could just forbid them from seeing it. Or you could act like an intelligent, considerate parent and discuss the violence with them to make sure that the film’s attempt to portray violence in a bad light gets through to them.

« Can there be long-term effects if children are allowed to view this type of violence?

Again with the types! I guess one long-term effect of being allowed to view this particular type of violence might be that they’ll have an aversion to violence.

The jury is definitely still out on this type of question, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Stern’s answer is an emphatic and panicky, “Yes!”

« Given the violence portrayed in the movie, are the books any safer?

They’re probably more dangerous! We all know that ready edgy fiction leads naïve children down the path of nonconformity!

Meet Lyss Stern

Gosh, I’d rather not.

« Oversees 380,000 well-heeled New Yorkers through her blog, making Lyss the “go-to trendsetter” for brands like Juicy Couture, FAO Schwarz, Today Show, and CNBC.

I demand to know who called her the “go-to trendsetter” and whether that person was actually referring to all of the following: “Juicy Couture, FAO Schwarz, Today Show, and CNBC.”

« Founder and President of the influential DIVALYSSCIOUS MOMS – New York’s Premier Social Network for Women.

Lies. I’ve looked at this website — never mind that I wish I hadn’t — and it’s not a social network. Nor did the site’s designer accidentally have CAPSLOCK on when they created the site’s logo, as the author of this press release apparently did.

« Author of “If You Give a Mom a Martini: 100 Ways to Find 10 Blissful Minutes for Yourself.”

Jesus Christ.

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Three new haggadot: Excellent ‘New American’; middling Reform; whitewashed Ethiopian

My new piece for JTA is live today. The gist:

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (JTA) — Leading a seder for the first time this year? There’s an app for that.

Entries in the annual stream of new Haggadahs this year include a Reform version that comes in hardcover, paperback and iPad app editions. Two others  feature a gorgeously designed Haggadah that features an array of literary celebrity contributors and one with an Ethiopian flavor.

The Reform Haggadah, “Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family” (CCAR Press), is terrific for its introductions and artwork, bland in its content and promising in its use of technology.


Coffee table art books have given birth to an entire sub-genre of artistic, if unwieldy Haggadahs, including the gorgeous “New American Haggadah” (Little, Brown and Company). Edited by novelists Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander, this Haggadah aims not just to tell a story but to be about storytelling. It is far too unwieldy to be deployed in full at your seder, but that hardly seems to be its ambition — and it’s too beautiful to pass up.


The story of the ongoing immigration of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel seems to be a perfect thematic match with Passover. As interest grows in far-flung Jews with unexpected skin tones, an Ethiopian Haggadah was inevitable.

What a shame, then, that “The Koren Haggada: Journey to Freedom” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem) is such a whitewashed letdown. It’s “The Gould Family Edition,” edited by Rabbi Menachem Waldman and translated by Binyamin Shalom.

Read the rest of it over here.

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Welcome to the blog with no name

I have no clever name for the blog this time. But welcome, all the same. It’s been about five months since I last blogged. I’ve missed you all dearly.

Once upon a time, I went to Israel for a semester during high school. So I started a blog (“Live from Israel: David Says Things” at to keep the folks back home apprised. Then I came back to Austin to finish high school and didn’t write in my blog for a while.

I started blogging again after a couple of months, renaming the blog “The Donkey’s Mouth.” That didn’t last long. I graduated from high school and moved to New Jersey for college and renamed the blog again, but now I can’t remember what it was called.

After a semester, I attended Limmud NY for the first time, my brain got turned inside-out and I renamed the blog again: “The Reform Shuckle.” At this point, the blog became focused on Jewish liturgy, ritual, prayer and the structure of Jewish communities.

Four Limmuds later, y’all decided that I should rename the blog “The Wandering Davener.” (Although there was a minority that was in favor of calling it “Hey Nakedhead!”) I bought this domain name and planned to relocate the whole thing under the new name. Then I graduated from college, didn’t blog for six months and suddenly remembered that I had owned for a year and still hadn’t done anything with it. Then this happened.

Six years after I started blogging, this version of my blog was on the verge of having a sixth name. (Never mind that “The Reform Shuckle” lasted for four of those years.) The one constant, still here six names later, is me. So other than my own, no name this time: It’s just me, David A.M. Wilensky.

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