Music has always played a central role in Israeli society. A land that is significant to the three largest monotheistic religions, much of the music that comes out of Israel is faith based. However, within Jewish Israeli society, the musical narrative has shifted greatly over the years. The shift speaks volumes about the changing social and political climate of Israeli Society.
After Israel’s independence in 1948, many Jews who had survived the atrocities of World War II found refuge in the new Jewish homeland. Survivors of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Majdanek, flooded Israel but kept their horror stories silent. Not until the trials of notorious Nazi commander Adolf Eichmann in 1962 did survivors begin to speak out in great numbers. Much of the Israeli music that was created between 1948 and 1967 articulated the pain and suffering of these survivors.
Music during these first 19 years largely resonated with the shtetl life of prewar Eastern Europe. Klezmer music, the traditional sound of religious Ashkenazi Jews, often includes biblical lyrics, Yiddish phrases, and Hassidic chants all strung together with the loud intonation of a clarinet. In shtetl life, Klezmer music was most often used in celebrations such as weddings. Most famously heard in that regard in the scenes of Fiddler on The Roof, the music took a darker turn after the Holocaust. Reflected in memorial songs in Israel, the upbeat and celebratory tones were slowed to memorialize a culture nearly wiped from existence. Today, Klezmer is seen as Israel’s folk music, once again used in celebration.
After the Six Days War of 1967, a cultural shift occurred. Israeli journalist Amos Elon noted that after this war, Israel “grew up” and began to take in music and culture from around the world. Artists like Yehuda Poliker began to embrace the sound of the Sephardi minority. This new popularity of a music genre once ignored by the Ashkenazi majority set up a place where artist Idan Raichel could succeed.
Idan Raichel was born in Western Israel a decade after the Six Days War. Raichel comes from a Sephardi family and quickly embraced the music of his ancestors. He picked up his first instrument at age nine and by high school was studying jazz piano. At age 18, he began his service in the Israel Defense Forces. Israel has compulsory army service for nearly all its citizens. Details to why it is “nearly all” will be explained in the Hadag Nachash post.
During his army service, Raichel toured army bases and performed popular Israeli music of the time. Eventually, he moved up to musical director of his army group, allowing him to have more creative ability in his work.
After the army, Raichel became a madrich (counselor) at a boarding school for immigrants. One of the first laws enacted by the Knesset (Israeli parliament) was the Law of Return. The Law of Return states that any Jew wishing to Israel was entitled citizenship automatically, meaning they did not have to go through the naturalization process. Ethiopian Jews are among the largest immigrant groups to take advantage of this law. Some 125,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today.
During his years in the immigrant boarding school, Raichel mainly interacted with Ethiopian youth. These young men and women introduced him to Ethiopian folk and pop music that left a huge impact on the future or Raichel’s career. After leaving the school, Raichel began to collaborate with Ethiopian Jews and Arab Israelis to create some of his most popular work today.
A song that perfectly encompasses Raichel’s body of work is the song Bo’i (Come) from his first album released in 2002. The importance of this song in understanding Raichel’s music is not about the lyrics but the sounds. Below, the lyrics of Raichel’s song can be described as nothing but a mundane love poem. However, the way in which he sings these words is incredibly significant. Please click the link and watch the video.
Come, give me your hand and we will go
Don’t ask me where
Don’t ask me about happiness
Maybe it will come too
When it will come it’ll fall upon us like rain.
Come, let us embrace and go
Don’t ask me when
Don’t ask me about home
Don’t ask me for time
Time does not wait, nor stop or remain.
The song opens with the sounds of chanting. First one just hears the voice, than some instruments are included. The two minutes of the song are spoken entirely in the Ethiopian language. The very worldly tones of the drums are suggestive of Raichel’s Sephardi ancestral past. Only the chorus is sung by the artist in Hebrew, the rest is focused on the Ethiopian music and lyrics.
Much of the work the Idan Raichel has made since has been focused on the sounds of the minority groups of Israel. A unique part of the conflict, Raichel’s music shows that there is not only tension between Israeli and Palestinian, but between neighbors within Israel as well.
Bickerton, Ian J., and Carla L. Klausner. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.
Brinn, David. “Trio Performs as Part of the Annual Global Citizen Festival.” The Jerusalem
Post. N.p., 28 Sept. 2014. Web.
Dwork, Deborah, and R. J. Van Pelt. Holocaust: A History. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.
Elon, Amos. “Music Shifts.” Haaretz [Jerusalem] 1971: 33. Print.
“Idan Raichel – Bo’i.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 01 May 2015.
Raichel, Idan. “Biography.” Idan Raichel Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
Raichel, Idan. Bo’i. The Idan Raichel Project. 2002. MP3.
Raichel, Idan. “BO’I.” Hebrew Songs. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2015.
Rohter, Larry. “From Mali to Israel, a Musical Bridge.” The New York Times. The New York
Times, 17 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
 Dwork, Deborah, and R. J. Van Pelt. Holocaust: A History. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.
 A shtetl was a small Jewish community in Eastern Europe before World War II
 Klezmer literally translates from Yiddish as “instruments of music.”
 A sect of orthodox Judaism
 Based on Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem
 Elon, Amos. “Music Shifts.” Haaretz [Jerusalem] 1971: 33. Print.
 Jews who originate from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula
 Raichel, Idan. “Biography.” Idan Raichel Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2015.
 Bickerton, Ian J., and Carla L. Klausner. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010. Print. 105.
 Ibid. 243
 Raichel Bibliography.
 “Idan Raichel – Bo’i.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 01 May 2015. NOTE: The text in the introduction of this video may not necessarily coincide with the views of the artist or his song.
 Raichel, Idan. “BO’I.” Hebrew Songs. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2015.