Israeli Folk Music

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Shira Betzibur

/Shee ra Beh tzee boor/

Singing in Public

“In the past 6 years since I left my homeland Israel, I was asked more than a few times what is considered very “Israeli” by me. There are many answers to that question, but one of them, the “shira betzibur” is a bit different, as I truly used to believe that it exists in many other countries, and was surprised to discover that it is rather a unique Israeli folklore. Unlike the world-to-world translation to English, it is actually a getting together of a big group of friends in order to sing together familiar Israeli songs, mainly from the past, usually accompanied by one guitar player (or another musical instrument). Most of these singing events were performed by adults, and by youngsters that belonged to youth movement, and can be traced to the early 20th century. In recent years these singing events became much less common, thought they still exist, and are still very popular within Israeli communities abroad.

I was first introduced to this way of singing around the age of 9, when I joined a Youth Movement, and loved it, because I loved to sing and to spend time with my friends in this lovely atmosphere.

Looking back, it strikes me as a good way of keeping the Israeli songs going, especially now, when they are a tiny portion of the international music that is played by the Israeli media”

Unfortunately, though I spent 12 years in Israel, I rarely experienced these kinds of events in Israel, and I regret it, as it strikes me of one of the characteristics of the Israeli mentality. Without experiencing these I can only find meaning in what I think it symbolizes. I believe the significance is in the unity, something that is very cherished in Israel due to the size of the nation and the antagonistic feelings toward it. I also think it comes to show a culture of times past. This form of singing is not as common as it was during the past generation. I believe Israel used to be a larger cultural center than it is now, and it now tends towards a different form of music, which is more rap like, or just bringing American music to Israel. In this way it made Israel unique, and nowadays the tradition is mostly kept on during official ceremonies, or in small groups/clubs.

The most famous form of this singing is kept on going in Israel through the military bands, these are the bands that play in the formerly mentioned ceremonies. Attached is a video recording of one of my favorite examples of such songs, Choref 73 (winter 73, Winter of 1973), originally sang by one of these military bands named Lehakat Cheil HaChinuch (Education and Youth Corps band).

Most songs sang in this form speak of hope, unity, and looking towards the future. Some songs are slow, others tend to be upbeat. Those that are upbeat usually involve more crowd participation, perhaps a younger one. Those who are melancholy are there to invoke certain feelings in the public, to form a sense of community. And maybe, the Shira Betzibur was part of Israel as a country in formation, with pioneers full of ideals, part of which were symbolized by this form of singing. And now, as Israel has evolved and solidified, it is just natural for this idealistic folklore to slowly vanish, or to acquire other forms.