Hebrew Song, 1880-2000
“Hebrew song” is a general term for the field of music that combines Hebrew text with music; in other words, a lyric that is sung in the Hebrew language. (This classification does not include liturgical and paraliturgical song, although the latter is also sung in Hebrew.) The term “Hebrew song” generally encompasses both shirei Erez Israel (songs of the Land of Israel) and “Israeli song,” both of which consist of Hebrew lyrics that are sung; however, the melodies in this case were composed in pre-State Palestine or, after 1948/9, in Israel.
Hebrew song as a whole, including songs of Erez Israel and the State of Israel, is a unique sociocultural phenomenon resulting from a combination of several factors. It came into being over the course of a relatively short period—some 140 years—in an emerging society that was striving mainly for homogeneity. This process was an overt—at times, even deliberate—response to an explicit ideology of creating a new culture that would arise on the foundations of the old.
The field of Hebrew song includes both songwriting and performance. The former involves the composition of lyrics and/or melodies, and the latter, singing and/or playing an instrument.
The present article surveys the development of Hebrew song in general, and songs of Erez Israel and Israel in particular, over the course of five separate periods, with special emphasis on the role of women in the areas of songwriting and performance.
The dawning of Hebrew song can be traced to the revival of the Hebrew language, even before the waves of Zionist immigration to pre-State Palestine, when Jewish poets in Europe began to write poetry in Hebrew, expressing a yearning for the Land of Israel coupled with the hope and desire to renew the nation in its historic homeland. This genre is also referred to as the “poetry of Hibbat Zion” (Love of Zion).
These and similar themes represented a distillation of the Zionist ideas that were beginning to gain a following in the Jewish world at the time; they later became a poetic expression of the ideas of the Zionist movement. Like any national liberation movement, Zionism needed songs to be sung by its members at Zionist gatherings. The lyrics of these early songs were these same works of Hebrew poetry “married” to melodies borrowed from well-known songs (a practice known as contrafactum). The melodies were drawn from hassidic songs, songs in Yiddish (including some from the plays of Abraham Goldfaden), and the repertoire of folksongs from Romania, Poland, Russia and the other lands from which Jews were then immigrating to the Land of Israel. This group of songs, some of which were brought to pre-State Palestine by members of the First Aliyah (1882–1903), are known as the “songs of Hibbat Zion,” and they were the first songs in the Hebrew language.
From a musical perspective, these were melodies written in minor keys, in duple meter, at times in the rhythm of a marche (in most cases, a slow marche), in strophic form. The stress was on the penultimate syllable of the Hebrew words.
Among the writers of these works were poets Naphtali Herz Imber (1856–1909), Menachem Mendel Dolitsky (1856–1931), Mordechai Zvi Mane (1859–1886), Constantine Aba Shapira (1839–1900) and E. Zunzer, and educators Aaron Loboshitsky (1874–1942) and Noah Pines (1871–1939) (who were the first to write children’s songs in Hebrew). Their ranks also included the poet Sarah Shapira, whose poem “Al Tal ve-Al Matar” (On Dew and on Rain) was also “married” with an existing tune and sung in various Jewish communities at the time. (Some have claimed that she was actually the legendary Sarah Bas Tovim.)
Hebrew songs were also composed in pre-State Palestine during the years of the First Aliyah, but no lyrics and/or melodies written by women of the period have yet been found.
The second period of Hebrew song, which spanned the years 1904 to 1923, included the Second and Third Aliyah, 1904–1914 and 1919–1923 respectively, and the years in between. During this period, changes took place in Hebrew song, with the repertoire of shirei Erez Israel beginning to develop. As Hebrew educational institutions were set up in the cities and moshavot (collective settlements) and music classes began to be included in school curricula, it became clear that there existed almost no musical material geared to children, and that there were virtually no songs that could be sung in kindergartens and schools. The songs used in schools were mainly “parable songs” imported from abroad, but most of these were not suitable for children’s songs in pre-State Palestine both because of the language and because of the typically foreign images. This led some of the singing teachers to compose a wide range of musical material, mostly songs. Noteworthy among the teacher/composers were Hanina Karchevsky (1873–1926) and Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (1882–1938), who began their work during the first decade of the twentieth century and were among the earliest composers in pre-State Palestine. Others were Levin Kipnis (1894–1990), who immigrated to Palestine in 1913, and Yisrael Dushman (1884–1947), who wrote the lyrics to such songs as “Shir ha-Ma’apilim” (Song of the Illegal Immigrants), which opens with the line: “El rosh ha-har” (“To the mountaintop”); “Po be-Erez Hemdat Avot” (Here in the Beloved Land); “Hanukkiyah, Hanukkiyah” (Hanukkah Menorah); “Ha-Halutzim be-Yad Haruzim” (Hard-Working Pioneers); “Had Gadya” (One Kid); and others.
Both Kipnis and Idelsohn kept in close contact with teachers of kindergarten children, who were the first target audience for the children’s songs they composed (lyrics by Kipnis, music by Idelsohn). Idelsohn also taught at a kindergarten teachers’ training college in Jerusalem and published articles on the topics of music and songs for kindergarten teachers. According to these teachers’ memoirs, they were the ones who tried out the new songs in the field, passing the successful ones on to their pupils, thus serving as the connecting link in publicizing these songs. (It is noteworthy that even today, ninety years after they were composed, some of these songs are still being sung.)
The close ties between the composers and kindergarten teachers were reinforced with the publication by Kipnis of Gilyonot le-Gananot (Booklets for Kindergarten Teachers). Some seventy issues were published, the first of which were duplicated by hectograph in 1919–1921. Kipnis later edited Gilyonot, the bulletin of the Kindergarten Teachers Union (1921–1922).
During World War I, the Yishuv (pre-State Jewish community in Palestine) was cut off from all other Jewish centers, forcing it to become self-sufficient from a cultural standpoint as well. As a result of this isolation, which lasted roughly three years, there was a widening of the gap between the repertoire of Hebrew songs in Palestine and that of Europe. During this period, creative activity was carried out by various kindergarten teachers on a sporadic basis. Unfortunately, nothing remains in writing of the songs composed by the kindergarten teachers during this period.
In addition to children’s songs, other genres whose influence is felt to this day were gaining popularity in the emerging Yishuv community. These included songs in which Hebrew lyrics were adapted to the Oriental melodies that were popular at the time. Songs such as “Hakhnisini Tahat Kenafeikh” (Take Me Under Your Wing), “Yad Anugah” (Gentle Hand), “Bein Nahar Prat” (Between the Euphrates and the Tigris) and “Ani Re’itiha” (I Saw Her) exemplify the uniqueness of this genre. Some of these “adaptations” were composed by women students at educational institutions in Jerusalem.
Another category consisted of songs whose melodies originated in the hassidic courts of eastern Europe and whose lyrics were short biblical verses or prayers, sometimes paraphrased (as opposed to the many lines and lengthy lyrics of the previous period). Songs such as “El Yivneh Ha-Mikdash” (God will Build the Temple), “Ve-Taher Libeinu” (Purify Our Hearts), “El Yivneh Ha-Galil” (God will Build the Galilee) and “Zivhu Zedek” (Offer Sacrifices of Righteousness”) are typical of this group. Songs of this type were the principal musical source for the hora and rondo dances of the Second Aliyah. The group sing-alongs and hora dancing that characterized Yishuv society were beginning to emerge during this period, of which the Third Aliyah was a direct continuation. From memoirs of this period, we are aware of the role played by women in the communes of the Second Aliyah, including the area of musical performance (see memoirs of Nechama Zitzer, Yael Gordon, Meri Yatziv, Ada (Fishman) Maimon and numerous others).
The year 1924 is considered by scholars of Hebrew culture to be the point at which the cultural center of the Jewish people shifted to pre-State Palestine. This period, which ended in 1948/9 with the founding of the State of Israel, is regarded as the golden age of shirei Erez Israel. The late 1920s were a milestone and a turning point in the history of this genre. These were the years when there was a generational “changing of the guard” among the songwriters in Palestine. As composers such as Hanina Karchevsky, Abraham Zvi Idelsohn and Yoel Angel (1868–1927, who worked in Palestine only during the last three years of his life) were ending their careers, others were just starting to compose, among them: Yedidyah Admon (1894–1985), Menashe Ravina (1888–1968), Nahum Nardi (1901–1977), David Zahavi (1910–1977), Yehuda Sharett (1901–1979), Mordechai Zeira (1905–1968), Matityahu Shalem (1904–1975), Binyamin Omer-Hatuli (1902–1976), Emanuel Amiran (1909–1993), Sarah Levi-Tanai and many others. These are also known as the “Erez Israel composers” and some even refer to them as the founders of Hebrew song.
During this period and the years that followed, songs were composed and sung in Palestine on the themes of labor and the homeland, the landscape of the Galilee and the Jezreel Valley, and construction and creation, in addition to children’s songs and holiday songs. The poets of the time, both male and female, frequently wrote in the first person (“we,” “I”); also very common were words and phrases such as “all of us,” “together,” “we shall toil/build/establish/dry out [the swamps]/conquer,” and the like—a collective national “I” of sorts. During the 1930s, additional composers arrived in Palestine, among them Moshe Wilensky (1910–1997), Daniel Sambursky (1909–1977), Marc Lavry (1903–1967) and others who made a significant contribution to the genre of shirei Erez Israel.
Most of the works later included in the repertoire of Hebrew song were composed in pre-State Palestine by songwriters who were identified by name. Many composers saw themselves as builders of the emergent Hebrew culture and viewed their songs as “folksongs” of this culture, with all that that implied. Paradoxically enough, they even sought to determine the place of these songs in the nascent culture, despite the fact that one of the defining features of “folk art” is the anonymity of the composers. This approach may have been the source of several basic qualities of shirei Erez Israel: The songs are suited for community sing-alongs, dictating the need for a simple textual and musical structure, uncomplicated melodies, uniformity of subject matter and ease of performance (chiefly monophonic and unison singing), thereby enabling diverse audiences of varying ages to sing them. Indeed, this is one of the prominent features of Hebrew song: The songs are intended for everyone to sing along. In the search for “ancient” Israeli musical roots, the Dorian mode was found to be the closest to the presumed style of Hebrew song—which would explain its popularity in shirei Erez Israel. The Oriental-Yemenite trill is also present in many melodies.
In addition to Sarah Levi-Tanai, who in 1927 began writing songs (lyrics and music), some of which are still sung today, other female composers included Theresa Goitein (1899–1977; immigrated to pre-State Palestine in 1927); Orna Bial, Rivka Gavili (1910-1999), Kata Jacob, Friedel Nussbaum, Miriam Weitzman, Vardina Shlonsky (b. 1913) and Nira Chen (b. 1924), among others. Most of the women composers wrote melodies for children’s songs. Nira Chen became famous toward the end of this period as a writer of songs for folk dances.
Songs written by women lyricists also began to gain in popularity. The first woman lyricist, many of whose songs were set to music during this and later periods, was Rahel Bluwstein, better known as Rahel. Other women poets whose lyrics were put to music and sung during these years included: Fania Bergstein (1908–1950), Lea Goldberg, Hannah Szenes, Miriam Stekelis, Anda Amir and Elisheva Bichovsky. In addition, there were some twenty other women who wrote lyrics for children’s songs, among them: Penina Halprin (b. 1887), Rivka Davidit, Rivka Weisman-Dizengoff, Sarah Gluzman (b. 1915), Hedva Smoiler, Shulamit Klugai (1891–1972), Yaffa Krinkin, Miriam Shirshtik-Wolman and others.
During this period, the following women also gained fame as performers of music—Osnat Halevi, Bracha Zefira, Shoshana Damari, Yosefa Schocken and Naomi Zuri, to name a few. Among the actresses from repertory theater (and not only from satirical revues) who became known for their dramatic singing performances were Hanna Rovina, Lea Deganit, Jenny Lovitz, Nyora Schein, and others. Many of the village songs, shepherd’s songs, ceremonial songs and festival songs, as well as countless children’s songs, were written in the 1930s and 1940s. In some of these works, one can discern Sephardic influences that made their way into shirei Erez Israel, whether through composers of Sephardi extraction (such as Sarah Levi, Nissan Cohen-Melamed [1906–1980] and others) or via the impact of the surrounding community on such composers as Yedidyah Admon, Nahum Nardi, David Zahavi and Emanuel Amiran.
Featuring prominently in many of these lyrics were images of flute-playing shepherds with their flocks, songs of construction and cement, taming the desert, conquering the land and settlement events, and songs of aliyah and struggle. While the first-person plural and collective verbs were commonplace, a sizeable proportion of the song lyrics written by women can actually be characterized as songs of the individual.
Political events, both domestic and foreign, led to greater variety and even to changes in the songs of Erez Israel during the 1930s, but primarily in the 1940s. The Jewish-Arab conflict increased the importance of themes of defense and heroism, as reflected in songs about the Ha-Shomer group and shirei magen (songs of self-defense). Efforts to create a “village culture” raised the status of the songwriters of the pioneer settlement movement, in particular the composers of the kibbutz movement (D. Zahavi, M. Shalem, Yehuda Sharett, Shalom Postolsky [1893–1949] and others).
A noticeable contribution to this culture was made by women who engaged in creating expressive dances that depicted “village life.” Each of these women choreographers worked together with male and female composers; thus their indirect influence on Hebrew song during this period was quite significant.
The War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel bring the “Erez Israel” period to a close, marking the beginning of the period of Israeli song.
At the onset of the fourth period, Israeli song appeared to be a direct continuation of its predecessor—the same songwriters, the same performers and the same singing groups as closed the third period. But a varied mixture of styles and genres soon began to emerge.
By the early 1950s, almost every household in Israel owned a radio. Over the course of the decade, three new radio stations were added, which broadcast Hebrew songs for a growing number of hours each day. Towards the end of the 1950s, the transistor radio was already making its appearance on the city streets and village pathways. Records were also becoming a sought-after item. Male and female singers, singing groups, duos and other musical ensembles recorded numerous Israeli songs, most of them new. Popular songs from Europe and the United States were also making an impact via radio and records.
The airing of a song on radio or before an audience, and its availability on record, created a new phenomenon in Hebrew song: identification of a particular song with its performer. Whereas in the previous period, the names of performers with a unique style could be counted on the fingers of one hand (the women—Zefira, Damari, Yaffa Yarkoni—being the best known), their numbers grew during this period to several dozen singers, as we shall see below.
One of the first musical styles to emerge during the 1950s was the “village song” and the shepherd, or pastoral, song. This style, which marked a continuation of sorts of the “village culture” of the 1940s, received the official support of the Establishment in addition to retaining its popularity among the masses (see for example the winning songs in Kol Yisrael radio’s Song Festivals of 1960–1967). The lyrics portrayed pastoral scenes and the rustic way of life of the shepherd in flowery language punctuated with cries of “ho ho” and “hey hey.” The melodies, which had a simple structure, were written in minor and modal keys. The instruments that predominated were the acoustic guitar, which often dictated the level of harmonic accompaniment, together with the accordion and the darabukka (Arab goblet-shaped drum) and tambourine. Alongside this style, there developed a special dance form referred to at the time as “folk dances.” Song and dance together produced an impressive crop of new songs. Some even had an Oriental flavor that later came to be known as “Mizrahi-Mediterranean.” These songs still featured images of shepherds with a flute, folk dances, songs of construction, taming the desert and conquering the land, campfire songs, songs of victory and dance songs. In many of the lyrics, the speakers continued to express themselves in the first-person plural and to use the same collective verbs cited earlier. Among the songwriters who often composed in this style were Emanuel Zamir (1925–1962), Gil Aldema (b. 1928), Dubi Seltzer (b. 1932), Amitai Ne’eman (1926–2005), Effi Netzer (b. 1934), Aryeh Levanon (b. 1932) and Yosef Hadar (b. 1926), most of them accordion players. They represent the first generation of Israeli composers, who began to write with the founding of the state.
Two new audiences that began to coalesce during this period were “adopted” by the Histadrut (Israel’s General Federation of Labor): (a) folk dancers, for whom a special section was established which, together with the Histadrut’s music section, produced and distributed song sheets of dozens of songs (words and musical notes), at times together with precise dance instructions; and (b) new olim (immigrants) in the transit camps and development towns, for whom the music section produced special songbooks, sometimes in conjunction with other key bodies such as the Information Administration, the local (regional) authorities, and the like. The Histadrut’s music section also extended its domain to include all participants in choirs and, later, members of singing groups (which flourished in the 1980s) in the cities, the moshavot and the kibbutz movement. It accomplished this by providing high-quality musical and instructional material (for which it was the exclusive source) and by organizing gatherings of choirs, assorted musical encounters and continuing-education programs for youth-group leaders and choir directors.
Alongside the village and shepherd’s songs, the “salon” style was now beginning to develop. The name had originated during the previous period, when the couples dances that were popular at the time (the tango, waltz, rumba, slow dances and the like) became known as “salon dances” and the songs that accompanied them, “salon songs.” The style, which had already sprouted here and there in the 1940s with dance orchestras in cafés, nightclubs and bars in the big cities, was boosted by such satirical revues as Ha-Matate and Li La Lo, which adopted the various salon rhythms. It soon became widespread, captivating increasing numbers of young people and adults and gaining popularity as a result of the international hit parades broadcast over the radio (including Radio Ramallah). An additional boost came from the record stores that were opening up, where one could buy both imported and local records. Movie soundtracks were also becoming popular.
From a musical standpoint, the salon style was noteworthy for its rhythms, which were considered foreign and unsuited to the Erez Israel style. In terms of harmony, one could discern harmonies drawn from jazz, which was starting to win admirers among the Israeli audience. The bulk of the salon songs in the early 1950s dealt with romance. In this respect, they presaged the individualistic “I” lyrics that swept Hebrew song during the following period.
Among the many songwriters who joined the list of contemporary creators of Hebrew song were a number of women, including Daniela Dor (1908–1963), Drora Havkin (1934–1995), Dafna Eilat (1938–2002), and, towards the end of this period, Naomi Shemer and Nurit Hirsch, who became famous during the ensuing years.
But the role of women during the period in question was largely in the area of musical performance. The phenomenon of male-female singing duos, which originated during these years, was exemplified by Ilka and Aviva, Ran and Nama (Nama being Nechama Hendel), Shmuel Bar-Zakai and Tova Ben-Zvi, the Ofarim Duo and, towards the end of the period, Ilan and Ilanit, Hedva and David, and others (in some cases, the professional collaboration turned into a marital bond). Among the trios that performed toward the end of this period, the vocal ensemble of two men and a woman was a popular format (for example, Shlishiyat ha-Ma’apil, with Irit Sendner, and Ha-Halonot ha-Gevohim, with Josie Katz). Two women’s foursomes that performed during these years were Benot Mo’adon ha-Te’atron (founded in 1963 at the Theater Club in Haifa in response to the male Revi’iyat Mo’adon ha-Te’atron who performed at the Theater Club in Tel Aviv) and the Shemer Sisters, founded in 1966 by Naomi Shemer, which lasted only one year.
Other women singers of note, in addition to those mentioned above, include Dorothy Liviu, Ahuva Tzadok, Jetta Luca (b. 1925), Hana Aharoni (b. 1933), Shulamit Livnat (b. 1931), Aliza Kashi (b. 1936), Ilana Rovina (b. 1934), Hadassah Sigalov, Geula Gil (b. 1932), Rika Zarai (b. 1936), Lilit Nagar (b. 1936), Aliza Azikri (b. 1941), Yona Atari (b. 1933), Rahel Atas (1934–2004), Aliza Gabai (b. 1936), Rivka Raz (b. 1936), Rivka Michaeli (b. 1938), Edna Goren (b. 1943) and, later in the period, Chava Alberstein and Gila Adari (b. 1950).
In 1951, the Nahal Entertainment Troupe, the first of the army’s musical troupes, began to perform. The success of this ensemble led to the creation of other army entertainment troupes. For over twenty-five years, these troupes left their mark on Israeli song in every possible sphere, from a large and unique repertoire to the quality of their performance and their impressive roster of performers, including male and female singers, duos, trios, entertainment troupes, singing groups and other ensembles that appeared around the country. Also working closely with the army entertainment troupes were songwriters, lyricists, choreographers and musical directors who, following the experience they accumulated with the army troupes, formed the backbone of Hebrew song for over five decades.
Among the composers who frequently wrote for the army entertainment troupes were Sasha (Alexander) Argov (1914–1996) and Moshe Wilensky, who were the connecting link between the generation of “Erez Israel” composers and Israeli composers. Others included Dubi Seltzer, Yohanan Zarai (b. 1929), Naomi Shemer, Drora Havkin, Aryeh Levanon, Nurit Hirsch, Yair Rosenblum (1944–1996), Matti Caspi (b. 1949), Benny Nagari, Eldad Shrim and Kobi Oshrat.
In the mid–1960s, a number of changes took place in the various Israeli singing groups (in particular the army entertainment troupes) and in many of the back-up groups that provided musical accompaniment: the accordion was replaced by the electric organ (and later, the synthesizer); the darabukka was replaced by a full set of drums with accessories/additional percussion instruments; and electric and bass guitars were introduced. Among those responsible for the change in the sound of the army entertainment troupes was Yair Rosenblum. This shift made it legitimate for other groups as well to change their musical style to the young, modern sound that was then fashionable in the West, in which rhythm became more dominant; at the same time, it brought recognition to “rhythm bands” and rock groups that were operating virtually underground in various outlying areas (the Ramle groups, the Masger Street Group and the South Tel Aviv Group). These fringe groups started off with covers of overseas hits in the musical styles that were popular internationally at the time (mainly pop and rock), gradually making their way to the mainstream Israeli musical scene.
In terms of musical styles, Hebrew song has absorbed influences from both within and without. Domestically, it has drawn mainly on the musical sources of the various ethnic groups in Israel, notably Greek music (perhaps as a compromise in place of Mizrahi music; one of the singers who represents this genre is Aliza Azikri). The foreign influences have stemmed largely from the musical styles of Europe and the United States, stretching from folk music (Pete Seeger and The Weavers; one of the women singers most closely identified with this style was Nechama Hendel) to the French chanson and on to Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Throughout this period, Hebrew song shifted from one style and inspiration to another, as if searching for an identity; but in fact it was enriching itself for the future. This was a time when dozens of performers, both male and female, each attempted singly and in duos, trios and entire troupes, to find their own unique style.
The Six-Day War (in 1967) constituted a watershed of sorts for Hebrew song. Early in this period, a single television channel was launched which operated for three hours daily; but in a rapid, continuous process, it became possible towards the end of the millennium to receive dozens of channels broadcasting up to twenty-four hours a day, ten of them Israeli channels that devote many hours to Hebrew song, including a special public channel for Hebrew song operating around the clock.
The advent of television broadcasting in Israel brought a new dimension to Israeli song that differed from all its predecessors. The difference expressed itself, among other things, in the methods of distribution, the greater exposure of songwriters and performers, and influences from other cultures, initially those of Europe and the United States, and later, the world at large.
The San Remo Festival, the European and other song festivals (including the Eurovision) and televised concerts and appearances by singers and pop and rock groups, all of them taking place as if in one’s own living room, enabled hundreds of Israeli songwriters and performers to reach a virtually worldwide audience. In addition, the ability to film and to record simultaneously and separately opened up new opportunities for performers of Hebrew song. From now on, what was important was “not only how you sounded but also how you looked.”
The ability to reach hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners—and sometimes more—at one time, changed all existing criteria with respect to style, format of the group, choice of songs, adaptation of the repertoire to the maximum number of consumers (i.e., the pursuit of ratings), innovation, creativity and so forth.
Immediately following the Six-Day War, Israel was inundated with shirei moledet (“songs of the homeland”) whose content resembled the patriotic songs of earlier periods. These works, together with the village songs, fitted in with the surge of nostalgia songs that swept the country beginning in the 1960s. Today as well, this mixture of new and old homeland songs (sometimes in updated versions), known as shirei Erez Israel, represents a major stream within Israeli song. But this is only one of the genres that have flourished during this period. The other principal streams include the Mizrahi-Mediterranean style, pop and rock, the hassidic style, etc., in which songwriters and performers (including women in growing numbers) are generally identified with a particular style.
The ethnic influence in Israeli song already existed before the founding of the state. During the first and second periods cited above, there was a tendency of sorts toward cultural integration in the regional space. In the third period, the inclination was to connect the ancient past with the new “Israeliness” in its authentic Mizrahi form. During the fourth period, the Mizrahi/Oriental was seen largely as the Arab enemy of Israel. Following the Yom Kippur War (1973), and especially after the “upheaval” of 1977 which altered the political map of Israel, ethnic awareness intensified, Sephardi performers of Israeli songs gained greater importance, and air time began to be allocated differently. In less than two decades, aided by political activism, the Mizrahi-Mediterranean style became one of the major genres of Israeli song. Among its basic elements are frequent melismatic passages, heavy use of the augmented second, melodic ornamentations and embellishments within the quarter tone and semitone, and instrumental accompaniment generally using electronic instruments (synthesizers) together with electric guitar, bass guitar and percussion instruments. In addition, one or more of the following Mizrahi instruments are frequently featured: the violin, oud, kanoun, darabukka and—owing to the Greek influence—the bouzouki and mandolins. Among the outstanding women performing in this style are Ahuva Ozeri (b. 1949), Margalit Tsanani (b. 1949), Aviva Avidan (b. 1950?), Zahava Ben (b. 1968) and Sarit Hadad (b. 1978).
The preeminent women of this period are undoubtedly Naomi Shemer and Nurit Hirsh in the area of songwriting, and Chava Alberstein, who joined the ranks only during the 1980s, as a performer. All three began their careers during the fourth period but reached their pinnacle in the course of the fifth.
Women who gained famed as writers of lyrics include the poets Tirza Atar, Zelda, Dalia Ravikovitch, Yona Wallach, and the lyricists Lea Naor (b. 1936), Hamutal Bar Yosef, Mirit Shem-Or, Rachel Shapira, Chana Goldberg, Vered Klapter (b. 1957), Talma Alyagon-Roz and others. (The poets wrote their words with no connection to their eventual melodies whereas the lyricists did so in collaboration with a composer.)
A specialized area of songwriting that developed during this period is that of songs for children. Hundreds, if not thousands, of children’s songs were written during the years in question. This field belongs almost exclusively to women. Among the more prominent creators of children’s songs, suffice it to mention the songwriters (words and music) Datia Ben Dor, Ariela Savir and Meirav Hausman.
During this period, a new type of artists began to make their presence felt: the singer-songwriters, who both compose songs and perform them. Most of the singer-songwriters express themselves in a highly personal way. The outstanding female practitioners of this type of Israeli songwriting include Corinne Allal (b. 1955), Si Heiman (b. 1961), Alona Daniel (b. 1965), Astar Shamir (b. 1955), Lea Shabbat (b. 1957), Inbal Perlmutter (1971–1997), Sharon Lifshitz (b. 1961) and Mika Karni, to name a few.
During the years in question, there was a decline in vocal ensembles (duos, trios, foursomes and groups); nevertheless, some of the more outstanding ones had women members who played a major role, among them the Datzim, better known as Datz and Datza; Shuki and Dorit (1978–1990); the Neshamot Tehorot trio, with Nava Baruchin; the Hakol Over Habibi foursome, with Shlomit Aharon; and Ha-Ahim ve-ha-Ahayot (1971). Also gaining fame were groups made up solely of women, such as Susan and Fran (1972); the Shokolad Menta Mastik trio (1972–1978); Sexta (1978–1983); Ha-Makhshefot (1992–1997) and others.
During this period, a new performing art was added to the realm of Hebrew song, namely, leading community sing-alongs. Sarale Sharon (b. 1949) reached unprecedented heights in this genre, earning the title “the queen of Hebrew song.”
Also during the years in question, a number of women stood out as performers of assorted styles of Hebrew song. Not all of them made their mark in the same way and at the same level, but each of them reached the top of the hit parade at least once. Some of the women were awarded various prizes and titles such as “female singer of the year,” “discovery of the year,” and the like. The following list is arranged by year of birth, not according to the order in which the singers became famous (for example, Ora Zitner, who was born in 1946, gained fame as a performer of the songs of Argov and others only from the 1980s onward): Michal Tal (b. 1945), Tsila Dagan (b. 1946), Ilanit (b. 1947), Shula Chen (b. 1947), Shuly Nathan, Rivka Zohar (b. 1948), Nira Gal (b. 1948), Miri Aloni (b. 1949), Riki Gal (b. 1950), Ophira Gluska (b. 1950), Edna Lev (b. 1950), Nurit Galron (b. 1951), Dorit Reuveni (b. 1952), Netanela (b. 1954), Ruti Navon (b. 1954), Sheri (b. 1955), Ruhama Raz (b. 1955), Gali Atari (b. 1956), Yehudit Ravitz (b. 1956), Dafna Armoni (b. 1957), Mazi Cohen (b. 1959), Ilana Avital (b. 1960), Rita (b. 1962), Etti Ankri (b. 1963), Dana Berger (b. 1970) and Meital Trabelsi (b. 1972).
Israeli songs and shirei Erez Israel are sung throughout the world, but primarily in Jewish communities in various countries. Israeli songs are often a symbol of identification with the Jewish world and the State of Israel. The instituting of television broadcasts during the fifth period helped popularize Israeli song in other cultures as well. From time to time, Israeli performers have taken first place at international song festivals, with women predominating in this group: The songs “Stav” (Autumn; performed by Esther Ofarim) and “Laylah ve-Ashan” (Night and Smoke; performed by Rivka Raz), both composed by Moshe Wilensky, won prizes at the Sopot song festival in Poland in 1962 and 1963, respectively. The Hedva and David duo were awarded first prize at a song competition in Japan with their song “Ani Holem al Naomi” (I Dream of Naomi). Since Israel began participating in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973, it has won first prize on three occasions. The second time, the winning vocalist was Gali Atari, soloist of the Halav u-Devash group (in 1979), and the third time, the prize was won by Dana International (1998). Women singers who have competed in the Eurovision include Orna Datz of the Datzim, Ilanit, Dafna Dekel, Sarale Sharon and Galit Burg (of the duo Gili and Galit). But the female singer who achieved the greatest international acclaim was Ofra Haza, performing Yemenite songs with unique musical arrangements.
From a historical perspective, it is obvious that the contribution of women to Hebrew song in general, and to shirei Erez Israel and Israeli song in particular, has risen steadily with the years. From a small group of women songwriters and performers who were active in the early periods, the number of women in the field has reached dozens in the more recent decades.
How to cite this page
Shahar, Nathan. "Hebrew Song, 1880-2000." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 31, 2015) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hebrew-song-1880-2000>.
Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.
Sign Up for JWA eNews
Discover Education Programs
Join our growing community of educators.