((JR)) — After a week of witnessing the pain and resilience of Israelis in war time I went to Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine music club. I was driven by a prayerful hope to find some solace during the war, along with communion, with fellow heartbroken folks for whom words were failing.
The last time I went to Yellow Submarine was almost a decade ago. It was also wartime. I was visiting Israel for the summer with my family when conflict broke out with Gaza. Rockets flew, fear reigned and the heartache of war weighed heavily. That was the night I first heard the Israeli singer-songwriter Daniela Spector, an artist I never heard before whose lyrics and haunting voice are now part of my inner soundtrack.
From the very beginning of this war, music has been a lifeline for me and many others. I listen to Israeli radio — usually on Fridays to fill my house in suburban New Jersey with the spirit of a country where everyone shifts into some form of sabbath mode every Friday. But since the start of the war, I have been especially connected to Galatz, Israeli army radio, with its constant stream of news and talk shows and its sister music channel Galgalatz.
Silly pop songs take on deep meaning when requested by someone from the front lines, or by their girlfriend or boyfriend back home, or their kid who loves to sing that song with them. Or how about the daily radio show “Habaita” — “Come Home” — which plays the favorite songs of the kidnapped? Some of the songs have become ubiquitous because of their use in videos showing the reunion of soldiers and their families, a bright spot in a country with so much darkness.
I returned to Israel this month as an organizer of the Jewish Studies Scholars Faculty Solidarity Mission. I hadn’t heard of the artist performing when I went back to the club, hoping for another night of surprises and of words and music that could take me somewhere deep. It was Sivan Talmor’s first performance since Oct. 7, and she spoke to my heart, sharing the cliché that is a cliché because it’s true: Old songs have new meanings now.
Throughout the show she was funny, she overshared and was vulnerable. She told us about her husband who was away on reserve duty, how she took her two kids and moved in with a friend whose husband is also fighting. One night, they took their guitars and went out to a park and began playing with friends. A crowd gathered and they sang some more. They sang the nostalgic songs of their youth — one of which she played with her trio at the Yellow Submarine.
Maragalit Tzanani’s 1986 hit “Naari Shuva Eli” — “My Boy, Return to Me!” — is about a girl waiting for her boyfriend to return. She waits at the bus stop all night long only to reach daybreak without him. Despite it all, the girl sings to her God, beseeching Him to watch over her boy. “Please, God, take care of him,” she sings.
This classic song of love and heartache sounds different now. I imagined that each time Talmor repeated the refrain about “his curls being coated with the dust of the road,” she was thinking of her husband, one day coming back from the war, his curls dirty, his body broken and ready for comfort. The crowd sang along with every word.
Talmor invited us into her own therapy session on stage. She requested a shot of arak from the stage and shared another story: A female reservist wrote to her saying that her song “I Am Not Afraid” was keeping her strong on her way to the front.
At one moment towards the end of the evening, Talmor prayed. I was happily surprised to see this artist who seems to belong to the tribe of free-spirited Israeli secularists, a tribe with deep roots in this miraculous, heartbreaking country, address her audience in prayer. She prayed for the return of the hostages, for the safety of the soldiers, including her husband serving on the front lines, and she prayed for peace in Gaza. Someone in the audience called out that her son was fighting also, and then another mentioned a loved one.
Talmor asked for their names, and she prayed that Ido and Oded and all of the soldiers and the hostages return safely. She prayed that the sense of connection felt throughout the country would not be lost, that the nation would not lose the realization that you can feel a bond with your neighbor without thinking the same way as him, that we emerge stronger from this crisis because of the power of our people.
Then Talmor played “Hof,” or “Shore,” which is something of a hit in Israel. A few days later, she shared on Instagram that her husband in Gaza managed to pick up a signal on his transistor radio and heard this song that she wrote about him, about their love, and for that moment they were together again.
At the beginning of the show Sivan told us that she used to feel most at home on an airplane and that now she knows where home is.
The Israel that I found throughout my travels and intense conversations was an Israel that is awakened, ready to help, to solve problems, to be there for each other. And to create their way through pain, loss and confusion. As one sign I saw prominently displayed in Tel Aviv — “United, anew.” After a year of tearing their society apart, Israelis are finding strength and vitality in coming together, in being there for each other and creating something new.
This trip to Israel was different. I saw more pain, and more togetherness, than ever before. And through it all, I was reminded that music is a story we tell ourselves when we have no words. Israel’s wars have always had songs that become closely associated with them. For me, Sivan Talmor will forever be a defining sound of this moment.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of (JR) or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.