Many readers of this blog may remember from their younger days the Israeli singer Yaffa Yarkoni who died at the age of 86 a few weeks ago. She was famous during the early years of the state and was especially known for entertaining soldiers.

Haaretz  printed a moving retrospective article last week by Tom Segev that traced the arc of her life – see http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/striking-a-different-tune-1.405805. It is worth reading, both for the nostalgia of a time long past, but also because her life reflected the evolution of Israeli society. Yarkoni was an important player in reinforcing the new nation’s founding mythos and how Jewish Israelis viewed themselves which, as the article points out, under that legendary tough exterior sometimes there was a quiet questioning voice. She even got into a bit of trouble for that when she let that voice slip out publicly early in her career.

But what is really interesting is how, as the country began maturing and the first cracks in the national Jewish solidarity appeared, she peripherally was tarnished through her husband with allegations of corruption involving Ben Gurion’s son. Much later her public image was badly damaged when, in a deeply polarized political climate, she let slip in an unguarded moment a critical comment about the actions of Israeli soldiers. It was a far cry from the seeming unity of purpose in the late ‘40’s.

Reading Segev’s article will bring you back to those early idealistic days, as reflected in the Bab El-Wad lyrics below that Yarkoni often sang, but also will let you reflect on the torturous journey Israel has taken since then.

Bab El-Wad
Lyrics: Haim Guri
Music: Shmuel Farshko

Here I am passing, standing by the stone.
An asphalt road, rocks and ridges.
Day goes down slowly, sea-wind blows
Light of a first star, over Beit Maschir.

Bab-el-wad,
Do remember our names forever,
Convoys broke through, on the way to the City.
Our dead lay on the road edges.
The iron skeleton is silent like my comrade.

Here pitch and lead fumed under the sun,
Here nights passed with fire and knives.
Here sorrow and glory live together
With a burnt armored car and the name of an unknown.

Bab-el-wad

And I walk, passing here silently,
And I remember them, one by one.
Here we fought together on cliffs and boulders
Here we were one family.

Bab-el-wad

A spring day will come, the cyclamens will bloom,
Red of anemone on the mountain and on the slope.
He, who will go on the road we went,
He will not forget us, Bab-el-wad.

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