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WINTER 2004-2005

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Student Builds Internet Site of Never-Recorded Israeli Army Songs
 


You won’t find many songs like the once-famous “Sound Off” marching ditty that American troops yelled out in unison—at least in the movies in the mid-1950s—to help them keep pace during training treks and parades. But you will find a soldier’s expression of pride in his unit, the whining refrains of a new recruit, coarse musings on army life, pointed descriptions of combat—all adding up to a poetry reflecting life experiences. More specifically the experiences of Israeli military life.

Some 200 of these songs, some with original lyrics and others parodies of well-known tunes, may be found on a unique website (http://music.haifa.ac.il/zemer).   Arad Hakim, a 3rd-year student in the Dept. of Land of Israel Studies built the site, which had its origins in a project he was doing for a course, “Flowers in the Barrel of a Gun.”  The course, given jointly with the Dept. of Music, explored the Hebrew song as inspired by Israeli military experience.  The site, which is only in Hebrew, contains just the words, not the music, of the songs, most of which have never been recorded.

Hakim, 27, found a dormant site on the Internet that, among others, contained about 40 Israeli “military” songs.  To collect more songs for his project, he realized he would have to utilize the Internet.  He enlisted the aid of the Computing Division for the technical side of building a site.  This reduced the complexity of collecting “non-official songs, songs by the boys” who were no longer in the army or in the units whose members belted out lyrics that would likely never find their way into a formal archive.

Early on, his site came to the attention of BaMahaneh (literally In the Camp), an army magazine, which interviewed him.  The interview was publicized on Y-Net and Maariv, the websites of the two largest Hebrew dailies, and the same day it had 3,000 hits.  More importantly for Hakim, songs began to flow in to his site, which he had named “Zemer Haplugot” (Army Troop Songs).  He has since been interviewed on the radio.

Most of the songs came from younger soldiers, those who had served in the 1990s.  The younger generation, he believes, is more attuned to the Internet, and so has responded more to his appeal.  Some songs, though, did come from the 1970s and 1960s.  The oldest ditty he has collected is from 1961.  Many of the older songs, Hakim notes, were taken from Israeli movies.

Combat units seem the most creative, he observes.  “They are like a youth movement, [the soldiers] spending all their time together.  They don’t go home at night as do many support troops.”  The bonding and common danger apparently produce a creative force.  He also notes that males do much more writing in this vein than do female soldiers. 

Even though the theme of many songs concerns a particular unit or soldier, songs find their way throughout the army.  A soldier, for example, may sing some refrain while undergoing officer’s training, and his fellow officers to-be may pick it and bring it back to their respective units.  The particular song then becomes widespread.

Once, Hakim recalls, he was at an army base and heard a passing soldier singing a song from his site, as well as several others.  It brought home to him the potential of the site, and he was able to collect several more songs.

Parodies give him the most challenge.  He tries to figure out what the original song was from the words he receives.  At times the new lyrics convey a meaning directly contradicting the original.  “Naomi Shemer [the late, noted songwriter, whose hits included “Jerusalem of Gold”] would be turning over in her grave if she ever knew what they have done to some of her songs,” he said.

The student, who is from Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, means the Internet site only as an academic exercise “to gather material, not to reach any conclusions, so that it can be used as a tool for research.”  His own interest is in history, not music or sociology, although he hasn’t decided what he wants to do after gaining his Bachelor’s degree.  He hopes someone will take it on him or herself to build up the site to offer a serious database, which he feels can happen only with the addition of at least another hundred songs.  He would publicize the site more to attract songs if he had the time and resources to do so. 

Adding music to the site or making a disk of a selection of the songs he has gathered would also involve resources that he doesn’t have, he replies in answer to a question. What Hakim does have, at least on one level, is a higher grade for the course, since the instructors “were very satisfied with the practical results of my research.”  On another level, he gained something much more from his project.  “It was more than just getting a grade and going home” he remarks proudly about the Internet site he built of Hebrew songs connected with the army experience of Israel’s citizen soldiers.

 

In This Issue:

President’s Focus
Continuity, Change, and Social Responsibility

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, a Former Negotiator, Reflects on Israel-Jordan Relations
at a Conference Here Marking a Decade of a Formal Peace
Former Jordanian Minister and Negotiator Heads Delegation from Jordan Here

Unique ‘Open Apartment’ Project Benefits Community and Students

University Obtains Its First Biotech Patent in the U.S.

Researcher Develops Computerized Handwriting Evaluation System

Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi Named Rector of the University

Prof. David Faraggi—Deputy Rector

What If a Tsunami Hit? First Program of Its Kind in Israel Dealing with Mass Disaster

Eskesta Success Continues

University Campus Gradually Becoming Wireless

Honors and Appointments

 

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