Naomi Shemer’s poem “Oddball”

This poem was posted on Facebook by MyIsrael, an organization that is well, very pro-Israel. You can look at their website, but it’s in Hebrew, so be forewarned. If you click on the English, it will take you to their Facebook page, where I began. I will translate the poem roughly, but I think you’ll quickly get the gist. It starts with a bit of an introduction.

 ז’ בתמוז, 7 שנים לפטירתה של המשוררת הלאומית נעמי שמר ז”ל   The 7th of Tamuz marks 7 years since the passing of the nationalist songwriter Naomi Shemer, ob”m.

שיר נשכח של המשוררת, המתאים לחברי ישראל שלי – “איש מוזר” Naomi had a poem that had been forgotten that is fitting for the organization Yisrael Sheli (My Israel), “Oddball”.
**
לפני ימים אחדים כינתה עיתונאית מסוימת את תנועת ישראל שלי בכינוי “תנועה מוזרה” – כנראה בגלל שאנו עדיין אוהבים את ארצנו ואת עמנו A few days ago, certain journalists pointed out the organization as “an odd movement”. It seems that this is because we still love our land and our people
אם להיות ציוני ואוהב את הארץ זה להיות מוזר – אז אנו גאים להיות מוזרים If to be Zionist and to love the land is to be considered odd, then we are proud of being odd.
**
.תודה לחברה למור מזרחי על שהביאה את יום פטירתה לידיעתנו Thank you to Mor Mizrachi for pointing out her yahrzeit.
**
כמה מתאים להיזכר בשיר נשכח של נעמי שמר ז”ל How fitting to remember the poem of Naomi Shemer, “Oddball.”
“איש מוזר”
מאת: נעמי שמר ז”ל
**
פגשתי איש מאוד מוזר I once met a very odd man
שהלך כמו סהרורי, who went along like a sleepwalker
מלמל לעצמו בשקט ואמר: He muttered quietly to himself and said
על משכבי בלילות אני שומע On my bed at night I hear
קול פעמון גדול מצלצל the voice of a great bell ringing
ארץ ישראל שייכת לעם ישראל Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) belongs to the People of Yisrael

ובקומי בבוקר אני חוזר ואומר And when I rise in the morning, I repeat
וכמו מתפלל like a prayer
ארץ ישראל שייכת לעם ישראל Eretz Yisrael belongs to the People of Yisrael
והד עונה לי מן הגאיות And an echo answers me from the valleys
והזריחה בהרים היא יפה להלל And the sunlight on the mountains is unutterably beautiful
וארץ ישראל שייכת לעם ישראל and Eretz Yisrael belongs to the People of Yisrael

וכך בקול ענות, And with a whimper
וכך בקול ילל And with a loud howl
וכך יומם וליל- And day and night
ארץ ישראל שייכת לעם ישראל Eretz Yisrael belongs to the People of Yisrael

והיא שייכת לו – And she (the land) belongs to them
לא כדי שיחזיק בה חיל כיבוש Not so that they will hold it by force or conquest
או חיל מצב Or garrison
היא שייכת לו כדי לבנות בה She belongs to them so that they will build her
את בית חלומותיו The house of their dreams
וכך בהקיץ ובחלום And so in waking hours and in dreams
ומדור לדור And from generation to generation
ומתוך הרגל And from force of habit
ארץ ישראל שייכת לעם ישראל Eretz Yisrael belongs to the People of Yisrael

איש מוזר, אמרתי. תתבייש, “Odd man”, I said, “Shame on you.”
סיסמא כל כך ישנה “Such an old idea.
הרי אתה מחוץ לתחום ומחוץ לקו You are so out of touch and out of line
ובעיקר – מחוץ לאופנה And most important, out of fashion.”
אבל האיש המוזר לא ענה לי, But the odd man did not answer me.
הוא לא ענה…He did not answer…

ואז ראיתי מסביב And I saw all around
את עשרות ואת מאות ואת האלפים The tens and hundreds and thousands of
אנשים כל כך מוזרים People just as odd
אנשים כל כך יפים People so beautiful
וקולם במקהלה גדולה And all of them a great chorus
כרעם הרחוק מתגלגל – Like distant thunder rolling
ארץ ישראל שייכת לעם ישראל Eretz Yisrael belongs to the People of Yisrael.

ואז – מיושנת ללא תקנה And so, hopelessly outdated
וסנטימנטלית ללא רחם –and relentlessly sentimental
אמרתי –I said
אנשים מוזרים – לו יהי חלקי עמכם! Odd People! Let my portion be with you!
**

Now see how someone fit the poem into a further context…

 Being so inspired by this poem, I went to find out a little more about this unknown part of Shemer’s life, at least unknown to me. So I found a few articles, which I will share the appropriate parts.

‘Al Kol Eileh’ is a perfect example of how Shemer’s deceptively simple lyrics could spawn manifold interpretations. Settlers and the expansionist right adopted it as a battle hymn. They sung it defiantly in 1979, when Menachem Begin’s first Likud administration ordered bulldozers to dismantle the Sinai settlement of Yamit, in the cause of peace with Egypt. Yet in 2004 peace activists evoked its other message, of respect for nature and humanity, when they protested against Israel’s demolition of ancient Palestinian olive groves in the West Bank.

Shemer originally wrote the song to comfort her sister, Ruth, who had just lost her husband. But she did not object when settlers adopted it as their anthem, especially at Yamit. On the contrary – and to the chagrin of her left-leaning fans – Shemer backed the settlers’ umbrella group, Gush Emunim, as it grew after the 1973 war. Occasionally she even marched with them. She also wrote some controversial songs during that period; one was provocatively called ‘Ish Muzar’ (‘Oddball’) and contains the line: ‘The Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.’

In 1999 a writer to an online peace bulletin board, Ira Weiss, wrote sadly of the ‘expropriation’ of his favourite song, ‘Al Kol Eileh’. On learning of Shemer’s settler affiliations, he commented: ‘I am deeply saddened. I love that song so . . . I don’t want to let them steal it from me . . . not even with the help of its author.’

Shemer’s affiliations here raise the wider issue of why certain scions of Labour’s founding generation, descendants of the largely Ashkenazi and secular chalutzim of yore, found the settler movement so beguiling. Perhaps they saw it as a logical continuation of the ‘tower and stockade’ campaign of socialist Zionists in the 1930s. The clearest example of this ideological evolution was Moshe Shamir, a revered author from ‘the Palmach generation’, former Marxist and key figure within the left-wing Mapam party, who died two months after Shemer, on 20 August. Shamir surprised his erstwhile allies immediately after the Six Day War when he became a leader of the Land of Israel Movement. In 1979 he helped found Tehiyah, a party to the right of Likud, many of whose members were former Labourites.

Religiously Orthodox Gushniks must have felt they were enacting biblical prophesy and fulfilling divine edicts ‘in our days’; yet their zeal found resonance in what may be called the romantic Zionism of Shemer and her ilk. Such romanticism gives zest to her songs, but it also, arguably, led her to ignore the whole issue of Palestinian rights.

And another:

In the mid-1970s Shemer began to identify with the people of Gush Emunim, the national religious movement that arose after the Yom Kippur War and also earned the support of people who were considered at the time people of the labor settlements, who saw them as settlers of the land. At that time Shemer wrote songs like “Paranoid’ and “Oddball” (Ish muzar), which caused a scandal. The words of “Oddball,” for example, included the line, “The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”

At that time it was also held against Shemer that she wrote the line “The market square is empty” in the new verse she added to “Jerusalem of Gold,” even though the square was not indeed empty and Arabs were living there. Shemer said in response: “As long as there were no Jews there, in my eyes it was empty.”

The song “Do Not Uproot What has been Planted” (Al na ta’akor natua) became the anthem of the settlers of Yamit in Sinai in 1979. However, in an interview Shemer related that she had written the song to encourage her sister Ruth, who lost her husband. For Shemer, the evacuation of Yamit was a breaking point, and thereafter she rarely made political statements. In an interview with Haaretz four years ago, Shemer said: “At Yamit I learned that the commandment to settle the land on which I was raised was no longer valid. In settling the land there is definitely desire and passion. I am not prepared to be ashamed of this, because I grew up on the importance of settlement. But since Yamit, I feel that we have already evacuated the Golan Heights. This is the case, even though I wrote `There are the Mountains of Golan,’ and I feel terrible sadness.”

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