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Friday, April 30, 2004

Song of a Clean Nation

Every so often the nearly forgotten lyrics of an old familiar song come into perfect focus. The blur of half-understood syllables that had previously acted only as hooks on which to hang the melody, suddenly exactly describe current feelings or events. If there isn’t a term for this, there should be.

Back in 1984 Matti Caspi, a popular Israeli singer, came out with an album called My Second Childhood, the first song of which was called “Friday Night is bath night” (parenthetically titled ‘Shir Am Naki’ - literally, ‘Song of a Clean Nation’).

This unremarkable song used typical pop instrumentation, but added an accordion to the mix that gave it a very folky/old-Israeli flavor. The lyrics, which I barely understood back when the song came out, talk about seemingly random events and observations from a Friday afternoon before Shabbat:

The ‘singing’ of showers running…kids with wet hair (parted in the middle or on the side)…people cleaning…water and soap…the electricity being switched over to the 'Shabbat clock'…putting away financial matters…changing into white shirts…the smell of food cooking…people greeting one-another

This afternoon as Zahava baked desert, the kids did ‘sponja’ (washed the floor), I finished my chores and went to quickly check my e-mail. Just on a whim, I opened up iTunes and set it to ‘random play’. By chance, the first song up was the one we are discussing here.

Listening closely to the words, I realized it was giving a perfect description of what was going on in our house…in our neighbor’s houses…in fact, in houses all over Israel. Religious or non-religious, there are certain preparations that the entire country goes through on Friday afternoon. As Shai so aptly said in his list of 56 things that make Israel, Israel, “No matter how much of a hipster you are, you still end up at moms for Friday night dinner.”

Back in Connecticut we were part of a warm, vibrant community, but Friday chores, and the simple things we did each week to prepare for Shabbat, were out of sync with the rest of the neighborhood.

Although there may not be a term or phrase to perfectly describe that sudden identification with a song’s lyrics, there is certainly a phrase to describe the tangible rush that comes from watching everyone else running the same errands…doing the same chores…and finally slowing down as though listening to the same song…the song of a clean nation: 'Shabbat in Israel'.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted by David Bogner on April 30, 2004 | Permalink


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