The renewed sounds of Leah Goldberg
Zionist canonZionist canon

The renewed sounds of Leah Goldberg

A national project hopes to preserve the Israeli soundbook

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Leah Goldberg, the famed Israeli poet and writer, never knew that her words became an indelible part of Israel’s literary canon, as well as the source for many classic Israeli songs.

Now a new song project from Shir-Ad, a non-profit that promotes age-old Hebrew songs and values, will help preserve Goldberg’s words for future generations.

“The organization saves the songs and records them digitally,” said composer Ori Leshman, the artistic director of Shir-Ad. “But what’s even cooler is that we renew them. We take the classics, the Israeli soundbook, and renew them with the best artists of today.”

Goldberg, who immigrated to British-mandate Palestine in 1935, was already a prolific writer and translator when she settled in Tel Aviv. She never married, and wrote dozens of poems, as well as several revered children’s books, plays, works of prose and translations. She was awarded the Israel Prize posthumously in 1970, after dying of cancer at age 59.

Leshman gathered ten contemporary musicians and had each one choose one of Goldberg’s poems and record a new arrangement with Leshman, finding their own interpretations of Goldberg’s verbiage.

The group included Alon Olearchik, Yermi Kaplan, Din Din Aviv, Avi Grainik, Rivka Zohar and Liron Lev, The Gruvatron, Sarit Vino and Mai Israeli Leshman.

The recordings were done over the course of three days, with one musician following the next. It was intense, he said.

“We were dealing with experienced musicians, and it was live,” said Leshman, “that creates a very unique energy. Someone like Yirmy Kaplan took ‘Lone Drum,’ an almost pop-like song and he took it somewhere more emotional and full of pain. Or ‘Hehalil,” that’s classic music of Israel and Dindin Aviv tied it to Eastern and Western sounds.”

Each song had some special hook or angle, said Leshman, creating a kind of window into Israeli music. But working with Leah Goldberg’s profound words and thoughts made it relatively easy to accomplish.

“Her songs are so amazing so it was very easy to get other artists to cooperate,” he said. “That kind of connection between composers and poets is something unique. People like Leah Goldberg were recruited by the Zionist leaders, because they understood that with songs, they would merge people from different places, accents, and languages. They joined together to make this Hebrew heritage, and they were the mainstream.”

For now, Leshman is already thinking about the next stage in the project, with a plan to record every song in the canon within the next five years. But he’s not worried about all that work.

“Those three days in the studio were like heaven,” he said. “It was a great risk, because if you don’t finish the song, you have the next person knocking on the door. But I would do it again tomorrow.”

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