Sublime Experience

The song "Yossi, Smart Child of Mine" by Ayin Hillel, with music by Sasha Argov and arrangement by Moshe Wilensky, is a kind of parable.

Itamar Zohar
Itamar Zohar
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The song "Yossi, Smart Child of Mine" by Ayin Hillel, with music by Sasha Argov and arrangement by Moshe Wilensky, is a kind of parable. Yossi's mother sends him on a hunting expedition, on a quest for various material things, but the boy ignores this and listens only to his own heart.

The sun is shining on high and nature dazzles him and fills all his senses. He is a child and it is still acceptable for him to be innocent. And while the adjective "smart" (or "successful" ) that is used in this context sounds a bit ironic, as if it's meant to underscore just how dreamy or detached from reality he is - in the poem, he is allowed the freedom to be just that. This is the source of his strength and the secret of his charm. For even if "in the house, there is no milk and no bread, not even a bit," his home is still filled with "love and music and flowers and a puppy's bark." And when the soul is that happy, hunger can wait.

Illustration from "Yossi, Smart Child of Mine"

The melody and arrangement accentuate the childlike innocence portrayed here, and help transform the boy's journey - in which he always returns empty-handed yet nonetheless with a wonderful bounty - into a sublime experience involving nature, with the real hero being not the central character, but rather those around him, who give meaning to his life. Many of Ayin Hillel's other children's poems that were set to music became classics and operated in a similar way.

"Yossi, Smart Child of Mine" was performed by singers including the popular Tarnegolot troupe and Chava Alberstein. Among others, the popular band Mashina sang "Why Does the Zebra Wear Pajamas?" and a whole list of other outstanding performers - including Shlomo Artzi, Shlomi Shaban, Talia Shapira, Shoshik Shani and Dalia Friedland - sang other familiar Ayin Hillel songs over the years.

However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the line "We shall clothe you in a robe of concrete and cement" from Natan Alterman's "Morning Song" became an apt description of Israeli music and song. With the advent of pop and rock, the once-mighty status of the "Land of Israel music" (including those based on works by Ayin Hillel ) performed by the army's performing troupes and local vocal ensembles steadily eroded. In Hebrew song, it seemed, the green fields also gave way to ever-higher buildings, which in a decade or two became skyscrapers: Indeed, the urban world reflected in most contemporary songs - a world of grimy streets and crowded intersections and buildings - has erased practically all traces of the flowers and birds and animals, and their joyful, uplifting presence. If these remain at all, it is only in the most general way, and in the almost total absence of context; they appear solely for the purpose of adorning a verse, not as an integral part of it.

Ayin Hillel's children's poems that were set to music - like the popular "Bulbul, Why?" or "Sun Boiler and Antenna Too," for which Argov also composed the music, or "Why Does the Zebra Wear Pajamas?" which was arranged by Dubi Zeltzer - are all reminders of the days when you didn't have to pay for the privilege of wandering around in nature and becoming one with it. Well, if not in reality, then at least in your imagination. Back then, all the wars and power struggles belonged to a different world, to the world of adults.