The 9th of the Hebrew month of Av - when the Book of Lamentations says "All thy enemies open their mouths wide against thee" - will mark the 100th birthday of Natan Alterman, the most prominent of the large group of writers and poets whose most important work was intertwined with encouraging the establishment of a state for the Jewish people. Whenever an injustice was done us - as it seems the vast majority of Israelis feel is happening right now - these writers and poets, together with other intellectuals and public figures, inspired faith in the righteousness of our path and condemned the falsification, hypocrisy and wickedness of the enemies of the people and of Zionism.
When necessary, they also knew how to criticize and reprove. But they did not do so with the avidity, sometimes stemming from impure motives, that some of their most prominent modern-day counterparts display.
At this time, when Israel's citizens are enduring a global torrent of malicious accusations, only a very small number, if any, of those in that gallery have mobilized to offer words of comfort, encouragement and consolation. Even worse, some of those who could lift our morale a bit, or even a great deal, and who could also, due to their status abroad, play a role in moderating the onslaught against Israel, have themselves sprinkled additional drops of venom into the cup of poison. Their words are quoted throughout the world and serve Israel's worst enemies. There is no way to explain this except by saying it is apparently a unique Jewish trait.
The prestate Jewish community was able to withstand all troubles and setbacks in part thanks to the courageous, visionary poems of these writers, and Alterman above all. In the days when everything seemed lost, he wrote "Fate has given us millions of tomorrows." And when the attacks grew worse, he inspired faith: "And it is not in vain, my brother, that you have plowed and built: We go to war for our lives and for our homes ... We will not fall back, for there is no other way. No nation would retreat from the trenches of its life."
It would be one thing if there were no one left today capable of writing such words (or setting them to music, as Daniel Sambursky did ). But since we do have such people, why - especially at a time like this - do they not raise their voices?
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tel Aviv Municipality, Army Radio and the Culture Ministry organized an event about a week ago that was billed as featuring Alterman's work - that same Alterman who "gave three generations of Israelis what a true poet can give: the symbols they needed" (Nissim Calderon ) and "influenced everything that took place here from the 1940s to this very day" (Culture Minister Limor Livnat ).
But instead of a comprehensive program that included all the symbols, the organizers of the event (which was musically and technically impressive) omitted any national symbol of the poet identified more than any other with such symbols (see "Song of the [Army] Companies" or "The Silver Platter" ). The audience was treated to 28 songs, plus interstitial material, but there was no mention whatsoever of the Alterman of "This is my land and its fields, this the Jezreel Valley." Yet of course, his "Song of the Drunkard" and "Song of Wine" were heard, along with an endless roster of his other generic poems (though these would also be charming and wonderful in the right proportion ).
The IPO (as expected ), Army Radio (as expected ) and the Culture Ministry (not as expected ) skipped over his nationalist poetry, as well as the moving pieces in his regular newspaper column, "The Seventh Column." In their eyes, what was important and symbolic were the two songs that were each presented in two versions - "He Popped Up and She Popped Up" and "The Bargain Market" - as well as a profusion of pieces from the musical "King Solomon and Shlomi the Shoemaker," which is not even one that Alterman wrote.
After all, our children never wept in the shadow of the gallows; the state, as all know, was presented to us on a silver platter; the journey of the "Exodus," as the New Historians have confirmed, was a Zionist manipulation, and the Italian captain's speech was never made. And Operation Magic Carpet was also merely a fable. But "Uriana" (a popular Alterman lyric ) was there for sure.
At the close of his short life (he died at 60 ), Alterman obviously foresaw this development, for he wrote the following hair-raising lines:
"Then Satan said: How do I overcome / this besieged one? / He has courage and talent / And implements of war and resourcefulness. / And he said: I shall not take away his strength / And I shall not curb him with bit and bridle ... / And I shall not weaken his hands as in days of yore. / Only this shall I do: I will dull his mind / and cause him to forget / the justice of his cause / ... And it was as if the heavens blanched in terror / As they saw him arise / To carry out his plot."
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