Prof. Linda Allen contacted Shlock Rock’s Lenny Solomon’s at the beginning of last year. She had heard his original composition, Ani Yehudi (lit: “I Am a Jew”), and felt it was “the best Jewish unity song ever written.” The song, with its softly-smoothly-stuck-in-your-head-in-a-minute melody and its Hebrew lyrics, explores different types of Jews and what unites â€“ instead of divides â€“ them.
Moved by the lyrics, Prof. Allen (along with her husband, Elliot, and her brother and sister-in-law, Dr. Alan and Karen Mazurek) had an idea: Jewish unity in Israel through the visceral medium of music, a kind of feel-good “We are the World” type thing, broadly circulated, in time for Yom Ha’atzmaut ’10. They wanted Lenny to get artists from all over the spectrum, Judaically speaking, to bring their voices and identities to the project, and immediately committed to bankroll the mega-production. The only goal was Jewish unity in Israel, no strings attached.
Soâ€¦the driven (and inspired) Solomon got to work, eventually landing the very talented Kobi Oz (formerly of Teapacks) as Producer. What emerged was a revamped song – - Oz reworked the lyrics for an Israeli audience, and added a Middle Eastern vibe to the tune. Solomon says that watching Oz at work was the best four days of music he’s ever had in Israel.
â€¦”When I ask myself / Who am I? / A bit Sephardic / A bit Ashkenazi / A bit Israeli / A bit of a foreigner / Maybe religious / Maybe secular / But in my heart of hearts / â€¦ I am a Jew / And that is what makes me unique / Not better than the otherâ€¦and not worse / â€¦.Simply a Jewâ€¦â€¦.Even though each is certain of a piety all his own / We are all Jews before the Holy Throne.” )
It definitely loses something in the translation (except that last line which I worked a little harder on)â€¦but you get the idea.
Popular artists like Yirmi Kaplan, Lior Almaliach, Yehuda Katz, and Gadi Altman, in addition to hip-hop artists Fishi HaGadol and Aksom each bring a different Jewish voice to the mix â€“ from Tel Avivi to Mizrahi to Ethiopian to American. I must admit to sappy Kodak / McDonald’s commercial type chills the first (OK and also maybe the second) time I saw the video. Oz and Solomon sure know what they are Jewing.
A downside: the involvement of female stars was precluded by that of religious artists. (Good old Kol Isha. Donâ€™t get me startedâ€¦) However, a mixed choir was brought in from Kfar Sabba, so the production does have female voices.
Since this video’s release on YNET two weeks ago, the (more than 200) talkbacks have been interesting â€“ there is *much* love of the song out there, and also, surprise, surprise, Israelis who think the statement “Ani Yehudi” is racist. Also those who note the absence of women artists. But all in all â€“ very positive reception. Way to go, Allens.
The official, broad release is in a few days, on Yom Ha’atzmaut. I think Israelis will be hearing it on the radio a lot for many years to come.
Check it out here. The better to practice your Hebrew with, my dear: