SHAHAR BURLA and LIMOR FAYENA: The fighting sparked an outpouring of poignant lyrics and melancholy melodies that sadly, remain relevant today.
In the early afternoon of October 6, 1973, on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the armies of Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated surprise attack against Israel, initiating a war on two fronts. Three weeks later, when the guns fell silent, 2656 Israeli soldiers had been killed, 7251 injured and 294 taken as POWs. All this in a country with a population of just 3.3 million.
The ramifications extended beyond the casualty figures. The war inflicted a psychological blow on the nation, ushering in a period of collective despondency. The Yom Kippur War stands as the most traumatic conflict in Israel’s history.
The effect on Israeli culture was immediate, particularly on music, which moved from its patriotic, militaristic, and euphoric tendencies to a more individualistic and sombre tone.
A comparison between the iconic songs of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, both composed by Naomi Shemer, illustrates this transformation. The Six Day War’s anthem, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold), is euphoric, celebrating Jerusalem but overlooking the soldiers who fought in the city.
The Yom Kippur War introduced Loo Yehee (All We Pray For/Let It Be). It pleads: “And if the messenger should come to the door, Place good news on his lips,” a simple prayer to spare families from the dreaded messenger bearing bad news. This shift highlights a focus on the basic, simple, and humanistic aspects of war, diverging from the grandiose historical and nationalistic themes.
The combination of poignant, personal lyrics and melancholy melodies created an unforgettable soundtrack for the Yom Kippur War – a soundtrack that, regrettably, remains relevant today.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war, we have curated a playlist that reflects the profound influence of this conflict on Israeli culture.
Loo Yehee ( Let it be) – Lyrics and music by Naomi Shemer
“There is yet a white sail on the horizon,
Set against the dark and heavy clouds,
All that we ask for, let it be,
And if in the windows by evening,
The festive candles should flicker,
All that we ask for, let it be. “
In the summer of 1973, Shemer embarked on a project to create a Hebrew rendition of the Beatles’ song Let It Be, which was frequently played on Israeli radio. However, the outbreak of the war transformed the Beatles’ song into what Shemer later described as “a springboard for an entirely new composition.”
Initially, she retained the melody of the Beatles’ tune, but her husband, Mordechai Horowitz, who was on a temporary leave from the war, voiced his conviction, saying, “I won’t allow you to use this song with a foreign melody. This is a Jewish war, and it deserves a Jewish melody. On the eve of Sukkot, Shemer performed her adapted song on a special Israeli television program.
Hacitah Tzomachat Shuv (The Wheat Grows Again) – Lyrics: Dorit Tzameret; Music: Haim Barkani
“This is not the same valley,
this is not the same house
You are all gone and you cannot return
The path between the trees, and the eagle in the sky
But the wheat grows again”
The words were written in 1974 by Tzamarat, a member of Kibbutz Beit Hashita, in response to the shock and grief that enveloped the community when 11 of its members died in the war.
The lyrics depict the landscape of Emek Harod, the location of the kibbutz. They convey a sense of bewilderment at the apparent indifference of this beautiful landscape, as it is described: “And the valley was gathered / in a beauty that has never been like it,” juxtaposed with bereavement, loss, and the pain of absence: “You are gone and you will not be able to return… / but the wheat grows again.”
Choref Shiv’im Veshalosh (Winter of 73) – Lyrics: Shmuel Hasfari; Music: Uri Vidislavsky
“We are the children of Winter, ‘73:
You first dreamt us at dawn, as the battles ceased.
You were tired men that thanked their good luck;
You were worried young women and you wanted so much to love.
You promised a dove,
an olive tree leaf,
you promised peace
You promised spring at home and blossoms
You promised to fulfill promises, you promised a dove
Hasfari fought in the war and lost his best friend. It was in 1994, a year marked by the signing of the Oslo Accords, a time filled with hopes for peace but marred by severe terrorist attacks, that Hasfari wrote the lyrics.
The song is a monologue delivered by the children born after the Yom Kippur War, now grown and enlisted in the IDF, and directed at their parents. They attribute to their parents the promise symbolised by the dove of peace at the time of their birth. However, as they reach conscription age, they too are called upon to bear arms and protect their homeland. They shoulder this responsibility with patience but ultimately seek a renewal of the promise from their parents.
Hamilchama Ha’achrona (The Last War) – Lyrics: Haim Hefer; Music: Dobi Seltzer
For all the tank corps soldiers with their dusty faces
Who survived all the enemy fire and gruelling fighting,
For all the sailors who attacked the ports,
Their eyes caked heavy with salt from the seas.
I promise you – my little girl,
That this will be the last war.”
Hefer, then a journalist, wrote the lyrics when he was in Sinai during the war. They were written during a moment of despair when he was unable to seek shelter during an air raid. Uncertain of his survival, Hefer wrote the words in minutes, addressing them to his six-year-old daughter as a form of testament, prayer and hope.
As the war unfolded, the renowned singer Yoram Gaon decided to perform for soldiers on the Sinai front and invited composer Dobi Seltzer to accompany him. During their tour, the soldiers they performed for expressed a desire for new songs that resonated with the harsh reality of the war they were facing. It was then that they came across the previously published poem and Seltzer composed the music on the spot. The next day, Gaon performed the new song for a group of paratroopers.
Hechan Hachayal (Where is the soldier?) Lyrics and music by Ahuva Ozeri
“Where is my soldier?
Where is my soldier?
When will I run towards him?
When will I feel his hand?
Where is my soldier?”
This marked a significant milestone in Israeli-Mizrahi music as it became the first song to explore the theme of bereavement. It reflects the lament of a mother who anxiously awaits letters from her soldier son, only to find that their connection has been abruptly severed.
The song was dedicated to Adi Sorek, a soldier who fell during the war near the ”Bitter Lake” in Sinai who had first been listed as missing in action. Sorek had been a neighbour of Ozeri in the Kerem HaTeimanim (The Yemenite Vineyard) neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. Sorek had diligently sent letters from the frontlines to his family, but when the letters ceased, his loved ones could no longer ignore the painful reality of his loss.
Atem Zochrim et Hashirim (You remember the songs) – Lyrics: Yehonatan Geffen; Music: Chanan Yovel
“You remember the fields
The narcisses, the Saturdays,
It all passed so fast
And it’s a little hard to remember
How it was once easy
To sing, to live, and never die …
The poem first appeared in Gefen’s section in the weekend supplement of Maariv newspaper, in February, 1974. It was dedicated to the children of Moshav Nahalal, a working-class community that lost seven of its members in the war.
While stationed in Sinai as part of the entertainment team, Yovel heard the poem and set it to music. He describes it as “a song that speaks of nostalgia, a song that sums up the war and Israel in general in a seemingly simple sentence: ‘Everything was so simple – to sing (songs of euphoria and pride), to live and not to die.’ After the war there was no reason to rejoice, there was disillusionment out of deep brokenness and pain.”
Leila Shaket Avar Al Kohoteinu Be’Suez (A Quiet Night for our Forces in Suez) – Lyrics and music by Meir Ariel
“I’m reading “Islands in the Stream” by Ernest Hemingway
Translated properly by Aharon Amir
Soon he’ll make her laugh on his wide bed
And he is one of the sorrowful men in town
“Maybe tomorrow I’ll finally go home for vacation,
I cling to the binoculars to mute thinking
In the tent, light, apple slices and tea are waiting for me
With a cigarette and a good powerful story”
Ariel, a former paratrooper, drew inspiration from his experiences during and after the Six Day War to compose Jerusalem of Iron, which was a reinterpretation of Naomi Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold. During the Yom Kippur War, he served in the reserves in the Sinai region and found a moment of respite during a ceasefire to write this evocative song.
Its protagonist is a soldier in military reserve service. The song is in two parts. The first incorporates an excerpt from the book Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway and published in 1970.
In the second part, the speaker shifts the narrative to his own experiences. He describes the moments on guard duty, his observations through binoculars, and a report on an enemy squad until another soldier arrives to take his place. Towards the end of the song, the narrative returns to the original story.
A soldier’s Song (Shir Chaial – Lyrics: Nimrod Gaon; Music: Shlomo Artzi
“In the tranquil moments, I hear again
Janice Joplin singing old blues
about Bobby McGee.
Quartet plays lucid music, brings me
again those familiar shocks of delight
I’m a soldier – and don’t cry for me girl
but I am a solider – and don’t cry for me girl.”
The lyrics were written by Captain Nimrod Gaon, who was killed near the Suez Canal on October 7, 1973, the second day of the war. In 1975, his family published a memorial book titled I Am a Soldier and Don’t Cry, Girl, which was a line from a poem-letter he wrote to his girlfriend, Amalia. Gaon’s parents shared his words with the singer he admired, Shlomo Artzi. Several years later, when Artzi was approached to compose a song for the IDF Memorial Day, he used Gaon’s words.
The song takes the form of a letter depicting the soldier as an individual with a rich cultural world. The soldier, whose essence differs from the conventional warrior archetype, experiences a sense of concealment in the army, feeling “disguised” and “enslaved in a straitjacket.” Loneliness and longing for home permeate the song, emphasising the multifaceted dimensions of a soldier’s identity beyond the battlefield.
We added two Leonard Cohen songs to the playlist – you can learn about Cohen and the Yom Kippur War HERE.
Lover, lover, lover
Who By Fire