Monday, June 28, 2004

Remembering Naomi Shemer

An insightful essay touching on Naomi Shemer's philosophy of life.

I would add: Naomi Shemer and R' Shlomo Carlebach had much in common.

Each was the dominant figure in their respective branches of music. Israeli popular music was transformed by Shemer just as Jewish popular song was by Carlebach. Each set the standard for a generation of songwriters, most of whom rarely approached their levels of virtuosity. Each could draw from an eclectic mix of musical styles, adapting them to suit their particular genres.

The primary talent both shared, one all too rare even among the most popular of songwriters, is the instinct for matching the melody to the lyrics. Many have copied Carlebach's style superficially, but few songs feel like they just "fit" the text like R' Shlomo's. Naomi was the same. The words and the music combine to form an integrated whole with its own spirit, its own message.

Perhaps most important, and perhaps surprisingly to many, Shlomo and Naomi had a shared outlook on life. Though he was a rabbi and she a secular kibbutznik, both shared a sense of pride and optimism in the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Naomi's Zionism was colored by religion, by her fluency with Tanakh and her nostalgia for her father's chassidic upbringing, while Shlomo's Judaism was infused with Zionism, with a historical consciousness and a recognition of the tremendous potential of renewed Jewish sovereignty.

R' Shlomo passed away ten years ago October. No Jewish musician since has come close to filling his shoes. It's hard to imagine that anyone will fill Naomi's in the next decade either.

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