Remembering Meir Banai, an Israeli Musician at the Forefront of a Rebellion against Secularism

Last Thursday the celebrated pop musician Meir Barnai died at the age of fifty-five. Banai, a member of what might be termed the royal family of Israeli rock, never became religiously observant, as did his brother Evyatar and cousin Ehud (also highly successful recording artists). But like them he was at the forefront of a movement among secular Israelis to rediscover the Jewish religion, as Daniel Gordis writes:

Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik, David Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres, Eliezer Ben-Yehudah and dozens of others of the giants of early Zionism were raised in Orthodox homes and—to one degree or another—abandoned the rigors of that way of life. They sought sanctity not in the synagogue but in their ancestral homeland. They replaced prayer with labor. They ached not for ritual purity, but for the dirt of the land of Israel and the messiness of state-building. Early Zionism was, in many ways, a rebellion against Judaism. . . .

Somewhere along the line, though, Israelis’ infatuation with secularism began to crack, and their anger at the religion of their great-grandparents began to give way to curiosity. . . . [B]y the late 1970s, and with increased energy thereafter, younger generations of Israelis . . . wanted to be part of the conversation that had been Judaism for centuries. . . . Meir [Banai] was . . . swept along by the interest in religion and issued albums like Sh’ma Koli [whose name was taken from party of the Yom Kippur liturgy] that included songs like “L’kha Eli” (“To You, My God”), the words for which were composed by the medieval Jewish sage, Abraham ibn Ezra.. . . .

Banai’s life and work was a reminder that it is never too late to ask ourselves what the Jewish state is all about. There are many ways to answer that question, of course, but the move from the secularism of Israel’s early generations to the heartbreak of 1973 to the religious inquisitiveness of recent decades suggests that more than anything, Israel is the place where Jews have come to reimagine what Jewish peoplehood might mean when it resides in its ancestral homeland and is coupled to sovereignty.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arik Einstein, Arts & Culture, Israel & Zionism, Israeli music, Judaism in Israel


Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship