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Old songs have new meanings after Oct. 7 — and new music helps the heartbroken

(JTA) — After a week of witnessing the pain and resilience of Israelis in war time I went to Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine music club. I was driven by a prayerful hope to find some solace during the war, along with communion, with fellow heartbroken folks for whom words were failing.

The last time I went to Yellow Submarine was almost a decade ago. It was also wartime. I was visiting Israel for the summer with my family when conflict broke out with Gaza. Rockets flew, fear reigned and the heartache of war weighed heavily. That was the night I first heard the Israeli singer-songwriter Daniela Spector, an artist I never heard before whose lyrics and haunting voice are now part of my inner soundtrack.

From the very beginning of this war, music has been a lifeline for me and many others. I listen to Israeli radio — usually on Fridays to fill my house in suburban New Jersey with the spirit of a country where everyone shifts into some form of sabbath mode every Friday. But since the start of the war, I have been especially connected to Galatz, Israeli army radio, with its constant stream of news and talk shows and its sister music channel Galgalatz.

Silly pop songs take on deep meaning when requested by someone from the front lines, or by their girlfriend or boyfriend back home, or their kid who loves to sing that song with them. Or how about the daily radio show “Habaita” — “Come Home” — which plays the favorite songs of the kidnapped? Some of the songs have become ubiquitous because of their use in videos showing the reunion of soldiers and their families, a bright spot in a country with so much darkness.

I returned to Israel this month as an organizer of the Jewish Studies Scholars Faculty Solidarity Mission. I hadn’t heard of the artist performing when I went back to the club, hoping for another night of surprises and of words and music that could take me somewhere deep. It was Sivan Talmor’s first performance since Oct. 7, and she spoke to my heart, sharing the cliché that is a cliché because it’s true: Old songs have new meanings now.

Throughout the show she was funny, she overshared and was vulnerable. She told us about her husband who was away on reserve duty, how she took her two kids and moved in with a friend whose husband is also fighting. One night, they took their guitars and went out to a park and began playing with friends. A crowd gathered and they sang some more. They sang the nostalgic songs of their youth — one of which she played with her trio at the Yellow Submarine.

Maragalit Tzanani’s 1986 hit “Naari Shuva Eli” — “My Boy, Return to Me!” — is about a girl waiting for her boyfriend to return. She waits at the bus stop all night long only to reach daybreak without him. Despite it all, the girl sings to her God, beseeching Him to watch over her boy. “Please, God, take care of him,” she sings.

This classic song of love and heartache sounds different now. I imagined that each time Talmor repeated the refrain about “his curls being coated with the dust of the road,” she was thinking of her husband, one day coming back from the war, his curls dirty, his body broken and ready for comfort. The crowd sang along with every word.

Talmor invited us into her own therapy session on stage. She requested a shot of arak from the stage and shared another story: A female reservist wrote to her saying that her song “I Am Not Afraid” was keeping her strong on her way to the front.

At one moment towards the end of the evening, Talmor prayed. I was happily surprised to see this artist who seems to belong to the tribe of free-spirited Israeli secularists, a tribe with deep roots in this miraculous, heartbreaking country, address her audience in prayer. She prayed for the return of the hostages, for the safety of the soldiers, including her husband serving on the front lines, and she prayed for peace in Gaza. Someone in the audience called out that her son was fighting also, and then another mentioned a loved one.

Talmor asked for their names, and she prayed that Ido and Oded and all of the soldiers and the hostages return safely. She prayed that the sense of connection felt throughout the country would not be lost, that the nation would not lose the realization that you can feel a bond with your neighbor without thinking the same way as him, that we emerge stronger from this crisis because of the power of our people.

Then Talmor played “Hof,” or “Shore,” which is something of a hit in Israel. A few days later, she shared on Instagram that her husband in Gaza managed to pick up a signal on his transistor radio and heard this song that she wrote about him, about their love, and for that moment they were together again.

At the beginning of the show Sivan told us that she used to feel most at home on an airplane and that now she knows where home is.

The Israel that I found throughout my travels and intense conversations was an Israel that is awakened, ready to help, to solve problems, to be there for each other. And to create their way through pain, loss and confusion. As one sign I saw prominently displayed in Tel Aviv — “United, anew.” After a year of tearing their society apart, Israelis are finding strength and vitality in coming together, in being there for each other and creating something new.

This trip to Israel was different. I saw more pain, and more togetherness, than ever before. And through it all, I was reminded that music is a story we tell ourselves when we have no words. Israel’s wars have always had songs that become closely associated with them. For me, Sivan Talmor will forever be a defining sound of this moment.

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UBC student union has voted against posing a referendum question about whether Hillel House should be evicted from campus

The student union at the University of British Columbia rejected a referendum question on its upcoming election ballot that would have, among other things, called for the eviction of Hillel BC from its Vancouver campus. The Feb. 28 meeting of the Alma Mater Society (AMS/Student Union) lasted several hours and ultimately ended with a 23-to-2 […]

The post UBC student union has voted against posing a referendum question about whether Hillel House should be evicted from campus appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Antisemitism Has No Place in Society,’ Says Prince William, Heir to British Throne

William, Prince of Wales, meeting with Jewish community representatives at London’s Western Marble Arch Synagogue. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville

The heir to the throne of the United Kingdom spoke of his concern at the rise in antisemitism since the Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7 in southern Israel during a visit to a synagogue in London on Wednesday.

William, Prince of Wales, told Jewish students and representatives of the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) that he and his wife, Princess Catherine, were “extremely concerned about the rise in antisemitism.”

Wearing a navy blue kippa for the encounter at the Western Marble Arch Synagogue, the future king “heard how organizations like the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) are delivering programs to tackle hatred and encourage cross-community cohesion,” the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.

In a conversation with three Jewish students and three HET ambassadors, the prince condemned the antisemitism that the students described experiencing on campus. “Prejudice has no place in society,” he said.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I want you all to know you can talk about it and your experiences,” he continued.“Both Catherine and I are extremely concerned about the rise in antisemitism that you guys have talked about this morning and I’m just so sorry if any of you have had to experience that. It has no place… that’s why I’m here today to reassure you all that people do care and people do listen and we can’t let that go.”

The UK experienced a record year in 2023 for antisemitic outrages, with over 4,100 incidents recorded mainly in the period after the Hamas pogrom, according to a recent report from the Community Security Trust (CST), a voluntary organization serving the Jewish community. Speaking at the CST’s annual dinner on Wednesday night, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned the upsurge, pledging an extra $68 million in funding to combat the continuing spread of antisemitism.

Edward Isaacs, president of the Union of Jewish Students, told Prince William that antisemitism had transformed the experiences of Jews studying at Britain’s universities. “If you haven’t been a victim, you know someone who has been,” Isaacs said. “It has created a fear like never before.”

The prince also met with Renee Salt, a 94-year-old survivor of the Holocaust, in the synagogue’s main sanctuary. An inmate of both the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, Salt told William of her fear that “some of the young people don’t even believe it [the Holocaust] ever happened. It is very bad.”

Clasping her hand, the prince responded, “It will get better.”

Emma Levy, a Jewish student who attended the meeting, praised the prince for his stance. “You could really tell that he cared when he was speaking to us,” she said. “The prince’s unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism is what we need more people to do.”

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IDF Opens New Mental Health Center for Soldiers Leaving Gaza

The Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The IDF opened a new mental health center on Thursday which is aimed towards treating soldiers leaving Gaza. The center is opening due to the growing risks the IDF said it sees in the soldiers potentially falling victim to PTSD from their experiences in battle.

“The Iron Swords War presented significant challenges to the mental health system in the IDF both in terms of quality and scope. The establishment of the Center for Mental Health Services expresses more than anything the commitment of the IDF to take care of its servicemen as well as to provide answers to the challenges we are already facing as well as emerging challenges. As part of the establishment of the center, new answers are being discovered and established that are adapted to the special needs of the various populations serving in the IDF,” said Col. Dr. Jacob Rothschild, who heard the new center.

The army has said that since the war’s outbreak, more than 30,000 soldiers have met with mental health representatives. According to them, roughly 85% of soldiers that met with the professionals returned to full service. Unfortunately, 202 fighters were forced to be released from duty, in almost every case due to horrid scenes they witnessed in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre. This includes an additional 1,700 that were referred for additional scanning and treatment.

On the day of the massacre, Hamas terrorists rampaged southern Israel, brutally killing more than 1,200 Israelis and taking hostage over 250. First responder reports depicted scenes such as decapitations and mutilations of bodies by the terrorists.

The new center, situated at the Tel HaShomer base, is staffed by some of the top psychologists in the country, the IDF said, and will include a immediate combat reaction wing and post-trauma department. It replaces the temporary facility that was set up in a WeWork office in Tel Aviv.

While 30,000 soldiers have met with mental health professionals since the war began, the IDF says they were “pleasantly surprised” that an overwhelming majority of soldiers ended up returned to service.

Lt. Col. Prof. Elon Glazberg, the Chief Medical Officer of the IDF Medical Corps, said in a statement about the opening “From the first moment of the war, mental health was present in the torture from the field to the home front. In light of the great importance of the issue, we chose it as one of the main axes of focus these days – and we are now working to expand it.”

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