Archive for February, 2010

Yihiye Tov, ct’d.

This song just speaks to me. I’m sure that that’s partially because I spent a bunch of time listening to it and coping with it in order to coax it into English, but even before that, it just seemed…right. This wasn’t my experience with the version I heard in high school, with the mellow, reassuring guitar being replaced by a bunch of teenagers apparently trying to imitate du-wop. This is an effect that’s made even worse on the CD, where the vocals – not always, but on this specific song – are just way too compressed, unnatural, and jarring to enjoy (as in most pop music today). This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy other the other songs – just that this one never impressed me, though I’m sure the main vocalists were great.

But anyway, the original is fanfrikkintastic! I googled around a bit, and found that the song was inspired by Paul Simon’s excellent American Tune, from his first solo album, “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”. Thematically, rhythmically, and melodically, Yihiye Tov stands in its’ debt. This is most obvious in the chorus, which thematically matches the “chorus” of American Tune, and melodically is almost the same, but switches around the order of two motifs. (This is kind of difficult to explain, so I may follow it up with audio samples later. )
“American Tune” is one I hold close to my heart, and is best experienced on vinyl, whether battered and weather-beaten or pristine and new, in the dark, with your significant other. I haven’t tried it with Yihiye Tov, but as much as I love it, I think the themes of American Tune may resonate better, with, uh, Americans 🙂 Yihiye Tov has some universal themes – many of which came out of American Tune, but most of it is expressed in explicitly Israeli terms: it was made for a certain audience in a certain era, that being the Israeli populace witnessing the extraordinary (in many ways, and not always good) peace accords with Egypt.

Oh, and I’d like to issue a revision for the “return without remorse” line. I think

they return unchanged, of course


they return the same or worse

are less critical and in fact closer to Broza’s original line, even if it doesn’t have the same ring to it and don’t fit the rhyme scheme as well.

EDIT: I also think the song is much more effective if the chorus is kept in Hebrew. The English is too awkward and sounds kinda lame. Also, the ultimate line should read:

I look outside my window; for a new day to arrive

The meter didn’t really work in the last one, and it was awkward overall. This is less strictly accurate is still close enough to the original line: “אולי יגיע יום חדש”, except there’s an implied impatience instead of the uncertainty and sort of naive hopefulness of the original. But it works…I hope.


italy vs. teh interwebs

So at this point, everybody’s heard of Italy’s decision to convict three Google execs of violating privacy laws, because of an offensive video posted on YouTube by someone completely unrelated to Google. The video of a group of teenagers heckling an autistic boy was taken down – but not fast enough, apparently.
Absurdly, the court points to the sort of forced political censorship in China as ‘proof’ that it could do the same in Italy – “not to monitor political content ‘but to protect human dignity.'”
Now, never mind the technical challenges involved in indexing and categorizing audio and video – something that took the Music Genome Project, to cite but one example, a decade of research to perfect. At least they had some almost-objective criteria to work with: recommend pieces of music with some similar characteristics – rhythm, meter, instrumentation, lyrics, what have you – to those that a user already likes. To find a video “offensive” according to some arbitrary, imposed criteria would be nearly impossible without also filtering out so much art, music, and film which this magic, nonexistent algorithm also finds “offensive”. Only review by human brain will get this right – and that would take forever, since at least 20hrs of video is uploaded to YouTube…per minute.
But never mind all that. This ruling is yet another example of government attempting to impose control on the brave new world of decentralized media. This is done, in Europe, in the name of “privacy”. The linked-to article cites the existence of the Gestapo and Stasi as motives behind Europe’s strong privacy laws. The irony is too salient, since some entity – a government agency or multinational corporation – is being asked to monitor the content posted by other citizens, and censoring them. Implicitly, the private activities of the other citizens is being judged (what they choose to record). These citizens, it seems, have a right to create, but only a privilege to express. The bright red line between the public and private is dangerously dimmed when what is public for one can be deemed private for another by an institution related to neither party. Issues of fair use and copyright inevitably creep in as well: since fair use is something that can only be determined after the fact, certainly a stationary algorithm will inevitably fail to filter correctly, until someone perfects the Networked Flux Capacitor (which I’m assured by Christopher Lloyd is a work-in-progress).
Scarier laws are on the block in Italy, which would require blogs to post any edits and retractions within 48 hours – the same standard applied to newspapers – and would hold blogs liable for the content of anonymous commenters.
Now, perhaps I’m overreacting a bit in blaming European mores, and all of this Orwellian stuff is due to the machinations of the only guy in broadcasting slimier than Rupert Murdoch, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, who somehow not only continues to hold monopoly control over the media in his country despite being the head of state but seeks to extend that control to our beloved Series Of Tubes ™.
But regardless, at this point I’d like to quote one of my intellectual heroes, a true godol and great American – none other than the anthropomorphic wonder himself, Donald Fauntleroy Duck:

Boy, am I glad to be a citizen of United States of America.

(and NO, I am not comparing the EU to the Third Reich…just Italy)

america vs. israel

America: “Penny for the homeless? No one should be hungry!”
Israel: “Charity saves you from death!”

an interesting difference in approach.

EDIT: Well actually, the phrase is “Charity saves from death!” or “Charity prevents death!” This was originally what I thought it meant, but I interpreted it wrong when I sat down to write it, mainly because the message becomes more powerful. Thanks to Louis and Alex for putting me in my place ;]

In praise of Mr. Henkin/Yihiye Tov.

Greetings, loyal readers!

I’ve just abandoned the Pardes Institute – really, a wonderful place to learn Tora, if you’d like to do so in the mainstream-Modern-Orthodox style – and taken up temporary residence in the godless knoll of Tel Aviv, Israel’s modern-day equivalent of Sodom and Gommorah.

In the week I’ve been here, the place has definitely grown on me. I’m back in a sort of Hebrew language boot-camp called an Ulpan as part of the Career Israel program, which has graciously bestowed upon me gainful employment, at the low-low price of $2600 – so I guess we can scratch the “gainful” part.

What does any of this have to with Daniel Henkin?

During the ulpan, which at first seemed kinda pointless but became more fun and relevant with each day,  our teacher Shelly had us listen to a popular Israeli folk song called “Yihiye Tov”, by singer-songwriter David Broza. It’s a pretty mellow, sad tune with some hopeful overtones. Here’s how it goes (in a rapid translation I just put together)(in a translation that I worked on for a bit now, thus changing the meaning and title of this whole post):

Yihiye Tov. (Lyrics by Johnathan Geffen; Tune and Performance by David Broza; Translation by Eli Bildirici)


I look outside the window,

and I’m feeling pretty black:

the spring has gone and left us,

who knows if she’ll be back.

The clowns have turned to princes

(The clowns have turned to monarchs)

and the prophets into clowns,

and I’ve lost the way I’m walking, and I forget the way I’m going,

but I’m still around! but am still around…

Chorus: (Optional; prefer the Hebrew.)

And it’ll be fine, yes, it’ll be fine,

though Sometimes I feel I’m down

But tonight oh! tonight,

I’ll stay where you’re around…


The children put on wings,

and then fly straight into war,

and after two long years,

they return without remorse. they return unchanged, of course.

The people are all anxious

and seek a why to breathe

(and wonder why they breathe)

and between the hate and murder

(and despite the hate and murder)

speak about the peace…



There up high in heaven,

the clouds learn how to fly,

I look up there and find I see

a hijacked plane pass by.


A government of colonels

they divvy up the sky

into what’s there’s and then what’s ours

When can the end be spied?!


Here came the man from Egypt

Such a joy he was to greet –

Peace was in eyes,

(In his eyes we saw the pyramids)

and it filled his pipe complete.

(Peace filled his pipe complete.)

And we said, “Come, let’s be brothers –

live together, side by side,”

and he answered, “Well, then, onward,

just leave your lands my land behind!”

(just leave the settlements behind…)


I look outside my window

to find if what I see is true (there)

Look outside the window

and say a prayer, or two (and whisper, a simple prayer)

The wolf shall lie with lamb

and the cougar with the ram (this line makes no sense – but hey, it rhymes!)

But until then, please, don’t leave me –

just let me take your hand…

I look outside the window; maybe a new day will come…
I wait beside my window, for a new day to arrive…

The original song can be found on YouTube in three performances by Broza, all of them worth your time: the original short version, the longer one I translated above,  and a more recent one performed by an older Broza here. Any feedback you can provide – via comments, Facebook, or email – would be greatly appreciated.

OK, great, you ask. What does any of this have to do with Daniel Henkin, the man who ran my high school choir?

Well, he was the one to introduce me to the song! Yihiye Tov has apparently become a standard for in the repertoire of Jewish day school choirs – I fact that I find curious, considering the sort of Zionism that is taught in Orthodox Jewish institutions: this is clearly peacenik’s lament!* In the case of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, the sitting principal is essentially a Kahanist who employs ham-handed censorship more often than not and promotes a Likudnik flavor of history when teaching Zionism in the World History curriculum.

So I have to wonder – how the hell did this song get past Levy? Maybe they decided that since nobody pays attention to the lyrics anyway, that it was a wash. Maybe we can credit Alan Stadtmauer, the principal before Levy. Or maybe the song made it through – after heavy censorship. It’s probably a bit of each – anybody who was at Flatbush at the time is invited to clarify.

In fact, I welcome all comments, especially about my translation: I tried to make it rhyme and fit the meter as best I could, so that the song could actually be sung and enjoyed in English. Right now the weakest portion is definitely the chorus, and the bit about ‘return without remorse’ is a more liberal, damning interpretation of the original Hebrew (חוזרים ללא תשובה), but otherwise, I think it’s pretty good work for an hour and half on a Saturday night. (Sad? Maybe. But I dunno if I don’t prefer it to ‘clubbing’ in Tel-Aviv…) The portions in parentheses are alternative translations that I ultimately didn’t go with for whatever reason.

Tell me what you think!

*(This is another asset of Pardes: they really do take themselves seriously when declaring themselves a ‘non-coercive’ institution, which they do, and often. The only thing that’s not really negotiable is the mode of learning and classes they offer – which was ultimately the rub.)

EDIT: I apologize for the hyperbole above proving Godwin’s Law…it was a hotheaded remark, and I regret it.

UPDATE: I have changed the text here to reflect revisions I made in the newer post “Yihiye Tov, Ctd”; for rationales, please go there.

return, ii

Recent events have prompted me to start writing again in a longer forum unrelated to the Borg (a.k.a. Facebook).  I’m not going to make any promises or declare any pompous manifestos, but do hope to hold at least a wee bit of your attention for just a wee bit of time. I think that’s pretty level-headed? No? Well it’s the best I can do, so you can shove it!

(…comments welcome)