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)

Verse:

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…

Verse:

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…

Chorus.

Verse:

There up high in heaven,

the clouds learn how to fly,

I look up there and find I see

a hijacked plane pass by.

Bridge:

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?!

Verse:

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…)

Chorus.

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.

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4 Responses to “In praise of Mr. Henkin/Yihiye Tov.”


  1. 1 Adi February 13, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    alef, why the heck are you in ulpan, you do not need it even a little bit
    bet, zionism is nazim
    gimmel, haha, i’m “fun”!

  2. 2 Rogoff February 13, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    I’m gonna go with the first option, namely that Levy figured the lyrics don’t matter, but I think if he chose to decide they do matter, Stadt would have overruled him.

  3. 3 Abe March 2, 2010 at 1:43 am

    No offense, But I am sure about only a couple of things in life, and I am sure that levy was not thinking about henkin’s choice of song….

    I think…

  4. 4 Eli March 2, 2010 at 4:38 am

    Abe, the man micromanages and censors essentially everything. This is a fairly big thing to let slip…


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