Friday, 5 March 2010
I was reminded today of one of my favorite songs, Chava Alberstein's Chad Gadya, a version of the children's Passover song. The original is a cumulative song about a goat which is bought for two coins, which is eaten by a cat, which is bitten by a dog, which is hit by a stick... it ends with an appearance by the Angel of Death, then finally God Itself intervenes.
At the Passover Seder table, children traditionally ask four questions (with an extra 'introductory' question):
Why is this night different from all other nights?
Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matza, but on this night we eat matza?
Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
Why is it on all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice?
Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?
Alberstein adapted the Chad Gadya lyrics to include her own questions:
Why are you singing this traditional song?
It’s not yet spring and Passover’s not here.
And what has changed for you? What has changed?
I have changed this year.
On all other nights I ask the four questions, but tonight I have one more:
How long will the cycle last?
How long will the cycle of violence last?
Given the context of when and where this song was first released, in Israel, 1989, during the first Palestinian Intifada, Alberstien's questions are charged with political comment.
I was prompted to search out Alberstein's song today when I found this version of Chad Gadya:
The music is performed by the Yiddish Twist Orchestra and visuals are by Miki Shaw (both London-based).
After pondering these two versions - Alberstein's is so despairing and oppressive with its feeling of being locked in a never-ending cycle without hope, whilst Miki and the Yiddish Twist have fun with a silly story, which reminded me of They Might Be Giants' children's music videos - I started searching for other versions of Chad Gadya.
Youtube yielded this clip by Ofra Haza, but it didn't really do it for me given that I was hoping for something deep-and-meaningful for my compare-and-contrast exercise...
...And then, I came across an absolute gem, the Jewish Reflections project, a collection of songs for Seder and other occasions collected from Jews in the UK between 2006 and 2009. It includes 15 recorded versions of Chad Gadya, along with sheet music, and biographies of the contributors. I'd found what I was looking for: lots of versions of Chad Gadya with accompanying life histories to read various insights into. What a great resource!