Desert Island Texts

Desert Island Texts

If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?

This week, Viv Bellos, director of Music, Alyth (North Western Reform Synagogue), selects Hakotel by Jossi Gamzu

It’s very difficult after 35 years as a director of music in a synagogue to disassociate a Jewish text from the form in which I have always approached the words, that of a song or chant.

So when I was asked to choose a favourite text, I found myself veering towards poetry rather than liturgy. Israel is very present in my thoughts at the moment. In a few weeks I will be taking the Alyth Ramblers on their fourth annual hike in Israel, this year in the Galilee. These weeks in Israel connecting with different areas of the country have strengthened my love for the land, its beauty, history and the many diverse peoples who inhabit it.

Israel is also in our thoughts after the elections and, as soon as Pesach is over, we celebrate the miracle that was the creation of the Jewish state with Yom Ha’atzmaut.

However the day before Yom Ha’atzmaut, on Yom Hazikaron, we commemorate all the lives that have been lost in the conflicts since the establishment of the state and every year I sing the poem that I have chosen as my favourite text, Hakotel, or The Western Wall, by Jossi Gamzu, marking the capture of the Western Wall during the Six Day War in 1967.

No matter how many times I read the poem, nor how often I sing the beautiful setting by Dubi Zelzer, I feel my flesh prickle with emotion at the powerful imagery that the poem evokes.

This poem describes the emotions of three people as they stand in front of the wall for the first time; a girl, a paratrooper and a mother.

The mother is counting the cost of the life of her son in the infantry, and I am always moved by the most powerful line in the chorus: There are people with a heart of stone and there are stones with a human heart – yesh anashim im lev shel even, yesh avanim im lev adam’.