I probably owe at least half an apology to those of you who were forced to stumble through my last entry with a butchered online translation. After learning recently that some of my squadmates follow the blog, I decided to write a letter to them here. And of course, despite the fact that many of them have good English, it definitely wouldn't have sounded right that way.
In a service full of unpleasant and difficult but ultimately deeply rewarding experiences, one of the most prominent among them was the forced rapid development of conversational skill in Hebrew, a language I'd never spoken prior to arriving in Israel last year. Basic training was, for me, largely an extended exercise in being screamed at all day in a language I was only beginning to learn, a reality that (especially in unison with my early foot injury) made daily life almost comically difficult but also facilitated rapid Hebrew improvement through the combination of constant exposure and sheer necessity.
Today, I treasure my Hebrew. I'm proud of it because I learned it the hard way, and I cherish it deeply both for the profound significance it has in my own story and the special beauty I find in the words of the language itself. I find that Hebrew is a very naturally charged language, that the language has a certain quality of rawness and vividness that animates its words, and lends itself particularly well to visceral expression of emotions. And I've found that as my skill in Hebrew improves, there are an increasing number of concepts and emotions I feel better equipped to express in Hebrew than in English.
Now, though, I'm going to take off my linguist's hat and instead illustrate things more simply, by means of a beautiful piece of music, my very favorite Israeli song and one that I'll always strongly associate with my time in the army. I fell in love with this song early in my time in Israel - well before I had any idea what it meant - and it was my lullaby on many a long desert bus ride home from the base. I don't recall at any point making a conscious effort to translate the song, only a realization somewhere along the way that I understood the words, and a deeper appreciation for a song that grew that much more beautiful as a result.
"Shoshanim Atzuvot" ("Forlorn Roses"), by Idan Raichel, tells the story of a woman abandoned by her lover. It is radiant in the vividness of its story and the simplicity of its lyrics, and I find in it a rare, stirring beauty that has a way of lingering and haunting long after the song's end. I wanted to share the song here for two reasons: first, because I associate it so strongly with my time here and it feels like an essential part of my army story, and second, because its lyrics are a powerful illustration of the capacity for emotional force in simple Hebrew words.
Please follow the link below (coincidentally, the best audio version I was able to find on YouTube is a Spanish translation). I realize something will be lost in translation, but I've provided the lyrics in English below. If you enjoy the song, look into more of Idan Raichel's music; he's extraordinarily talented.
שם בהרים שמעל הכפר שלנו
יש שם גן של שושנים
מחר אצא לי השכם בבוקר
עם ציוץ הציפורים
אביא לאהובי משם פרח
אדע, אני שלו והוא שלי לעולמים.
ירדתי מההר לכפר שלנו
אך אהובי לא בבית
שקט בין החדרים
שם בנהר שליד הכפר שלנו
אהובי בלילה לא חזר
מצא לו אהובה אחרת וליבי נשבר.
לא, אלוהים תעשה שיבוא
מחכה ביום ובלילה
לא, אין לי כח שעוד יום יבוא
שושנים עצובות, והוא לא פה.
Over in the mountains above our village
There is a garden of roses
Tomorrow I will arise early in the morning
With the chirping of the birds
And will bring to my beloved a flower from there,
From the field of red roses,
And I will know that I am his, and he is mine until eternity.
I came down from the mountain to our village
With roses in my hair,
But my beloved was not at home
Silence between the rooms.
There, at the river by our village
By night my beloved did not return
He found another love, and my heart has broken.
No, Lord, make him come back to me
I wait by day and by night
No, I do not have strength for another day to come
My roses are forlorn, and he is no longer here.