Much can be learned about a society’s historical events and cultural activities by examining the community’s music. This is particularly evident to scholars who study the emergence of Zionism in the 19thcentury and its development through the early years of the 20th century. Early Zionist “halutzim” — pioneers — expressed their beliefs, hopes, trials and tribulations through their poems and songs. Today we can learn about the lives of these individuals through the musical legacy that they created.
The musical legacy of early the early Zionist era is explored by The Israel Suite, a Lowell Milken Archives project which is aimed at examining the lives of the halutzim who came to settle the Land of Israel between the years 1880 – 1936. “Israel Suite” uses the words and tunes of the compositions of members of the early settlers of the First, Second and Third Aliyahs to explore the idealism, optimism and determination of Zionist pioneers who believed that they were creating a new society and a New Jew.
During the era which encompassed the 1880-1936 Jewish immigration to Palestine Jewish music frequently incorporated the socialist viewpoints of the new settlers. The Milken Archives founded by Jewish philanthropist Lowell Milken offers an overview of the Hebrew songs which expressed the new secular identities and values of late 19th and early 20th century Aliya immigrants (1880s through WWI). In addition, the project documents the love and commitment that later settlers expressed regarding their goals of building the Land of Israel. The music incorporates Mediterranean, North African, Hassidic and Eastern European influences as well as the compositions of the pre-State “Yishuv’s” best-known poets and professional musicians.
The music that the Israel Suite project studies and archives includes romantic views of collective life such as “Laila Had’mama,” compositions by well-known poets such as Haim Nachman Bialik’s “B’yom Kayitz” and Yiddish songs which the settlers adapted to express their own socialist world views.