Today is the 15th of Av, sometimes called the Jewish Valentine’s Day. It’s a poor comparison: Far from a mere excuse to charge outrageous prices for a dozen long-stem roses, Tu B’Av has deep rabbinic roots, and was hailed by Shimon ben Gamliel, the president of the Sanhedrin himself, as second only to Yom Kippur in its significance. And what a day it used to be! As intertribal marriage was frowned upon in the biblical period, for a host of complex reasons, Tu B’Av was the one day a year that the 12 tribes could mingle. And mingle they did, with the young unmarried women wearing all white and dancing in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem, and the young unmarried men watching them.
There’s very little vineyard dancing these days, and no one is exactly worried about the daughters of Zebulun running off with the sons of Gad. But the spirit of the holiday, one of love and harmony between all Jews, remains intact. And to celebrate it, a few hundred of Tel Aviv’s most fortunate will gather this evening in one of the city’s coolest clubs, the Zappa, to celebrate peace and love with Arkadi Duchin.
It’a a fitting choice. Born in Belarus, Duchin made aliyah to Israel when he was 15. He was a talented musician and dreamed of serving in one of the army’s bands, but he spoke not a word of Hebrew and so was unceremoniously drafted to the IDF’s armored division. He had impeccable timing: The 1982 war in Lebanon just broke out, and Duchin was deeply traumatized by serving in the front lines. After serving for three years, he returned to music, writing songs and improving his Hebrew. In 1989, together with his friend Micha Shitrit, he started a band called The Friends of Natasha and released its debut album. It went platinum, shocking critics with its success: The songs were moody, contemplative, even bleak, betraying nothing of the familiar and vaguely hopeful melancholy of most Israeli music. The album came off as a soundtrack that would’ve fit St. Petersburg much better than Tel Aviv, but Israelis were entranced. They embraced the corpulent and sad-eyed singer with the slight accent, and he, in turn, gave them some of Israeli music’s most beautiful songs.
There’s no better way, then, to celebrate this holiday of Jewish hopefulness and reconciliation than with five of Duchin’s finest. Even if you can’t make it to the Zappa tonight, uncork a bottle of your favorite wine and let love in:
How can you not love a song that rhymes “I’m almost normal” with “this song’s rather banal”? Well, it rhymes in Hebrew, and even if you don’t speak it, this one will still break your heart:
Shnei Sipurei Ahava Ktanim:
The song’s title means “Two Little Love Songs,” but there’s nothing little about it, just one big question: What good is a love story if it doesn’t feature flowers and tacky violins? You decide:
Al Titpashti Li:
Only Duchin can write such a beautiful and touching song and call it “Don’t You Get Undressed on Me”:
Yesh Bi Ahava:
An unofficial anthem of many Israelis because of one immortal line: “There’s love in me, and it will win in the end”:
“We’re together,” Duchin sings in this gem, “in order to live forever.” Amen to that: