Nationalism, Zionism and Ethnic Mobilization of the Jews in 1900 and Beyond

By Michael Berkowitz | Go to book overview

BEFORE HEBREW SONG
Philip V. Bohlman
University of Chicago

100 Years Ago

Before they realized what they had, they felt as if they were in acute danger of losing it. The early Zionists were well acquainted with the power of song. It had accompanied them as they found their way through the university and attempted to make their way into European society. It had signaled the emergence of new traditions as the liturgy of the synagogue had been arranged for four-part men's chorus, and then the synagogue chorus had been mapped onto nineteenth-century nationalism by undergoing a transformation to the Jewish Männerchor. The early Zionists realized that song could empower them to lay claim to Romantic nationalism and to give voice to an emerging Jewish nationalism. All this was before Hebrew song.1

Zionism embraced song from its beginning. Even before the institutionalization of modern Zionism at the 1897 Basel Congress, song had been there. Proto-Zionist student organizations had edited songbooks. Sources and repertories had been identified, and editorial procedures were in place. At Basel in 1897, congress organizers had gathered five songs in a booklet, and from the First Congress on,

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1
Secular Jewish song appeared in the European Jewish historiography only after the mid-nineteenth century, when it quite suddenly seemed to be everywhere. Troupes of Jewish popular and theater musicians were making their way throughout Europe, while nascent Jewish folklore societies, such as the Gesellschaft für jüdische Volkskunde, founded by Max Grunwald in Switzerland and then in Germany, and the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folklore, gathered and then published anthologies of Jewish folk song (see figure 16); see Christoph Daxelmüller, 'Volkskultur und nationales Bewuβtsein: Jüdische Volkskunde und ihr Einfluβ auf die Gesellschaft der Jahrhundertwende', Jahrbuch für Volkskunde n.s. 12 (1989): 133–46. The overall effect of the sudden recognition and naming of popular forms of Jewish music-making was a radical shift in the discourse history of Jewish music, away from inchoate notions about Jewish song as 'traditional' toward contentious discussions about Jewish song as 'modern.' See Philip V. Bohlman, 'Jüdische Volksmusik'—Eine mitteleuropäische Geistesgeschichte (Vienna and Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, in press).

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