Forward Thinking

Israeli Band Shmemel Urges Aliyah — to Berlin

By Emily L. Hauser

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Still shows Israeli woman with a sign that reads “We left for Berlin.” / Shmemel

“Berlin” is a very catchy tune, half-way between pop and hip-hop, performed by Israeli band Shmemel — and anyone who sees Israel as the Jewish homeland and/or can hum “Jerusalem of Gold” should probably give it a good hard listen.

The video features Israeli after Israeli in various international locales singing and dancing with signs in their hands:

“I left for Amsterdam.”
“I left for New York.”
“I left for Tokyo.”
“I left for Berlin.”

The full, annotated translation below is meant to hep English speakers appreciate all the nationalistic references being subverted in the lyrics. I went more for accuracy than for poetry — it sounds better, of course, in Hebrew.

Full disclosure: My Jerusalemite husband and I left for Chicago in 1998.


BERLIN

Why stay here
Everybody asks
When you can catch a plane and start breathing.
The answer [1] is leaving, too,
And getting far away from me -
How long can family be an excuse?
The neighbor’s lived in LA for 15 years already
She says we need to close our watchful eye [2],
And everyone who comes back from across the sea
Tells me how good it is there.

Berlin, Berlin [3]
Even if I forget my right hand [4]
You’ll wait forever
For us to return to you.
Reichstag [5] of Peace
And of the Euro and of light
For all your songs
I don’t have a passport [6].

Let’s be honest.
Grandpa and Grandma didn’t come here because of Zionism,
They escaped because they didn’t want to die.
And now they see there’s no real living here,
They’d rather we be far away than poor.
No, it’s not a brain drain
Or laziness.
It’s running flat out
To keep your head above the water.
Even our forefather Jacob went down to Egypt [7]
Because the rent was a third
And salaries double.

Berlin, Berlin
Even if I forget my right hand
You’ll wait forever
For us to return to you.
Reichstag of Peace
And of the Euro and of light
For all your songs
I don’t have a passport.

Understand:
The whole world immigrates everywhere now
Only here is it considered national betrayal
By leaders who want us to stay isolated
Stay afraid
Because everyone hates Jews.
And every time they open their mouths
They pin the yellow star on me again
Like it’s a medal of honor
Like it’s a boutonniere.
They degrade all of us
Without a scrap of pride.
Liberate the Ghetto already [8]
Let us live like a normal people.

I don’t really want to go anywhere else.
It’s cold there
It’s foreign there
And Hebrew is the only language I love.
Give me a little bit of the Kinneret [9]
If there’s any left, I’ll be happy.
But how long can we ignore tomorrow?
How can I raise kids in a place that
Chased Dudu Zar [10] away?

Berlin, Berlin
Even if I forget my right hand
You’ll wait forever
For us to return to you.
Reichstag of Peace
And of the Euro and of light
For all your songs
I don’t have a passport.

[1] Reference to the concept of becoming more spiritual/religious, known as “returning to the answer” in Hebrew.
[2] Reference to the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva (“The Hope”), which speaks of “watchful” eyes turned toward Zion, the Jewish home.
[3] Berlin, you may recall, is the capital of Germany. And Jews kind of have a history with Germany.
[4] Reference to David’s prayer in Psalms (repeated at Jewish weddings): “If I forget thee oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.”
[5] German parliament.
[6] The entire chorus is a parody of the uber-nationalistic song “Jerusalem of Gold.”
[7] See: Genesis 46.
[8] Reference to ghetto uprisings in the course of the Holocaust.
[9] Reference to much-loved song by Arik Einstein about being homesick for Israel while abroad.
[10] Hugely famous children’s TV performer who left for L.A. years ago.


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