Jody Hirsh

A soldier’s love song, a country’s innocence: ‘The Kingdom of Mt. Hermon’

Crooning in 1968 from the peak of newly-captured Mt Hermon, a soldier offers his love a kingdom dipped in a sea of gold

The Kingdom of the Hermon

The Northern Command Entertainment Ensemble
Words: Yovav Katz
Music: Efi Netser

* * *

It was the spring of 1968. I was 20 years old, and this was my Junior Year Abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I had long planned this year to study in Israel, to work on my Hebrew, and to be part of Israeli society, albeit as an American student and an outsider. But then, the Six Day War broke out in June 1967. I was scheduled to arrive in July. My parents begged me to withdraw and stay home. I still remembered my impassioned letter to my parents: I needed to go. It was my duty as a Jew. The innocence of that time, and my own innocence, amazes me as I look back 55 years.

What a time to be in Israel. Against all odds, Israel had won a war against seven Arab armies – and in six days! There was a kind of euphoria: yes, this was the beginning of the occupation of formerly Arab lands, but in the eyes of many Israelis, it was going to be an “enlightened occupation.” Among other things, Arabs in the occupied territories were entitled to health care under the Israelis that they had never had in Jordan or Egypt. And there was Israeli technology that was accessible for all.

There were those who warned that holding these captured lands and ruling over a Palestinian population was a moral turning-point and would spell disaster for the country, but many ridiculed them. For the wide-eyed young student that I was back then it was confusing. I distrusted the occupation. In America, I had demonstrated against the Vietnam War. I was anti-war. This new status quo was a result of war – but it was a war of self-defense. This was different, right? I distrusted the occupation even as I was swept into the excitement about the Israeli victory. It seemed necessary…at the time.

In Israeli culture, the victory was celebrated. “Sorry We Won,” a best-selling book by Israeli humorist Ephraim Kishon, and cartoonist Dosh, captured the pride in winning a war under impossible circumstances. And then there was the music. Everything from the humor of “Nassar Waits for Rabin, Ay-Yai-Yai,” to the poignant ballad “The Dothan Valley” about the battle to regain the valley in Jordan where the Biblical Joseph was sold by his brothers, and to a new, post-war verse Naomi Shemer added to her song “Jerusalem of Gold,” (“a Shofar calls out on the Temple Mount…”).

But of all the songs, there was one that moved me the most: “The Kingdom of the Hermon” by Yovav Katz and Efi Netser, released a year after the war:

Kol hamilim hasmechot
Partzu shuv k’hora so’eret.
Tipasnu im kol haruchot
El Pisgat hachermon hazoheret . . .

All of the joyous words
Burst out like a stormy hora.
We climbed, along with all the winds,
To the peak of the glowing Mt Hermon.

An Israeli soldier, stationed in the Golan Heights writes a letter to his girlfriend back home, describing to her the magic of the view from Mt. Hermon. It is beautiful up in the newly captured Golan, later called “The Eyes of the Nation,” where he can see from Damascus in Syria to Mt. Tabor in Israel. The song isn’t militaristic – it’s a joyous waltz, a waltz full of wonder.

Ilu hayit kan iti –
Hayiti noten lach mazkeret:
Et kol ha’orot chemdati
Mehabanyas ve’ad hakinneret.

If only you were here with me –
I’d give you a souvenir:
All of the lights, my darling,
From the Banias River to the Sea of Galilee.

Hayiti magish lach malchut,
Tovelet b’yam shel Zahav.
Misheleg hayiti tofer lach
Simla levana keshenhav.

I’d offer you a kingdom,
Dipped in a sea of gold.
From snow I’d stitch for you
A dress as white as ivory.

The innocence – the exuberance – still moves me. No description of the horror or pain of war. No hint of the quagmire of a tense situation which might continue for 55 years. Beauty. Love. Longing. And, yes, innocence. The conquest of the Golan Heights was, of course, of tremendous strategic importance. Syrian troops had long been shelling the Israeli settlements down below in the Galilee. The capture of the Golan would prevent such attacks. In the song, however, only one reference hints at the contrast between the violence of war and the beauty of Mt. Hermon:

Ach at lo nimtzet l’tzidi,
Verak hamikla beyadi,
Nishbati evne lach armon —
Armon b’malchut hachermon.

But you aren’t by my side.
And I’ve only the machine gun in my hands.
I’ve sworn that I’d build you a palace –
A palace in the Kingdom of the Hermon.

The song was performed by a sweet solo singer, Mutzi Aviv, with the military Ensemble of the Northern Command. It won Israel Army Radio’s “best song of the year” award. I remember the graceful melody, and I remember all the words of this song which has stayed with me all these years, even as the never-ending tensions wore on. And most of all, I remember the hopes and the aspirations and the pride and the innocence of the State of Israel, then only 20 years old.

This essay is part of ‘That Song,’ a collection of writings about that one Israeli song that rocked someone’s world. Click here to find more ‘That Song’ essays.
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About the Author
Jody Hirsh recently retired from a long career in Jewish Education having served most recently as the Programme Director of the Hong Kong Jewish Community Centre, and for the last 25 years as the Director of Judaic Education at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has won numerous awards including the 2005 Covenant Award for Outstanding Jewish Educator.
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