Gidi Gov, David Broza, Yehudit Ravitz, Yoni Rechter
Words: Yehonathan Geffen
Music: Itzhak Klepter
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Recently, I decided to figure out how to play “Ani Ohev” (I love) on the guitar. It is my favorite song from one of my favorite albums, “HaKeves HaShisha Asar” (the sixteenth lamb), by Yitzchak Klepter and Yonatan Geffen, peace be on them both.
I couldn’t do it. It has 23 chords! The last line of the last verse (“Zot Im haNemashim”) has an A#maj7! Turns out the music is classic Klepter, an earworm la-la-la hook with a seemingly simple melody with layers built on layers, making each path around the circle from chorus to verse a little richer, a little more poignant. It changes key twice, making you feel like you are on an elevator going somewhere you want to go and have never been.
I first came across Ani Ohev when I decided to move to Israel in college. I started buying albums of who I (vaguely) knew to be popular Israeli acts. When HaKeves came out, I already knew and loved lots of the players: Gov, Ravitz, Klepter, Rechter, Broza, Geffen. I could sing (uncomprehendingly) several of their songs. It made me feel like I had a tiny foothold of familiarity in what mostly felt a foreign culture.
I listened to the album obsessively, I studied the lyrics and deciphered the simple but genuinely Israeli words and phrasing. I always know where I learned the words petrozilia, tzartzar and nemashim (parsley, cricket and freckles).
About a year after we made Aliyah and settled on Kibbutz Keturah, I was asked to teach a Hebrew language ulpan for kids on the Young Judaea gap year program. This sounded crazy to me: even after five or so years of really trying, I still felt I barely knew the language. But the logic was who better than a newbie to know how to teach newbies. Or something. So, the kids who actually knew some Hebrew got Daphna to teach them; the others got me.
What I did with them was to immerse them in HaKeves, taking them on the tour I had taken. The class got into the album as I did. I spent a whole lesson dissecting the phrase (from Layla Tov) “Tzartzar Metzartzer Tzirtziro” (the cricket chirps his chirp): Onomatopoeia! Double two-letter roots! Pi’el noun form and possessive! OK, maybe that lesson was a little dry…
The biggest success with the class was Ani Ohev. The song is a list of things the singer loves, and so each line is a standalone simple translation. I love chocolate. I love cheesecake. I was able to use this frame to get them to write their own sentences of what they loved about their group, about the kibbutz, about Israel. When it came time for Year Course to end, they adapted Ani Ohev as part of their stage show to sing about things they loved about their time on Keturah.
The years passed and we were back in the States, raising our two kids. HaKeves was in heavy rotation of bedtime music tapes we played for them. We would sing Gan Sagur (closed kindergarten) when driving by their preschool off hours.
And I would continue to return to Ani Ohev as a thread through my adult life.
I thought about how the song modulates and layers as it goes on. It seems to capture something lovely and true about parenting: you feel like the children you are raising are the same ones you always knew, but with each passing season they are both the same but bigger and more complex.
As I’ve tried (and failed) to develop a meditation practice over the years, to “be present” and “be in the moment,” I am always drawn to the line “Ma SheAchshav” (what is now) from Ani Ohev. For a song like Ani Ohev, enumerating the things we love, to focus on what we love and to bring more of it into the world feels helpful and necessary as the years go on.
The line “HaChi Harbeh Ani Ohev Oti” (most of all, I love myself) often morphs in my brain to “Achi Harbeh Ani Ohev Oti” (bro, I love myself) reflecting some kind of ongoing inner struggle for self-knowledge and acceptance.
Last week, when I heard of Yonatan Geffen’s passing, I thought about his line from Layla Tov, “Eich SheMagia HaYom BeSof Kol Layla” (how the day arrives after every night). Bad moments come, and they pass. There is comfort in what is constant and fixed, even as we are drawn to what is new. He alludes to this also in Ani Ohev, invoking the love for the sun, moon and “a few stars.” He wrote this long ago to comfort children afraid of the dark: the sun will be back soon enough. But the world it shines on will always be different.
Ani Ohev – this song, these songs, albums and artists, have helped me keep a strong loving connection to Israel over the long distance and years.
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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