Josh Hartuv
Super Fun Israel Tour Guide

Hava Alberstein’s Dystopian Had Gadya

Had Gadya, the concluding song of the Seder, is an incredibly goofy and strange song that is sung when we are at our most tired and drunk and/or hung over with full bellies and presumably with a full sink of things to clean! The simple nature of the song that tells of the ‘power chain’ (akin to a food chain) where God reigns supreme over all animals and people even in the most mundane of interactions between the links of the chain. This 15th century piyut has inspired countless tales for a range of ages across the world. 

Meet Hava Alberstein, one of Israel’s most important singers of the 1960’s and 70’s. She rocketed to the top of the charts with her 1973 recording of Naomi Shemer’s  לו יהי, her 1975 album כמו צמח בר perfectly encapsulates the sadness and longing for peace that Israel experienced after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. From here on, Alberstein embraced her role as a voice for social issues – especially singing songs promoting feminism by female writers. This may have been what drove her to be one of Israel’s first pop stars  to record multiple albums for children. Come the 1980’s, Alberstein wanted to write and sing her own songs. She wanted to further distance herself from the feel-good songs of the Land of Israel and found her voice as a singer song-writer of protest songs. 

Her best examples of her protests songs are found in her 1986 album מהגרים (Immigrants) where she embraces her Yiddish musical influences while also moving from a folk sound to more dark rock. Her lyrics speak of issues facing different waves of immigration to Israel over the decades. 

And finally we get to her album “London” from 1989 – somehow her 34th album at 43 years old. She is at her most rock and roll sound and she uses it to critique multiple Israeli policies. The opening track speaks about how great life is in London where she recorded the album! 

The most jarring of the songs on the album was Had Gadya

Dezabin Abba b’trei zuzei – Had Gadya Had Gadya – Our father bought the goat with two zuzim – That’s what’s told in the Hagadah – Comes the cat that attacks the goat – Little goat white goat – And comes the dog who bites the cat – That preys on the goat – That our father brought – Dezabin Abba b’trei zuzei – Had Gadya Had Gadya – And what appears is a large stick – That hits the dog who audibly barks – The dog that bit the cat – That preyed on the goat that our father brought – Dezabin Abba… – And then the fire broke out – That burnt the stick that hit the dog going wild – That bit the cat…. – And then came the water that put out the fire… – And then came the bull that drank the water…. – And then came the shochet who butchers the bull…. – And then came the Angel of Death that killed the butcher….

Why do we now sing this song Had Gadya?
It’s not yet spring and Passover’s not here.
And what has changed for you? What has changed?
I have changed this year.
On all other nights I ask the four questions, but tonight I have one more:

How long will the cycle of violence last?

The chased and the chaser
The beaten and the beater
When will all this madness end?
I used to be a kid and a peaceful sheep
Today I am a tiger and a ravenous wolf.
I used to be a dove and I used to be a deer,
Today I don’t know who I am anymore.

Deezavan abba beetray zuzay – Had Gadya Had Gadya – Our father bought a goat for two zuzim – And again we start from the beginning.

דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי – חד גדיא חד גדיא – קנה אבינו גדי בשני זוזים- כך מספרת ההגדה – בא החתול וטרף את הגדי – גדי קטן גדי לבן – ובא הכלב ונשך לחתול – שטרף את הגדי – שאבינו הביא- דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי – חד גדיא חד גדיא – ואי מזה הופיע מקל גדול – שחבט בכלב שנבח בקול – הכלב שנשך את החתול – שטרף את הגדי שאבינו הביא – דזבין אבא…- ואז פרצה האש- ושרפה את המקל- שחבט בכלב המשתולל – שנשך לחתול…. – ובאו המים וכיבו את האש…. – ובא השור ששתה את המים…. – ובא השוחט ששחט את השור…. – ובא מלאך המוות והרג את השוחט….

ומה פתאום את שרה חד גדיא? – אביב עוד לא הגיע ופסח לא בא. – ומה השתנה לך מה השתנה? – אני השתניתי לי השנה – ובכל הלילות בכל הלילות – שאלתי רק ארבע קושיות – הלילה הזה יש לי עוד שאלה – עד מתי יימשך מעגל האימה – רודף הוא נרדף מכה הוא מוכה – מתי ייגמר הטירוף הזה – ומה השתנה לך מה השתנה? – אני השתניתי לי השנה – הייתי פעם כבש וגדי שליו – היום אני נמר וזאב טורף – הייתי כבר יונה והייתי צבי – היום איני יודעת מי אני

דזבין אבא בתרי זוזי – חד גדיא חד גדיא – קנה אבינו גדי בשני זוזים – ושוב מתחילים מהתחלה.

The song itself is harrowing – with music that is foreboding and scary. A bass drum  beats just slightly faster than an average heart rate, which in effect raises the listener’s heart rate while listening to it. Hava Alberstein transforms what can be seen as a children’s song, not unlike many she wrote and sung herself, into a bloodbath of evil. The verses remain mostly unchanged throughout, except the dog who is described differently each time as it gets progressively more aggravated. She ends the song before the part where God intervenes on behalf of peace.

Her explanation is found in her interjection of her song’s ‘fifth question’ – when will the cycle of violence of the First Intifada and the occupation of Southern Lebanon ever end. 

This song was seen as so subversive that it was banned from Israeli radio – which may have helped launch this album to the top of the charts. London became Alberstein’s second best-selling album of all time (after כמו צמח בר). Despite the negative attention earning her success, Alberstein was not amused by the ban. Though the controversial ruling was eventually overturned, she then refused to play live concerts in Israel for over a decade. And even afterwards, she very seldom performed in Israel. 

Hava Alberstein’s dystopian Had Gadya, like any great dystopian novel, takes a concept or theme we might seemingly be comfortable with – like a seemingly harmless and natural ‘power chain’ and projects it to its most evil consequences. In her case, where Israel is mired in constant war and where people who would normally strive for peace (her doves and deers) become cogs in a war machine (her wolves and tigers). And for her personally, making her feel more comfortable living in places outside of Israel, namely London – hence the album title.

About the Author
Josh Hartuv is a licensed tour guide in Israel living in Tel Aviv. He made aliyah from Canada in 2011 to Kibbutz Saad with Garin Tzabar. His tours are educational and engaging, fun and fantastic, and all over the country! He was one of the first Israel guides to design virtual tours during COVID 19 - reaching tens of thousands of people. Visit his facebook page @hartuvtours or for more info on virtual and in person tours in the future.
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