American Musical Classics and the Dream of Israel


wizard of ozI recently received an email which initially emanated from Louise Blondin Media Inc. about the origin and symbolism of the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. The song was voted the 20th century’s number one song by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Very few people realize the significance of the film and how it is deeply embedded and reflective of the Jewish experience and the fulfillment of the dream of the establishment of the State of Israel. This really “hit home to me” in light of the events in the Middle East last summer, when rockets or “the flying bombs” were being propelled at Israeli citizens, and Israeli citizens entrenched themselves in their desire to persevere.

Many of the great American classics were written by Jews, and Jews have left their mark on Broadway from its very earliest beginning. Songs such as God Bless America and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” were written by Johnny Marks, while “White Christmas” and “God Bless America” were written by Irving Berlin, a cantor’s son. They were all Jewish. Jews have left their mark on the American and contemporary musical landscapes.

Probably, the best example of the embodiment of the Jewish aspirations for freedom and to live in a land where they belong and can call home is reflected by “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” whose lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, and whose music was written by Harold Arlen. Yip Harburg whose real name was Isidore Hochberg was born to Russian Jewish Immigrants, while Harold Arlen was born as Hyman Arluck to Lithuanian Jewish parents.

In writing the song, the two men reached deep into their immigrant Jewish traditions and consciousness – framed by the pogroms of the past and the Holocaust about to happen – and wrote that unforgettable melody set to words that embody the Jewish spirit and the need to persevere in a land of their own.

When one reads the lyrics of the song, it is easy to visualize how it is reflective of the Jewish experiences of intolerance and the repeated expulsion from many a land throughout the centuries, and as immigrants to America in search of freedom. Each year at the end of Passover, Jews traditionally recite the words: “Next year in Jerusalem”. With the onset of World War II and its atrocities, with the allusion to the “land I once heard in a lullaby” and “dreams you dare to dream” the song becomes prophetic of the yearning for the creation of the State of Israel.

In honour of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the release of the “Wizard of Oz”, the song was performed by Pink at the 2014 Oscar Awards. She sang the song with highlights of the film in the background.

Read the lyrics in this context and suddenly the words are no longer about wizards and Oz, but about Jewish survival in a land that they can call their own:

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high,

There’s a land that I heard of

Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Skies are blue,

And the dreams that you dare to dream

Really do come true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far

Behind me.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Away above the chimney tops

That’s where you’ll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Bluebirds fly.

Birds fly over the rainbow.

Why then, oh why can’t I?

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow

Why, oh why can’t I?

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