PDF of Sheleg Al Iri Post


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(שלג על עירי (פירות חמישה-עשר Sheleg al Iri by Naomi Shemer

(שלג על עירי (פירות חמישה-עשר

Sheleg al Iri (Perot Hamisha Asar)


Sheleg al Iri was written by Naomi Shemer for a 1976 musical mounted by Teatron Bimot based on The Travels of Benjamin III by Shalom Yankev Abramovich (1836-1917), best known by his pen name Mendele Mocher Seforim. Mendele is usually considered the grandfather of Yiddish literature (and Sholem Aleichem described him as such in the dedication of his novel Stempenyu).

Cast Album for Musical

The Travels of Benjamin III was published in 1878 and may be considered a satire on Jewish life modeled loosely on Don Quixote. (The first two Benjamins were Benjamin of Tudela and J.J. Benjamin, 1818-1864). Benjamin longs for the Land of Israel, very timely in 1878, as Mendele is writing at the very beginning of the Hibat Tzion movement, and Benjamin sets out.


Left to Right: Mendele MOcher Seforim (S Y Abramovich), Sholem ALeichem (Standing), Ben Ami, Ch. N. Bialik.

In this song, Benjamin’s wife Zelda imagines him in far-off Palestine, while she is in cold Europe. In Eastern Europe, the 15th of Shevat (Hamisha-asar, Fifteen as it was sometimes called in Jewish languages such as Yiddish and Ladino, or Tu Bi-Shevat as it is most often known today) was noted by eating dried fruits such as figs, carobs, dates and oranges, especially if they were brought from Eretz Yisrael. Zelda dreams of her traveling husband bringing her these precious fruits of Tu Bi-Shevat. The scene is not from the book, but, early on, the book does describe Benjamin’s longing for the Land of Israel through celebrating its fruits. Shemer brilliantly weaves words together to produce a heartfelt song of longing far beyond the satiric tone of Mendele’s book.

This was one of thirteen songs written by Naomi Shemer for the production; three of them—this song, Siman she-od lo higanu, and Shirat ha-Asabim—have had a life far beyond this musical.

Mendele sets Zelda in an imaginary city he called Batlon, but according to Ofer Gavish (on whose page http://www.gavisho.com/?p=394 much of this note is based), Naomi Shemer’s family felt that her parent’s hometown of Vilna was central in her mind when she thought of the Diaspora, and the song written about Vilna that might first come to their mind is Sheleg al Iri. Yet Batlon—Zelda’s snow-covered city in the song—is something of the opposite of Vilna, more like Shalom Aleichem’s Kasrilevke or the Chelm of the famous stories about the wise men.

By the way, links to all the songs from the Benjamin III musical are at the bottom of Gavish’s website http://www.gavisho.com/?p=394.

Seth Ward


(פירות חמישה-עשר)

Sheleg al iri kol halaila nach.
El artzot hachom ahuvi halach.Sheleg al iri vehalaila kar.
Me’artzot hachom li yavi tamar. 

Dvash hate’eina, metek hecharuv.
Ve’orchat gmalim amusei kawl tuv.

Heinah shuv yashuv shemesh levavi
Umisham tapuach zahav yavi.

Sheleg al iri nach kmo talit.
Me’artzot hachom ma heveita li?

Sheleg al iri, sheleg al panai.
Uvetoch hapri kawl ga’agu’ai.

Snow over my city, resting all the night.
My love has gone to the warm lands.
Snow over my city, and the night is cold.
From the warm countries he will bring me a date.

The honey of the fig, the sweetness of carob.
And a caravan of camels laden with all good things.

Surely my heart’s sun will return here.
And from there, he will bring an orange.

Snow over my city, resting like a tallit.
From the warm lands, what have you brought me?
Snow on my city, snow on my face.
And within the fruit are all my longings.

שלג על עירי, כל הלילה נח.
אל ארצות החום אהובי הלך.

שלג על עירי, והלילה קר.
מארצות החום לי יביא תמר.

דבש התאנה, מתק החרוב.
ואורחת גמלים עמוסי כל טוב.

הינה שוב ישוב, שמש לבבי.
ומשם תפוח זהב יביא.

שלג על עירי, נח כמו טלית.
מארצות החום, מה הבאת לי.

שלג על עירי, שלג על פני.
ובתוך הפרי כל געגועי.

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Middle East and Israel in Film University of Wyoming Fall 2015 Class Awards (Torrys)

This year I am naming this award in memory of Robert Torry. Bob died in 2013. He and Paul Flesher taught a course on Film and Religion for many years and published a book on the subject. Bob was awarded UW’s Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award in 2011. –SW

The University of Wyoming offered a course entitled Middle East and Israel in Film for Fall 2015. As in past years, the final class included a discussion of awards in various categories. Students were sent a list of films screened and/or discussed in class; some additional categories were proposed by students. Nominations were made at our final class meeting, before screening Kazablan in its entirety (portions only were screened early in the course). Voting was done after the film screening. Nominees for each category are listed; winners are asterisked and underlined.




Trembling before G-d

Broken Wings

Borrowed Identity

A Separation



***Uncle in Bliss

Headmaster in Wadjda

Viviane Amsalem in Gett

Prison master in Blessed is the Match



Paul Newman in Exodus

***Wadjda in Wadjda

Professor in Bliss

Hannah Senesh in Blessed is the Match




***Where do we go Now?


A Separation



Zero Motivation



Borrowed Identity

Broken Wings

The Attack




Zero Motivation

***Where do we go Now?

West Bank Story




Broken Wings





***Where Maryam realized who abused her in Bliss

Taha Killed in Exodus

Maya Singing Solo in Studio in Broken Wings



***Fireworks scene at end of Wadjda

Hitchhiking scene at end of Broken Wings

Ending scene in Where do we go Now?



***Wajda and Abdulla in Wadjda

Fatima and David in West Bank Story

Eyad and Naomi in A Borrowed Identity





***Where do we go Now?

West Bank Story



***The baking song in Where do we go Now?

Kosher king Hummus Hut song in West Bank Story[2]

“Offensive Song” in Borrowed Identity

Maya’s Song in Broken Wings



*** Face-staring in Gett


Song scene with Muhammad Abdel Wahab in Ghazal al-Banat



Children of Heaven


Trembling before G-d



***Blessed is the Match

West Beirut



Waltz with Bashir



Nassim killed in Where do we go Now?

***Stepmother scene in Bliss

Maryam’s breakdown scene in Bliss

Husband has divorce document in hand but refuses to give it in Gett

Ending of Bethlehem



Fireworks Scene in Wajda

Shredded Paper scene in Zero Motivation

*** Russian girl with gun in Zero Motivation

Studio Solo Singing Broken Wings

Maryam and Jamal sitting on the rocks in Bliss

Grave Scene in Borrowed Identity



We ran out of time for these suggested categories:











Broken Wings


Gett: The trial of Viviane Amsalem

West Bank Story

Blessed is the Match (The Hannah Senesh Movie)

Where do we go Now?

Ghazal al-Banat



Zero Motivation

A Borrowed Identity

A Separation

West Beirut


Trembling before G-d



Many of us saw other films that were discussed in class:

The Square


Waltz With Bashir


Children of Heaven

The Attack




[1] Kazablan was screened after the nominations but before the voting. Student voters (unsurprisingly!) said they would have voted for Kazablan over the films they nominated.

[2] Students debated several songs in West Bank Story for this category; it was decided to put this song up for the category.

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University of Wyoming Middle East and Israel in Film Class Fall 2015 “Torrys” awards

Middle East and Israel in Film University of Wyoming Fall 2015 Class Awards.Finals.docx

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On Syed Kashua’s Dancing Arabs and Borrowed Identity


I teach a course on Middle East and Israel in Film. Often, I read the book on which a film is supposedly based (or the book based on the film). only after I show the film in class.

I screened A Borrowed Identity with a screenplay by Syed Kashua (Directed by Eran Riklis), and then read the book, Dancing Arabs afterwards.

I read the book in English, not Hebrew, so I cannot tell whether Kashua used Arabic dialogue where appropriate in the film (as he does in the screenplay).

The book is very different from the film; one could hardly say the film is based on the book at all, as the book lacks the main narrative focus of the film, the “borrowed identity” story with the Jonathan character. Instead, it is a series of short episodes from the life of an unnamed main character, based (loosely, I imagine) on Kashua himself. Certainly the character, never named in the book, is from Tira, went to a prestigious private school in Jerusalem, and lived in Beit Safafa with his wife, all things that are also true of the author. (By the way, the school is not named in the book either, although another school whose students taunt the narrator in the film, is. And the narrator’s high school years do not play that much of a role in the book; his Jewish girlfriend figures only briefly. Indeed, Jewish Israelis do not play major recurrent roles in the book’s essays–unlike the film or Kashua’s TV hit series, Arab Labor.

The short chapters remind me of newspaper columns (I am thinking of E. Kishon or Y. Gefen, Israeli humorists who wrote for newspapers), or themes for TV show episodes; they carry a connected narrative but most of them also are designed to be able to be read independently of each other. Some of the chapters of the book become scenes in the film. Some entire sections of the book are not represented in the film at all, such as the narrator’s early life, or his post-high school life, including marriage and baby.

Religion, or at least references to aspects of religious observance, plays more of a role in the book than in the film. The narrator’s family is not religious, but the film’s local closed-cable TV show with the quiz is in the book—and it is described as a Ramadan special, with the deadline on Id al-Fitr. The narrator has a Muslim friend from high school who is religious. There is some discussion about religion and religiosity as it relates to the secular Arab Israeli narrator.

But the most striking change from in tone from the book to the screen—tone, not storyline—is the way some of the political issues are expressed. In the film, Eyad speaks eloquently to critique both the representation of Arabs in Israeli literature and classroom discussions of this issue, and part of the story line is illustrated by his troubles getting a job with an Arab identity. In the book, there is more about identity cards, about Israeli Arab vs. non-Israeli Arab identity and status, about the Ministry of the Interior, and other such issues. On the other hand, the young narrator is not so politically aware; he does not express pride in the father’s career as a “terrorist” and notes his naivite about these issues. The book paints the young narrator as actually friendly with the Jewish visitor to his elementary school class from Seeds of Peace–and recounts that his elementary school paid a return visit to the Seeds of Peace partner school in the nearby Jewish city Kvar Sava—only for the narrator to find his Jewish friend and his class was sent by mistake to his school the same day.

Only a very few of the chapters in the book are in the movie, which has a much tighter narrative focus.

One more thing: I am still not personally convinced about who the “Dancing Arabs” are. Seeing the film with the class, (not the first time I saw it) I thought perhaps it was a reference to dancing on the rooftops while Saddam Hussein was bombing Israel in 1991. Reading the book—which after all, is known as Dancing Arabs,–I am less sure. Perhaps it is this rooftop scene, or a scene in a bar where Arabs are dancing, but it is most likely that readers should assume the Dancing of the title refers to an elaborate yet clumsy dance through a number of identities and highly diverse worlds of Israeli Arabs—family, village, Arab, Palestinian, Israeli, spouse, father and many more.



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Wyoming High School Graduates

My colleague Paul Flesher posted an interesting map of US. High School Graduates by county, in which Wyoming appears to be the only state with only the top two categories, i.e., no counties fall below 85%. I saw it (for better or worse) at a time when I was uninterested in doing more urgent work…. I was not aware that Wyoming had a top ranking in high school graduation rates (it does not, see below), so I quickly looked for some additional data.

The map URL was for an image on a blog. Finding the blog was easy but finding the context in which it was copied by the blogger was tedious; the search-terms I tried were not successful so I had to look for it historically (i.e, look through many postings; the URL of the image suggested it was posted in September 2015, but there are many pages for this month).

The blogger posted it in an essay connecting “high religiosity” with all sorts of negatives, and includes a number of maps supposedly indicating that US regions with high measures of religious belief correlate with poor scores on all sorts of other measures, including high school graduates: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/the-correlation-of-high-religiosity-in-america-with-everything-bad/

I read a few of the posts on the blog; it’s a fascinating blog, with many interesting (and overwhelmingly negative) observations about religion. I found the material about Islam especially interesting. Although it is overwhelmingly negative, postings include very well-written reviews of Quranic materials (including a new study-Quran edited by Syed Hussein Nasr), and there is interesting dialogue-related stuff. Nevertheless, I find the author highly opinionated, and an exemplar of how “Atheist Triumphalism” is often just as dogmatic as religious triumphalism can be.

Returning to the map: There was no descriptive material on the blog, but the map is apparently prepared by the Rural Assistance Center and was a little easier to find on their website. But the only descriptive information is this: “Printable map that shows the percent of population attaining at least a high school graduate education or equivalent by county. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009-2013 ACS 5-year estimates. (2015), Resource Type: Map”. https://www.raconline.org/search/search_results.php?keyword=graduates

So the map is based on US Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) data. From the ACS pages, I think the data refers to percent of persons, 25 years or older, with at least a high school diploma, listed by county of residence: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/meta/long_EDU635213.htm

So the map appears to show something quite amazing: Wyoming in fact appears to have no county with fewer than 85% high school graduates. And it is the only such state in the country! The State can do much better with graduation rates: Wyoming is only in the middle 20% for high school graduation rates, at 79% (this is something called the “four year adjusted regulatory graduation rate”), a statistic that is not so surprising. http://eddataexpress.ed.gov/ (and this report is consistent with Wyoming state education data as well).

The “by-county high school graduate rate” is curious, as Wyoming usually is not touted to business investors, say, as a state with a better-educated population than others. I’d like to think that our superb university plays an important role in attracting and retaining high school graduates. Nevertheless, the extent to which the Wyoming population has at least an Associates or at least a Bachelors-level degree is probably far more important in today’s world.

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Talk on Rabin’s 20th yahrtzeit

This is a talk I gave at the East Denver Orthodox Synagogue on the occasion of the 20th yahrtzeit of Yitzhak Rabin.

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