The Fish Snake Makes Zionist Hip-Hop

“The fish snake makes Zionist hip-hop.” It sounds even more ridiculous – and badass – when chanted in a club of hundreds. 

Hadag Nahash osim hip-hip tzioni, Hadag Nahash osim hip-hop tzioni!

Israeli natives of all ages, interspersed with American fan-girls like me, mouth along to the choruses of Hadag Nahash, many in the crowd recognizing their classic “Sticker Song” from that time their middle-school Hebrew teacher tried to be cool and “do something different” by exposing them to a litany of Israeli bumper stickers filled with sharply opposing political jabs. Thanks, Mrs. Wexler.

Anyway. Hadag Nahash, literally “the fish snake” (but technically an anagram of the Hebrew for “new driver”), is the most resonant voice I have yet to find for my Zionism. I have lost count of how many times I have seen the band in concert in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and New York City. But as my lived experience in Israel deepens, so does my relationship to their music, growing beyond a nostalgia for my eighteen year-old self, whose band tee-shirt was still unfaded. Now you can barely see the autographs, but it’s almost better that way.

I understand the Hebrew lyrics now, and I finally realize that once I did not; I laugh at my past certainty. I smirk critically at my amusement itself. A citizen of eight months, I am finally enlightened- ha! But both the lyrics and the fervor they convey speak to me more directly nowadays, moving me to bounce from one foot to the other as I refresh my bus-tracking application on my phone. Moving me.

Yesterday, the day of Jerusalem’s municipal election (round two), throughout the day, cars drive down my street blasting tinny recordings of Hadag Nahash’s “Zman L’Hitorer” (“Time to Wake Up”), “Hine Ani Ba” (“Here I Come”), and “Matzbi’im Ba’raglayim” (“Voting With Our Feet”):

למעלה למעלה גבוה גבוה
זמן לאחות לא זמן לקרוע
לנוח בשבת ועכשיו לטרוח
לשיר ביום הזיכרון עכשיו לצרוח
עכשיו כולם מצביעים עם הרגליים…
זאת לה המהפכה שלי אם אי–אפשר לרקוד אותה

Up, up, high, high
Time to mend, not time to tear
Rest on Shabbat, and now toil
Sing on Memorial Day and now shout…
Now everyone, vote with your feet…
It’s not my revolution if I can’t dance to it

I cannot stop smiling, because I live here and I get to vote, and I hear the voice of my own very personal brand of  Zionism outside my window. And it is disrupting my workflow, yes; but it lifts me up.

I used to ride in the firetruck in our local July Fourth parade in Michigan. Red, white, and blue streaked across my cheekbones, I would honk the giant horn and toss hard candies from the window to other children walking alongside the float. Everyone was cheering for me, and I was cheering for…America? Yes, right. America! Rah, rah!

These days I fill my would-be-silent moments with hours of podcasts on American politics and policy, the aural equivalent of opening endless browser tabs of millennial op-eds. (Guilty as charged, as well.) And I hear talk of “nationalism” versus “patriotism” and the penetrable lines of these fluidly definable camps; I hear talk of equality versus superiority, paternalism and moral judgment, discourse about the discourse about the “discourse.” I hear advertisements for electric toothbrushes, and in the background, I hear another round of the Jerusalem Municipal candidates’ reverberating stereo-blasts rolling down my block.

I feel a resonance with the version of Zionism in the air at Hadag Nahash concerts, the aspiration I absorb through my earbuds as I walk uphill to the local elementary school to submit my ballot:

אני מאלה שמתעקשים על החלום
של ימים שקטים נטולי שיגעון

I am among those who insist on the dream
Of quiet days devoid of insanity

Theirs is a fierce insistence, not on the untouchable perfection of the status quo, but on the possibility – the necessary existence – of something greater ahead, something we are thus compelled to shape together. Stubborn dreamers? Count me in.

When I tell Israelis I made Aliyah, I am guaranteed one of the following responses:

  1. A hearty “Mazal Tov! Kol HaKavod – Good for you! That’s amazing!”
  2. What?! Why would you do that? What’s here for you? It’s garbage here! It’s a mess here! What are you doing?!

Or both. Often both.

And that says everything to me. That is the kind of Zionism, the kind of country-love I have fallen for; the kind of love that looks the garbage in the face, in all its beauty. The kind of love that commits to working for change, by calling attention to the things that were not highlighted in shiny hasbara brochures they handed out in school, back when our teachers excitedly charged us with the duty to defend a country’s right to exist, before all the hateful, conspiring forces on the antagonistic “secular college” campuses awaiting us. Sigh.

I want a love that goes deeper than cherry tomatoes. (Or whatever imagery the heroic day school alumni are supposed to use these days.) Is that too much to ask?

In a different place and time not long ago, my cynicism would have dampened my Zionist credibility. The love for Israel on which I was raised had, in retrospect, an underlying defensiveness to it, as if it had something to prove. Much of it was akin to the kind of “love” that completes an “I <3 ____” tee-shirt slogan, all enthusiasm, no depth. At least it strikes me that way in retrospect.

And I don’t mean to look back without gratitude, biting the hands that fed me store-bought hummus, until I could merit the days of homemade goodness on Friday afternoons. There is no sense in belittling the merits of my earlier homes in favor of mine now; and there is no meaning in exaggerating the splendor of my daily existence. But that’s exactly the point.

I love loving Israel, in my way, because it’s not the kind of love based on false flattery, impressing and ingratiating, advocating and admiring. It is the kind of love that moves me.  

אני מאמין שנכון להיום
חלקינו באי השגת השלום
משמעותי וגדול לא פחות מחלקן
של כל המדינות השכנות
ועוד אני מאמין שאנחנו הולכים סחור
שאין סיכוי שעוד מלחמה תעזור
ושכל הדיבורים על מאבק בטרור
תכליתם רק להרשים ת’עולם הנאור
אני מאמין שחובה להשקיע בחינוך
שסדר העדיפויות מוכרח להיות הפוך…
אני מאמין שאין פה שוויון
שהגזענות שבתוכנו תוליד את האסון
שאם לא נתעשת לא נתחיל להבין
ספק אם נוכל לחגוג עוד שישים

וזה לא מזיז לאף אחד ת’תחת
ואני לא יכול
לסחוב את המשקולת הזו
לכל מקום שאלך

I believe that…our part in the non-achievement of peace
Is significant and great, no less than that of
All the neighboring countries
And further, I believe that we’re going in circles
That there is no chance another war will help
And that all this talk of terror
Its purpose is to impress the ‘enlightened world’;
I believe it’s our obligation to invest in education
That our priorities are warped…
I believe that there is not equality here
That the racism within us will lead to the destruction
That if we don’t come to our senses and begin to understand
There’s doubt if we’ll make it to celebrate another sixty

But that doesn’t move anyone’s butt
And I can’t
Carry all this weight
To every place I go

Can I get a L’Chaim to the poetry this “Zionist hip-hop” truly is? This Saturday night, I will be dancing, and in my way, I will be praying.

Because, let’s be real, I believe in a whole lot.

“But that doesn’t move anyone’s butt
And I can’t
Carry all this weight
To every place I go”