Chava Alberstein has been called Israel's Joan Baez, and for good reason. Her politically charged folk songs have infuriated and inspired listeners -- none more so than "Chad Gadya," a scathing riff on the Passover tune she wrote at the height of the Intifada.
The song, which declares, "I used to be a kid and a peaceful sheep/Today I am a tiger and a ravenous wolf," admonishes Israel for perpetrating the Middle East cycle of violence. Back in 1989, it was virtually banned from the radio and led to canceled concerts and threatening telephone calls to Alberstein.
When the chanteuse performs "Chad Gadya" at her Royce Hall concert on Dec. 7, she believes audiences will be more receptive. "The current conflict reminds people that the cycle of violence is still turning and that it can turn against ourselves," explains Alberstein, a Peace Now advocate who has recorded nearly 50 albums. "It shows us that we must stop the cycle; otherwise, it's the end of the world and the dream of the Jewish state."
Polish-born Alberstein, the daughter of Holocaust refugees, arrived in Israel at the beginning of the dream, around 1950. She was 4, and her father, a piano teacher, was too poor to purchase a piano. Instead, he bought an accordion, and little Chava was his first pupil.
At 12 years old, not long after Alberstein was riveted by a Pete Seeger concert, her father brought her a used guitar purchased from a sailor in Haifa. In her late teens, inspired by the American folk musicians who drew on their ethnic roots, Alberstein did the unthinkable in the young Jewish state: She put out an album of songs in Yiddish.
Recently, the internationally acclaimed singer returned to the mameloshn after making a documentary on the last Yiddish poets in Israel. "I felt like the movie was a goodbye to Yiddish, but I wasn't ready to say goodbye," says Alberstein, who began writing songs based on Yiddish poems and recorded them with The Klezmatics on a 1999 album titled "The Well."
Alberstein, who'll sing excerpts from the CD in L.A., says performing Yiddish songs in Poland has been intense. "It's a mixture of sorrow and anger and victory," she explains. "I think to myself, 'You tried to erase us and here I am again, singing in Yiddish. It never stops.'"
For tickets to Alberstein's Dec. 7 Royce Hall concert at UCLA, call (310) 825-2101.
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