Why would I have any interest in this old war horse of a song? The lyrics (such as they are) are depasse and sexist. They depict a quaint, almost innocent era entirely unlike our own. The Palmach boys were beautiful, young and pure.
But truth be told, everyone knows this song and loves it. It’s melody has great spirit and energy, just like the newly established State of Israel itself in 1948. And it is a joy to perform both because of the spirited audience response and because it’s such a happy, blissful song.
Tzena, Tzena was written by Issachar Miron who was born in Kutno, Poland in 1920. At age 19, he emigrated to Palestine just before the Holocaust and World War II began. He wrote the song during WWII while serving in Britain’s Jewish Brigade. His 30 year-old friend, Yechiel Chagiz composed the lyrics. There is a fascinating recounting of how he composed the song (and the landmark copyright claim he won in U.S. courts which returned rights to the song to him).
The Weavers discovered the song in 1950 & recorded it. It was a huge hit (#1 song if I’m not mistaken) for them. I think it was the B-side for Goodnight Irene, another great old chestnut.
Miron and Julius Grossman (who I see credited for “English adaptation”) collaborated on the song. When Gordon Jenkins (who arranged the song for the Weavers I believe) and a colleague tried to copyright their version of the song, Miron sued and won.
Another piece of trivia is that my wife’s cousin, David, is a cousin of Miron’s. He met him only once, but family stories and history filled him in on its brush with musical celebrity.
Composer: Yechiel Chagiz
Lyrics: Issachar Miron
Notes: Moshava is a collective farm. “Tzena” can also be transliterated “tsena.”
צאנה צאנה צאנה צאנה הבנות וראינה
אל נא אל נא אל נא תתחבאנה
מבן חייל איש צבא
Tzena, tzena, tzena ha-b’not u-r’eina
Al na, Al na, Al na, al na titchabeyna
Mi ben chayil, ish tzava
Go out, go out, go out young women and see
Soliders from our moshav.
Do not, do not, do not hide yourself away from
A brave son, a man of the army.
Take a look at this wildly awful translation by Mitchell Parish to see what violence can be done to a decent, simple song:
Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
Don’t you know that you’re the darling of the regiment?
Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,
All the soldiers want to see you, why don’t you consent?
See the handsome soldiers gaily riding
Come out from wherever you are hiding
Won’t you smile a little for the colonel
Throw some kisses to the rest
Tzena, Tzena, Bashful little Tzena
Please don’t be afraid of all the soldier boys, for Tzena, Tzena,
All the boys adore you
Calling for you Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
See Tsena, Tsena in the Freedman Jewish Music Archive at the University of Pennsylvania. To hear the song online click on this International Federation of Secular Humanist Jews’ musical clip.