‘Chad Gadya’, Chava Alberstein Protest Against Israeli Militarism



Chava Alberstein is one Israel’s greatest musical performers whose career has spanned 40 years and more. She written and recorded some of the finest popular music to come out of Israel. She is a chanteuse in the finest sense of that European tradition–a woman of her time, keenly aware of the the human condition. In 1989, she released Chad Gadya (hear it), a modern reworking of the traditional Passover song. The original is a song meant for children but which recounts the cycle of suffering endured by living things. At the end, it provides comfort that God can smite even the all-powerful Angel of Death.

In that context, Albertstein decided to use the song to make a powerful attack on the Israeli response to the first Palestinian intifada. The majority of the song is a simple Hebrew rendition of the original Aramaic. But when she arrives at the following verse her voice rises to a fierce dramatic intensity as if to better convey her rage at the injustice committed by the Israelis on the Palestinians:

Why suddenly do you sing Chad Gadya
When spring hasn’t yet arrived and Passover hasn’t come?
How have you changed, how are you different?
I changed this year.

That on all nights, all other nights I asked only Four Questions
This night I have another question:
“How long will the cycle of violence continue?”
Chase and be chased, beat and be beaten,
When will this madness end?

How have you changed, how are you different?
I changed this year.
I was once a sheep and a tranquil kid
Today I’m a tiger and a ravening wolf
I was once a dove and I was a deer.

Today I don’t know who I am.

translation: Richard Silverstein

Today, Israel fights an even more devestating war against Hezbollah. Though the scale is larger, the principle invoked by Alberstein in this song remain the same. “How long will the cycle of violence continue…when will the madness end?”

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