Chava Alberstein, Israeli Singer and Peace Activist
Artist Protests Government Policies but Sees No Easy Solutions
Listen to Madeleine Brand's report.
Hear an extended version of Madeleine Brand's interview.
Listen to songs from Chava Alberstein's CD, Foreign Letters.
April 24, 2002 -- Singer Chava Alberstein is one of Israel's most popular -- and prolific -- musicians, having recorded nearly 50 albums in 30 years. The folk and pop singer has also been slammed for her anti-government political views. During the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s, she recorded a traditional Passover song with additional lyrics implicitly criticizing Israeli policies. Some radio stations banned the recording and Alberstein received death threats.
In a Morning Edition interview with NPR's Madeleine Brand, the long-time peace activist says there's no simple solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I can't say it's easy," Alberstein says. "It's not like there is... one way of thinking and just go on saying, 'You have to leave the occupied territories and that's it' because while you stand in a demonstration supporting the rights of the Palestinians, in the same hour there is a terror suicide bomb 10 minutes from the demonstration."
Alberstein defends her attacks on government policies, even at times of national crisis. "Basically, I believe that artists should criticize governments whenever they can... we are not politicians that we need voters to vote for us and we don't need to please the crowds. So we really must say what we feel..."
Her latest CD, Foreign Letters, is a collection of songs mostly in Hebrew and Yiddish. It includes a track called "Indifferent," which is something she says she would "like very much to be" but can't.
Nothing really bothers me lately
I feel I am getting indifferent
How does the river look, what happens to the ozone...
But it doesn't interest me
All I want to know is the status of the Yen
I'm not moving from the news on CNN...
Alberstein says she came up with the song's sarcastic lyrics after watching televised scenes of horror on Sept. 11 and noticing stock market updates continuing at the bottom of the screen. How could anyone care about the Dow at a time like that, she wondered.
Many of the Yiddish songs on Foreign Letters are especially melancholy. Alberstein, a native of Poland whose family emigrated to Israel when she was four years old, notes that the Holocaust wiped out millions of Yiddish speakers, nearly decimating the language. "So that's why there is always a kind of sadness. When you sing Yiddish... in a way you connect with your grandparents, you connect with ghosts, with a world that's not existing anymore."
Read a Chava Alberstein discography and biographical information about the artist.
Read an article about Alberstein in Dirty Linen, a folk and world music magazine.
Browse a guide to Israeli music.
Learn more about Yiddish music and culture at the Yiddish Radio Project on All Things Considered.