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Commemorative Culture

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 Commemorative Culture in Israeli Arts

The commemorative culture that prevails in Israeli arts is widely in evidence in the National Library's collections. We bring you selected items that attest to this phenomenon. The culture of commemoration is reflected in a wide variety of publications and genres. These can be divided, generally speaking, into four categories: commemorative books, songs by the fallen, songs about the fallen and miscellaneous other items pertaining to commemorating the fallen and honoring their memory.
​Books commemorating soldiers who lost their lives in Israel's wars are a fundamental element of the national memory. Some honor individuals, others the fallen members of localities or communities, comrades in arms from various military or security units. Some, issued by the Ministry of Defense, honor all those who have fallen.
The National Library places special emphasis on collecting and curating all these publications, some of which are local or family initiatives that are issued in very few copies. This collection, which numbers thousands of items, is not only of great educational value, but it provides a comprehensive perspective on the development of commemorative culture in Israel.
Works by fallen soldiers are accorded special significance because they express the internal worlds of those who sacrificed their lives for the continued existence of Israeli society and culture. The documentation includes all stages of the work's creation: manuscript drafts of poems and melodies, press publications, printed books, recordings of pieces set to music, etc.
In addition to the songs written by fallen soldiers, many Israeli artists devote their creative abilities to commemorating those who lost their lives in Israel's wars. The prominence of loss and bereavement in the lives of Israeli citizens has made commemorative songs a mainstay of Israeli culture. These songs represent an overt expression of social solidarity in Israel, serve as an object of identification and social cohesion, and above all symbolize the broadest common denominator of Israeli existence.
The Sound Archive at the National Library curates the country's musical oeuvre, which includes the commemorative works. Thus, not only the words, but also the melodies and recordings, are preserved for posterity.
Furthermore, the National Library's collections contain rich and diverse testimonies to the Israeli commemorative culture from less well-known points of view. Among these are letters sent by bereaved families to artists who touched their hearts; artists' expressions of their feelings and creative experiences; exchanges pertaining to the planning of commemorative sites and memorials; documentation of sites that no longer exist.
A poignant example of such materials is the story of the song "Lu Yehi" by Naomi Shemer, which became a sort of prayerful anthem for the Israeli public during the Yom Kippur War. Shemer wrote the song between Yom Kippur and Succot of 1973, in keeping with the spirit that prevailed towards the end of the war. The song had phenomenal impact. Naomi Shemer was swamped with responses from all walks of life. Many of the letters she received are preserved in her archive at the National Library. One, dated 27 November, 1973, is from a woman named Bracha Vardi, who talks about her fallen husband Menachem and their children. One of their sons, Amichai, learned "Lu Yehi" at nursery school and added his own words, with the help of his teacher: "… if only I could go home and see my father…"
Together, the aforementioned materials constitute a unique documentary collection that is a profound part of the Israeli social countenance over the generations. Lyrics, pictures and notes, private and public documents, publications of every form imaginable, together form a substantial memorial that has been accumulated by the National Library. It now stands as a resource for the public and a memorial for posterity.