His voice is now a shadow of the spine-tingling hair raising, rich sound his throat once produced. The small man with the huge smile that was standing on stage, in front of me, is a living legend. That is why the audience came. Most were already aware that he can no longer sing like he once could but that didn’t really matter. How often do you have the opportunity to see a legend?
Yehoram Gaon was born in 1939. Next month he will turn 78, older than the re-established State of Israel.
In between songs he told the audience stories from his history, which is also our history, the history of our country. Some were funny, about performances as part of the Yarkon Bridge Trio (where he sang with Arik Einstein and Benny Amdursky). He talked about getting the theater role that changed his life, lead role in the musical Kazablan. Other stories were touching in the heart rending way that only Israeli stories can be.
Ours are not the fantasy stories in a novel or even those of the best thriller, adventure movies. Ours are the original saga, documented in the most popular book ever written and still continuing, to this day.
Yehoram Gaon told of the terror of the Yom Kippur war when Israelis did not know if the young country would survive, or if it would be the final genocide of the Jewish people. He had been called to perform for soldiers stationed in the Sinai desert, almost at the border with Egypt. The soldiers request him to sing Me’al Pisgat Har Hazofim, a song about Jerusalem.
Think about that. So far from home, in such danger, they wanted to hear the ode to Jerusalem that declares:
“Hundreds of generations I dreamed of you, to be granted to see the light of your face, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Shine your face to your sons! From your ruins, I will build you!”
He told us: “I must tell you, I sang quite nicely. I was a little offended when they all ran away.” He thought that they were being attacked or were about to be hit by a missile but the soldiers were running to a command-car that had suddenly arrived at their desert position. It was Rabbi Goren, the Rabbi who was there when the Temple Mount was freed, the Rabbi who insisted the holy Tomb of the Patriarchs remain under Jewish administration. This man, a walking symbol of holiness and connection to the land of Israel, had two bags in his hands, full of small books of Psalms.
Yehoram Gaon’s face twisted in anguish as he recounted how the soldiers grabbed the tiny books, shoving them in to every pocket available, as if wrapping themselves in holiness. As if the Psalms would serve as a barrier, as armor, guarding them from the bullets and the bombs.
Next Yehoram Gaon sang a song about the heroic rescue at Entebbe. The song explains that every Jew is connected to Israel and to Jerusalem, like to a mother through the umbilical cord and each of her sons are connected to each other, for better or worse. That this nation will not allow her children to be left to the “mercy” of strangers.
Finishing the original song, Yehoram Gaon explained that a new stanza had been added to the song in honor of Major Roi Klein who died in Lebanon to save his soldiers. Heroism mixes with heroism, one generation to the next and we pray for the day that heroism is no longer necessary.
Yehoram Gaon ended the show with the audience enthusiastically singing with him.
I found myself thinking about a decorative plate my mother owns. It is ceramic and rather hideous, but I love it anyway. No matter where we lived, that plate was always there. It is a sign of home. Yehoram Gaon is like that too. His songs were what I heard as a child in Detroit. His voice was my connection to the Israeli experience. Now I was among the audience listening to him, forgiving the weakness in his voice for the beauty he has granted us all for so many years. His stories, his songs are our experiences; the glory and wonder of this nation, the trials and tribulations we have endured.
His songs are Israel. They mean home.