Culture

“Do Not Summarize Me on Wikipedia.” The Thought of Hanan Ben Ari

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Natan Oliff

 

“Do not confine me in any cage // Do not summarize me on Wikipedia,”[1] implores Israeli singer-songwriter Hanan Ben Ari. In his personal life, Ben Ari embodies this plea to reject stereotypes and embrace nuance.[2] As a self-described “Torah and mitzvot observant” Jew,[3] Ben Ari followed a typical path. He wears a yarmulke, studied in yeshiva, married young, and has six children.[4] Yet he performs for co-ed crowds, writes songs for female singers, and is not bothered by public transportation in Israel operating on shabbat.[5] Similarly, Ben Ari’s music transcends stereotypes and labels. His songs span multiple genres such as rock, hip hop, funk, soul, and religious pop. In his own words: “[is it possible to] create Punk-Hip-Hop music and keep the beat // And still call it Jewish music?”[6] Furthermore, as a lyricist, Ben Ari discusses diverse topics including social commentary, religious experience, literature, philosophical quandaries, and pop culture.

Ben Ari’s songs appeal to his listeners on multiple levels. First, good art—whether music, literature, or theatre—accurately portrays the human experience. Ben Ari’s lyrics are no exception. Ben Ari’s wide-ranging descriptions validate, normalize, and destigmatize the experiences and emotions of listeners. Second, he proposes practical insights and advice to cope with struggles. His lyrics present novel, external viewpoints that listeners can apply to their persistent issues. Third, his lyrics impart a nuanced worldview that appreciates the diversity and complexity of the human experience. An increased knowledge of different experiences along with the recognition that human experience varies leads listeners to practice empathy and sympathy towards others. In this essay, I analyze two of Ben Ari’s songs to showcase his talents. Since Ben Ari is relatively unknown among English-speaking Jews, I hope this essay will inspire readers to further explore his music.[7]

The Heart Will Arrive Soon[8]

The heart will arrive soon

The heart will arrive soon

Soon it will arrive

Soon it will arrive, it will be good

 

You have a birthday and a marzipan cake

You already are not celebrating, quarreling with time

Mother calls, blesses herself

That you will bring a grandchild, that the groom will come already

 

And the heart will arrive soon

The heart will arrive soon

Soon he will arrive

Soon he will arrive, it will be good

The heart will arrive soon

The dawn will break

No one will interrupt you from dancing


Once there was taste, there was scent in fruit

A heart beating without measure – now a double-edged sword

Where is the orchestra? and where is the prophecy?

Father goes crazy; about how you are always sleep

The heart is arriving soon

The heart is arriving soon

The dawn will break

No one will disturb you from dancing

And when he arrives, yes when he arrives

It will be good, soon

Soon he will arrive, it will be good


Night, and you are quiet, in your eyes gold

What is dancing within? and illuminating chambers within you?[9]

Mother comes near, strokes your hair

And you soften, succeed a little to smile


The heart is arriving soon

The heart is arriving soon

The dawn will break

No one will disturb you from dancing

And when he arrives, yes when he arrives

It will be good

הלב יגיע בקרוב

הלב יגיע בקרוב

הלב יגיע בקרוב

בקרוב הוא יגיע

בקרוב הוא יגיע, יהיה טוב

 

יש לך יומולדת ועוגה של מרציפן

את כבר לא חוגגת, מתקוטטת עם הזמן

אמא מתקשרת, מברכת את עצמה

שתביאי נכד, שיבוא כבר החתן

 

והלב יגיע בקרוב

הלב יגיע בקרוב

בקרוב הוא יגיע

בקרוב הוא יגיע, יהיה טוב

הלב יגיע בקרוב

השחר יפציע

אף אחד לא יפריע לך לרקוד

 

פעם היה טעם, היה ריח בפירות

לב פעם בלי שער – עכשיו חרב פיפיות

איפה התזמורת? ואיה הנבואה?

אבא משתגע; איך תמיד את ישנה

 

הלב מגיע בקרוב

הלב מגיע בקרוב

השחר יפציע

אף אחד לא יפריע לך לרקוד

וכשהוא יגיע, כן כשהוא יגיע

יהיה טוב, בקרוב

בקרוב הוא יגיע, יהיה טוב

 

לילה, ואת שקט, בעינייך זהבים

מה זה שרוקד בך? ומאיר בך חדרים?

אמא מתקרבת, מלטפת שיערך

ואת מתרככת, מצליחה קצת לחייך

 

הלב מגיע בקרוב

הלב מגיע בקרוב

השחר יפציע

אף אחד לא יפריע לך לרקוד

וכשהוא יגיע, כן כשהוא יגיע

יהיה טוב

 

In “The Heart Will Arrive Soon,” Ben Ari paints a vivid picture of a single woman facing the marital pressures of traditional society. Ben Ari utilizes literary techniques to convey the anxiety and intensity of her experience, to illustrate how singlehood permeates her life. For instance, Ben Ari saturates the lyrics with imagery: a birthday cake, mother calling, dawn breaking, dancing, mother stroking her hair. These images offer a tangible medium for readers to picture and relate to her experience. They create a sequence of snapshots that provide a window into her life.

Additionally, Ben Ari emphasizes how societal and family dynamics contribute to her anxieties. Her mother pressures her into finding a husband. She eventually internalizes these messages, as her father’s disappointment lingers despite his absence. Furthermore, “The heart will arrive soon,” repeatedly echoes through her head. This inner dialogue reflects how social pressures invade her mind and quash any hope of respite and shelter. Finally, even the narrator talks to her throughout the song. This use of second person reinforces the pervasiveness of social commentary and pressure in her life.

Ben Ari’s lyrics also explore the relationship between time and anxiety. On the one hand, the social pressures of the present emotionally overwhelm her. On the other hand, anxiety drives her to look beyond the present for relief. Taste, scent, prophecy, and music fade into the past. The future dominates her consciousness. She internalizes the illusion that salvation is almost within her reach, as she repeats ad nauseum “The heart will arrive soon.” The breaking of dawn signifies that salvation will swiftly and surely follow the present darkness of night. Once she finds a partner, “No one will disturb you from dancing.” Anxiety weaves a mind-warping obsession with love, which transforms into the magic potion that cures all ailments. Its absence solely divides the terrible present and the perfect future. She is “quarreling with time,” navigating through the dark, opaque thicket of time in search of her own personal Eden.

Yet Ben Ari discretely advises her through the final scene. Through deep breaths and slowing down, she introspects and constructs a more nuanced view of the present. She finally comprehends the metaphor of the double-edged sword. The source of her anxiety doubles as her source of comfort, as her mother rebukes her but also embraces and reassures her. Additionally, Ben Ari slightly modifies the chorus. “The heart will arrive soon,” becomes “The heart is arriving soon.” This shift from future to present tense reveals the omniscient narrator’s knowledge. The future will work itself out. She will find her partner, even without personal initiative. Faith in a good future, a charitable view of the present, and patience will relieve her overwhelming anxiety.

Balance[10]

I suspect I’ve become mediocre

Specifically after I thought that I’ve

Transcended in a non-temporal fashion

Reality came and awoke my memory

I’m a human, from dust I came and unto dust shall I return

The wind that blows in me is cold

Every time that I try to keep the groove

I’m either a beat too early or too late

 

[Chorus]

I need direction, balance // To step out of this atrophy

The right dosage // Between spirit-soul-essence

Between desire and action

Fire-wind-water-earth // Between fear and love

You need direction, balance // To step out of this atrophy

The right dosage // Between spirit-soul-essence

Between desire and action

Fire-wind-water-earth // Between fear and love

 

Is it possible to be holy // And remain normal?

To be free // Without doing everything I want?

To mature // And remain total?

To give it your all[11] for a dream in a rational fashion?

To find th’emotion within repeated routine?

To put on a costume and remember the purpose?

To create Punk-Hip-Hop and maintain the beat

And still call it Jewish music?

 

Of all the exiles from where I came

You could make a continent

Afghanistan, Hungary, and the armed Persia

I want a merge // Turning opposites into couples

But in order for it to be a pleasure…

 

[Chorus]…

 

The soul is not a sucker

And what you thought you’ve saved up

Over time, your soul will collect from you with an interest –

of a mortgage

Balance your strength // Control your heart with your brain

And then you can let go // And flow // And dream…

 

You need a hospitalization // A quick one

Brother, don’t be depressed // Move

From the sadness to the joy // From cessation to action

Step out of the revolution // From slavery to redemption

You need a hospitalization // A quick one

Brother, don’t be depressed // Move

From the sadness to the joy // From cessation to action

Step out of the revolution // This world

The next world // From slavery to redemption

איזון

אני חושד שנעשיתי בינוני

דווקא אחרי שכבר חשבתי שאני

מתעלה באופן לא זמני

באה המציאות ועוררה את זיכרוני

אני אדם, מעפר באתי ולעפר אני אשוב

הרוח המנשבת בי קרירה

בכל מצב שמנסה אני לשמור על הגרוב

 אני מקדים או מאחר בפעימה

 

[פזמון]

אני צריך כיוון, איזון // כדי לצאת מהניוון

מינון // בין רוח-נפש-נשמה

בין הרצון לעשייה

אש-רוח-מים-אדמה // בין היראה לאהבה

אתה צריך כיוון, איזון // כדי לצאת מהניוון

מינון // בין רוח-נפש-נשמה

בין הרצון לעשייה

אש-רוח-מים-אדמה // בין היראה לאהבה

 

האם אפשר להיות קדוש // ולהשאר נורמלי?

להיות חופשי // בלי לעשות כל מה שבא לי

להתבגר // ולהשאר טוטאלי

להתאבד על החלום באופן רציונאלי

למצוא ת’רגש בשגרת הריפיט

לשים תחפושת ולזכור ת’תכלית

ליצור פאנק-היפ-הופ ולשמור על הביט

ושעדיין יקראו לזה מוסיקה יהודית?

 

מכל הגלויות מהן הגעתי

אפשר ליצור יבשת

אפגניסטן הונגריה ופרס המתחמשת

אני רוצה מיזוג // הופך הפכים לזוג

אבל בשביל שזה יהיה תענוג…

 

[פזמון]…

 

הנפש לא פראיירית

ואת מה שחשבת שחסכת

ברבות השנים היא תגבה ממך עם ריבית-

של משכנתא

תאזן את הכח // שלוט בלב עם המוח

ואז תוכל להשתחרר // ולזרום // ולחלום…

 

אתה צריך אישפוז // חפוז

אחינו אל תהיה שבוז // תזוז

מן העצבות אל השמחה // מחידלון לעשייה

תצא מתוך ההפיכה // משיעבוד לגאולה

אתה צריך אישפוז // חפוז

אחינו אל תהיה שבוז // תזוז

מן העצבות אל השמחה // מחידלון לעשייה

תצא מתוך ההפיכה // עולם הזה

עולם הבא // משיעבוד לגאולה

 

In “Balance,” Ben Ari paints a different scenario. In contrast with “The Heart Will Arrive Soon,” which was vivid and emotional, “Balance” depicts a philosophical, pondering account. As a further distinction, Ben Ari narrates from a personal perspective, as he references his musical career and heritage. He crafts the song’s philosophical mood through a couple of literary techniques. First, as the song progresses, the lyrics shift from the first person to the second person. This shift signifies an internal dialogue within Ben Ari as he attempts to solve his philosophical dilemmas. Many of these dilemmas revolve around the tension between traditional values and progressive, modern values. Second, Ben Ari poses these dilemmas as rhetorical questions: “Is it possible to be holy // And remain normal? To be free // Without doing everything I want?” The open-ended nature of the rhetorical questions contributes to the contemplative aspect of the song.

Ben Ari concludes his philosophical journey with a paradox: he can only attain balance if he ceases to pursue it. Initially, Ben Ari believed he “Transcended in a non-temporal fashion.” In other words, he thought he solved the riddle of life and accomplished perfect balance. However, reality rudely awakened him to the fact that “I’m a human, from dust I came and unto dust shall I return.” Humanity implies imperfection, which obstructs Ben Ari’s quest for perfect balance. Towards the end of the song, Ben Ari says that “The soul is not a sucker // And what you thought you’ve saved up // Over time, your soul will collect from you with an interest of a mortgage.” Humans cannot outwit their soul. Any plan for a perfect life, to “Control your heart with your brain // And then you can let go,” will backfire. Life is too complex. Eventually, Ben Ari reneges on finding a perfect, abstract, philosophical balance. Yet this conclusion does not dishearten him, but rather liberates him. It frees him from the fetters of the abstract and the shackles of speculation. He returns to commonplace, where he may now enjoy and appreciate his mundane life. “Brother, don’t be depressed // Move // From the sadness to the joy // From cessation to action.”

Ben Ari utilizes the lyrics of “The Heart Will Arrive Soon” and “Balance” to provide emotional appeal, offer advice, and impart a nuanced worldview. Ben Ari captures a wide range of specific societal experiences, such as how traditional societies pressure single women and balance eludes those who value both tradition and progress. His depictions provide cathartic solace and emotional relief to those who struggle with these experiences. However, Ben Ari’s songs also convey more general phenomena. “The Heart Will Arrive Soon” delves into overwhelming anxiety and “Balance” explores overthinking and perfectionism, which are both near-universal phenomena. Thus, even people who do not fit the specific scenarios depicted in these songs can at least identify with aspects of them. Both songs offer not only emotional catharsis, but also advice and insights. For traditional young women who endure societal pressure—in specific—and people who grapple with overwhelming anxiety—in general—Ben Ari advises them to slow down and exit the echo chamber of their thoughts. This progress creates space to introspect and develop a nuanced outlook. They can cultivate gratitude and thus combat the idea that their happiness hinges on addressing their anxiety, that somehow solving their specific worry will be a panacea. Similarly, for people who value tradition and progress—in specific—and those who flirt with perfectionism—in general—Ben Ari advises them to reject paralysis. They should acknowledge that the perfect balance is a myth, step outside of their head, and live their day-to-day life. Finally, these songs impart a nuanced worldview that generates feelings of sympathy and empathy towards young women who struggle with marital pressure and people stuck between tradition and modernity. Furthermore, this worldview cultivates an awareness of the anxiety and perfectionism latent in society.

While this essay touches on just two of Ben Ari’s songs, I hope that it will inspire readers to look further into his music. For those interested, the website LYRICS TRANSLATE provides community-sourced translations of many of his songs. In addition to being a brilliant lyricist, Ben Ari is also a talented composer, musician, and singer. I hope that Ben Ari’s music will be a welcome presence in the lives of others just as it has been in mine.


[1]Wikipedia”, Hanan Ben Ari.

[2] I would like to thank Levi Morrow for helping me edit this essay and Yair Fax for introducing me to Hanan Ben Ari.

[3] Raz Shechnik, “An Interview with Hanan Ben Ari”, 7 Leilot-Yedioth Ahronoth (2/12/2020), 4-7.

[4]Hanan Ben Ari”, Wikipedia.

[5] Shechnik, “An Interview with Hanan Ben Ari”, 4-7.

[6]Balance”, Hanan Ben Ari.

[7] Readers may be familiar with Ben Ari’s song “Shevurei Lev,” which was covered by Avraham Fried.

[8] This translation is mainly mine. However, I did cross check it and update some parts based upon the translation from lyricstranslate.com.

[9] Lit: ventricles.

[10] This translation is mostly from lyricstranslate.com. However, I made some minor changes where I felt that the translation was imprecise.

[11] Lit. To kill yourself upon.