Daily Israel Report
More

Zion's Corner Blogs


America's 63-year-old Zionist Song of Faith Rediscovered

The son of a Russian immigrant cantor made his name on the Borscht Belt with musical comedy but sang his passionate joy in Israel's rebirth.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 2/28/2013, 9:38 AM

Songwriter, performer Benny Bell
Songwriter, performer Benny Bell
Courtesy of Joel Samberg, Bell's grandson

An American Jewish comic musician and songwriter whose made his name on the Borscht Belt in the first half of the 20th century also wrote one of the most passionate Zionist songs of faith ever recorded in the United States.

Born in 1906 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City to a Russian immigrant cantor, Benny Bell was deeply in love with his faith – but more so to his music and sense of humor. By age 16, he had disappointed his father with a turn to musical entertainment, where he found moderate success in song writing and comedy.

Bell’s last performance was in 1992 at age 86, and the songwriter passed away just a few years later, in 1999 at age 93. His biggest years were between the late 1930s and early 1950s, when he produced novelty classics such as “Pincus the Peddler” and “Shaving Cream,” ballads such as “If you Promise to Be Mine,” war-time tunes like “Ship Ahoy, Sailor Boy” and romances such as “Brooklyn Bridge.”  Bell was also known for arranging and engineering most of his own recordings, as well as writing and singing.

Moreover, the songs he wrote in Yiddish – as well as Jewish ceremonial music pieces -- were played often on Yiddish radio stations in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. The Borscht Belt performer recorded more than 200 novelty songs in his 70-year discography -- but none was so emotionally charged as the one he wrote about the rebirth of the State of Israel.

“Home Again in Israel,” was recorded by Bell in 1950,a passionate declaration of love for Israel composed eight years before famed vaudeville composer Irving Berlin – Bell’s idol -- wrote his own Zionist tribute, “Israel.”  It is a firm statement of belief in his people, his G-d and the Land which in his song he says has always been promised to him personally.

With a nearly imperceptible accent to his English, Bell's full-bodied singing is flawless and with no accent in the final verse, which he sings with obvious pride in a mix of Yiddish and Ashkenazi Hebrew.

HOME AGAIN IN ISRAEL

“Home again in Israel
At last no more need I roam. 
My sacred land, O beautiful Israel 
You are now my home sweet home.

For years and years they broke our homes, we had no place to hide,
They crushed our souls, they lashed us but our spirit never died. 
We dreamed about a homeland that would banish all such fear
And now at last it’s here – Sh’ma Yisroel!

Home again in Israel
Our dream of dreams has come true
My shining star O beautiful Israel
I am coming back to you.

For centuries they broke our homes, we had no place to hide
They crushed our souls, they lashed us but our spirit never died. 
We dreamed about a homeland that would banish all such fear
And now at last it’s here – Sh’ma Yisroel!

Home again in Israel,
Our dream of dreams has come true
My shining star O beautiful Israel
I am coming back to you.

I love the Tikvaseinu,
A tikvah shnat alpaim
L’hiyot am chofshi b’artzeinu 
Eretz Zion Yerushalayim!