Avraham "Yair" Stern
Avraham "Yair" SternPhoto courtesy: YMedad

A unique concert of Jewish underground music composed by Jewish revolutionary Avraham Stern will take place in Jerusalem this evening.

Avraham "Yair" Stern was the leader of the Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), known by its acronym Lehi - one of three main Zionist military groups which operated during the years of the "British Mandate for Palestine".

His group gained notoriety for its uncompromising stance towards the British occupation in Israel, mounting daring and often deadly attacks against British forces, who often referred to the group as "The Stern Gang".

But Stern the fighter was also a prolific writer, composing songs, poems and helping to formulate Lehi's unique ideology. His most well-known song is Chayalim Almonim, or Unknown Soldier,s which became an anthem for the Jewish groups fighting against the British Mandate in the 1940s.

Now, that anthem will be transformed by jazz virtuoso Daniel Zamir and his students. 

The Israeli-born Zamir hit the jazz scene in New York in the 1990s as a young protégé of John Zorn and swiftly became known for his rapid-fire saxophone skills. Upon returning to Israel, he released new versions of Hatikva and other classic Israeli folk songs. 

Zamir is now the head of the head of the Mizmor School of Music at the Givat Washington Campus of Education. The students will present their interpretation of Stern's poetry in a variety of styles. 

Also speaking will be Lehi veteran Geula Cohen, Stern's son, Yair Stern, head of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and others. 

The event is sponsored by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, the Beit Yair Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv, and the Uri Zvi Greenberg Center. Chaya Bar Nes of the Uri Zvi Greenberg Center spoke to Arutz Sheva - Israel National Radio about the event. 

To download the mp3 click here.

"Many people go to the cemetery on his yarzheit [the anniversary of his passing - ed.] and feel that his soul and his message speaks to them," she stated. "I know many young people and adults that love his poems... But I have also met pupils 15 and 16 years old that never heard his name. Even among the musicians that composed the melodies we had two young people that loved his poems and didn't know anything about him."

Bar Nes stated that growing up in Israel she knew nothing about the dramatic period of the 1940s in which the Irgun Zvai Leumi (or IZL) headed by Menachem Begin, and the Lehi headed by Avraham Stern, raised arms and wrote poems against the British Mandate government.

"The underground in those days, even after we had the State of Israel, was still underground," she explained. "I was 18 years old and wanted to find out more about these people."

She eventually met Geula Cohen, a Lehi veteran who was arrested by the British for her pro-Zionist radio broadcasts, and who later made a daring escape from prison. Cohen and Bar Nes have for years worked at the Uri Zvi Greenberg Center, named after another revolutionary Zionist poet of the era. The center organizes art and music projects for high school and college students. 

Stern himself was eventually murdered by British authorities, who shot him as he was being led away in handcuffs.

Bar Nes says she hopes that through his music, Israel's next generation will grow to appreciate his role in the reestablishment of an independent Jewish homeland, and use it to inspire them to achieve the impossible. Yair fought for the freedom of Israel, and many Israelis that lived in those days didn't believe that it was possible," she explained.

"So it was a small group of young people that took on this task and fought and gave their lives to achieve it," she said.

The concert will take place at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on Wednesday January 29th at 8:00pm. 

For a full podcast interview plus music, download the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast by clicking here.

Ben Bresky is a music journalist living in Jerusalem. He hosts The Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast interviewing a wide range of Jewish and Israeli musicians from Carlebach to klezmer, from hassidic to trance. For mp3 archives click here. For Facebook click here. For Twitter click here.