The Bitter and The Sweet, a Song of Prayer and a Promise by Naomi Shemer
Naomi Shemer wrote “Al Kol Eleh” in 1980. Like many of her songs, at first glance this seems like a naïve prayer, hoping for the best. Taking a deeper look, one discovers how the personal and the national are woven together, expressing the sentiment that has been part of the Jewish experience for centuries: a deep desire to protect loved ones, understanding that terrible things may come, praying for God’s grace, alongside the ability to accept the good with the bad.
Without the darkness there is no light, without the bitter we have no ability to recognize what is sweet. This song talks about accepting the bitter with the sweet – the sting with the honey – and asks God for protection over what the Jewish people have built in the land of Israel, without clarifying where the personal ends and the collective begins because in Israel there is no clear line.
She requests protection for her baby girl and for all the infants, for her home and the man returning from far – does she mean her private house or Israel, her collective home? Does she mean her husband coming home from reserve military duty or all of Israel’s soldiers? Does it matter?
Interestingly this song sounds a lot like wedding vows: “for better, for worse…” The Nation of Israel is often depicted as “betrothed to God”. Why engaged and not married? Because the type of love is different because the choice to be together is motivated out of passion and a conscious choice and not out of habit or convenience.
This song is very Israeli expression of faith in God, not in a ritualistic sense but in that God is part of every aspect of our lives – including the honey and the bee sting, the garden and even the walls. “Al kol eleh” is a natural extension of our special relationship with God a request for protection of all that is loved – family, home and land - and a centuries old promise: “bring me home and I will return to the wonderful land.” And that is exactly what we have done.
Israel’s 70th birthday
The message in this song made it a uniquely appropriate choice by Koolulam for a special performance in celebration of 70 years since the re-establishment of the Jewish State. Watch as President Reuven Rivlin, together with singer Shlomi Shabat, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and 12,000 Israelis sing this special song!