Have you ever listened to the words of ‘Over the Rainbow’? Sat down and really listened to the lyrics?
When you know the backstory, you’ll very quickly realise that it’s not just about a land called Oz, but it may also be applied to a land called Eretz Yisrael.
And in this difficult time that we’re all going through right now, the lyrics may just bring a bit of comfort your way.
‘Over the Rainbow’ was written by two Jews – lyricist Edgar Yipsel “Yip” Harburg, who was born Isidore Hochberg, and composer Harold Arlen, born Chaim Arluck. Both Yip and Harold’s parents escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe.
Yip’s parents were Russian Jews and Harold’s father was a Lithuanian cantor. Together the duo wrote ‘Over the Rainbow’ for The Wizard of Oz, which came out on New Year’s Day 1939, less than two months after Kristallnacht.
Their writing process was truly a collaboration. Yip would suggest an idea related to the plot, Harold would compose the music and then the lyrics would follow suit.
According to Yip, his inspiration for ‘Over the Rainbow’ was “a ballad for a little girl who… was in trouble and… wanted to get away from… Kansas. A dry, arid, colourless place. She had never seen anything colourful in her life except the rainbow”.
As it happens, there was also a third son of Jewish immigrants who was involved with the writing of ‘Over the Rainbow’: lyricist Ira Gershwin. Born to Russian Jewish immigrants, Gershwin helped workshop the melody, and created one of the most memorable parts of the song: the ending. Apparently, when Gershwin heard the lyrics, he cried but he didn’t think it ended properly, so he improvised the final lines.
When you think about it, the music and the lyrics are indeed deeply embedded in the Jewish experience.
Throughout Jewish history, with each exodus, the Jewish people have searched for a land to call their home, where “dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”.
As Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg – a rabbi in New Jersey – wrote just after the 2014 Oscars which celebrated the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, “In writing it, the two men reached deep into their immigrant Jewish consciousness — framed by the pogroms of the past and the Holocaust about to happen — and wrote an unforgettable melody set to near prophetic words. Read the lyrics in their Jewish context and suddenly the words are no longer about wizards and Oz … The Jews of Europe could not fly. They could not escape beyond the rainbow.”
If you think of Eretz Yisrael as our land beyond the rainbow, the song becomes even more poignant now.
Israel is not perfect. But it is a land that we so often speak about in our dreams, that we so often hear about “in a lullaby”.
Right now, the clouds may not be far behind us, but they will be again soon.
Soon, we’ll meet somewhere over the rainbow, and the bluebirds will fly once again.