The House of the Rising Sun
You might recall this famous folk song sung by its most successful commercial version, recorded in 1964 by the English rock group The Animals. The song was a number one hit in the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, Finland, Canada, and even Israel. And it turns out not only I can still fumble its cords (especially if you wait long enough for me to arrange my fingers…), but this was the first song Tony Blair, previous primeminister of the United Kingdom learned to play on his guitar too.
The song’s origins are unclear: Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads of the 18th century and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Alan Price of The Animals has even claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel. Honestly, I never much paid attention to its words, but looking at it again this morning for the purpose of making sense here, I learned that it’s actually a warning song about life gone wrong, advising the listeners to do things differently moving forward, and “not to do what I have done”.
Tomorrow, the “House of (rising) Sun”, Israeli Beit Shemesh, is going to vote for its mayor. Again. The last elections, this past fall, were deemed fraudulent when dead people came with valid ID cards to vote for the incumbent candidate. After a bitter debate, Israel’s Supreme Court is sending Beit Shemesh back to the polling booths. Tomorrow.
Short of what Wikipedia tells me, I don’t know Moshe Abutbul, the Be’er Sheva born politician and current mayor, who became charedi later in life. On the other hand (and especially considering I’m only 29 years old ), it’s been almost 40 years since I met Eli Cohen, Beit Shemesh mayoral candidate. It seems that in spite of a slightly receding hairline, the kid who grew up in the city he’s always called home hasn’t changed much: an idealist at heart with a winning smile, he used to volunteer for the fire department and Magen David Adom as a teen; he took one of the lead roles in the local theater play showcasing Beit Shemesh (of the 70’s!), went on to be an officer in a combat unit and continued to work for the Jewish people via shlichut with JAFI and senior leadership in the organization.
The elections tomorrow are accompanied by a feeling of dread: Over the last years, Beit Shemesh has become a stronghold for the extreme charedi groups, while the old-timers of the city, many of whom love Judaism and its “masoret beit aba” (home traditions), serve in the army, and pay taxes have been pushed against a wall. Tomorrow the city gets to decide: Which will it be?
There are no clear evidences that the original House of the Rising Sun ever existed, but this pivotal battle over the House of the (rising) Sun at Beit Shemshe is in many ways a battle over everything Israel is, can and should be. What will be the echoing cords of tomorrow’s elections?