20 years ago I took the longest airplane flight of my life and landed in Israel for the first time in the blazing heat of a July afternoon.
That trip was as transformational as many of you no doubt suspect. Given my starry-eyed blue-and-white, JNF tzedakah-boxed upbringing, my six weeks of Israel in 1995 confirmed all my innate loves and hopes and dreams and set the table for this life that I am living.
Unlike my trips today, which are familiar and nostalgic, with perhaps a new twist here or there, that first trip was one newness after another. A first hike. A first visit to the Kotel. A first glimpse of a solider and an M-16 in a mall. A first encounter with an actual, gasp, real Israeli teen. A first visit to Ben Yehudah Street. Today these things are about as new as a morning coffee at Starbucks; back then, there were identity-defining.
Inextricably linked with those memories is the soundtrack of that summer. In the ancient days before iTunes, mix tapes ruled the day, and our bus had such a mix tape. These songs were burned into my memory and will be forever linked to that summer of astonishment.
While time has erased some of those tunes from my memory, the highlights were unquestionably the first five songs on the tape. While I'm not sure about the order, they were:
"Live Forever" by Oasis
"Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye (we were teenagers, remember)
"Waterfalls" by TLC
"Dust in the Wind" by Kansas
“Regulate” by Warren G
Beyond the mixtape, though, all of the disco boat tunes and nights out in Jerusalem songs were a mishmash of American 90s hip-hop and other trancy-dancy music like the infamous “Here Comes The Hotstepper” by Ini Kamoze and the absolutely immortal “Alice” by the equally immortal Gompie (NSFW), which you should listen to if you have a tolerance for awful music with a historically amazing chorus.
That was our summer playlist in an age before playlists, and I suspect all of us who spent summers on buses in Israel, or USY on Wheels, or any other Jewish-bus-trip-to-somewhere in the 1990s and early 2000s were the last generation to have a bus playlist that everyone listened to, as opposed to everyone listening to their own tunes on their devices.
The connection between music and memory is one that transcends my teenage experience in Israel and in fact is a critical component of Jewish history and memory. The chanting of Torah, the tunes of our prayers, and the ritual chanting and re-teaching of Talmud and other sacred texts no doubt ensured the survival of traditions and teachings in each generation. And while the oral torah and transmission of the Gemara from the elders throughout the generations until it was transcribed post-Second Temple was an entirely different Jewish/musical tradition than that of teenage memory-making in Israel, I’ll make that link in this context and stand by the claim.
So, children who are about to leave for Israel this summer, my advice for you, my hope for you, is to take out your earbuds and make a communal playlist for your hours and hours of time together.
After all, you won’t forget this coming summer, and you’ll never forget the music that accompanied it.