7: Poem, Hannah Senesh's "Blessed Is the Match," 1944, and video, the Nigunim Chorus of Berkeley singing "Ashrei Hagafrur," 2012.
Born in Hungary, Hannah Senesh immigrated to Palestine after finishing her schooling, and joined the Haganah, which was the precursor to the Israeli army. In March 1944, she and others were parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist with the rescue of Hungarian Jews who were being deported to concentration camps. Soon after landing, Senesh was captured and tortured by the Nazis, and eventually she was executed by firing squad at the age of twenty-three. Senesh was a poet and writer, and "Blessed Is the Match"—written in Yugoslavia—is one of the last things she wrote.
Senesh is considered a national hero in Israel. "Blessed Is the Match" has been learned by generations of Israeli children, and performed as a song by many singers and choirs. Dahlia Ravikovitch ends her poem "The Fruit of the Land" with a reference to Senesh's poem.
Suggested Activity: Have the class recite the Senesh poem together and then read it silently. Then discuss: What does the match symbolize? Why is it to be "blessed"? Why do you think Senesh's poem has become a classic in Israel, a beloved verse that almost everyone knows? Why is Senesh seen as a hero?
Now focus on the last lines of Ravikovitch’s poem. What effect does the match have in this poem? How is it different than the match in Senesh's poem? Is it something to be "blessed"? Why might Ravikovitch have wanted to connect her poem to Senesh's? Can you imagine Ravikovitch's poem as a national classic, memorized by school children? Why or why not?
Show students the video of the Nigunim Chorus of Berkeley performing "Ashrei Hagafrur." Ask students their thoughts about this musical interpretation of Senesh's poem. What does the music and performance add to the words? Why might a chorus in Berkeley, California, in 2012 be interested in performing this piece? What meaning might it have for audiences today? What would Ravikovitch think of this performance?
Sources: David Patterson, Along the Edge of Annihilation: The Collapse and Recovery of Life in the Holocaust Diary (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999), 158.
"Ashrei Hagafrur אשרי הגפרור Blessed is the Match," arranged and directed by Achi Ben Shalom, sung by Nigunim Community Folk Chorus at the "Yes, We Sang!" Holocaust Memorial Choral Concert, Berkeley, California. April 22, 2012. YouTube video, 1:30. Published on May 9, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XszmMF4cSc.