Israeli folk dances and Chinese culture

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABack in the early/mid 1970s, I, like every good American Jew, did Israeli folk dancing.  Our family was very serious about it, so much so that we’d usually attend the annual get-t0gethers in San Luis Obispo at which the top Israeli choreographers would introduce their new dances for the year.

At one of the annual events, a choreographer introduced a new dance called “Li Lach.”  I loved it because it was a bright, energetic dance that periodically broke out into a polka.  I am a big fan of polkas and waltzes and, back in the day, could do them pretty darn well.  Li Lach was also fun because the chorus was the word “why” repeated over and over again, which meant that the dancers would swing joyously around the dance floor, polkaing and hollering out “why, why, why!” at the top of their lungs.

Fast forward forty-odd years:  I’ve made a playlist on Spotify that has hundreds of my favorite songs (many of which I share here on “just because music” posts).  These songs span decades, genres, and countries.  After I added Bashana Haba’ah to my playlist, it occurred to me to search out Li Lach.  I couldn’t find it on Spotify, so I turned to YouTube.

Sure enough, there on YouTube was the song Li Lach.  Unfortunately, it’s not a straight out recording but is, instead, the background music part for a video showing amateur Israeli folk dancers in a big gym.  (If anyone can find a straight recording, I’d sure appreciate that.)  For some reason, too, the recording is speeded up, so it makes the whole thing sound like an Alvin and the Chipmunks version of the song.

Despite its failings, I found the video fascinating for two reasons.  First, the choreography hasn’t changed in forty years.  And second, it’s a Chinese group doing the dancing.  That made me laugh until, with perfect timing, I read in PJ Media that the Chinese are fascinated (in a good way) by Jews and Judaism . . . so maybe it’s not so funny after all:

Over the past couple of decades the Chinese have become more interested in the Jews.  Of late the Chinese regime has been bringing Jewish scholars and theologians to the People’s Republic to discuss Torah, Talmud, Mishnah and even some of the more mystical tracts.

Read Michael Ledeen’s whole post to see his intriguing theory about this new love affair.

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  • ilana

    I searched the song in Hebrew. How’s this?
    Here’s another:
    The song sounds fun. BTW, the “why why why” really means “wow wow wow.”  :-)

    • Bookworm

      Thank you so much, Ilana.  How lovely to hear these versions.  If my knee wasn’t still wonky, I’d be dancing around my office now.

      • ilana

        My pleasure!
        And thank you for interesting content and links.


    By way of introduction, several decades ago I taught idiomatic English to visiting scholars from China.  They knew enough English to pursue their studies, but were simply at a loss culturally. One young woman was asked by a new friend, “Would you like to go out for a bite?” Poor thing, she thought she’d have to volunteer an arm to her new carnivorous American friend.  We spent a good deal of the time discussing the subtleties of the language from ‘lofts’ to ‘lofty’ ideas.  As the Chinese New Year approached, I was invited to attend a community meal. Everyone cooked, everyone brought something to the banquet. We spent some time talking about holidays and I volunteered that I was Jewish …oohs and aahs followed and several of the younger students were keen to acknowledge that they actually had a friend or a friend of a friend, who had a relative that was known to be Jewish or had some lineage that gave it gravitas.  I knew the history of the Jews of Kaifeng, but had no idea that they did as well!

    • Ymarsakar

      Given that Mao killed and eliminated much of China’s martial history and family clans/businesses, the Chinese tend to find a lot of substitutes that speak of “ancient wisdom”. The Ruling Chairman Mao personality cult cannot reject Mao itself as a god or doctrine, nor can they contest the Communist party rule, but they can find other things to talk about and learn about. Things that are either not a threat to the Chinese autocracy, or merely too foreign to be considered a threat.
      As for culture shock, you should see the Americans that went to Japan to live there. And you should see them when they come back here to the cities. Double culture shock.

  • Matt_SE

    At least in America, the vast majority of Jews are also liberals. IMO, it’s just as likely that the ChiComs are cynically promoting leftist-leaning religion to bolster the state ideology.

    • Ymarsakar

      The Chinese know about as much about what our politics mean as we know about theirs.