The Songstress of the Wars

Stand for Israel  |  September 26, 2023

Like so many Israelis Yafa Yarkoni came from a family of immigrants—“Mountain Jews” from the Caucasus region. But, born and raised in the Holy Land, she was Israeli through and through, earning the title of Israel’s “Songstress of the Wars” because of her performances for IDF troops during times of peace and times of war.

Born and raised east of Tel Aviv, Yafa Yarkoni grew up performing—training as a ballerina under Israel’s dance pioneer, Gertrude Kraus, and performing music with her siblings at the café run by their mother.

After losing her first husband—killed in battle during WWII while fighting with the Jewish Brigade—Yafa remarried in 1948 and had three daughters.

That same year, as Israel fought for her independence, Yafa joined an IDF troupe that performed for the Holy Land’s brave warriors, a service which she would continue throughout her life. And it was in 1948 when she first performed the song “Bab el-Wad,” which you can hear below. The song has since become an Israeli classic, and is performed each year on Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day.

Many of Yafa Yarkoni’s songs dealt with themes of war and loss—one about a soldier’s long goodbye from his girlfriend as he heads to battle, another about troops bringing food to the besieged Holy City of Jerusalem in 1948—themes she knew all too well.

After a long musical career, for which she was awarded the Israel Prize in 1998, Yafa Yarkoni fought a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and passed away in 2012. But her spirit lives on in any who proudly stand for Israel and the brave men and women who are her “watchmen on the walls.”

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