The Jewish Roots of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
At the 2014 Oscar gala, they celebrated the 75th anniversary of the famous “Wizard of Oz” movie. For this they invited the popular singer Pink to interpret the theme “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
What few people realized while listening to the incredible Pink sing the iconic song, is that the music is deeply rooted in the Jewish experience.
This is perhaps the most moving song to come out of the mass exodus from Europe!
The lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, the youngest of four children born to Russian Jewish immigrants.
His real name was Isidore Hochberg and he grew up in an Orthodox home in New York where Yiddish was spoken.
The music was composed by Harold Arlen, the son of a singer.
His real name was Hyman Arluck and his parents were originally from Lithuania.
Together, Hochberg and Arluck wrote “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” which was voted the number one song of the 20th century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Foundation for Music. Arts (NEA).
In composing it, both men reached deep into their consciousness as immigrant Jews framed by the pogroms of the past and wrote an unforgettable melody with almost prophetic words.
Read the lyrics in their Jewish context and suddenly the words are no longer about wizards and Oz, but about the survival of the Jews:
Somewhere over the rainbow, high above, is a land I once heard of in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, the skies are blue, and the dreams you dare to dream really do come true.
Someday I’ll wish on a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me, where troubles melt like lemon drops far above the chimneys.
That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere the bluebirds fly over the rainbow….
Yes they can….
why oh why can’t i?
The Jews of Europe could not fly…
They couldn’t escape beyond the rainbow.
Harburg was almost prophetic when he talked about wanting to fly far “beyond the chimneys.”
In the post-Auschwitz era, the chimney tops took on a totally different meaning than they did at the beginning of 1939.
Pink’s mother is Judith Kugel. She is Jewish of Lithuanian origin.
As Pink sang the Harburg/Arlen song from the Academy of Arts stage, Kugel expressed:
“I wasn’t thinking about the movie. I was thinking about the lost Jews of Europe and the immigrants in the United States and celebrating our struggle for survival in every community and every country where we live always with the idea of bringing something better to this world.