On May 21, Israeli Jews celebrated 50 years of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem with a light show on the Old City walls, and the highlight was a rendition of the late Leonard Cohen’s most popular song, Hallelujah. You can see most of it on my shaky video here:

The Jerusalem celebration was feverishly religious-nationalist, and treated the 1967 war as a great triumph, with a lot of Jewish imagery. Hebrew standards were also played: Jerusalem of Gold and Hatikvah.

I love Leonard Cohen’s music, but I found the use of Cohen’s song as an anthem to exclusivism disturbing. Of course an artist doesn’t control the uses of his work, especially a dead artist, but songs acquire political resonance for a reason; and Cohen would surely have approved.

When Cohen died last year, at 82, he was saluted by Israel’s prime minister and president for sticking by Israel with his famous serenade to Ariel Sharon and other soldiers during the 1973 war.

Leonard Cohen singing to Israeli troops including Ariel Sharon in 1973

Cohen knew “to accompany the state of Israel in the battlefields and in times of growth,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said. Cohen at times offered his work as a salute to Jewish Israel, and he was “revered” in the country. It shows. I’m going to have a harder time listening to Bird on a Wire now.