Festigal's removal of the word, 'freicha,' from song sparks debate

In a clip of a performance by the singer/model that will be part of the upcoming Festigal holiday show, the song title has been changed to "I Feel Like Dancing" and "freicha" does not appear.

Israeli singer Anna Zak (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Israeli singer Anna Zak
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Israeli Twitterverse and media are buzzing over the decision of Festigal organizers to remove the word, “Freicha,” which means flower or blossom but is slang for “Mizrahi bimbo,” from a performance of the “Freicha Song” by singer Anna Zak. In a clip of a performance by the singer/model that will be part of the upcoming Festigal holiday show, the song title has been changed to “I Feel Like Dancing” and the word “freicha” does not appear in the song, although Gil Mishali, a reporter for Reshet, wrote on Twitter that audience members at the performance could be heard calling out the “Freicha.”
The song was one of the signature hits of the beloved Yemenite-Israeli singer Ofra Haza (1957-2000). The singer, who grew up in Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah slum, embraced every aspect of her Mizrahi heritage, singing traditional Yemenite songs in Arabic, wearing traditional Yemenite garb and performing the upbeat, “Shir HaFreicha” as if to wink at the ethnic stereotypes about Mizrahi women. Its lyrics were composed by the actor/director Assi Dayan, and its melody by Svika Pick (today also known as Quentin Tarantino’s father-in-law). In it, a young woman tells off a man, saying that although she loves life, including being silly and dancing, she isn’t into him. It was composed for Dayan’s 1979 movie, Shlager, in which Haza had a role. At first, radio stations in Israel refused to play it, considering the word “freicha” and the lyrics too suggestive, although it quickly became a huge hit.
However, in the politically aware climate of today, the song is considered scandalous again by some. Neta Houter, writing on the website Mako, said she did not want to have to tell her son what this slang term meant:  “True, it is a great and beloved song, it can also be seen in reclamation and protest (alongside racism and misogyny), but it just doesn’t fit Festigal. It was written by an Ashkenazi man (Assi Dayan, Svika Pick composed) to a Mizrahi woman (Ofra Haza) and is murderously stereotypical.”
In a lively thread on Mishali’s Twitter feed, many commented on whether the editing of the song was justified, with some wondering why Festigal management chose the song to begin with. Talila Shlimovich wrote: “So what’s the smart thing about incorporating the song into Festigal and censoring the central thing about it. Sterilize its content. In the first place, the song should not be included in Festigal. In my opinion, the song is not suitable for this competition and for children. And that would have saved us this stupidity. Politically Correct Derivatives.”
For some of the Twitter commentators, the song is a throwback to an era in which it was acceptable for Ashkenazim to ridicule and marginalize Mizrahim in general and Mizrahi women in particular, and even it if is performed by a singer from an Ashkenazi background -- Anna Zak is from a Russian -- it still causes pain and offense. Johnathan, who approved of the change, wrote, “The thing is that they did not come out against the freicha figure - she is present in the clip. Just against the word.”
It’s hard not to notice that this controversy is generating great publicity for Festigal, a holiday entertainment show for children, and that that may have been just what the organizers had in mind when they chose and edited the song. And it’s hard not to wonder what Haza herself -- the face of the freicha -- would have thought of this discussion, but the singer, who did so much to change the public image of Mizrahim, died nearly 20 years ago of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 42.