Monday, July 05, 2010

Israeli Music engages with its Judaism

I have just posted my second memorial post in as many weeks. l don't want this to become some sort of obituary column, so it is time to post something of a positive nature.

This evening, Gush Etzion hosted a joint concert of Yonatan Razel (of Vehi She'amda fame) together with Arkadi Duchin. A dati and chiloni musician in concert together. This is not the first time that we have seen one of the central figures of the Israeli (secular) music scene demonstrate an interest in Judaism. In recent years there has been a huge revival of interest in Jewish themes. For example, Ehud Banai and his album of zemirot, the much hailed move to religious observance by Etti Ankri and her recording of a beautiful album of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi's songs. Barry Sakharof with an album of piyutim by Ibn Gvirol and Kobi Oz with his Psalms for the Perplexed. Kobi Oz is the lead singer of Tippex (Teapacks) and a prominer figure in the Israeli music scene. Here is a quote from him:

"In recent years I have steeped my soul in a warm marinade of Judaism, and the result is "Psalms for the Perplexed," an evening of brand-new songs that fall somewhere in the hazy area between "religious" and "secular." It is not something naïve, spiritual, or kabbalistic-just Hebrew songs that send a smile in the direction of our brilliant Sages"

There is no doubt that Israelis are seekers in many ways. Many search for spirituality in the Far East. But as Israel matures and grows-up, many Israeli's are asking themselves basic questions. Many young Israelis are far from the antagonism towards Judaism and rejection of religion that once held sway in secular circles. They are curious and intrigued as to what their heritage beholds. Sometimes they are trying to understand why we, as a Jewish country and nation, have such a unique fate, with such inordinate world attention and frequently inexplicable hatred directed towards Israel. Sometimes, it is a search for the spiritual, or a return to ancestral roots. Secular Batei Midrash like Alma or the secular yeshiva, and cultural centres such as Beit Avi Chai all examine Jewish themes. There was such a wide range of Tisha B'av programs for the average Israeli this week - demonstrating a clear revival of interest in Judaism (as long as it isn't coercive!) This isn't Aish Hatorah but rather an exciting dialogue with Judaism and Jewish tradition through music.

Some years ago, I was listening to a live concert by Avishai Cohen. Avishai Cohen is a world famous (Israeli) jazz player who "made it" on the NY scene, playing at all the top venues. And yet, once he had conquered the summit of the Jazz circuit, he came home to Israel. at this concert, he was talking about his new album, and he mentioned that he had always played instrumental jazz but had never sung lyrics. He decided that he wanted to sing, but which words, which text to sing? And then he said: "So I thought about this song that my grandfather used to sing. The words are shalom aleichem malachei hashalom." - Amazing! It isn't the version that you might recognise, but the fact that Israeli artists are enaging in a dialogue with Judaism is heart-warming.

Maybe we are moving forward after all!

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