Growing up in New Jersey, we didn’t listen to much Israeli music. Sure, we would sing “Al Kol Eileh” and “Bashana Haba’a” from time to time, but that was about it. The lyrics were hard to understand…and since the internet hadn’t been invented yet, you needed to find a real, live Israeli to translate for you.
Jewish music, however, was a different story. The music was available at my local Judaica store, the lyrics were either in English or borrowed from prayers we recited regularly in shul, and of course, we listened regularly to Art Raymond on WEVD Radio. As the son of a cantor, I grew up listening to Jewish music…but Israeli music was completely off my radar.
That all changed in 1994. I was a Rutgers University sophomore, and a friend of mine who was getting ready to graduate was looking for someone to take over “The Israel Hour”, an Israeli music show on the college radio station. I was always a radio geek, and the prospect of hosting my own show was extremely intriguing. So what if I didn’t know Shlomo Artzi from Shlomi Shabbat? I borrowed some CDs from friends, played random songs from the station’s limited selection of Israeli LPs – and off I went. Sure, I would mis-pronounce names of songs and artists from time to time, but I was having a ball on the air.
Within a very short time, however, I began to get to know the artists, saw them in concert when they would come to the New York area, even interviewed some of Israel’s biggest musical celebrities. David Broza came to the studio one night before a gig at Rutgers, Ofra Haza spoke with us on the phone for 20 minutes to promote an upcoming show in Atlantic City, we sat down with Rami and Rita for a backstage interview in Queens, NY…etc.
But as I was getting acquainted with the music, something amazing happened. It wasn’t long before I became more connected to the land of Israel than I ever thought possible.
Once you immerse yourself in a particular culture, you BECOME a part of that culture. And so the next time I visited Israel, I felt like I belonged more than ever before. I knew the songs on the radio. I bought nearly a suitcase full of CDs (in the days before iTunes, obviously). I attended concerts and sang along with the audience. I was now Israeli, and there was no turning back.
I meet so many Jews in the US who have absolutely no knowledge of the thriving music scene in Israel. I don’t blame them…after all, I used to be one of those people. However, if you love Israel, there are so many amazing reasons to immerse yourself in the world of Israeli music. Here are just a few:
- You’ll improve your Hebrew. For those of us who struggle to understand every word, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction you get when you finally understand what the song is all about. I’ve boosted my vocabulary quite a bit, all thanks to Israeli music.
- You’ll be part of the family. Unfortunately, we all know that Israel has had its share of tragic times, and Israeli music helps us cope. When the country was grief-stricken over the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, the Israeli music community was there. When our collective heart ached over the plight of Gilad Shalit, music responded. And over the course of this past summer, a long list of Israeli songs have been released to help us all deal with the jumbled feelings of fear, frustration, pride and unity we were all experiencing. Of course, during times of national joy, you can always count on Israeli artists to say just the right thing to make you so proud to be Israeli.
- You’ll get a better understanding of life in Israel. From politics in Jerusalem to parties in Tel Aviv, from the shuk to the Shabbat table, Israeli music tells the stories of day-to-day life in the Holy Land (and by the way, sometimes Israeli rappers tell those stories better than anyone else!). You’ll be ready, as I am (more or less), to take the plunge and make aliyah!
- Plain and simple, you’ll hear some GREAT music. Sit back and soak up the joyous beats of Sarit Hadad’s Mediterranean sound. The multi-cultural flavor of the Idan Raichel Project. The piano playing and pop perfection, performed by Rami Kleinstein. The funky groove of hip hop artists like Hadag Nachash and Subliminal. The smooth, easygoing vocals of veteran artists like Shlomo Artzi and the late Arik Einstein. The joy, dreams and hopes captured in classic Israeli tunes of yesteryear.
Ready to join the Israeli music community? It just so happens that I’ve been crazy enough to remain behind the microphone of “The Israel Hour”, twenty years later. Join in the fun! Tune in live on Sundays at 18:00 Israel time / 11:00 am Eastern time at wrsu.org – or catch the latest podcast at the iTunes Music Store or on TuneIn.com.
Why do YOU listen to Israeli music? Tell us in the comments below!