There is a phenomenon spreading in Israel and even in a few countries around the world, it is called Koolulam. A play on words for the voice of the world. Anyone who likes singing or music should check it out. I am a Koolulam groupie. I had missed out on several opportunities to participate their events in and around Jerusalem. A very cool Koolulam happening for Yom Ha’atzmaut took place with Israel’s president and thousands of people. An interfaith event at the Jaffa Gate and a moving one with Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren.
Then I saw that they would be having a performance in Otef Azza. Our daughter and family live there, they had bought tickets. Yes, I would love to come. I am looking forward to the experience of singing with my daughter and grandchildren.
We drive on a dark road for about 20 minutes and we arrive. Lots of people. Lots of cars. Lots of excitement. A woman in the entrance listens to our voices as we talk and deems us all altos. Then we are sent to buy small flashlights which we will need for the performance. The kids are thrilled. We take a seat on the stairs of an amphitheater outside the Eshkol local council. The kids go off to buy snacks. There is a big crowd and yet it is intimate, my daughter stops to talk to a lot of people from other towns and villages.
I do not know the song so I study the words with my grandchildren. During the afternoon the kids played it on YouTube, Ma’alai d’mamah by Ahuva Ozeri. A silence above me- it has a deep Oriental rhythm. The Koolulam version is like the original but so so different. Lucky for me, there aren’t many words to learn.
The microphone calls us to attention. The head of the Eshkol local council welcomes us to the Otef. He mentions the unmentionable. “We know there will be no rockets fired tonight.” (How does he know?)
“But we have notified the Iron Dome that there is an even here and in case of any rockets, they know to shoot them down.” (Aren’t they supposed to do that anyway?)
“Do not look for any shelters, there are no shelters around big enough for 3500 people. (Nervous laughter) Simply lie on the ground and cover your head with your hands, like this.” (One less alto…what’s it to him?) He has obviously done that more than once. I haven’t and don’t intend to start now.
At last we begin. There is a warm-up guy. A charismatic man named Yonatan, who tells us he got special permission to come from his miilu’im unit this evening. He has us doing all sorts of vocal exercises, shaking our arms and jumping up and down to get us in the mood.
We are warmed up and ready to start. Ben Yafet makes his entrance – he is slight with long black curls and glasses. A Yemenite Harry Potter. He works magic with ordinary people and turns them into world class choirs. He jumps and waves his arms, spins and leaps.
Ben uses humor, empathy and genius. The crowd is enchanted, especially the children. It was worth it to come just to watch him in action. He stands on the stage surrounded by people on all four sides.
The men have all been designated baritones and are sent off to the auditorium in the local council to learn their parts. No gender discrimination here. They get to sit in chairs to rehearse. We stand. But we get to work with Ben. The magician.
We sing, A stillness above me, blue and full of light”
The magic starts with the second line, “…the wind howls through my window.”
Ben instructs us all to go,”SSSSS-shhhh, ssss-shhhhhh,” while waving the flashlights in a figure 8 in front of us. One person saying swish might sound a little like a breeze, but 3500 of us sound like a Negev sand storm, blowing towards Azza. He really is a magician. In another stanza we repeat the word for silence over and over pointing our flashlights forward. Dma’mah-haha dma’mah-ha-ha I wonder if our neighbors across the fence can see us. DMA’MAH-HA-HA DMA’MAH-HA-HA! All we want is quiet. Don’t you?
After a little more than an hour, Ben is pleased. The baritones rejoin us. Another short warm up with Yonatan and we are ready. We sing it 5 times through.
The last chorus has some dramatic choreography. We all shut off the flashlights, then turn them on row by row as Ben makes a 360 degree turn on the stage. Soon the entire place is lit up. The effect is mystical and magical. We sing it again and again, feeling excited, inspired, and moved. At the end, we cheer loudly and gather up the children. The little one had slept though most of it.
We float to the parking lot. We don’t mind the wait or the traffic jam or the long ride home. We don’t care about any of that because now we are members of the Koolulam family. Singing is believing.