Koolulam: Make a joyful noise

The picture above tells the story in a nutshell. Three people singing with gusto, at the top of their lungs. To be specific, myself and my two oldest friends, the formidable brother-and-sister team of Alon and Gabriella Tal, with whom I have been singing enthusiastically since we were ten-year-olds at summer camp.

We were at a mass singing event with another 8,000 participants at the Latrun amphitheater, celebrating Tu B’Av, the late-summer full-moon holiday of love, by belting out the Israeli pop standard Yesh Bi Ahava [“I have love in me”] in three-part harmony. This is Koolulam, a new Israeli national treasure.

Koolulam is the brainchild of three brilliant young Israelis: director and social activist Or Taicher; entrepreneur Michal Shahaf; and the effervescent, magnetic whirlwind of a conductor, Ben Yaffet. Taicher recounts that 13 other conductors rejected the idea before he finally found a partner in Yaffet. And what a find he was. Ben Yaffet is the public face of Koolulam, galloping across the stage, his long black curls flying as he teaches masses of people to sing an original arrangement in harmony. There is no audition to get admitted into this magical choir, no performers, and no audience…just one big happy party of singers.

The three founders are not alone, and full disclosure requires me to mention that my daughter, Yahav Erez, works in this merry band of song-leaders and event planners. The joy and passion of the Koolulam crew is inspiring: They love what they do, and they believe in it. It is because of them that every event is a technical success. But it is no less because people want and seek this experience that the whole thing is so special, so joyous, so satisfying.

Perhaps the most celebrated Koolulam gathering was the one held at Yad Eliyahu Stadium on Israel’s 70th Independence Day, when President Ruvi Rivlin hosted 12,000 Israelis singing Naomi Shemer’s immortal Al Kol Eileh [“all of these”] along with the legendary Shlomi Shabat.

Size is not always the key, however. A “mere” 600 gathered to sing Ofra Chaza’s classic Chai [“life”] on Holocaust Memorial Day. Only 600 people, but all of them survivors, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I would be deeply suspicious of anyone who can watch this event without choking back tears.

My own personal favorite, however, was an event at Schneider Children’s Hospital, where I spent many long hours as a parent. I was always struck by the fact that Schneider, as Israel’s premier pediatric hospital, is a cross-section of Israeli society. After all, Bedouin children have chronic health problems just as often as wealthy kids from North Tel Aviv. In the waiting room of the ENT wing, it was not uncommon to see an ultra-Orthodox mother with her toddler in her lap while nearby a Druse father kept an eye on his rambunctious ten-year-old or a kippah-wearing settler offering his seat to a young Palestinian mother who needed to nurse her baby. The staff was equally multi-cultural, and so when everyone in the hospital that day (patients, doctors, nurses, technicians, and parents) was invited to the building’s central atrium to sing Or Gadol [“a great light”], it made for a scene of inspiring unity: Put everything aside, and sing. Just enjoy.

I’m not naive. Singing doesn’t resolve everything. Honestly, on a day-to-day basis, most people in this country get along pretty well. But there is conflict and tension. There are differences, political and cultural rivalries, and legitimate grievances. Still, it is truly wonderful that someone is inviting us, if only for a moment, to be part of a world of harmony, a community of song. Smiling, laughing, shouting, and making a joyful noise.

All of us.

Koolulanu.

About the Author
Bill Slott is a licensed Israeli tour guide who has hiked and biked the length and breadth of the country. Bill is a member of Kibbutz Ketura, where he has lived since 1981 with his wife and three daughters.
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