Morrissey of Smiths fame returning to Israel in August


Morrissey, the British singer-songwriter best known for his involvement in The Smiths, will perform two concerts in Israel this summer.

The 57-year-old solo musician will play Tel Aviv on Aug. 22 and Caesarea two days later, The Times of Israel reported Tuesday.

Morrissey sold out his most recent concerts in Israel, in 2012. His latest album, released in 2014, is “World Peace is None of Your Business.”

He is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and vegetarianism.

Elton John returning to Israel for May concert


British singer-songwriter Elton John will be returning to Israel this spring for his fourth concert there.

His May 26 concert at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv was announced late Monday night. Tickets went on sale Tuesday morning. The performance is part of his “Wonderful Crazy Night Tour 2016,” which starts in February to promote his 33rd album of the same name.

At a concert in Ramat Gan stadium in 2010, John addressed attempts by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to have the singer cancel his performance in Israel.

“Shalom, we are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby,” John said. “Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.”

Lone soldiers unwind at Lady Gaga concert


Israeli Lone Soldier Adam Berman admits that it was a “rough summer.”

Berman, 24, made aliyah a year ago from Columbus, Ohio, serves at the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza and lives on Kibbutz Alumim, also located on the Gaza border. So he did not escape this summer’s constant barrage on southern Israel before and during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge which ended on Aug. 26.

When he and 239 other Lone Soldiers were offered free tickets to Lady Gaga’s Tel Aviv concert earlier this week he jumped at the chance.

“For us soldiers it was a sign of the return to normal life and a chance to do things on the weekend again,” he told JTA. The tickets for Saturday night’s concert were provided by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and distributed through Garin Tzabar, Irgun Heiseg and the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center.

Lynn Schusterman, of Oklahoma, also attended the concert alongside the soldiers to show her appreciation to Lady Gaga for sticking by Israel despite the myriad of artists who cancelled their summer concerts due to the war and pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Clearly, the Gaga-Israel relationship is far less tortured than the Gaza-Israel one.

Backstreet Boys scrap Israel shows due to Gaza crisis


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Backstreet Boys canceled three sold-out concerts in Israel due to the Gaza conflict.

The American pop band posted a message Sunday on its official website announcing the cancellation of the July 29-31 concerts at the Raanana Amphitheater “to assure the safety of the audience.” New dates will be scheduled for the spring.

“This is a major disappointment for the band and fans as this was to be our first visit to Israel and we looked forward to meeting our fans,” the message said.

Canadian singer Paul Anka also canceled two concerts set for this week in Tel Aviv. The concerts will be rescheduled “once the local situation is resolved,” according to a statement issued by his representative.

Earlier, the Gaza conflict forced the cancellations of a Neil Young concert in Tel Aviv and a performance by the band America.

Sinead O’Connor trying to back out of Israel concert


Sinead O’Connor said she will try to back out of a scheduled performance in Israel because she was unaware that she had been asked to boycott by pro-Palestinian groups.

“I was not informed by my booking agent, and was unaware myself, that a boycott of Israel had been requested by the Palestinian people,” O’Connor wrote in a statement published Jume 13 on her website, which has since been removed. “I agreed to perform having been unaware any such boycott had been requested.”

The Irish singer is scheduled to play Caesarea on Sept. 11. The concert date is not listed on her website.

O’Connor added that she will pull out only if there is no financial cost, pointing out that she is the sole breadwinner for her four children.

“No one should assume musicians can afford not to work. Neither should anyone assume we can afford to pay the legal costs involved in pulling out of shows,” she wrote.

O’Connor criticized supporters of the Palestinians and of Israel.

“I do not appreciate being bullied by anyone on either side of this debate any more than I appreciate not being properly informed by my booking agent of the potential ramifications of accepting work in war zones,” she wrote.

In a post on O’Connor’s Facebook page, Irish composer Raymond Deane called on her to observe the cultural boycott of Israel.

“Our Irish government, as part of the EU, is complicit in Israel’s crimes — it’s up to us, representing civil society, to stand up for truth and justice,” he wrote in part.

Bibi cancels Bieber meeting over reported snub of beleaguered kids


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly has canceled a meeting with pop star Justin Bieber after the singer refused to meet with children from southern Israel.

Netanyahu, who was scheduled to meet Bieber on Wednesday night, a day before his concert in Tel Aviv, invited children living in communities that have been hit by rockets fired from Gaza to join the sit-down. Bieber, however, refused to meet with the children, according to Israel Channel 2, causing Netanyahu to cancel the meeting.

Bieber and his manager reportedly asked for the meeting with Netanyahu.

The teen idol arrived Monday in Israel and is scheduled to tour the country. His itinerary includes visits to Christian sites in the Galilee, the Dead Sea, Masada, Acre and Caesarea. He has complained in tweets on Twitter that the Israeli paparazzi have forced him to hole up in his hotel room.

Meanwhile, some 700 children from southern Israeli communities that have been hit by rockets and missiles from Gaza were given free tickets to the Bieber concert.

The tickets for Thursday’s show in Tel Aviv, as well as transportation, are a gift of The Schusterman Foundation-Israel, The Morningstar Foundation and ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators.

For top stars like Madonna, Israel gig becoming more common


Madonna managed to sprinkle some of her fairy diva dust on Israel during her recent tour, calling the Jewish state the world’s “energy center,” wrapping herself in the flag on stage and even lighting Shabbat candles with Sara Netanayahu.

Audiences, local promoters and officials are hoping her magic will linger and boost an already emerging trend in which Israel is becoming a draw for big-name artists in relatively large numbers.

“Anytime you have a successful concert or artist of that caliber here, people will take notice,” said Jeremy Hulsh, a concert promoter who also founded Oleh Records, a company that promotes Israeli artists abroad.

“This year was particularly strong and next year looks to be strong, too. There are lots of newcomer promoters willing to take risks because they are seeing great potential,” he said, noting that Israelis are willing to pay top dollar for tickets and thus help the bottom line. “Israelis are both excited and grateful to see any big names coming to Israel.”

September alone is seeing the likes of Madonna, Leonard Cohen, Julio Iglesias, Dinosaur Jr. and Faith No More performing here. Earlier this summer, the Pet Shop Boys played, as did the new pop sensation Lady Gaga.

Madonna played two concerts last week to a total of some 100,000 fans, while Cohen’s performance for 47,000 sold out in 17 hours—faster than his shows anywhere else in the world.

As promoters and agents talk among themselves, word seems to be spreading that Israel can be a lucrative and successful new stop for performers. Logistics and facilities are top rate, fans pay as much as $400 for good seats for a big name and, despite an uncertain security situation, artists realize when they arrive that the country belies its image as a war zone.

In an age where Israelis feel particularly besieged by international criticism amid calls for cultural and other boycotts, the celebrity acts and the glamorous star power they emit feel especially welcome.

“Madonna is the best ambassador for the Jewish people,” gushed Liav Mizrahi, a 31-year-old art teacher from Tel Aviv who saw her first of two concerts here and was still breathless the next day.

Andy David, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said he hoped the message that Israel is a “normal” country was a happy by-product of high-profile acts like Madonna coming to the country.

“We are a normal country where people enjoy music and performers understand there is a market here for their music, he said, adding later that “it’s good business and a good place to come.”

“We are not some crazy corner of the world where everything is upside down,” David said.

Madonna in particular has forged a unique connection with Israel following her involvement with the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles. Although her last performance here was 16 years ago, she has been to Israel several times in recent years on private visits that included the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the graves of mystics in Safed.

Although the average Israeli seems a bit befuddled by the Queen of Pop’s interest in Jewish mysticism, especially the Kabbalah Center’s version—serious Jewish scholars have dismissed it as a flashy and inauthentic New Age perversion—they have embraced her all the same.

Officials also have embraced the celebrity fawning with enthusiasm. Madonna dined with Tzipi Livni, a prime ministerial hopeful and leader of the opposition, at a trendy Tel Aviv restaurant. Last Friday evening the singer met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Madonna, who reportedly knows some Hebrew, recited the blessing over the Sabbath candles with the first lady.

One major paper featured Madonna’s arrival on its front page, overshadowing news that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been indicted on corruption charges the day before.

In a column in the weekend magazine of the daily Ha’aretz titled “You Really Like Me,” Gideon Levy described the history of Israeli politicians seizing photo ops with stars. A photo spread showed Golda Meir shaking hands with Kirk Douglas, Menachem Begin kissing Elizabeth Taylor’s hand and Shimon Peres visiting Jaffa with Sharon Stone.

“We have always longed for the world’s love, or at least the love of those of its stars who bothered to come here,” a sarcastic Levy wrote.

The occasional big-name music act certainly isn’t new to Israel. Paul McCartney performed last year, and Roger Waters, the late Michael Jackson and Elton John also made their way here over the years.

What is new, industry insiders say, is the volume of such performances, due in part to Israel’s sound track record as a place where fans will pay relatively high prices for tickets.

Performing in Israel involves not only security considerations and the extra insurance necessary to cover them, but the expense of flying in equipment, crew and backup musicians from Europe, as most performers include Israel as part of their larger European tours.

“It’s easier now because promoters are not afraid of Israel and the insurance companies are covering the risks of such shows,” said Perla Mitrani, a project manager for Israstage.com, a site that features Israeli concert dates. “Israel is now becoming a market like anywhere else, a normal stop on people’s tours. The question is how much people are ready to pay for this or that performer.”

According to Avisar Savir, a promoter who is arranging an upcoming concert here of the Chasidic reggae musician Matisyahu, the world economic crisis also has provided an opportunity for Israel.

“People need to open new markets,” he said, “and Israel is seen as a legitimate place to come in a way it wasn’t before.”

Paul McCartney is ‘shocked but not intimidated’ by jihadi threats re Israel concert [VIDEO]


LONDON (JTA)—Suicide bombers will target Paul McCartney unless he cancels his concert in Tel Aviv, a Muslim cleric said.

Omar Bakri said the ex-Beatle’s decision to perform in Israel “is creating more enemies than friends,” London’s Sunday Express reported.

“If he values his life Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe there,” Bakri said. “The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”

Bakri made the comments on his weekly Internet broadcast from his home-in-exile in Lebanon after being banned from returning to Britain, according to the Express.

McCartney is scheduled to perform for thousands of Israelis in Hayarkon Park on Sept. 25 as part of a world tour.

Several pro-Palestinian and political groups have asked McCartney to cancel his show, but he has refused.



From The Express . . .

SIR PAUL: TERROR TARGET
Sunday September 14,2008
Dennis Rice
SIR Paul McCartney has been threatened that he will be the target of suicide bombers unless he abandons plans to play his first concert in Israel.

Self-styled preacher of hate Omar Bakri claimed the former Beatle’s decision to take part in the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary celebrations had made him an enemy of all Muslims.

Sources said Sir Paul was shocked but refused to be intimidated.

In an interview with Israeli media yesterday he said: “I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come here. I refused. I do what I think and I have many friends who support Israel.”

Sir Paul, 65, should have gone to Israel with the Beatles in 1965 but they were barred by the Jewish nation’s government over fears they would corrupt young people.

Yesterday a number of websites described him as an infidel and suggested he was going to Israel only because of the reported £2.3m fee for the one-off concert.

A message posted on one website said: “Shame on you Paul McCartney for day trippin’ to apartheid Israel” and vowed never to buy his music again.

Bakri, who made his weekly internet broadcast to fellow extremists from his home in Lebanon, where he has lived in exile since being banned from returning to Britain, said Sir Paul was “making more enemies than friends”.

Syrian-born Bakri, 48, went on: “I heard today that the pop star Paul McCartney is playing as a part of the celebrations.

“If you speak about the holocaust and its authenticity never being proved historically in the way the Jewish community portray it, people will arrest you. People will you say you should not speak like this. Yet they go and celebrate the anniversary of 60 years of what?

“Instead of supporting the people of Palestine in their suffering, McCartney is celebrating the atrocities of the occupiers. The one who is under occupation is supposed to be getting the help.

“And so I believe for Paul McCartney, what he is doing really is creating more enemies than friends.”

Explaining his comments, Bakri told the Sunday Express: “Our enemy’s friend is our enemy.

“Thus Paul McCartney is the enemy of every Muslim. We have what we call ‘sacrifice’ operatives who will not stand by while he joins in a celebration of their oppression.

“If he values his life Mr McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”

Lawyer Anjem Choudary, who last week chaired a meeting in London at which extremists claimed the next 9/11-style atrocity would be in Britain, said Sir Paul had allowed himself to become a propaganda tool for Israel.

He added: “Muslims have every right to be angry at Paul McCartney. How would the world react if he wanted to have a
concert in occupied Kashmir?

“They would not allow it to happen but because it is Israel he can play. A country which, as the celebration indicates did not exist 60 years ago, only exists thanks to stealing and occupying another country’s lands.” Yesterday the comments drew condemnation from Palestinian sources and outsiders.

Omar Barghouti, of The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, described the threat as “deplorable”.

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP for Newark and a former Shadow Security Minister, said: “One could dismiss Bakri as a ranting extremist but history has shown that he has an ability to twist minds, so his comments should not be underestimated.

“If Sir Paul McCartney wants to play at the 60th anniversary then it is the worst form of illiberalism for Omar Bakri to restrict the artist’s freedom in this way.”

A spokesman for Sir Paul declined to comment on the threat, saying: “Paul’s Friendship First concert is about his music. Paul’s is a message of peace.”

Tickets for the concert range from £70 to £230.

Last night Sir Paul performed his first concert in the Ukraine, playing to tens of thousands in the capital Kiev.

Fan video welcomes Sir Paul to Israel

 

 

‘The Comfort Girls’ satisfy in three part harmony


The desert air was balmy and hot. The almost-full moon hung over palm trees and the fireflies glittered amid a spotlight’s beam. More than 1,000 people sat on the blanketed stone bleachers of the outdoor amphitheater at Mineral Beach for the Passover Dead Sea Music Festival, waiting patiently for the Israeli trio, HaBanot Nechama (translated as “Comfort Girls”), to hit the stage.

The crowd occupied themselves with kosher-for-Passover pizza and crepes but got grumpy when the trio delayed for more than a half-hour. Finally, the three “girls” walked onto the stage, two barefoot, one in sandals: Yael Deckelbaum, with her dirty-blonde hair and green eyes; Karolina, (who goes by one name only), with her unmistakable afro; and Dana Adini, with long brown waves that look like dreads-in-formation.

As soon as their angelic harmonies opened the show with the lyrics: “Lovers/ Don’t be afraid/ I have come to save you from the pain,” the crowd was soothed. The sound matched the surroundings — natural, organic, earthy, relaxing and glam-free.

On May 10, HaBanot Nechama will perform at their most glamorous venue yet — the Kodak Theatre — in the gala finale of the “Let My People Sing” music festival celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary. These Israeli natives are sure to bring raw soulful simplicity and natural girl power to a stage known for hosting Hollywood’s most primped affairs. They’ve been likened to the Indigo Girls, Crosby Stills and Nash, and even the Dixie Chicks.

Embarking on their first North American tour, with stops at Radio City Music Hall and the Highline Ballroom in New York and at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, HaBanot Nechama has come a long way from that day in 2004 when, at a Tel Aviv clothing boutique, the then-struggling artists had one of the most important girl-talks of their careers.

“I came to Dana very desperate,” related singer-songwriter Yael Deckelbaum during her first interview with a non-Israeli publication. “Karolina came desperate. About our lives, not making it, frustrations at being poor musicians, not being acknowledged, not having money. In that moment was a spark. The first spark.”

Curled up in a chair in her bohemian-style apartment in Jaffa, wearing Capri pants and a cotton tank and sans make-up, Deckelbaum spoke about the making-of-the-band on behalf of the trio in her fluent, tad-rusty English. She inherited the language and love for music from her father, a Canadian-Israeli who led a country-folk band, The Taverners, in her hometown of Jerusalem.

It’s difficult these days to interview the girls together. In addition to preparing for the tour, they’re busy developing their now-successful solo careers. Deckelbaum is finishing her first solo album, Karolina is working on her second and Adini’s acting career is soaring, with a starring role as an injured ballet dancer in a new Israeli prime-time television show, “Al Ktzot Ha’etzbaot” (On the Tip of the Fingers).

They owe much of their current success to those inchoate nights in one another’s living rooms, when, unbeknownst to them, they were forming a new band by spontaneously, intuitively pitching harmonies for the others’ songs.

“We were nourishing each other with each other,” Deckelbaum said. “I got a lot of inspiration, so I started writing songs that grew out of this inspiration — and we started writing some stuff together and jamming a lot. Our meetings didn’t feel like work. It felt like a support group.”

The name of the band does not necessarily apply to their effect on audiences, but on themselves.

“Karolina brought up the name when we were sitting in the room,” Deckelbaum said. “She said, ‘I’m feeling such a big comfort. Maybe we should call ourselves Nechama [Comfort].’ A bell went off, and that’s what it is.”

Karolina, born Keren Karolina Avratz in Eilat, contributed her version of the story over the phone from her Tel Aviv apartment.

“The fourth girl is named Nechama,” she said. “She’s the influence. Sometimes I feel it’s another lady — that there is another woman coming out because our voices come so together, like glue.”

The girls debuted on stage as a trio about four and a half years ago with three songs at an acoustic night the Jah-Pan club in the artsy Florentine neighborhood in south Tel Aviv.

“It was very clean, no ego, very special and powerful and full of love,” Deckelbaum said. “The crowd went mad. We were each very good on our own — the crowd enjoyed us very much — so when the three of us got together, it was three times stronger.”

HaBanot Nechama continued to perform regularly, and without formal musical training, the naturally talented singers relied much on intuition, trial and error, and audience call/response to perfect the act. By the time they went into the studio to record an album independently they had already built up a loyal following.

Toward the end of the recording process, they caught the attention of veteran Israeli manager Asher Bitansky, who signed them on his Labeleh record label.


HaBanot Nechama- i Love You

“They are three individual creative talents that managed to collaborate in such a wonderful way and create a tone of music, folk appearance that is rare not only in Israel but around the world,” said Bitansky, who is responsible for booking their shows in the United States. “I didn’t have to knock on too many doors to make it happen. All I had to do was introduce them, and the rest was done by the music.”

The eponymous album went platinum in Israel only weeks after its release in August 2007.

Its third song, “So Far,” dominated the Israeli charts, much to Karolina’s surprise. “I remember how insecure she was about it,” Deckelbaum said, “and how Dana and I thought: ‘Wow-this is amazing.’ Then we sat there and tried to harmonize it.”

In writing the song, Karolina “had a conversation between my heart and God, and I explained the spirit of what I’m feeling. Whatever I did, I didn’t feel good. What’s going on? Even when life is amazing I feel bad. People smile at me, I don’t smile back…. Sometimes you don’t know anything about life and yourself, and that’s OK.”

Israelis are not in a partying mood


Israel is turning 60, but few here in the Jewish State seem in the mood to crack open the champagne.

Israelis are still gloomy about the country’s perceived failures in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and every day brings fresh reminders that no solution has been found for the growing problem of cross-border rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t see Israel as a failure, but what makes this anniversary less of a celebration is that we cannot proclaim a happy ending,” veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the daily Yediot Achronot, said in an interview. “We did not reach a point that we can say, ‘OK, the period of state building is finished, and now we can live happily after.'”

The contradictions of life here can be painful. Israel has an outwardly robust economy that produces high-tech giants but also a record number of people living in poverty. There is a feeling of security that has come with a decline in terrorism-related deaths, but also a widespread resignation that peace remains a distant dream.

All this, to say nothing of government corruption, one of the problems most troubling Israelis.

“I don’t feel very festive,” said Shaanan Street, lead singer of the popular Israeli hip-hop band, HaDag Nachash, shortly before taking the stage at a Tel Aviv club recently. “Israelis are not too happy. They are worried instead about the next war and how they are going to finish the month.”

In a country where one in three children lives in poverty, there has been grumbling about the $28 million the government has budgeted to mark the country’s 60th birthday, even though some of the money is earmarked for educational and infrastructure programs.

Meanwhile, many say, the list of celebratory events is a bit of a snooze.

Aside from the bigger-ticket items like local fireworks shows, a huge dance party in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and sound-and-light shows, scheduled events include a concert titled, “Military Orchestras Playing Peace,” and the display of the world’s largest Israeli flag, measuring 656 feet high and 320 feet wide.

The week after the anniversary, President Shimon Peres is also hosting a conference with a star-studded guest list on the future of the Jewish people.

Israel at 60 is a modern-day Sparta and Athens, Barnea said, walking a fine line in its dual existence as both a garrison state and a thriving cultural and business locale.

“It’s not easy to live successfully in these two worlds at the same time,” Barnea said.

Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator who runs an independent think tank in Tel Aviv, the Reut Institute, agrees.

The national mood, he said, exists in “tension between exuberance and concern, because Israel is a country that offers very polarized performances on a number of levels.”

“Let’s start with socioeconomic,” Grinstein said. “According to certain indicators, we are world leaders in research and development and ranked in the top 10 in the world in terms of business and technology. And at same time, other sectors are badly underperforming, like education and law enforcement and the entire government structure, which is in crisis.”

Grinstein advocates structural reform of the government to make it less beholden to sectarian interests, yet, he asks, which Israel will prevail in the next 60 years, “the Israel of excellence or the Israel of mediocrity?”

A recent Haifa University poll of Israeli Jews found their faith in state institutions at an all-time low. Fewer than half those surveyed, 48 percent, said they have faith in the Supreme Court, 15 percent said they had faith in the police and just 9 percent said they had faith in the government.

Mitchell Barak, who heads Keevoon, an Israeli research firm in Jerusalem, said recent surveys conducted by his firm show Israelis are more concerned with corruption than with threats from the Arab world.

Earlier this month, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav turned down a plea bargain offer that would have required him to admit to sexual misconduct in exchange for the dropping of a possible indictment against him on more serious charges, including rape. Katsav now may face those charges and go on trial.

“We are seeing a significant rise in people who’ve had it with their elected officials,” Barak said.

Ben-Dror Yemini, a columnist for Ma’ariv, said Israelis do not know whether the government has viable plans to deal with the country’s ongoing threats, both external and internal.

“They don’t have the slightest idea about what is really going on,” he said.

Eti Doron, a toy store owner in Tel Aviv, said a weariness has descended upon Israelis.

“There is a feeling of being down. People are not sure what is happening with the country,” she said. “Socialism has disappeared, the corruption is worrisome and our leaders are powermongers.”

A nearby grocer, Danny Horvitz, sounded a different note as he packed bags at his small store.

“Overall I feel positive,” he said. “There is corruption here, but overall things are good. Israel will be here in 60 years, and it will be even stronger. There will be a deal by then with the Palestinians.”

Horvitz paused before adding, “That is what I hope for, at least, and that things will be good for both us and them. Otherwise, neither one of us will be here.”

Israelity Tour teases trips with an Israeli beat


” vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ border = ‘0’ align = ‘right’ alt=”Michelle Citrin”>a decade ago as a student at Rutgers University. Her experience traveling to Israel on one of the first Birthright trips at the start of the second Intifada inspired her to write “Dark Refrain,” a song about looking for a time of peace.

Shai Haddad, a.k.a. SHI 360, was also stirred musically, turning to hip-hop to express his feelings. After making aliyah in 2006, he wrote what has become the Birthright Israel theme song, “Home.”

Haddad now performs the song in front of thousands of people at Birthright’s “Mega Event” concerts.

In a move that echoes this fusion of cultural exposure and music, the Taglit-Birthright Israel Alumni Association, recently rebranded as Birthright Israel Next, has launched the Israelity Tour — a seven-city West Coast concert extravaganza aimed at exposing young American Jews to Israeli culture, promoting the free 10-day educational trips to Israel for 18- to 26-year-olds, as well as cultivating the connections alumni of the trip have already made to the Holy Land and one another.

Israelity kicked off in Seattle on Feb. 6 and focuses primarily on major Jewish communities where Birthright trip registration rates are significantly lower when compared with those from East Coast communities. The goal is to make Birthright a household name, said Sydney Henning, the group’s national initiatives director.

Birthright says Los Angeles registration rates for trips are fairly high among West Coast cities. Still the organization considers Los Angeles an important destination to augment its alumni programming. The Los Angeles leg of the tour will play the Avalon in Hollywood on Feb. 16.

Flipping the Birthright model on its head, the Israelity Tour is “Where West Coast Meets Middle East.” Instead of bringing Americans to Israel, the tour brings Israel to America, with music performances by Israeli hip-hop luminary Subliminal a.k.a. Kobi Shimoni and his seven-member crew — the T.A.C.T. Family (Tel Aviv City Team) — funk/hip-hop band Coolooloosh and folk singer Citrin.

“I really believe in what Birthright is doing,” Shimoni said in a telephone interview from Seattle. “I respect their efforts, and I want to help in any way that I can.”

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for the Isreality blog, visit

Black Eyed Peas and the Commitments rock the walls of Jerusalem


Black Eyed Peas vocalist Fergie might have been knocked off the Egged bus billboards advertising the group’s show at the Jerusalem Rocks! Festival because of her immodest dress, but the crowd enthusiastically welcomed her on Sunday night.

“I heard that in the advertising for this event, they cut me out of the picture, maybe because I wear stuff like this,” she said, pointing to her cropped top that showed off her well-toned abdomen. “I hope I didn’t offend anybody, I just like to look a little glamorous.”

That she did, even when she was at the Western Wall stuffing a note in one of the cracks — “I’m not gonna tell you what I wrote”; floating in the Dead Sea on Saturday, where she “exfoliated”; and in church in the Old City on Sunday. But beyond looking glamorous, belting out tunes with the Black Eyed Peas and prancing across the stage, Fergie and the rest of the band, including front man will.i.am, and band members apl.de.ap and Taboo, wanted to make it clear how much they love Israel.

“We’re missing the MTV Awards for this because we feel it’s a very important ’cause … this is the Holy Land,” said Fergie, who took the award for Female Artist of the Year in absentia.

“I love Is-ra-el,” will.i.am sang to the tune of “Hotel California.” “I’m moving to Israel, I’m in paradise.”

It was the Black Eyed Peas’ second concert in Israel, having performed in Tel Aviv last summer. But it was their first time performing in Jerusalem, where they headlined Jerusalem Rocks! a nonprofit international music festival celebrating peace and unity.

The Sept. 9 festival opened with Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nachash and Palestinian hip-hop band D.A.M. performing together, followed by Ireland’s The Commitments and then Arrested Development, a progressive hip-hop act known for early 1990s hits like “Tennessee” and “People Everyday.”

The Black Eyed Peas and Arrested Development were enthusiastic about Jerusalem Rocks! from the start, said producer Carmi Wurtman, who has created several music festivals in Israel, including the One Shekel Festival, which brings 20,000 people from poor communities to see Israeli performers for the price of just one shekel.

“We knew we had to get a headliner, and once we had the Black Eyed Peas on board, everything else began to trickle down,” he said. “I’ve been listening to Arrested Development for a long time, and they always had a positive message. And that’s how Hadag Nachash fit in, because they have a strong Jerusalem message.”

The Commitments followed. Given their Dublin background and experience of the Irish conflict, it made sense to invite them to a peace festival in Israel. The lineup originally included more Israeli bands, but the festival changed venues at the last minute from Teddy Stadium to Sultan’s Pool, and was shortened by an hour, Wurtman explained. The estimated 6,000- to 7,000-person crowd would have seemed too small for Teddy Stadium, so the show was moved to the outdoor venue Sultan’s Pool, adjacent to the walls of the Old City.

“We would have been happier if there were more people,” Wurtman said. “Then again, this was more of a park festival than a sit-down festival. We learned a lot from this experience.”

While the festival was a nonprofit event, co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Foundation, Digital Israel, festival co-founder Jeff Pulver and several other donors, Wurtman said that there was “consumer confusion on this project.” Ticket prices were first set at NIS 390 ($95) per ticket, which ended up being too high for most Jerusalemites. Prices were later lowered to NIS 200 ($50) per ticket, but even then the tickets never sold out.

Still, said Jacob Ner-David, one of the festival co-founders, the festival was a success in helping change Jerusalem’s image and bringing together international artists to Jerusalem.

“Revival of the dead is not an easy thing,” he quipped, referring to the many years since Jerusalem has hosted any kind of rock concert or festival. “We’re a lot smarter now.”

The members of Arrested Development came to Jerusalem four days before the concert, spending time touring as well as experiencing a traditional Shabbat dinner at the home of Ner-David. On Saturday night, they, along with members of the Black Eyed Peas, were hosted in East Jerusalem, where they smoked water pipes, ate grilled meat — the local specialty — and heard local rappers as well as oud players.

“The artists all had a great time; they said it was the single best experience they ever had,” Wurtman said. “They got Jerusalem hospitality.”

As Arrested Development co-founder Speech put it, “This is the single best experience we’ve ever had on the road. Performing in Israel has been the fulfilling of a dream.”


Blogger Jeff Pulver reports on the concert

Men who rock Israel’s history appear locally


Can the history of a nation be told through its music? If that nation has only been around for about 60 years, it’s conceivable.

This month it’s possible to follow Israel’s history — or at least the zeitgeist of its people — in Los Angeles through three very different sounds of rock, via artists whose music represent very different Israeli eras.

There’s the folksy, jaunty old-time tunes of Danny Sanderson, Gidi Gov and friends singing their “best of” from the 1970s and ’80s on March 11 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

From the ’80s and ’90s, there’s troubadour and man of hope David Broza, flamenco-and salsa-influenced guitarist, performing with Badi Assad March 17 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

And finally, the boy/man who represents in song the post-Rabin “candlestick generation” — teenagers who stood vigil for months after Rabin’s assassination — Israel’s androgynous bad boy and first celebrity draft dodger, the soulful Aviv Geffen, alone on March 8 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre and with his indie band Blackfield on March 10 at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood.

“I remember you/I remember you from the supermarket … I remember you from third grade” doesn’t exactly sound like a national anthem, but the upbeat, humorous sounds of Kaveret — a top 1970s band that Sanderson and Gov formed in the Israeli army — and later Gazoz, which encapsulated a more innocent time for Israel. From the Beach Boys-like “Galshan” (“Just me and my surfboard”) to “Yoya,” a dance favorite at American religious celebrations (“I got a harsh sentence, condemned to death … hoping at least to change chairs because they say, ‘change of place brings you luck'”), Kaveret’s playful songs spoke of the small-town feel of Israel.

“It’s pure nostalgia,” said Sanderson of the upcoming three-week U.S tour. “I think the audience gives meaning where it wants — it can be very personal,” he added. “I see people stand when we’re playing songs, with tears in their eyes and it can be for different reasons.”

Sanderson, one of Israel’s top songwriters, who has composed music for many of the country’s musicians, doesn’t agree that the situation in Israel has changed since then. “Israel has always had problems. These are the same problems that haven’t been solved,” he said.
But these are not problems he or his bands of the past sang about.

Although Sanderson and Co. are all active in politics and speak out, their music isn’t political. They sing mostly about love. And friendship.

“I never heard the Eagles sing about politics,” he said.

Perhaps that’s what differentiates these musicians from some of the others who followed them (and even those who were of the same era).

David Broza, for example, who sings many different styles of folk-urban rock, plays in English, Spanish and Hebrew, with a variety of influences and themes, is best known for (and can’t escape) his ever-evolving anthem, “Yihiyeh Tov” (“Things Will Be Better”):
“Children put on wings and fly away to the army/and after two years they return without an answer/people live under stress looking for a reason to breathe/and between hatred and murder/they talk about peace.”

But Broza, a peace activist and the son of the founder of Neve Shalom, the only village where Arabs and Jews live together, is still hopeful:

“We will yet learn to live together, between the groves of olive trees/children live without fear, without borders, without bomb-shelters/on graves grass will grow, for peace and love, one hundred years of war/but we have not lost hope.”

The same cannot be said of the most famous singer of the next generation, nihilist and outspoken peace activist, Aviv Geffen. Although his song “The Hope” expresses similar sentiment (“We’ll bury the guns and not the children/so let’s try until things will be good “), his hopes, and that of the young generation of hopeful peaceniks, turned sour when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered at a peace rally in 1995. That night Geffen performed what was to become the anthem for Rabin, “Forever My Brother (Cry For You).”

Geffen hit the Israeli scene in 1990 and became known for Goth-like makeup, a Mick Jagger-like snarl and an often-discordant alternarock. He sang about love, betrayal, violence, peace, the army — which he publicly refused to enter — and became one of Israel’s youngest and most outspoken critics, or peace-pusher, depending on one’s perspective.

Although Geffen often sings about love, these are no jaunty love songs, but the searing pain of a rebel with a cause. His worldview tends toward meaninglessness (“There are no angels in heaven/just hell that makes you dream that there are angels in paradise/but there is no paradise and no heaven”) and melancholy (“We’re here and then we’re gone, Memento Mori/we are all alone/We’re all dying,” he sings in “Memento Mori,” the Latin phrase for “Remember that you will die”).

Geffen donated his time to Peace Now to sing an acoustic concert here.

“It’s hard to see the future, but I think that we, the artists, must come and stand strong, to play to show it’s really important. I hope our voice can be heard strong enough,” he said.

But Geffen is primarily touring America as part of his band Blackfield, an English band he formed with Steven Wilson of the band Porcupine Tree in 2000, in honor of their second eponymous album, “Blackfield II,” released this month. Although the band is named for the black fields remaining after war, Blackfield’s sound is more mellow — and melodious — than Geffen on his own. Blackfield has been likened to Pink Floyd — lush, liquid, lulling.

But Geffen’s wrist-slitting sentiment is often apparent in songs like “Pain” or “The Hole in Me” (self-explanatory). The band has received critical acclaim and is building a fan base — Geffen thinks they can become “bigger than Coldplay,” he brags. But without the context of Israeli politics and his solo cacophonous wail, it’s just music, not the voice of a generation.

But Geffen, who left Israel because he wanted to “sell more than 2 million copies” per album, believes that he can influence the world outside Israel.

Violinist Joshua Bell walks in the footsteps of masters




Although he doesn’t exactly think of it this way, Joshua Bell is the latest in a long line of Jewish violin-playing aristocracy.

His teacher was Joseph Gingold, and as Bell fondly recalled him, “He was a Russian Jewish violinist. He had an incredible joy for the violin that rubbed off. He introduced me to the older generation — Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman — and they became my idols.”

Those giants had been contemporaries of Gingold and, like him, were all Jews, too. Now Bell, who is generally acclaimed as America’s greatest living violinist, is the latest to be passed the scepter, even though he is only 38.

He may seem young, but he has been playing professionally since he was 14, so, as he admitted with a certain amusement, “I’ve been playing violin professionally longer than I was not playing before. And when you consider that I had my first public performance when I was 7…..”

But he is always aware of those Jewish ghosts at his back.
“A lot of the things that I do when I play are not things I picked up from them consciously, but by growing up with their language, through their music, I internalized it,” he said. “For example, the way they use rubato, something that’s very hard to teach. Kreisler would play incredibly rhythmically but around the beat. He did it very tastefully, it was never overdone.”

Bell is, by his own admission, more of a cultural Jew than a religious one.
“My mother is Jewish, a very typical Jewish mother,” he said. “She was very involved in my practicing. Both my parents were behind me and loved music. But for me, Jewishness was very much a cultural tie. I feel very close to the Jewish side of the family. I grew up with my Jewish cousins, going to all the bar mitzvahs, so I feel very close to that side, and I identify myself as being Jewish.”

He feels that identification with particular acuteness when he performs in Israel.

“My mother lived there; my grandfather was a Sabra,” he explained. “I have family there, and last year, I saw some of them for the first time since I was 4. Even my violin [a famous 1713 Stradivarius] has a connection to Israel. It was owned by Bronislaw Hubermann, who founded the Israel Phil, and when Israelis hear that it’s ‘the Hubermann,’ they get very excited.”

What is it about Jews and classical music? If you ask Bell he is, understandably, a bit guarded
“That’s something you’d have to ask a Jewish sociologist, which my uncle happens to be,” he said, laughing. “I guess it’s a cultural thing. To be successful in music, you need to grow up with cultural influences; in the Jewish households, culture and music are valued. It’s also about role models. Fifty years ago, a Jewish child would be told, ‘You’re going to be the next Heifetz.’ You have to be careful when you say things like this not to be misunderstood.”

Certainly Bell grew up with music all around him.

“Music was very important in my family,” he said. “All the cousins would come over for family musicales, and everybody would play. Nobody was a professional, so there wasn’t a family member to get me started. For me it was Joseph Gingold.”

Bell enjoys one of the busiest schedules a musician could dream of. The three weeks he will spend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in October represent the longest stretch that he will be in one place all fall and winter. But someday, when his schedule slows down, he would like to do for some young would-be Joshua Bell what Gingold did for him.

 
“I had such a great relationship with my teacher,” he said. “Gingold told me stories about Ysaye, who was one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century and his teacher, and I’d like to pass these things on at some point in my life. I can’t imagine not doing that.”

 
Joshua Bell will perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Oct. 19-22 and in an open rehearsal and question-and-answer session with the Colburn Conservatory Orchestra on Oct. 27, followed the next night by a concert with the Colburn. He will appear in a chamber music recital Nov. 1 and again with the Philharmonic Nov. 3-5. All these events will take place at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, except for the concert on Nov. 4, which will be in Santa Barbara.

 
Bell’s newest CD, “Voice of the Violin,” is available on the Sony label.


 
For more information, call (323) 850-2000 or go to wdch.laphil.com.

Pink Floyd’s Waters Caught Red-Handed


“No thought control.”

The famed lyrics from rock band Pink Floyd’s much beloved “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” make for a powerful statement regardless of context. Scrawled last week in red paint on a concrete segment of Israel’s security fence in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters himself, though, the poignancy of the verse is undeniable.

Waters visited Israel to play a concert June 22 at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (literally Oasis of Peace), a cooperative Jewish-Palestinian Arab village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Originally scheduled to perform at the much more mainstream Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Rogers moved the concert to the fields of Neve Shalom in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian musicians.

“I moved the concert to Neve Shalom as a gesture of solidarity with the voices of reason — Israelis and Palestinians seeking a non-violent path to a just peace between the peoples,” Waters said in a press release.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the concert in its makeshift venue drew more than 50,000 attendees and became the cause of one of Israel’s worst traffic jams to date. Waters performed the album “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety, along with many of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits, including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and the especially iconic “Another Brick in the Wall.”

“We need this generation of Israelis to tear down walls and make peace,” Waters told the audience before his post-midnight encore.

Waters’ performance received much acclaim in Israel, but it is his spray-painting stint at the security fence in the West Bank the day before the showcase that is making lasting waves there and abroad. The artist’s paint and pen additions to the already graffiti-laden wall marked Waters’ first stop after arriving in Israel. According to reporters present at the Palestinian town of Bethlehem when he made the markings, Waters likened the barrier to the Berlin Wall, adding that “it may be a lot harder to get this one down, but eventually it has to happen, otherwise there’s no point to being human beings.”

The musician’s deliberately provocative gesture prompted right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir to call for the artist’s detainment.

The pair submitted an accusation to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court June 23 alleging that Waters destroyed Israel Defense Forces property, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Israeli authorities have not yet issued a response to the singer’s graffiti or to Marzel and Ben-Gvir’s retaliatory petition.

The fence that Waters dubbed “a horrible edifice” is being constructed in the hopes of preventing Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, who have killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis in the last six years, from entering Israel proper.

Additional information courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.

 

A Deux Ex ‘Mashina’ You Wouldn’t Believe


The Rolling Stones have done it. Cher has done it.

The comeback — that big farewell concert tour followed by a reunion and a new album — is about as American as apple pie.

It’s not unheard of in Israel, either. While solo artists like Arik Einstein, Shlomo Artzi, Shalom Hanoch and Rita have all had their ups and downs, they remain superstar commodities and churn out a new album or collection every few years. Israeli bands, on the other hand, hold their “very-very-last” concert and then reunite years later, probably less because their fans are clamoring for it than because it makes economic sense (those who were once young teenagers now have disposable income).

But who ever thought Mashina would reunite?

That seminal ’80s pop-rock band — their run was actually from 1985-1995 — stood the test of time, putting out eight albums in 10 years and performing hundreds of packed shows.

Mashina had light lyrics about love and relationships and pajamas and zebras — as opposed to war and politics and death — and a synthesized beat to rival the best of the ’80s bands, like, say, Erasure or Hall & Oates (who are, in fact, back on tour for their own comeback.)

Mashina injected new sounds and new life into the Israeli music scene. Founded in 1985 by Shlomi Bracha and Yuval Banay — the son of famous actor Yossi Banay and cousin to many other Banay singers like Meir and Evyatar — it took 10 years and a couple of bombs but mainly hits for the band to run its course. When they were done, though, it seemed like they were done — forever.

But never say never. Especially in showbiz.

Mashina reunited in 2003, coming out with a new album, “Future Romanticism,” and playing, once again, to packed houses in Israel and America. They are headlining the Israel Festival in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 7.

“In the past few years we’ve been concentrating on Mizrahi music,” said Guy Kochlani, director of entertainment for the Israel Festival, referring to Middle Eastern-influenced music. “We wanted to give a new twist and also have an actual band.”

In the past, the festival has brought in solo artists such as Yehoram Ga’on and Sarit Hadad. “Mashina is a fairly old band — they’ll attract 15-45-year-olds, because back in the’80s they used to rock out Israel; they have a huge fan base that will definitely come support Mashina,” Kochlani said.

Mashina band member Banay has been rather shocked by the number of young people who attend their concerts, both here and in America. “It’s amazing how many young people come to see us,” he told The Journal by phone from Israel. “Sometimes we play at clubs, and it’s only teenagers; apparently our songs were passed down from fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers — there are people who are there who were never even born [when Mashina first came out]. But the people who come see the Rolling Stones were not exactly born either [when the Rolling Stones came out].”

Their decision to reunite wasn’t one of those things where a band reunites for one concert and then fades away into the background again.

“We were together for many years — we got tired, and everyone went their own way,” Banay said. But “we were always friends helping each other,” he said, not exactly answering why they decided to reunite. “We are good together, and we enjoy playing together,” he said, as if that were answer enough.

Was it difficult to come back a decade later to an entirely different music scene — one with hip-hop bands like Subliminal and Dag Nachash and ethnic groups like Tipex and Idan Reichl?

“There is rap and hip hop — the Israeli music scene has changed the same way that it changed in Europe and United States. There was rock ‘n’ roll and then dance and then hip-hop, but one thing is for sure, like Neil Young said, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll can never die.'”

Even though Mashina has toured the States since it reunited, coming to Los Angeles, Boston, Florida and New York, Banay says they don’t plan to record in English, like other Israeli artists such as David Broza and Ahinoam Nini (known here as Noa).

“We’re too old for that,” Banay says wistfully. “Sometimes it pains us that we’re not a rock band in America — but you can’t have it all. We are a bit less rich than we could be in America,” he says, noting that there’s only about 100,000 people who buy rock music in Israel. On the other hand, he says, “America is a hard place — you have to work all the time to chase money. It’s true you live there and you live well, but you always miss Israel,” he said, and referred to Mashina’s most popular new song, the trance-like “There’s No Other place”:

“It’s true that the days
Are so short
And the songs that I love
Are no longer played
But there’s no place else.
Nothing else.”

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, April 15

The bread don’t rise, but spirits may. Two events tonight focus on Passover through music and comedy. Celebrate Chol Hamoed Pesach at Stephen S. Wise Temple with this evening’s “Let My People Sing” series event, “Tears, Laughter and Spirit.” Comedian Joel Chasnoff performs with The Lost Boys of Sudan Choir and Dream Freedom Performers of Milken Community High School. Or visit the Workmen’s Circle for “Music, Mayses … and Matse?!” a concert of Yiddish and klezmer tunes performed by renown musicians Yale Strom on violin, Mark Dresser on contrabass and singer Elizabeth Schwartz.

Stephen S. Wise: 7:30 p.m. Dessert and coffee follow. Donation. 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-8561. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, April 16

Ladies only, you are cordially invited to a special screening of “Together as One,” a multicamera video produced by Kol Neshama, an L.A. arts program for Orthodox girls and women. The film about positive attitude and watching what you say has a “Wizard of Oz”-ian spin, when the snide-mouthed protagonist, Bracha, ends up in The Land of Emes (Truth). There are elaborately choreographed musical numbers featuring now-Orthodox professional performers, along with local school girls. The video may only be viewed in today’s and tomorrow’s screenings.

April 16 and 17, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Upstairs@ Kehilas Yaakov, 7211 Beverly Blvd. (877) 637-4262.

Monday, April 17

Director Nicole Holofcener’s film about the midlife struggles of four female friends — and their uneasy relationships with money and each other-comes to theaters this week. Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand star in the comedy/drama “Friends With Money,” which was the opening night film at the Sundance Film Festival.

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Tuesday, April 18

Head to LACMA West for art that makes you go, “hmmmm….” Their new LACMALab installation, “Consider this…” features the work of six varied artists that all invite viewers to “examine the cultural and social landscape: who are we and what do we want to be?”

Through Jan. 15, 2007. Free (children 17 and under), $5-$9 (general). 6067 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. www.lacma.org

Wednesday, April 19

Pay homage to legends of different sorts at tonight’s American Cinematheque screening of “The Night of the Hunter.” This is the kickoff event for their new screening series of devoted film critic “Kevin Thomas’ Favorite Films.” The monthly event will feature 10 of Thomas’ favorites, including “Sunset Boulevard” and “A Star is Born.” Tonight also serves as a tribute to Thomas’ friend, actress Shelley Winters, who starred in “Hunter.”

7:30 p.m. $6-$9. 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. www.americancinematheque.com.

 

Thursday, April 20

The circle of life takes an unconventional turn or two in Michelle Kholos’ new play “Two Parents, Two Weddings, Two Years.” The story follows Sidney, a grown woman with a boyfriend and a career, who must reconcile herself with the fact that her divorced parents are both, separately, getting remarried, while she struggles to hang on to her significant other, and her brother tries to romance his soon-to-be sister-in-law. Wacky Jewish family drama ensues….

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 3 p.m. (Sun.), through May 14. $25. The Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 692-8200.

 

Friday, April 21

A woman dressed in a white gown and veil stands at a border crossing between the Golan Heights and Syria. She is “The Syrian Bride,” the titular character in a new film by Eran Riklis, and her story is based on a real incident Riklis witnessed and filmed for his 1999 documentary, “Borders.” The bride’s story is a complicated one, of people’s lives caught between the politics and bureaucracies of border countries. The film played at this year’s Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, and is released theatrically today.

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Hip Cynics for Export


In Israel, no one wants to be a friar — a sucker, a patsy, a flunky, a tool.

It’s the Israeli equivalent of the Chinese never wanting to lose face. And in Israel, this primary motivation explains much of the country’s machismo — and perhaps even its political situation.

Yet who can resist making fun of such puffed-up pride?

That’s one of the appeals behind the music of Hadag Nachash (Snakefish), the best-selling Hebrew hip-hop band performing in Los Angeles on April 16 as part of the Let My People Sing weeklong festival.

“And we’ll do our reserve duty/pay our taxes/and get stuck in traffic/(No one screws with us)/We are definitely, definitely, definitely not, we’re definitely not friars,” go the lyrics of the “Not Sucker” song.

This tune comes from Hadag’s second of four albums, “To Move,” which features the silhouette of a little boy gleefully urinating on the cover. (This tidbit is animated graphic on the group’s tripped-out Web site.)

But the point of their rapping verses isn’t to mock just for irony’s sake. As “The Sucker Song” says,

“My friends say enough!/Stop being so heavy/and I’m not opposed to it/but the situation is absurd.”

The situation in Israel is absurd: for youths who have to cut their fun short by going to the army, and for everyone who has to live in a constant state of war. As their lyric puts it:

“If it’s a combat zone here/there’s a minefield/ what does it matter if I pay by check, credit or cash?”

What does it matter, indeed. These are the nihilistic sentiments of a band from Jerusalem that formed in 1996 and released its first studio album “The Groove Machine” in 2000. The group claimed to be a “funk band with a rapper” and proved, according to the Israeli music site Moomba, that “there can be good Israeli rap.”

But the music is more than rap; it’s got bluesy rhythms that are even lounge-y at times.

This is the band that The Village Voice said “holds the record on songs we aren’t embarrassed to play for the goyim.”

You don’t necessarily need to know Hebrew to enjoy the sound. But it would help if you were young — or had a young musical taste. That’s why the band was brought over for the otherwise more adult “Let My People Rock” concert.

“They are extremely popular with kids,” said Genie Benson, one of the festival organizers and the head of the Keshet Chaim Dance Troupe. “I think it is important for American Jewish kids to understand that Israel has artists that they can connect with, and through music they can connect to kids in Israel.”

It would be more than organizers bargained for if American Jewish kids also connect with Hadag Nachash’s attitude: fed-up, irreverent, bordering on anarchist.

“What do we do, what do we do, that I’m always stoned like this?

I don’t want/I don’t want to reach the edge.

What do we do, what do we do that my generation is crooked like this

I think it’s too late to come out of this.”

But of course, to really get the band’s groove, it would help if you spoke Hebrew — and not only spoke Hebrew, but lived in Israel to understand all the political, religious and artistic references.

For example, you’d have to have seen the hundreds, if not thousands of contradictory bumper stickers and slogans plastered across the country over the years to understand “The Sticker Song.” Consider all the times the word Shalom, or peace, occurs in the following lyrics:

“Dor Shalem Doresh Shalom … Am Chazak Oseh Shalom … Ayn Shalom Im Aravim … Ayn Aravim, Ayn Piguim.” — A Whole Nation Wants Peace … A Strong Nation Makes Peace … No Peace with Arabs … No Arabs, No Attacks.

“The Sticker Song,” off their 2004 album “Local Material,” was written by literary novelist David Grossman; such are the far-reaches of Hadag Nachash into the upper echelons of Israeli culture.

It’s a culture that mixes lowbrow with highbrow, humor with meaning, Bible with rap. Perhaps at this pre-Passover concert they will sing their “Numbers” song, which is a play on one of the Passover hagaddah’s closing songs, “Who Knows One?”

The song begins incrementally:

One is the number of the countries from Jordan to the sea

Two are the number of countries that here one day will be.

Three years and

Four months is the time I gave to the to IDF.

And up it goes:

Nine times I was close to a terrorist attack, at least for now.

Ten is the most Israeli answer to the question, “What’s going on?”

“Ten” means great, perfect. When someone asks, “How’s it going?” “Ten” is the answer an Israeli should give.

Eser. Great. Fabulous. Perfect.

For more information about Hadag Nachash, visit www.levantini.com/hadag/.

Read This Related Article:

The King of Israeli Hip-Hop
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Despite everything.

 

Israeli Superstars Rock the Diaspora


Lo Ozev At Hair Avur Af Echad Anachnu Shnayim Tamid, Beneynu

(“I won’t leave the city/not for anyone/we are two, always/between us, one God.”)

— Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch, “Live at Caesaria”

Don’t believe everything you hear. Two of Israel’s greatest rockers — Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch — are leaving Israel, albeit briefly, pairing up for a joint three-concert tour to promote their new album, “Live at Caesaria,” in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, homes to Israel’s largest expat communities.

Although Israeli stars have toured America for years — consider Idan Reichl’s recent popularity at the Kodak Theatre — this tour will be the Israeli equivalent of say, Billy Joel and Elton John touring together. These two Israeli mega-singer/songwriters have produced hundreds of pop songs over more than four decades, and they continue to sell out concerts despite their advancing ages — both are nearing 60.

But unlike Joel and John, who are increasingly relegated to “soft rock” and appeal primarily to their original Gen-X and Baby Boomer fans, the Israeli rockers still enthrall their original fans from the 1960s and 1970s, even as they have captured the hearts of later generations. (This is particularly true of the blue-eyed, dimpled Artzi, who still draws a bevy of screaming, belly-shirted young things rushing the stage at his concerts.)

Part of the pair’s cross-generational appeal is, of course, due to the fact that Israel is a small country, without much room for niche markets: Rock is rock. (Not like America, with its hundreds of Grammy categories). But it’s also because the two men, in a way, are Israeli rock. No, they are Israel: Chanoch was born in 1946, and Artzi was born in 1948.

Chanoch jumped to fame when he teamed up with that other great Israeli star, Arik Einstein, in 1967. In the 1970s Chanoch became a star in his own right, but for the next years continued to write songs performed by other Israeli artists.

Artzi got his start in the army band and in 1975 was chosen to represent Israel at Eurovision. He lost the competition, and soon after recorded “He Lost His Way,” which was meant as a last hurrah, but instead reignited his career.

Each of the artists’ songs have flooded the radio waves for nearly five decades, a soundtrack, of sorts, to Israel’s many wars, casualties, celebrations, assassinations, and shifting moods — from hopeful to cynical and hopeful again.

“There has not ever been another man/like that man,” Artzi sang on the tribute album made following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, a song that became a mantra for the mourning peace camp.

In 1985 Chanoch came out with his humorous “Mashiach Lo Bah” — which became a pop sensation and later entered the lexicon, with its typically Israeli cynical chorus: “The Messiah isn’t coming — and he isn’t phoning, either.”

Neither artist’s lyrics seem particularly religious: (Consider Artzi’s song, “Here and There”: “Here and there the Messiah’s plane flits about/when will it land near us on the shore? She says: He who believes in lies will be disappointed.”) But their ironic faith reflects the tone of much Israeli culture. Many of their songs are about love, about friendship, about wars, and always with a little politics thrown in.

Last summer, Artzi and Chanoch performed together in the amphitheater in Caesaria, in Northern Israel. There, Chanoch played one of Artzi’s most popular songs. “Suddenly when you didn’t come/I felt like this.” Artzi later said it was best performance ever of the song. In turn, Artzi sang one of Chanoch’s songs, and a joint performance was born. After 42 performances in Israel, the duo comes to America (New York’s Beacon Theater on March 5; Miami on March 8; and Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre on March 11).

One problem with tribute albums, where artists sing another artist’s song, is that a fan has to be able to let go of the original version to appreciate strangers singing the familiar song. (Does one really want to hear Kate Bush singing “Rocket Man,” on the Elton John tribute album “Two Rooms”?)

It can be disconcerting to hear the two singing each other’s top hits on the album.

And yet, after five decades on the Israeli scene, their songs have become such a fabric of Israeli society, their fans overlapping, their voices sounding increasingly similar as age takes its toll (let’s not forget the smoking) that it seems somehow only fitting for Israel’s two great icons to merge their playlists.

And besides, in concert, they’re singing all the songs together.

Like this one, written by Chanoch, performed first by Einstein.

Kama Tov Shebata Habayta/Kama Tov Li’rot Otcha Shuv …

“How good it is that you’ve come home/How good it is to see you….”

The March 11 concert at the Kodak Theatre starts at 8:30 p.m. $47-$147. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For tickets, call (213) 480-3232.

 

The Circuit


Cleaning Up With Care

Long time L.A. drycleaner Barry Gershenson was named one of four national spokespersons for the FabriCare Foundation.

Gershenson, a third-generation dry cleaning veteran has more than 40 years experience as owner of Sterling Fine Cleaning in Los Angeles. As a spokesperson for the FabriCare Foundation, Gershenson’s role will be to educate consumers on the definition of a “professional” drycleaner, as well as the overall benefits of dry cleaning.

Gershenson lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 32 years, Sandy; and children, Lauren and David.

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.acsz.org.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday 25

Israel Prize laureate Ehud Manor passed away in April but his beloved songs live on in the hearts of Israelis. Tonight, the UJ pays tribute to his memory with a concert by Einat Sarouf, accompanied by Tali Tadmor and other guest artists.

9:30 p.m. $40 (includes wine and hors d’ouevres). Gindi Auditorium, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. www.cecisrael.com.

Sunday 26

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. www.cecisrael.com.

Monday 27

Big-time comedy in the comfort of your own home now comes courtesy of Big Vision Entertainment. “The Comedy Shop” host Norm Crosby has released a five-disc collector’s series of best-of moments from his show titled “The World’s Greatest Stand-Up Comedy Collection.” Watch three- to four-minute sets by more than 300 comedians including Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Phyllis Diller until your stomach hurts.

$24.95. www.bigvisionentertainment.com.

Tuesday 28

Yiddishkayt L.A. partners with ALOUD at Central Library today for a unique conversation between film critic Kenneth Turan and Aaron Lansky, aka “the man who rescued a million Yiddish books.” Lansky also authored a book about his quest to save Yiddish literature, a read that Cynthia Ozick said is “as stirring as it is geshmak.” Live klezmer by the L.A. Community Klezmer Band rounds out the evening.

7 p.m. Los Angeles Public Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (213) 228-7025.

Wednesday 29

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. www.americancinematheque.com. www.laemmle.com.

Thursday 30

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. www.americancinematheque.com. www.laemmle.com.

Friday 1

“Layali Al Saif.” Translated from Arabic, it means “Summer Nights,” an apt title for the sensual offerings of this dance show, which runs for three days only. The multicultural celebration of Middle Eastern dance includes Egyptian raqs sharqi (women’s solo dance), Persian banderi, Rom (Gypsy) circus and Turkish styling, as well as fusion pieces.

8:30 p.m. (June 30 and July 1 and 2), 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (July 3). $20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 315-1459.

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Mizrahi Music Travels West


Eitan Salman is at the far end of his store, leaning against a shelf lined with the new CD by Sarit Hadad, one of Israel’s more popular Mizrahi, or Eastern, singers.

Business at Salman’s music store has fallen 80 percent over the last decade, but it’s not altogether a bad thing: Mizrahi music has grown so popular in Israel that it no longer is the exclusive domain of mom-and-pop shops like Salman’s but is sold even at Israel’s Tower Records outlets.

"Mizrahi music is now available across the country, in all the stores," laments Salman, whose shop is located across the street from where Tel Aviv’s old central bus station used to stand.

Indeed, with the superstar status of singers like Hadad, Zahava Ben and Moshik Afia, Mizrahi music now tops the charts in Israel and its popularity crosses ethnic lines.

Salman and neighboring store owners remember the "cassette music" heyday, a time when Mizrahi music was the exclusive domain of Mizrahi-run stores like Salman’s, near bus stations and in souks.

"In the 1980s, Mizrahi music was not sold in record stores," explained Barak Itzkovitz, musical editor of Galgalatz, Israel’s popular army music radio station. "Today, there is a lot of consciousness about this music, and it’s one of the most popular musical genres."

The roots of Mizrahi music in Israel date back to the 1950s and the mass influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. Every community arrived with its distinct religious music, commonly known as piyutim, as well as its favorite Arabic music.

As Iraqis, Moroccans, Egyptians and Persians mixed, they exchanged musical sounds as well.

"They found out they had commonalities in their music," said Shoshana Gabay, co-creator of "Yam Shel Dmaot," or "Sea of Tears," a 1998 documentary on the development of Mizrahi music in Israel.

Children born in Israel in the 1950s grew up with other influences as well: American rock music, Indian movie music, French and Italian pop music and Russian-inspired Israeli music. The result was fusion music far ahead of its time.

"Years later there was this world music combination in other countries," Gabay said. "But in Israel it started very early, with the Asian Jews."

By the 1960s, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite quarter was home to a brand new sound.

"They had all these parties, and at those parties they took what they had learned in school — Russian-inspired Israeli songs, some Chasidic songs — and made them Oriental sounding," Gabay said. "They blended these songs with popular Arabic songs and traditional Yemenite songs and made a mix out of them. They were making an interpretation, their own interpretation."

Musicians blended not only musical styles but instruments: electric guitar and oud, synthesizer and kanoun — a classical string instrument from the Middle East and North Africa — drum kits and darbuka, a Middle Eastern and North African hand drum.

Despite the ingenuity of this new groove, Israeli fusion music stayed in Mizrahi neighborhoods until the invention of the cassette recorder, when recording suddenly became economically viable to a community with meager financial resources.

The first Mizrahi music became available on cassette in 1974, and the hit bands Lahakat Haoud and Lahakat Tslelei Hakerem couldn’t produce recordings fast enough. Tapes flew off the shelves and into the hands of Mizrahi Israelis hungry for more.

But mainstream Israeli radio stations played few Mizrahi songs.

"The people in radio were mostly from Europe," said Yoni Rohe, author of the newly published "Silsul Yisrael," which documents the development of Mizrahi music in Israel over the past 50 years. "They didn’t like the Mizrahi sound. It was not easy for them to relate to."

"The popularity of Mizrahi music was a process that happened over 15 years," Itzkovitz said. "Like hip-hop in the United States, it came from the hood, from the bottom up. It just couldn’t be stopped."

Following the success of the first recorded Mizrahi music bands, Mizrahi pop stars suddenly began to appear around the country: Avner Gadasi of Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, Shimmy Tavori from Rishon Le-Zion, Nissim Sarousi from Ramle.

Despite the dearth of Mizrahi music on mainstream radio stations, the Mizrahi music industry blossomed.

Zohar Argov, the poster boy for Mizrahi music, came onto the scene in 1978. Argov created Israeli country music, Ron Cahlili, film director of "Yam Shel Dmaot," told the Jerusalem Post in 1998.

"His subjects were the pain of love, betrayal, loss and sorrow," Cahlili said. "Argov was hard core, unafraid to sing about his reality and his life as he saw it."

At times compared to Elvis Presley, Argov lived on the edge: He died at 33 from a drug overdose. His albums continue to be best-sellers, however.

"Nancy Brandes did production for Zohar Argov," Rohe recounted. "Brandes came from Romania, and his connection with Zohar Argov made a new blend of music — a blend of big band and Mizrahi. This was a historical turning point. From there, in the 1980s, Mediterranean Israeli music went professional."

Meanwhile, other Mizrahi musicians developed new fusion sounds.

Ahouva Ozeri, a Yemenite-Ethiopian Israeli singer who became popular in the 1970s, mastered an Indian string instrument called bulbul tarang and gained a reputation as a world beat musician. She also helped pave the way for women in Mizrahi music.

Machismo was not the only obstacle to female Mizrahi musicians: In traditional Mizrahi households, a music career was equated with prostitution, and many families forbade their daughters from performing.

Hadad’s defiance of her parents is legendary in Israel. As a girl, she would climb out of her window at night to perform at local clubs. Her father, who died in 1997, refused to attend even a single concert of his superstar daughter.

Gabay and Rohe say the turning point for Mizrahi music was the development of commercial television and radio in the 1990s, which opened up new avenues for national broadcast of Mizrahi music, as well as other alternative sounds.

Today, Itzkovitz said, Hadad is hands-down the most popular Mizrahi musician in Israel. Afia and Itzik Kala are runners-up, and each puts out at least one platinum album per year.

"Mizrahi music is very, very popular on Israeli radio today," Itzkovitz said. "On major stations like Galgalatz, we pick only the songs that sell the best, the most popular ones that people love. Today, about 40 percent of what we play is straight-up Mizrahi music."

In addition, Itzkovitz noted, Mizrahi music has influenced musicians closely associated with the Ashkenazi kibbutznik movement. Among them is David Broza, who combines his style with the Mizrahi genre, and bands like Ethnix and Tea Packs, which combine rock and Mizrahi music.

Today’s hottest new sound is the fusion of Mizrahi music and hip-hop, Itzkovitz said. Indeed, Mizrahi musicians have blazed the trail for Israeli hip-hop, and children of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Yemen are at the cutting edge of Israeli music today.

Somehow, it seems, the music of the streets has became the music of choice.

"In the last years," Rohe said, "this mix of the new generations, the blend of music that came from Ashkenazi and Mizrahi homes, has brought a new sound to the ear that is as Israeli as you can get."

Article reprinted courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Loolwa Khazzoom (

For Love of the Dance


Or Nili Azulay often gazes at the faded photograph of her late grandmother, who was widowed in her 20s. “Her huge, expressive eyes are filled with strength and struggle,” the Israeli dancer-actress said. “She looks like Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ although she is wearing nothing fancy, only a simple white dress and a white flower in her hand.”

Azulay, renown for her flamenco work, excels at portraying characters who are equally strong and passionate. In her spin on Edvard Greig’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” she plays a feisty Bedouin princess and other heroines from the plays of Henrik Ibsen. In her version of the Bizet opera, “Carmen,” she depicts the defiant gypsy as a feminist, not a prostitute.

Azulay will bring a similar range of emotions to Noam Sheriff’s “Israel Suite” and the world premiere of Yuval Ron’s “Canciones Sephardi” when she performs with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) on Sunday.

“The kind of happiness I recall in my grandmother’s way of being is the same as in flamenco,” she said. “It’s never 100 percent happiness; it’s always tinged with melancholy.”

If it seems unlikely that a nice Jewish girl would become a flamenco dancer, consider her early role models. Azulay’s Syrian-born grandmother, Nona, defied her parents to wed the man she loved, then refused to remarry after he died several years later. Azulay’s mother, Chaya, became one of Israel’s first female barristers; her father died when she was a small child. “The sadness of not having a father was tempered by growing up with these strong, independent women,” she said.

No wonder Azulay was riveted by Bizet’s fiercely independent gypsy — and the art of flamenco — when she saw Carlos Saura’s film “Carmen” at age 14. The ballet student was so “stunned” by the dance numbers that she returned to see the movie a dozen times. “In ballet, the body is an instrument in service of the overall piece, while in flamenco, the protagonist is the dancer’s personality,” she said.

As Azulay began intense studies with famed teacher Sylvia Duran, she learned that “People who become huge in flamenco have huge personalities. They don’t have to do much to burn up the stage.”

The poised, five-foot-nine Azulay — who is also an award-winning poet — displayed similar charisma when she studied in Spain in 1995-96. She went on to establish a career emphasizing flamenco and classical Spanish dance performed with orchestras around the world. Azulay — who also appears in films such as 2003’s “The Brothel” — considers herself part of the flamenco revival spurred by Saura’s “Carmen.”

But her grandmother remains an important artistic inspiration. Azulay was drawn to the “Canciones Sephardi,” in part, because it reminds her of the tunes Nona used to sing in Ladino and Arabic. “That really struck a chord in Or Nili, and she brings that passion to the stage,” said Noreen Green, founder and artistic director of the LAJS.

The complex emotions of the “Israel Suite” also remind Azulay of her grandmother. In the dreamy first movement, she flies onstage with a white lace mantilla, reminiscent of a bridal veil. In a section based on a 15th century Ladino song, she uses constricted movements to suggest the pain of exile.

“The piece conveys the pathos of being an Israeli, of living in a state of half-dream, half-war,” she said.

The concert Sept. 14, 7 p.m. at the International Cultural Center (formerly Scottish Rite Auditorium), 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, also features internationally renown musicians such as flamenco guitarist Adam Del Monte and music by David Eaton. For information, call (310) 478-9311, where you can buy tickets through 1 p.m. Friday; or purchase them at the door.

Mojdeh Sionit contributed to this story.

The Circuit


Gonna Fly Now!

Zubin Mehta, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO)’s music director for life, announced that the orchestra’s first performance of its 2003 American tour will be a gala IPO fundraiser at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 10.

“Intifada or no intifada, people are packing the concert halls,” Mehta said of the orchestra’s homeland success.

Joining Mehta and his wife, Nancy, at the Peninsula Hotel press conference in Beverly Hills were a clutch of IPO supporters, including gala co-chairs Margo and Irwin Winkler and Edye and Eli Broad; both couples will be honored at the concert banquet.

“The experience has been wonderful,” said Eli Broad of his years supporting the IPO. “It’s really enriched our lives. It’s a great way to not only support the orchestra, but the soul of Israel.”

“I’m a big fan,” said Irwin Winkler, the producer behind the “Rocky” series and Martin Scorcese classics such as “Raging Bull.” “It’s a great cultural ambassador for the State of Israel.”

Among those on hand for Mehta’s announcement: gala principal benefactors Vidal and Ronnie Sassoon; gala vice chairs Mel and Joyce Eisenberg Keefer and Annette and Peter O’Malley; and Denise Maynard, programming director at K-Mozart 105.1. Following the Dec. 10 event, the IPO will round out December with performances in Costa Mesa, Newark, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Welcome Back, Kosofsky

Congregation Shaarei Tefila of Los Angeles has welcomed its new spiritual leader, Rabbi Nachum Kosofsky, and his wife, Elana. Kosofsky, an L.A. native, returned to his home town from Columbus, Ohio, where he served three years as assistant rabbi for the Beth Jacob Congregation with Rabbi David Stavsky. The Kosofskys return to Los Angeles with their five children, Racheli, 7, Naami, 6, Meira, 4, Shmuel, 2, and Yechiel, 6 months.

A Dream Come True

Leo Baeck Temple organist Shiri Lee Pitesky was honored for her first 50 years as the Temple’s organist by helping her realizing her dream — to play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch at Dodger Stadium at the June 19 game.

A Verizon Horizon

Verizon Foundation contributed $50,000 to become the first corporate sponsor of KOREH L.A, a program of The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) that promotes childhood literacy. KOREH L.A. has more than 1,300 volunteers currently reading with students in more than 50 LAUSD elementary schools.

Dinner with Julia

America’s first lady of food, Julia Child, was the honorary chair and special guest at “Endangered Treasures: A Celebration of Cookbook Preservation,” a Four Seasons fundraiser that grossed $50,000 to preserve rare historic cookbooks.

Sponsored by the International Association of Culinary Professionals Foundation (IACPF), the event attracted 135 patrons in support of the project that food historians describe as “doing for old cookbooks what the American Film Institute does for classic films.”

Luminaries in attendance: cookbook author and Journal contributor Judy Zeidler, actress Faith Ford, TV personalities/event emcees Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken and keynote speaker Barbara Haber, author of “From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals.”

“This was a truly magical evening that was made even more special with an appearance by the legendary Julia Child,” remarked food writer Amelia Saltsman, the event’s co-chair.

Child urged guests to support the cause and “do it with flair!”

For information, visit www.iacpfoundation.org/events.html . — Staff Report

Israel: Independence and Remembrance


Events remembering Israel’s fallen soldiers, on May 6, and celebrating the nation’s founding, officially May 7, include two local benefits to address gaping needs of Israelis.

Yom Yisrael at Eilat will treat religious school students at Mission Viejo’s Congregation Eilat to a simulated Israel trip on May 4 , 9 a.m. at 22081 Hidalgo Road. Activity stations include a kibbutz, a Western Wall, archaeological dig, flag factory, army training, shuk (marketplace), Bedouin tent and Israeli dancing. For more information, call (949) 770-9606 ext. 13.

The 40-member Israel scout troop, established earlier this year at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, intend to ignite a fire sign on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. to honor Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for Israel’s soldiers. The scouts haven’t settled on what the canvas-wrapped sign will say, but it is to be lit somewhere outside the upper campus, said Eyal Giladi, a parent organizer.

Singer Igal Bashan will perform May 10 at 8:30 p.m. Tarbut V’ Torah’s lower school in Irvine in a benefit concert marking Israel’s 55th anniversary. A student dance group and choir will also perform at the joint Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO)-Jewish Community Center event.

Proceeds from the $36, $50 and $180 tickets will help fight growing child poverty in Israel by providing foodstuffs to day-care providers. One in four Israeli children are below the poverty line, according to annual census figures released in March, said Michal Kropitzer, who heads a local WIZO chapter.

“It’s hard to face, but this is the reality,” she said, adding that in the past six months WIZO started providing meals at schools for hungry students. Her goal is $20,000. For more information, call (714) 731-9254.

Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet will celebrate Israel’s birthday on May 18 at 1 p.m. with wine, hors d’oeuvres, candlelighting and music sung by a student in USC’s opera program. Held at the shul, 1770 West Cerritos Ave., the $55 per person event will in part fund emergency kits needed by Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency response, ambulance and blood service. For more information, call (714) 772-4720.

Valley Yeshiva Seeking to Lure City Jews Over the Mountains


It’s Thursday night at Toras Hashem, an outreach yeshiva in North
Hollywood and some 40 people are here to hear Rabbi Zvi Block’s weekly Torah
portion sermon. Tonight the class includes college-age women wearing long
skirts; a number of septuagenarians; a middle-aged man, who is becoming
Orthodox, and his wife, who is converting to Judaism; and a young mother whose
little girl spends the class drawing pictures on a notepad.

The men and women are seated in separate rows, and everyone
is following along in an English-translated Chumash. The class is about Parshat
Yitro, the portion of the Torah in which the Ten Commandments are given to the
Jewish people, which is a springboard for Block to talk not about laws, but
about relationships, using the events at Mt. Sinai as a metaphor for marriage.
Block, a New Yorker, delivers his talk with great enthusiasm: he sits down, he
gets up, he walks around the room, he digs with his thumb to emphasize his
points, he modulates his voice, he peppers his argument with telling anecdotes;
he moves the story so briskly through the text that by the end of the 75
minutes, the entire parsha has been explicated.

Block’s scholarship and liveliness have garnered him a
following in the Valley, where he has lived since 1977 when he came to start a Los
Angeles branch of Aish HaTorah, then only a Jerusalem outreach yeshiva. In
1995 Block started his own outreach yeshiva, Toras Hashem, formerly known as
the Aish HaTorah Institute, which is intended to foster individualist,
religious expression in its students. “We never cloned anyone in a particular
fashion,” Block said. “We produced kids who were Chasidic-leaning, and we
produced kids who were Zionistic-leaning.”

The original Toras Hashem building burned down in an arson
attack in 1991, although the reason for the fire is still unknown. Not one to
give up, Block collected $1 million in funds to rebuild his building,  and, in
1995, the new Toras Hashem on Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood, with room
for more than 200 students, was completed. In addition to his fundraising and
outreach efforts, Block also worked as the founding rabbi of the Orthodox Beth
Din of the Valley and as the principal of West Valley Hebrew Academy.

With more than 200 people attending classes and services
every week, Toras Hashem has made a name for itself in the Valley. However, it
has yet to draw people in from the other side of Mulholland Drive, which is
something that Block attributes to city Jews’ myopia, although it might be due
to the plethora of options available there.

“I think people in the city don’t realize to what extent the
Valley community has grown,” Block told The Journal. “People consider the
Valley as a third choice [to live in], after Pico Robertson and Hancock Park,
and they are making a big mistake. People in the city don’t realize that the
Valley has between 800 and 1,000 shomer Shabbos families. In our area alone
there are a dozen shuls.”

These days, Block is trying a different sort of outreach. He
wants to reach out to affiliated Jews in the city so that they know more about
the thriving community in the Valley, and he is doing so by organizing a
citywide concert with Shalsheles, the highest-selling Orthodox singing quartet
in the country by Jewish music standards. Block hopes to sell out some 1,700
seats, which would raise $100,000 to benefit Israeli victims of terror.

“We have an overriding thrust that Israel is our homeland.
We believe very strongly in a powerfully assertive Israel, and so this concert
fits right in,” Block said. “It is really an effort to galvanize the city of
Los Angeles on our behalf, and on behalf of Israel.”

The Shalsheles Concert will take place at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 16 at the Scottish Rite Theatre, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets
are available at 613 the Mitzvah Store, House of David and Brencos. For more
information on the concert, call (818) 581-7505. For information on Toras
Hashem, call (818) 980-6934.

Eight Nights of Rock


From Lennon and Jagger to Bono and Shakira, America has never been reluctant to import its treasured rock stars. The road to the top is a little more crooked when you’re the quartet in RockFour, a psychedelic rock band from Tel Aviv. But the band, already a gold-selling act in Israel, should take another step toward the dream of breakthrough success with an eight-night residency at the Knitting Factory to coincide with Chanukah.

In such turbulent political times, it is tempting for some to imagine an Israeli band coming to town with a powerful message for the holiday. But if RockFour comes bearing an agenda, it is decidedly more in tune with the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson than with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We don’t want to fight Israel’s fight," said RockFour drummer Issar Tennenbaum. "We live it, and music is a different thing for us. We don’t want it to become a gimmick. We want to bring out our uniqueness … without riding on Israel’s back."

Nonetheless, certain factions of the American press can’t resist trying to force a square peg into a political round hole. As one example, when the band played the Roxy this past summer, a review in the Los Angeles Times made prominent mention of the Israeli flag draped on an amplifier, lending the concert a mood supposedly more CNN than MTV.

"Some people see the flag and right away they think politics," Tennenbaum said with a chuckle. "But it’s really not there. We kept seeing all these English bands putting up their English flags; why can’t we do it with ours? It’s an honor that we’re able to put up our Israeli flag in America just out of patriotism. In Israel, we can’t do that."

The band is delighted to have received the holiday invitation from the Knitting Factory. An earlier gig there led to the band being signed by New York label Rainbow Quartz. Since then, the band has been steadily touring in an attempt to keep building its American fan base with its blend of classic (Byrds, Animals, Beach Boys) and modern (Blonde Redhead) influences. While Tennenbaum admits that Los Angeles and New York are the easiest cities to build support in, thanks to larger Israeli and Jewish populations, RockFour has also found other pockets of America that are very ready for its unique blend of rock ‘n’ roll past and present.

"It’s strange — we’ve played Indianapolis six times in the last four or five months," Tennenbaum said, adding that other Midwestern cities like Omaha, Neb., and Cleveland have also been especially receptive. A gig in Indianapolis was responsible for the band getting some backing from media hulk Clear Channel Communications, Inc., which is helping spread the word.

Back in Israel, meanwhile, RockFour routinely fills clubs of 400 or more. Its reputation and success at home, of course, helps tremendously as it tours the United States. "If there are 100 people at the Knitting Factory, probably 20 or 30 would be Israeli," Tennenbaum said. "They already know us in Israel, and American people come and see the show and see 20-30 people really go crazy about us and know some of the songs. That helps the atmosphere and crowd and builds up a natural tier for the band to start with."

The Chanukah shows this year could be a deciding factor in whether the band returns to Israel or stays in the United States to record its next album. While the band has certainly earned the rest, band members also seem to be itching to get into the studio and keep the momentum going. when the time comes to record, they’re hoping to be working under the sponsorship of one of the industry’s big players.

"In America, we don’t want to see ourselves as an indie act," Tennenbaum said. "We feel we have a major label act on stage and that may justify getting signed by a major label. We’ve seen a lot of indie acts that are so much more extreme than us, but in Israel singing psychedelic music in English is ‘indie.’"

While Tennenbaum said that RockFour will be sprinkling some of the new songs into the band’s Chanukah set, he indicates that the group will probably not be playing any traditional Chanukah songs or, for that matter, their older songs in Hebrew. While religion or homeland politics would be a convenient (and timely) platform for attention, RockFour keeps its focus squarely on the great escape of rock ‘n’ roll.

RockFour plays at 10 p.m. from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6. at the Knitting Factory Alterknit Lounge, 7021 Hollywood Blvd. Suite 209, Hollywood. $7. For information, call (323) 463-0204

All by Himself


Few performers have the talent and magnetism to carry a one-person show by singing old Broadway show tunes, sentimental ballads and Yiddish classics.

But Mandy Patinkin, the Tony and Emmy Award-winning showman, consistently entertains, even electrifies, the most urbane audiences singing his eclectic mix of popular songs, usually sharing the stage only with his piano player and a flowering pot or two.

“What’s amazing about him, and everyone knows about him, is that he comes to this big hall — 3,000 seats — with just himself and a piano player, and you say to yourself, ‘How is he going to do this for an hour and a half, and with no intermission?’ And then he goes and goes and at the end you just can’t believe what you’ve seen,” said Jerry Mandel, president of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, where Patinkin is scheduled to perform on Oct. 12.

Patinkin started his concert career in 1989 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York. Some critics’ reviews describe him as being “over the top” or “cloying,” while others say the dramatic tenor simply defies classification, calling him everything from actor and singer to musical theater performer and entertainer extraordinaire.

“Most singers are just singers, and not actors. But he’s also a consummate actor. He puts his entire body into it. It’s like a Broadway show,” Mandel said. Patinkin drew a sell-out crowd during his last appearance at the Performing Arts Center three years ago. “He gives you a package that very few people have.”

Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Patinkin was a talented singer, a soloist with the children’s choir at his Conservative congregation. He heard snatches of Yiddish from his grandparents, but when he made his Yiddish CD “Mamaloshen” (1998) — as promised to Papp — the singer, who has come to personify a good Jewish boy, had to start learning Yiddish from scratch.

Yiddish songs are just one part of his repertoire. Patinkin typically performs tunes by composers Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin, Randy Newman and Harry Chapin.

Patinkin describes himself as the “messenger” of the songwriters whose work he performs and cited the theater as his surrogate synagogue. “Every theater I’m in is a synagogue — it’s the place where I feel in touch with God and humanity,” Patinkin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Patinkin had been performing a concert “as a prayer for peace in the Middle East,” but post-Sept. 11 he changed it to a “prayer for everywhere.”

Patinkin took a hiatus after the attacks, which struck especially close to home — his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is minutes from Ground Zero.

“Five to six weeks into it,” he told The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia that he got “fed up.”

“I woke up one day and said, ‘I’ve had it.’ I wanted to desperately go out and do my concert of Sept. 10.”

“When I walk out front for those two hours, it’s the best part of the day.”

Patinkin’s performances had been patriotic even before flag waving became popular post Sept. 11. He’d often concluded his shows by singing “God Bless America” in Yiddish.

Peace and a better world are often a subtext of a Patinkin appearance — or nonappearance.

In April 1999, he stayed away from a celebrity-packed, televised Hollywood tribute to Israel’s 50th anniversary, saying that he opposed then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attitude toward the Middle East peace process.

“I would love to participate but I feel like my hands are tied,” he told The Jewish Telegraphic Agency of the show that aired on CBS that year.

“It’s a tragedy, what’s happening. I pray with every ounce of my being that the peace process continues. It’s a symbol for the entire world, and if it’s not attended to, we’ll all have a heavy price to pay,” Patinkin said presciently at the time.

On the door of his apartment, beside a mezuzah, Patinkin keeps a sign: “Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”

What wasn’t in question was Patinkin’s love of Israel. During a recent Sondheim tour, he segued into “Children Will Listen” from “Hatikvah” in Hebrew.

Beyond the theater community, Patinkin is perhaps best known for playing Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, a singing cardiologist on “Chicago Hope.” His critically acclaimed performance won him an Emmy Award in 1995. (Other television performances include playing Quasimodo opposite Richard Harris in the TNT film presentation of “The Hunchback” and Kenneth Duberstein, the lobbyist assigned to navigate Clarence Thomas through his Senate hearings, in Showtime’s “Strange Justice.”)

The Jewish sensibility that Patinkin personified as the soulful Geiger is a recurrent characterization in his career and more recently in his off-screen life. On the big screen, he played the yeshiva study partner of Anshel (Barbra Streisand), a Jewish girl disguised as a boy, in “Yentl.” He also has numerous feature film credits, including “The Princess Bride,” “Ragtime,” “Dick Tracy,” “True Colors” and “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.”

In his Broadway debut in 1980, Patinkin won a Tony Award for his role as Ché in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita.” He also was nominated for his starring role in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Sunday in the Park With George.” He has numerous other stage credits.

Although Patinkin, 49, started singing as a child in synagogues and community centers in his Chicago hometown, and attended Hebrew school and Jewish summer camp, he has said he essentially abandoned Jewish life in college. It wasn’t until he met and married his wife, author and actress Kathryn Grody, and then had two children with her, that he began to embrace religion again. Patinkin described his current Jewish life in New York as “home based.” He infrequently attends services at the neighborhood Conservative synagogue, where he reportedly is a member. Patinkin was unavailable for an interview, according to his publicist.

In 1998, after learning Yiddish, Patinkin recorded the compact disc “Mamaloshen,” which features an unconventional mix of classic Yiddish songs, such as “Oyfn Pripetshik” and “Raisins and Almonds,” with traditional American songs, such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Another song is a medley that starts with “Ten Kopeks” and ends with “The Hokey Pokey.”

“God almighty,” Patinkin told a reporter, “I am so lucky to have this right now. It’s a great gift that I have the chance to perform for other people at this moment. I feel very blessed. It’s the most extraordinary experience to sing words written by genius lyricists who put down on paper what they wished for the world. Well, now those prayers are wished for more than ever. And I’m just the mailman. I’m the messenger boy.”

Patinkin will be the second artist featured in the Performing Arts Center’s Spotlight Series on Sunday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $28 to $52 and are on sale at The Center Box Office, online at The Center’s Web site at www.ocpac.org, or by phone through Ticketmaster at (714) 740-7878 or (213) 365-3500.

Prez by Day, Punk by Night


Lawyer, lecturer, punk rocker –and executive president of an Orthodox synagogue.

Welcome to the world of Bram Presser, 26, the Melbourne, Australia-based lead singer of Yidcore, a Jewish punk rock group that specializes in Jewish and Hebrew songs.

As executive president of Melbourne’s North Eastern Jewish War Memorial Centre, Presser is responsible for fiscal affairs at the synagogue, which serves 260 families.

“Not all the shul members approve of me, but they do say they like me when I am quiet,” Presser said.

At the age of 19 and already into punk, Presser established the Theatre Club at the Northern Suburbs Memorial Centre. At 23 he was involved with Israeli affairs through his position on Victoria’s State Zionist Council. The synagogue was a separate entity within the community center until 2001, when the two merged and Presser became executive president of the combined organization.

Yidcore recently completed its second U.S. tour, playing a month of concerts to enthusiastic audiences in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The band’s latest CD “Chicken Soup Caper E.P.” and its first CD, “Yidcore” feature familiar Jewish songs such as “Dayenu,” “Bashana Haba’ah”and “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” together with originals “Minyan Man” and “Why Won’t Adam Sandler Let Us Do His Song?”

The band’s third U.S. tour, which Presser hopes will be coast-to-coast, is on the drawing board.

“We formed the band as part of an Australian Union of Jewish Students show and it was a tearaway success,” Presser said.

Yidcore features three other members who also came out of Melbourne’s Jewish day schools: advertising man Mikie Slonim, marketer Paul Glezer and architect Dave Orlanski.

For a punk rocker, Presser lives a clean life: He is strongly anti-drug and is a nonsmoking vegetarian. He has played in bands since he was 14, and attributes his punk skill to his Jewish background.

He also is a lecturer in law at Melbourne University, where he is preparing his criminology doctoral thesis. In the future, he hopes to arrange a concert tour of Israel for Yidcore — even performing, if allowed, at the Kotel.

“At the end of the day, it’s our way of expressing our Jewishness, and the message is getting through to a generation who would otherwise never hear it,” he said.

Yidcore’s music can be heard on its Web site,

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Think you’ve never heard of Yitzak Asner? Think again. Like so many in Hollywood, Yitz went with his middle name, Edward, to succeed in showbiz. And though Ed Asner dropped the Yitzak, he never dropped Judaism. Tonight and tomorrow night, the politically minded actor stars in a celebrity staged play reading of “Bitter Friends,” the story of a Jewish American accused of spying for Israel.7:30 p.m. $100 (patrons), $10 (members), $12 (nonmembers), $2 (senior and student discount). Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. For more information, call (818) 786-6310. (Sunday show is at the Westside JCC, 2 p.m.)

Sunday

For those of you unfamiliar with Ladino, the easiest definition is that it’s the Sephardic equivalent of Yiddish. But, more importantly, those of you unfamiliar with Ladino music or stories really ought to visit the Autry Museum’s Heritage Serenade this afternoon. Celebrating and commemorating the Jewish and Spanish settlers of the Southwest, Ladino artistas break out the castanets as Flor de Serena (Siren’s Flower) performs Ladino music, stories and dance.1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Free with the price of museum admission. Heritage Court, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 667-2000.

Monday

“I can’t see nothin’, so where’s the somethin’? Yeah,it’s comin’, man, it’s comin’, and it’s gonna be great. It’s the genesis,genesis, the genesis, genesis, the genesis, genesis….” “Genesis, Revisited,”that is — a new, two-CD set that tells the great stories of Genesis, completewith rap interludes (from which the above lines are taken). Other rap songsinclude one about Lot’s wife, titled, “Miss Sodium Chloride,” and one aboutAbraham’s second son, aptly titled, “Call Me Ishmael.” The raps are actuallypretty catchy. Try playing them to keep the kids quiet on that next family roadtrip to Great-Aunt Shirley’s house in Palm Springs. Also available in audiocassette. To order, call (800) 794-1912. For more information, visit www.genesisrevisited.com

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Tuesday

Relax, men. You don’t have to be Don Juan to sweep your lady off her feet. If you’re looking to bring some romance back into the relationship, Craig Taubman may have your answer. He’s just released his latest CD, called, “Celebrate Jewish Love Songs” ($14.98). So you can ditch the Barry White and help Stella get her groove back, Jewish-style. Plus, 50 percent of the proceeds will benefit Magen David Adom West.For more information, call (800) 627-2448.

Wednesday

The Jewish New Year is right around the corner, which means it’s time to be thinking about getting a new Jewish calendar. Now, sure, you could wait for your freebie from Chevra Kadisha in the mail. But here’s a prettier option: Women of Reform Judaism-The Federation of Temple Sisterhoods puts out an annual art calendar. This year, artist Karla Gudeon’s whimsical dry-point engravings of biblical themes are featured. The cover design, “Generation to Generation” is also used for the organization’s High Holy Day greeting cards. So besides getting a set for yourself, you’ve got no excuse for showing up empty-handed to Rosh Hashana dinner.$14 (calendar), $9 (10 New Year’s greeting cards). To order, call (212) 650-4060.

Thursday

While the peace process is ostensibly in the hands ofthe politicians, true peace may only come from the Israeli and Palestinianpeople, themselves. The conflicts and tensions that divide them became thesubject of the PBS 1988 documentary, “Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in aPromised Land.” Fourteen years later, the filmmakers revisit some of the peopleinterviewed in the first documentary, focusing on the issues that today seem themost difficult to resolve: the right of return, the holy city of Jerusalem andthe West Bank Jewish settlements. In doing so, they create “Arab and Jew: Returnto the Promised Land.” The film airs on KCET tonight at 10 p.m. For moreinformation, visit www.kcet.org

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Friday

In the mood for some understated British (is that redundant?) drama? Celebrated Brit playwright Harold Pinter is known for subtle, intelligent dialogue and depictions of complex human relationships. The Hudson Backstage Theatre presents two Pinter one-acts tonight — “The Lover” and “The Collection.” Both of these pieces deal with sexuality, possessiveness and deception, which sounds like good fun to us.8 p.m. (Thursdays-Saturdays), 7 p.m. (Sundays). Runs through Sept. 29. $20. 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. For reservations, call (323) 856-4200.