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This Israeli Musician Had Nine Family Members Taken Hostage on October 7

Sella (born Orion Stone) channeled his grief into music to amplify the voices of hostage families.
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June 12, 2024
Israeli Musician Or Sella with Ross Buckley, co-chair of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Young Patrons Circle of Los Angeles. Sella is holding an image of his relative, Tal Shoham, who remains a hostage of Hamas in Gaza.

The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO) hosted an event on May 13 announcing the Israel Philharmonic’s upcoming season, which includes performances for evacuees and IDF soldiers. The gala, held at the Fairmont Century Plaza, featured some memorable moments: five-time Grammy-nominated singer and pianist Michael Feinstein performing standards from “The Great Jewish American Songbook” with members of the Israel Philharmonic, and a moving speech by this year’s honoree, The Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, Jr.  

But it was Israeli singer/songwriter Or Sella performing “Hatikvah” that made the strongest impression. Sella has endured unspeakable pain and loss over the past half year. Three family members were murdered on Oct. 7. Nine family members were taken hostage by Hamas. Eight of them were released; one still remains in Gaza. 

Sella (born Orion Stone) channeled his grief into music to amplify the voices of hostage families. But it took about six weeks and two trips halfway across the planet to get there. It may have been the longest span of time Sella had gone without playing any music.

“Before one event in Chicago, there was a beautiful soul of a person that hosted us in his home for a little getaway from all the intense schedule that we had been in, and there was a piano there,” Sella told the Journal. “It was a group of family members — three representatives from each family. And we connected so deeply. So I played two songs there, and it opened a river of emotions that we held back. This is the power of music. And then after that, when we were in the U.S. for the second time, we were in the Bay Area, and there was an event with music and I asked, ‘Maybe I can do one song?’ And I did. After a few months with every day learning how to better explain ourselves. It was very intense every day, we’d have three meetings a day. So in between each, we spoke about the last meeting and what we said and what we can do to really emphasize what matters and how to convince the leaders to take action and also understand what is happening. So it was this very, very intense studying that no one in our family has had to do in their lives — how to be interviewed, how to speak with a crowd — and then I got excused for that event. My sister and cousin got the speaking part, and I just got the playing part.”

“Before one event in Chicago, there was a beautiful soul of a person that hosted us in his home for a little getaway from all the intense schedule that we had been in, and there was a piano there. It was a group of family members—three representatives from each family. And we connected so deeply. So I played two songs there, and it opened a river of emotions that we held back. This is the power of music.“ – Or Sella

At that event in the Bay Area, Sella performed a new original song in Hebrew that he calls “a pure emotional love song. … It resonated so much and responses were for something that I didn’t see before at so many events,” Sella said. “And then I understood that the music has to continue and that the power of not just words, but the power of music and the fact that no one can put defenses through that. It goes straight into your heart. I understood at that moment that I needed to do advocacy with my music.”

Sella comes from a musical family. His father, David “Dudu” Sella, was a renowned cellist and music professor in Israel. Sella picked up piano at age six and began playing bass guitar at age 12. After playing in several bands during his high school years, Sella played in the Israeli Defense Forces band during his compulsory service. He was working as a music producer when his life was upended last year. 

The Israel Philharmonic is mighty important to Sella. Michael Haran (who played first cello for the Israel Philharmonic) was his father’s best friend. When Sella shared his experiences at the Hostage Family Forum in Tel Aviv in January, he met Ross Buckley, co-chair of the AFIPO Young Patrons Circle. Sella and Buckley connected immediately. Buckley was so moved by Sella’s story and music that he and fellow co-chair Jared Sleisenger knew they had to bring him to Los Angeles.

“He’s a music artist who’s been using his craft to amplify the voices of the hostage families — all their hope and heartbreak — ever since Oct. 7,” Buckley told The Journal. “I have two great passions in life: the arts and Israel, and the Philharmonic dovetails the two. More than just chords on a scale, music inspires accord at scale, and the Philharmonic — through its role as cultural ambassador — embodies this principle.”

Sleisenger, a classical oboe player and film and television production professional, shared a similar sentiment. “I fundamentally feel like music demonstrates our humanity, our resilience, our freedom,” Schlesinger told the Journal. “The Israeli Philharmonic is representative of the soul of the Jewish people.” 

Sella’s performance at the gala was a testament to his resilience and commitment to using music as a force for good. “Performing ‘Hatikva’ was incredibly personal for me,” Sella said. “The lyrics speak of hope and freedom, which are more important now than ever. I wanted to convey that even in the darkest times, there is hope. Going to an event of the Philharmonic on the other side of the planet and getting on stage to speak, it’s about what makes us human — and it’s what music is about.”

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