Only in Jerusalem

December 28, 2018

Tonight is Thursday night, and here in Jerusalem, I just returned from a concert that could only happen in Israel. The concert took place at “Beit Avi Chai,” which, according to its mission statement, “is a cultural center that addresses major issues and fields of thought and creativity in Jewish and Israeli society.” The concert is part of a “preparing for Shabbat” series of concerts on Thursday nights that are intended to be a kind of spiritual preparation for Shabbat. Tonight’s concert was mind-blowing. Organized by the well known Jazz/Rock/Classical pianist Uriel Herman, the pickup ensemble for this concert consisted of Herman himself playing a white Steinway Grand; Composer Aviv Behar singing and playing guitar, oud, and kopuz; Singer Netta Alkayam; Wind player Uriel Weinberg; Percussionist Chayim Paskoff; and Bassist Evri Borochov. None of the performers are religious, but there was an ongoing commentary provided by the young dynamic rabbi, Danny Segel. They sang a wild variety of songs in Hebrew, English, and Moroccan: Hebrew prayers, Medieval Hebrew religious poetry, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, a folk lullaby, and a few songs composed by the singers. Some of the songs had nothing to do with Shabbat, really, but in the context of this concert about Shabbat in the rainy season, they all somehow WERE related. They were thought provoking. Meditative. Values driven. The advertising for the concert referred to it as about “rain, spirit, taking stock, and introspection.” Even the familiar songs such as the tradition Shabbat evening song “Yedid Nefesh” (Soulmate – referring to God), or the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sounds of Silence” took on new beauty, depth, and meaning. 

And . . . the audience was as surprising as the repertoire: young, old, men, women, Ashkenazi Israelis, Sephardic Israelis, orthodox, secular, and everyone in between., and the performance was sold out. They all were there to share a remarkable pre- Shabbat spiritual experience that was meaningful and appropriate for each of them.

One of the songs they sang was originally performed by Stevie Wonder: They Won’t Go Where I Go. This song was sung at Michael Jackson’s funeral. However, I’m quite sure I never heard this song sung in a Jewish context. At Beit Avi Chai tonight, the song was about mortality, loneliness, sorrow, fear, destiny, and peace.

 

They Won't Go When I Go

 

No more lying friends

Wanting tragic ends

Though they do pretend

They won't go when I go

 

All those bleeding hearts

With sorrows to impart

Were right here from the start

And they won't go when I go

 

And I'll go where I've longed

To go so long

Away from tears

 

Gone from painful cries

Away from saddened eyes

Along with him I'll bide

Because they won't go when I go

 

Big men feeling small

Weak ones standing tall

I will watch them fall

They won't go when I go

 

And I'll go where I've longed

To go so long

Away from tears

 

Unclean minds mislead the pure

The innocent will leave for sure

For them there is a resting place

People sinning just for fun

They will never see the sun

For they can never show their faces

There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner

Who will take more than he will give

He ain't hardly gonna give

 

The greed of man will be

Far away from me

And my soul will be free

They won't go when I go

 

Since my soul conceived

All that I believe

The kingdom I will see

'Cause they won't go when I go

 

When I go

Where I'll go

No one can keep me

From my destiny.


 

Unfortunately, the spectacular group I heard had never performed together before! Here are links to some of the performers:

 

Uriel Herman

 

https://youtu.be/e2rhbOGL_dU

 

Aviv Behar (with Hadas Kleinman and Marc Eliahu)

 

https://youtu.be/TS6RXIF_wc8

 

 

Shabbat Shalom