When I was a teenager, I participated in a lot of the teen events of the JCC. It’s how I discovered so many Israeli movies and TV shows. Shortly before I left Rochester, New York for a semester of high school in Israel, I received a David Broza CD (yes, I grew up with CD’s) as a raffle prize at one of these events. I spent that semester learning every word of every song—whether it is as on 10-hour flight to Ben Gurion Airport, or on the bus rides, or before I went to bed.
Two years later during my freshman year of college, David Broza was on tour in the United States. One of his concerts was in Worchester, Massachusetts, which smack in between where I was studying (Amherst) and where my older brother lives (in Boston). I called him up, we bought tickets, and planned to meet at the Central Station of Worchester. We were probably the youngest ones in the audience, and some of the few our age. But it was a great concert. We stayed until the end, even though it meant I missed the last bus back to Amherst and had to go Boston with my brother for the night. I didn’t succeed in convincing my brother to sneak into the wine and cheese reception after the concert, but I think it was a concert we both still remember.
Today we hear so much about Israel in the News and on Social Media and college campuses. But often what we hear is very one- dimensional. We don’t hear about the literature, the movies, the athletes, or the music of Israel. And unless you’ve grown up in a community and settings like I have, you probably didn’t have the access to events and programs that would open up the doors that would make Israel three- dimensional—events during which you get free CD’s of Israeli music, or access to seeing major Israeli musicians in concert.
But if we want to gain a deeper, better understanding of Israel and Israeli society then we must look and learn from all the facets of Israeli society, culture, politics, and day-to-day life. We can’t just listen to what we hear on the News—that won’t cut it. So, the following are just a few of the Israeli singers that we should be on the lookout for:
Axum is a
hip-hop duo; Gilor Yehuda is a Yemenite Israeli and Reuben Aragai is an Ethiopian Israeli. Some of their songs are very well-known in Israel, but not every Israeli realizes it is Axum who sings the song. One of those songs is the theme song of an Israeli TV show called “Avoda Aravit,” or “Arab Work.” Other songs discuss issues surrounding what it means to be minorities in Israel. Reuben Aragai was one of the first Ethiopian- Israelis to be born in the State.
The city of Ashdod hosted its first Hip-Hop Festival in the summer of 2017. The keynote singers were… Axum! I remember attending the Festival and seeing them running up to the courtyard where the event took place with a selfie stick and camera! They performed as the last act of the whole festival and Israelis and residents of Ashdod of all backgrounds came to see their performance. And at the end of their concert, they let anyone who wanted to take a picture with them take as many pictures as they wanted. They are really great Israeli singers!
We made sure to take pictures, and my husband, made sure that Reuben Aragai remembered how he gave a him a ride from Herzliya to Tel Aviv. He was on his way home on his scooter from Herzliya to his apartment in Tel Aviv, and Aragai was at a bus stop looking for someone to give a ride into Tel Aviv. My husband was gracious enough to provide that ride. While Aragai didn’t remember, he definitely thought it was a great story and said thank you. 😊
While they may not be popular in the same sense that David Broza is, but they have entered cultural scenes that allow us to get a taste of their work and a taste of Israeli music and culture.
Arik Einstein is THE Israeli singer!!
He is a legend and a classic in Israeli music. Arik was born in Tel Aviv in January 1939 and was a pioneer in the Israeli rock music sector. He was named “the voice of Israel.” “Ani V’Ata” is one of his most popular songs, known around the world. But he was more than just a famous singer. He was also a songwriter and actor.
Israelis absolutely loved Arik Einstein. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister described Arik as “[…] Israel. The beautiful and charming Israel that we all grew up to adore.”
In 2009, Ha’Aretz columnist Ariel Hirschfeld wrote: “Arik Einstein’s well-known reclusiveness, his ordinariness, his aversity to pomposity and grandiosity, his modest way of belonging to this place – these should not hide from those living here the fact that he is a very great and profound artist, with an acute artistic conscience, perfect and totally unique.”
Respected music critic, Yoav Kutner, described Einstein more than the greatest Israeli artist of all time. In the musical group Hatikva 6’s famous song “Hachi Israeli,” or “the Most Israeli” he is described as the great Arik Einstein.
He died November 26, 2013 of an aneurysm, and buried in the Trempeldor Cemetery, Tel Aviv’s first cemetery. When he died, everyone was shocked and saddened at the news. My mom was spending the semester here in Israel when Einstein passed away. Her landlord stopped by to make sure the apartment was in shape, and he told her that Arik Einstein had passed away. She told him that she did not know who Arik Einstein was. He was shocked and said “What?! How do you not know who Arik Einstein is?!”
Later on, I called her, and during the conversation it came up again that Arik Einstein died. Again, she asked who he was. And my response was similar to her landlord: “What?! How do you not know who he is?!” Her answer? “Why does everyone keep saying that?” I explained who he was, and only then she understood the implications of Einstein’s death.
And Neta Barzillai…
Is a Rockstar. Not because she sings rock music, but because she is unbelievably powerful and inspiring. Born and raised in a Tel Aviv suburb, Neta grew up being alternative. When she was accepted onto the show Kochav HaBa (or the Next Star in Hebrew), no one expected she would make the impact that she has. But before we talk about who Neta is, let me explain what Kochav HaBa is. It is a competitive TV show for Israeli singers from across the country. Whoever wins represents Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest. In the three years this show has been on the air, Israel has done quite well at the Eurovision. Not well enough to win—not well enough to even place in the top three—but well.
And then Neta Barzillai came along. She won the TV show making her Israel’s representative at the Eurovision- a representative of Israeli singers. When her entry to the Contest came out, the world went crazy! She was one of the favorites for the Contest. But average Israelis were skeptical about her chances. We all followed her success through the semi-finals, and then we all stayed up late on the night of the Eurovision biting our nails waiting to see what happened. And she won!! It was unbelievable, and Israelis were ecstatic! Her song of empowerment spoke to people of all kinds around the world.
I remember the night of the Eurovision very well. It televised until late in Israel, and I fell asleep during the competition. But before I fell asleep, I told my husband to wake me up at the end of the Contest to see who won. At the end of the ceremony, he excitedly woke me up, telling me Neta was going to win. I had told him that if Neta won, I was going to cry. And so when she did win the Eurovision, I indeed kept my promise and cried for how proud I was.
My husband’s cousin is a musician as well. Shortly before the show that determined Neta Barzilay as Israel’s representative to the Eurovision, the cousin’s band broke up without much of an explanation. Only later did we discover that Neta was in the band and that the band broke up so she could have a shot at the Eurovision.
Yuval Banai, Eviatar Banai and Ehud Banai….
Are cornerstones of Israeli culture. The patriarch of the Banai family was Yossi Banai. He was born in the Mahane Yehuda market of Jerusalem (yes, in the market. Today, it is a hummus restaurant). Yossi Banai was a singer and actor, performing in HaBima, Israel’s National Theater, and more. His family is full of actors, singers, and performers. Yuval Banai is his son; Eviatar and Ehud Banai are his nephews. These Israeli singers are HUGE in the country. Yuval is the main singer of popular Israeli band Mashina, while Eviatar and Ehud Banai are solo musicians.
In case this post hasn’t shown how small Israel is as country, my brother-in-law hosted both Ehud and Eviatar Banai in India at a program center for Israelis traveling the country. The singers participated in the programs my brother-in-law hosted, gave concerts, and more. I often take my tour groups to the house of the family patriarch, Yossi Banai.
These are just a few big Israeli singers.
There are many more, but the above Israeli singers are the beginning of understanding Israeli culture through music. There are other ways to learn about the country—TV, athletes and sports, food, and more. But Israeli singers and their music is a great start for a deeper understanding and to create great connections and memories relating to Israel. Just as I will always remember my stories relating to David Broza, you can create those same memories and connections.