Jewish Rock, Israeli-Style

June 15, 2015 | Yossi Klein Halevi
About the author: Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is the author of Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation (2013), which won the Jewish Book Council’s Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award.

In recent years, Israeli popular music—once avowedly secular—has drawn increasingly on Jewish tradition for inspiration, as Yossi Klein Halevi writes:

In 2007, rocker Meir Banai’s stunning album Hear My Cry offered soft, almost reluctant rock versions of Yom Kippur prayers of Jews from Muslim countries, using traditional melodies as the starting point for his own compositions—and won the equivalent of Israel’s Grammy award for the best composer. In 2009, the hard-rocker Berry Sakharof released a groundbreaking album called Red Lips, a meditation on mortality whose complex Hebrew lyrics were written by the 11th-century Spanish-Jewish poet Solomon ibn Gabirol. The themes of vulnerability and judgment resonated in a country under siege, and both albums became runaway hits.

Since then, this trend—fusing devotional music with rock—has become perhaps the most creative force in Israeli music. In recent months, collaborations among leading musicians have produced albums featuring the songs of East European Jewish mysticism, the prayer poems of Libyan Jews, religious hymns sung by European Jews during the Holocaust, and several versions of Yemenite prayers.

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