Israel’s Religious-Music Revolution Can Bring It Closer to the Diaspora

Oct. 10 2019

Last week, the annual piyyut festival took place at the National Library in Jerusalem, drawing a large crowd and some of the country’s most popular musical acts. Originally meaning “liturgical poem,” piyyut has come to refer to musical performances of these poems, or variations of them, which have now become an element of the Israeli popular-music scene. Yossi Klein Halevi explains the significance of this genre’s success:

Piyyut has become not just part of the Israeli musical mainstream but the basis for the most creative and original expressions of indigenous Israeli music—the meeting point of East and West, religious and secular, even Jewish and Muslim.

That ingathering was on full display on stage—beginning with the extraordinary Firqat Alnoor Orchestra, led by a ḥaredi Jew and bringing together men and women from across different faiths to play Jewish and Muslim devotional music. [It] performed an Arabic-style version of the “Sticker Song,” [by Israel’s best-known hip-hop group, Hadag Naḥash].

Shaanan Street of Hadag Naḥash [then] sang a hip-hop version of an Ashkenazi melody to the prayer, “Who is like You, Adonai?” which led effortlessly into the closing prayer of the Mizraḥi Yom Kippur Service, El Nora Alilah: “God of awe, God of might/ Pardon us in this final hour/ Before the closing of the gate.”

Pre-state Zionist music, followed by popular Israeli music in its formative years, was the carrier of the ethos of the “new Hebrew man,” divorced from 2,000 years of Diaspora life. By contrast, the new Israeli music, inspired by piyyut, is the carrier of the re-Judaization of Israeli culture. The implicit message of the old Israeli music to Diaspora Jews was: this does not belong to you, only to those who live here. The message of the new Israeli music is exactly the opposite.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel and the Diaspora, Israeli music, Jewish music

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy