Meet Nasrin Kadri: the Arab Jewish Queen of Israeli Pop Music

February 27, 2020 | Matti Friedman
About the author: Matti Friedman is the author of a memoir about the Israeli war in Lebanon, Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016). His latest book is Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel (2019).

Born to a working-class Arab family in Haifa, the thirty-three-year-old Nasrin Kadry is without question the Jewish state’s leading performer of popular music. Matti Friedman explains her unusual story, and what her success says about Israeli society:

Nasrin, known to all by her first name, became famous the modern way: on a reality-TV talent show, a kind of local American Idol dedicated to a genre of music known as Mizraḥi. That’s Hebrew for “eastern” and refers to an Israeli blend of Middle Eastern pop with Greek and Western influences.

Yaron Ilan, an influential Mizraḥi radio host, sees a generational change. People around his age, fifty, still call the music Mizraḥi or Mediterranean. “They still think of the Mediterranean sound as something different from Israeli music,” and that has changed among younger listeners, he said. To them, what Nasrin is singing is Israeli music—and she’s doing it not in small clubs in south Tel Aviv but in the Menorah Arena, the biggest indoor venue in the city.

If Nasrin is representative of the hybrid culture emerging [in Israel], there’s one part of her biography that’s truly unique: her decision not just to sing in Hebrew but also to . . . embrace Judaism. [Nasrin’s] first interest in spirituality was through a Jewish boyfriend, a darbuka drummer from a traditional Moroccan family. She began fasting on Yom Kippur and keeping the Sabbath in her twenties. They broke up a few times over the course of a decade, got engaged, then broke up again, but she decided to go through with conversion anyway in 2018, immersing herself in a ritual bath, accepting religious commandments and adding a Hebrew name, Brakhah, or “blessing.” It was all covered by the tabloids.

She has been speaking to God for years, she said, in the language spoken by Jews. “When I need him, I speak to him only in Hebrew,” she told me. “He stayed with me. He helped me. Everything I asked for until now He made come true.”

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