Just a month ago, I had the incredible pleasure of going to Israel for just my third time.  (I never imagined I would say ‘just’ when it came to international travel!). It was a combination business and pleasure travel based around The Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival and my nephew’s wedding. As with most visits to Israel, every day offered some incredible opportunities, some moments that can only happen there. Here are just a few.

The Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival: The place

As someone who has seen concerts in dozens of locations, nothing quite compares to this. Almost of all of the events take place in the Tower of David Museum complex. I can’t imagine the medieval architects ever imagined that there would be rock n roll concerts in their courtyard. Each show somehow crosses the bridge between a large-scale event and something far more intimate. The lighting, the animated light shows, the weather, the very timelessness of the place all make a concerts here something very, very special.

The Music I Loved

While every concert I saw was wonderful, but two. In particular, stood out.

Haim Louk with Orchestra Chabab Al Andalous.

There once was a time when Moroccan Arab and Jewish musicians would sing and play together, sharing folk songs and religious music. This was a chance to recreate that spirit. The 10-piece ensemble is made up of some of the finest traditional Moroccan musicians who were urged to by some on the Arab world to boycott the Festival.  Rabbi Haim Louk is considered one of the great singers of Moroccan Jewish music in the world. Born in Casablanca, he led a Sephardic congregation in Israel until moving to Los Angeles. Together, they were incredible. The musicians clearly have great respect and affection for each other.  Haim Louk has a voice and spirit that cuts through all of our defenses and reaches into your soul. His smile is musical, the way he moves his hand, the way he catches his breath all seem to be the actions of a man who is a vessel for music that is sacred and soulful.  This was even more important the next day when another Moroccan cantor performed. He had a far more powerful voice than Haim but had little of his soulfulness.




For All Eternity featuring Peris and Mark Eliyahu

This happens to be one of the most wonderful musical experiences I have ever had. It is composed by Peris Eliyahu in the Maqam style of Middle Eastern music. Inspired by a Sefer Yetirah, a Kabbalstic text about creation, this piece left me awe-struck. Using traditional instruments like a kamanche (played by rising world music star Mark Eliyahu), tar, and santur, the piece sounds both ancient yet contemporary, composed yet spontaneous. I’m no ethnomusicologist: I am just a music lover. But to me, this piece sounded like a genre of composed music that is uniquely Israeli. It sounds like the desert, the synagogue, the symphony concert hall, a tent, all at once. Yes, I am trying to figure out way to bring them to Boston.

By the way, that video features Rabbi David Menachem on vocals who will be performing with the group DiwanSaz at the 2014 Boston Jewish Music Festival.

A Jerusalem Moment I’ll Never Forget

The Scared Music Festival also includes a variety of workshops and spiritual encounters. “Listening to the Muezzin,” featured Rabbi David Menachem, a Sufi cleric and the cleric’s son on oud. Together, they talked about shared themes in their traditions and sang music that reflected it. Then, at 7 pm, as we are sitting on a rooftop of the Harp of David gallery in the Old City, the call to prayer was issued from different mosques in the city, First one, then another, and then a third. Then a few moments later, church bells joined them. It lasted all of 2-3 minutes, but it is an audio moment I am sure I will never forget. On other trips, I saw Jerusalem. This trip, I got to hear it.

Beyond the Music

As I was told beforehand, shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and just plain folks were so appreciative that my wife and were there. They talked about business being down over 60% during the summer and were just starting to see some renewed tourism.

People here often ask what was it like? What was the mood? I was struck by a sense of optimistic hopelessness. The people I spoke to, whether on the right, left or anywhere in between all shared (and voiced in very similar language) a frustration that everyone knows what the answer will be (a two state solution) but no one sees the vision or political leadership on either side to make it happen. They feel life is good and life goes on but that a true peace, a real political solution, is just not on the horizon. Its an optimistic pessimism which I have since learned Israelis are calling Possimism. Don’t you love that world? Leave it to those Israelis.

Looking Ahead

I think a Boston Cultural Mission to Israel is lllllonnnnnggggg overdue. Wouldn’t it be amazing if a bus load of Jewish culture loving Bostonians went to the next Sacred Music Festival together and got to tour some of the different centers of Israeli arts and culture? If this is something you would consider participating in, please leave a comment and we’ll be in touch with you.

And while I won’t reveal the details yet, I would urge music lovers to plan on being at the Boston Jewish Music Festival Feb 28-March 15, 2015 and definitely plan on attending concerts on March 8 and 14.

Trust me.