For this year’s Celebrate Israel Boston, CJP and the Israeli American Council decided to give the gift of music to New England’s Israel supporters of all ages. Founded two years ago, Koolulam calls itself “a social-musical initiative aimed at strengthening the fabric of society, centering around mass-singing events.”
At a time when adults and children alike are glued to smart phones, Koolulam is going against the grain with its highly social approach. Last week, for example, Koolulam organized the Toronto spectacle of 2,000 Canadian Jews and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau performing the Matisyahu song “One Day.”
“People come together for three hours, and this musical mission is a tool for us to listen to each other,” said Ben Yaffet, co-founder, conductor and musical director of Koolulam, during a pop-up performance in Boston. “We are asking ourselves if musical harmony can create harmony in humanity.”
In honor of Israel’s 71st birthday, the artists of Koolulam will come to Boston to teach participants the lyrics and parts to a special song. Yaffet wants the entire community to join, both in performing the song and sharing the experience as widely as possible on social media.
“Koolulam is about all of us being together and creating something, and what we can achieve when we have the same cause to create together,” said Yaffet, who was joined in Boston by six other members of the eclectic group.
The name Koolulam is a play on the Hebrew word for “everyone” and the word “cool.” Many of the group’s gatherings are geared toward specific causes or nonprofits, such as helping children with disabilities or the environment.
Last year, for Israel’s 70th birthday, Koolulam invited 12,000 Israelis to sing with President Reuven Rivlin in a large arena. The song chosen was Naomi Shemer’s “Al Kol Eleh,” or “On All This,” an Israeli classic about the bitter and sweet aspects of life.
For Koolulam co-founder, cinematic and artistic director Or Taicher, the idea of “social prayer” has fueled the group’s evolution. Several years ago, Taicher—whose first name means “light” in Hebrew—found himself riveted by footage of thousands of Jews praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He became interested in recreating the intensity of that scene at mass sing-alongs.
During the past two years, more than 100,000 Israelis have participated in Koolulam productions. When the group puts out a call for Israelis to perform, invitees are usually given only the song’s name. Everything else takes place on-site, including teaching and rehearsing the various parts.
One of Koolulam’s most extravagant gatherings was a performance of “One Day” in Haifa, Boston’s sister city. Haifa is known for an atmosphere of coexistence among diverse religious communities, and the experience engaged thousands of Jews and Muslims in singing a song of peace in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The five-minute video has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube.
In another example of Koolulam connecting to social causes, the group invited 2,000 Israeli women to perform Sia’s “Titanium” for International Women’s Day. The song is an anthem of empowerment with the singer comparing her resilience to titanium.
Even by the standards of Israel’s small music scene, Koolulam has risen meteorically. A few days before their pop-up appearance in Boston, the group engaged a crowd of 12,000 people at the annual AIPAC summit in Washington, D.C.
“We got bigger and bigger, and the tickets sold out in minutes,” said Michal Shahaf, Koolulam’s co-founder and CEO. In Israel, recent Koolulam experiences have been priced at 40 shekels per participant, or about $11.
“Boston is one of our first steps outside Israel,” said Shahaf, who, along with Yaffet and Taicher, recently left steady jobs to work on Koolulam full-time. Among the trio’s evolving set of projects, “KoolSchool” will help Israeli schools hold their own mass singing events. The group has fans in every corner of the country, with some families driving several hours to participate in as many Koolulam experiences as possible.
Honors and awards received by Koolulam in Israel and abroad in recent months include the 2018 Asia Game Changer Awards, 2018 Jerusalem Unity Prize and 2018 Whatsnext Award for musical innovation.