When we moved from the greater Los Angeles area to Israel, we really felt we’d be giving up a lot. We were pretty spoiled, because LA/Hollywood is supported by “The [Entertainment] Industry” and so many of our friends and neighbors were connected in some way… stunt men, costume designers, editors, composers, musicians. We had so many musical genres represented from pop to hip hop and rap to Broadway, jazz and the best in classical with the Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale and smaller opera companies, choruses, and conservatories. We were never at a loss for entertainment from rock concerts to childrens’ choirs and loved our summers at the Hollywood Bowl and season tickets to the opera.
I really didn’t know what to expect culturally when we first moved, but I was told that each large city had its own first-rate music conservatory. This was important, as our son was a trumpet player, and I wanted to afford him the opportunity to continue his lessons and have performance venues as well. In addition, throughout the year different cities and kibbutzim host all types of concerts and festivals featuring both local Israeli talent as well as talent brought in from abroad.
Music speaks to the soul and as such, is so important across cultures. We’ve had the chance to experience firsthand the local flavor of the Arabic music and have visited some of their music schools. We’ve enjoyed Yemenite bazooki concerts and French café style entertainment. The Ethiopians have brought with them their own heritage in liturgy and contemporary music and the immigrants from the former Soviet bloc countries are known for their early training in the classical arts. We’ve found Arab Christian bagpipe bands in Nazareth, a hold-over from when Scottish missionaries came to the Holy Land in the 1800s. And we even have a good friend who is the promoter of heavy metal concerts coming to Israel.
Each year, our local music conservatory hosts a fundraising concert with all the proceeds going back into community programs. At first, we were reticent to go, but now look forward to this event as the range of musical talent is representative of the diverse fabric of our society. There is a beautiful women’s chorus made up of religious Jewish, Arab Christian and Druze and secular young ledies. They sing liturgical, folk and classical chorale pieces.
There are several sopranos, who sing the standard art song repertoire in Italian, French, German and even Arabic:
Our mid-sized city has so much talent, including a young woman cellist who has won several international competitions and will go on to study music after her army service; Russian siblings, ages 11 and 13, pianists who both perform solo and duets; a flutist from Canada and a Ukrainian balalaika player who has been performing professionally since he was six and now serves in the IDF, but made the time to play at this concert.
Karmi’el is one of several cities that prides itself on its Children’s Village. There are 200 children from grades 1-12 who live on the spacious and well-manicured campus. Some are orphans, but many come from broken, abusive or disfunctional families. Separated into 16 “mishpachtim” or family groups, they live in large, specially designed homes with sponsor parents and their families. All the kids attend the public schools, but return to the village for afternoon activities, clubs, music and dance lessons, therapy and sports. In this well-rounded program, the older children help with volunteer service projects within the city. Their success rate in academic excellence, reintegration into society, military service, sports and entertainment is unparalleled. One of the young men recently won Israel’s version of The Voice, Junior. Each year, they put on an amazing show for the community at our local theatre arts complex.
Just before the first wave of lockdowns due to the pandemic, John and I went to a hands-on drumming workshop in Nazareth. It was tremendous fun learning about the darbouka, made of wood or aluminum and covered with leather from donkey, goat, camel or skin, each having a different sound. Demonstrations even included a fish-skin covered tambourine, a bandir, based on the ancient models. The last clip in this series was an ancient Aramaic song from the book of the prophet Jonah: the prayer he made from the belly of the fish. The melody itself is centuries old.
During the summer, neighboring Tsfat hosts a three day Klezmer music festival. At Kfar Blum, a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee, there is a weeklong classical music festival. The kibbutz operates a first class hotel and the venues, for both indoor and outdoor concerts are said to be quite pleasant. The festival features vocal and instrumental music with world class guest artists from throughout the world. Jerusalem hosts an international oud festival (an ancient stringed instrument), and the Red Sea resort city of Eilat is famous for its international jazz festival.
In years past, in the Galilee, there was the twice annual Jacob’s Ladder Festival with the best in bluegrass, Celtic, and blues. Most festivals here are very family friendly with activities and workshops for even the youngest. In the early summer, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at Ein GeV kibbutz, there is an choral music festival of mostly Hebrew and European choirs. It also includes a competition.
Speaking of competitions, Israel has been placing first in the Eurovision Competition, a huge international “Who’s Got Talent?” show broadcast throughout Europe. Israel hosted last year in Tel Aviv. The Abu Ghosh Music Festival (just south of Jerusalem) is home to a classical vocal competition in the Spring. Vocalists come from all over the globe. Performances are held in ancient churches and cultural arts centers in the area. Master classes are open to the public.
There’s something here for everyone. If you’re into indie, the InDNegev Festival each October is the place to be. The event has grown each year since 2007, and now includes art exhibitions, poetry readings, movies, and huge parties lasting all night. As with several of these types of festivals, camping is strongly encouraged. Every winter, there is also a Grateful Dead festival with live music cover bands as well as dance tents and hippie art shows. If raves are your thing, then there’s the Minus 424 (meters below sea level) Dead Sea Rave. Electronica, lots of DJs and laser light shows have festival goers dancing from sunset to sunrise with the red desert mountains as part of the surreal backdrop. And not to be outdone by America’s Burning Man Festival, there is the infamous Midburn Festival in the Negev Desert each October. A combination Woodstock, Coachella and Burning Man, the participants themselves are the ones who create the performances. They set up an entire weeklong installation in the desert. It has become so popular, that you need to know someone who is part of the event in order to get a ticket.
Israel is truly a crossroad of the world. Because of its proximity to Africa, and due to the influence of our Ethiopian, Eritrean, Nigerian and Ugandan immigrants and visa holders, there are several AfroBeat, AfroJazz, heritage and Reggae concerts throughout the year. Every city has multiple entertainment venues, and most events are free to the public, like the Nuite Francaise which even included a wine and cheese bar and ballroom dancers!
And of course, we have our own mega stars singing pop, hip hop, and indie folk. All during the summer, our Israeli entertainment icons perform concerts in amphitheaters all over the country, many are free, sponsored by the municipality.
(Warning: the next two video clips include bright, flashing lights-)
Saving our favorite Israeli performer for last: John & I first heard the music of Idan Raichel in Los Angeles in 2010. We saw him at different locations in California and we haven’t missed one of his concerts here (which always sell out in hours). Idan first started performing (accordion) at age 12. He’d play for the dancers at the Karmi’el Dance Festival every year. Last year he, most deservedly, received an honorary PhD in philosophy from BarIlan University and has been named Israel’s Poet Laureate. His music is not only beautiful, but the words! About the beauty of life, of love and friendship, of peace and unity. Many international recording stars have teamed up with Raichel to form the world-beat Idan Raichel Project. It truly is peace through music. So I leave you with this- Enjoy!