Traditional lines between the secular and religious populations are fading, particularly in the realms of music and art.
I’d like to belatedly share excerpts from an article that appeared a few months back in Mosaic Magazine. The growing popularity of religious singers among secular audiences here in Israel has been noted elsewhere. One hopes that this rising trend can serve to combat some of the tragic division we see in Israeli society right now.
“This past Sukkot, a crowd of about 500 children, parents, and grandparents gathered in the Recanati Theater in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The audience was made up of affluent and mostly secular residents of north Tel Aviv and its suburbs—stylishly dressed, sipping lattes and organic juice sold at the trendy coffee shop nearby. To an outside observer, the scene would be almost indistinguishable from a family-oriented play or concert in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The content, however, was distinctly Israeli: a jukebox musical called Aluf ha-Olam (literally, “Champion of the World”), based on the songs of the religious Zionist singer Hanan Ben-Ari, written and performed by Israel’s most prestigious children’s dramatic company, the Orna Porat Theater. Tickets for Aluf ha-Olam are in high demand and sell out quickly, so I booked seats for me and my children several months in advance. One could sense from the anticipation in the theater that many others had done the same.
Hanan Ben-Ari is one of Israel’s best-known musical performers, albeit without the international break-through appeal of peers like the religious music sensation Ishai Ribo. His strength is in his songwriting; catchy tunes, drawn from eclectic influences, and coherent, powerful lyrics that comment on personal, often spiritual, struggles…
…Ben-Ari’s penchant for infusing lyrics about universal topics with the language of the synagogue and yeshiva tends to obscure the boundaries between sacred and secular idioms. His 1980s-inspired feel-good ballad “Dream like Joseph,” for instance, argues that every story in the Bible reflects some basic human experience: “everyone leaves his father’s home/ everyone nearly sacrifices his child/ deep within is a little Sodom/ that he wishes to erase already/ and angels will rescue him…”
…Thus the prospect of translating Hanan Ben-Ari’s music into an Israeli secular vernacular, as Aluf ha-Olam seeks to do, is daunting, and perplexing. It raises the question of whether Ben-Ari’s biblicism and Jewish allusions are charming embellishments or so central to his work that they cannot be disentangled from it. But merely to ask this question is to acknowledge that Israeli society’s shared cultural touchstones appear to be growing more and more Jewish, and traditional lines between the secular and religious populations are fading, particularly in the realms of music and art…”
For the full article see here.