“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” - Albert Einstein
Before Oct. 7, the Israeli people were polarized by political differences, with crowds on the streets for more than nine months shouting slogans. There is truly a wide spectrum of ideologies in the country, from very religious to traditional to secular, from far-left to far-right. Things changed drastically on that dark October sabbath and the country dropped their signs of protest and went to work, responding to a unifying crisis.
In both periods, against both backdrops, we should take notice of the bards, the minstrels, the modern musicians who echo the psalmists of old. The popular music of Israel shines an important light on the soul of the nation, in a way that nothing else does.
It does not ring hollow and is not superficial. Instead, it touches a nerve, resonates deeply and bridges cultural chasms like nothing else. The lyrics are probing, crying, questioning. They deal with pain, joy, sin, guilt, healing. And the music is compelling. These songs are known and sung, it seems, by all! I hear them on Jaffa Street, in stores, at weddings.
The artists I mention here are the ones who fill the largest venues and reach the largest spectrum of the population. Collectively their views on social media reach hundreds of millions. They are, in short, phenomenonal. As you read of some examples, and enjoy the links embedded with this article, I think you will agree that the recent music of Israel shows the signs of true searching, longing for answers.
The first example is Ishay Ribo. Note his recent concert in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden. He sold out the venue on September 4th of this year, with over 15,000 in attendance. No one but the greats have filled Madison Square Garden. Shyly but excitedly, he walked onto the stage wearing a casual shirt, with Tsitsit (fringes) and kippah, for he is clearly Orthodox. And he's the first Israeli artist to appear there, filling hearts with pride, both religious and secular. A folk hero, who sings well, and composes well, yes for sure. But what else? What is winning hearts?
The answer you will discern is the content, the meaning in his words.
Here are some examples of his lyrics:
“Just open for us the gates of faith
The gates of understanding that we have no king but You, Creator of the Universe
The cause of all causes, awesome in glory…”
From the song “Sibat Hasibot” (Cause of All Causes). Over 28,000,000 views on YouTube in two years.
At the concert, Ishay also sang a prayer song entitled, “We shall await Thee”
Since the Oct. 7 disaster, about one month after Madison Square Garden, the lyrics touch even deeper:
The smell of battle is still in the air
A tired nation is dressing its wounds
Sitting, counting its days.
Shouts of shame all over the city,
A generation wants its answer right now,
Entitled to it, but none owes it to them.
With a body that is tired from all the failures,
With a heart that is shattered,
We shall await for Thee to welcome our faces.
We have called unto Thee in the nights,
And we shall shout in the streets,
Have mercy upon us, Father, deliver us.
When you watch the YouTube video of this song, you will notice the entire stadium is powerfully singing along.
Another song that Ribo sang that night, a prayerful cry of the heart, is called “Techef Yipatach” (“Soon it Will Open”). Consider the lyrics’ depth:
I want to find you
in the concealment within the concealment
Discover again for myself
love within love
Because where I am, where you are
What about this frozen heart, longing for warmth again
Where am I, Where are you? What about this lost heart?
Just want to find a place
And soon the water will break out, all the water in the world
Soon the sky will open, the whole sky in a person
And soon the heart will open
It will open soon. It will open soon
Soon the heart will open
The concert hit its highest emotional pitch when a secular Israeli artist, Amir Dadon, joined Ribo on stage, joining together on Amir’s thought-provoking song “Livchor Nachon” (To Make the Right Choice). The YouTube video capturing the emotional moment has garnered well over 50 million views!
On Nov. 14, Ishay Ribo and another Israeli “pop star,” Omer Adam, led a crowd of an estimated 200,000 people singing in Hebrew on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall at the “Rally for Israel” event.
Dadon, as a secular artist, is a second interesting example. He doesn’t employ much prayer or biblical imagery, but his music is still inspirational, and it is immensely popular.
Consider some of the profound lyrics from “To Make the Right Choice”:
When will I learn to make the right choice
To believe, to see the good
Without looking back
Make the right choice
The same voice speaks to me
Meets me at night
Goes without realizing where
Will I know to come back
“Koolulam” is a musical initiative of three Israelis to create mass singing events that will strengthen society. Over 350,000 people have already taken part in more than 250 Koolulam events around the world. Videos from their events have garnered more than 140 million views and found their way to global leaders, social influencers, and celebrities. A deep yearning for meaning was displayed when Koolulam gathered a crowd in Tel Aviv to sing one of Dadon’s hit songs, “Or Gadol” (“Great Light”). In a world of fragmentation, this initiative is inspiring to watch!
Yonatan Razel is another Orthodox Jewish artist who also can fill large venues with a mix of both secular and religious audiences. His songs are spiritually rich and yet appeal to the nonreligious “man on the street.” His music is simpler than the others, but well known and loved is his rendition of “Ashira LaShem” ("I will sing to the Lord"), the final verses of Psalm 13, following a lament over a season of trouble.
But I will trust in Your unfailing love
My heart rejoices in You
And I will sing to the Lord
For he has dealt bountifully toward me
Even better known is one of Razel’s earlier songs, from Genesis 32:11,12 called “Katonti” ("I am Unworthy").
The song from this artist that touches me the most is “David.”
Here is the chorus:
And David my servant will be your leader
Forever and ever
Longing, longing, longing, longing
For the faithful, faithful shepherd
These words bring me to Ezekiel 34:23, 24: “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them - my servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd And I, the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD have spoken.”
Show me another nation on earth where the common narrative is “I lift my eyes to the hills; from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth…”
That has been a theme song in Israel since the disastrous incursion on Oct. 7. In my 40 years living here, I have never heard such explicit yearning expressed, for authentic spirituality. It gives me a thrill of expectation that we will, in our day, see the destiny of Israel unfold.
Ann is a pastor's wife who has lived in Israel for 40 years, raising a family, and helping to produce Hebrew worship music.