Music Brings Israeli Society Together By Rabbi Judy Chessin

Israeli society is complicated. There are crushing geo-political concerns on its borders and cultural differences among Israel’s own citizens. Within Israel’s Jewish population there are tensions between secular and observant Jews, and Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, not to mention the differences among Israeli Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Bahai.

In 2017, a secular Israeli producer, Or Teicher, noticed observant Jews passionately invoking piyutim (songs of repentance) at the Kotel, the Western Wall, on Yom Kippur. He began to wonder if he could bring ordinary Israeli strangers together to sing with the same fervor. With his two partners, Michal Shahaf Shneiderman (who runs an Israeli ad agency) and charismatic Ben Yefet (a director and composer) he dreamed up Koolulam. He created a social initiative dedicated to bringing Israelis together from across the divides of age, race, class, religion and demography to sing. The name Koolulam is a combination of the Hebrew words Koolam (everyone), Kol (voice), and Olam (world).

Koolulam logo

On December 17, 2017 the three directors gathered 600 secular Israelis, many of them with special needs, in Tel Aviv. After 45 minutes of practice, the group learned three parts of a song – in English. The result was filmed and posted on Facebook. The next day, the American rock band Imagine Dragons’ lead singer marveled at his band’s song “Believer” as produced by Koolulam. He posted the video on his webpage stating: “This 600 person choir singing ‘Believer’ blew my mind this morning as I watched. So much passion.”

Next, it was on to Haifa, in February, when Koolulam asked 3,000 Muslims and Jews (none of whom had met before) to learn the song “One Day” by Matisyahu. In one hour, they learned how to harmonize the lyrics in English, Hebrew and Arabic! The resulting concert was a breathtaking display of unity as the participants sang: “All my life I’ve been waiting for, I’ve been praying for, the people to say that we don’t wanna fight no more. There will be no more wars and our children will play…one day.”

When Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Memorial Day for the victims and resisters of the Holocaust arrived, Koolulam gathered 600 Holocaust survivors and three generations of their descendants. Together they belted out Ofra Haza’s song “I’m Alive:” Ani od chai, chai, chai; I’m still alive, alive, alive. Am Yisrael chai: The nation of Israel is alive. Zeh hashir sheSaba shar etmol le’Abba; This is the song that Grandpa sang yesterday to Dad. Vehayom ani; And today it is me!)

Next, Koolulam unveiled its largest event to date. For Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israeli’s 70th Independence Day, 12,000 people joined Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, famous musician Shlomi Shabat, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and MK Gila Gamliel to sing Naomi Shemer’s immortal ode to the beauty and the pain of life in Israel, Al Kol Alei, For all these things:  (For the honey and the sting, for the bitter and the sweet/ Don’t uproot a sapling. Don’t forget the hope.)

Koolulam has no fancy website or complicated marketing operation. They merely have their Facebook page on which they announce their next venue and sell out tickets within an hour. The production is filmed and then shared via Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp. They are propelled by the excitement of bringing the people of Israel together in a social choir full of hope and optimism. Koolulam’s slogan is “Singing Is Believing” and whether they deem themselves religious or not, I feel sure their voices reach the Divine! 

In a discordant and divisive world, here is a brilliant project inspiring hope, idealism and peace. Do yourself a favor and search “Koolulam Project” on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram. It will make your heart soar!

B’shalom,

Rabbi Judy Chessin