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‘A Musical Hug From Israel’ Held in East Brunswick

Josh Shron addresses the in-person and Zoom audience.

Approximately 75 people gathered in person at the East Brunswick Jewish Center (with at least that many online) on Saturday night, Feb. 10 for “A Musical Hug From Israel” presented by former East Brunswick resident Josh Shron.

Shron, host of the popular Israeli Hour Radio program broadcast on Sunday mornings from Rutgers University radio WRSU, made aliyah in August of 2023, has long felt that listening to Israeli music is one of the best ways to connect with the people and land of Israel. “You don’t need to understand every word of the lyrics to be able to immerse yourself in the culture. The voices, sounds and Mediterranean beat make you feel connected.”

The presentation began with a brief history of how Shron got involved in the music scene. A friend approached him nearly 30 years ago about taking over the show when the prior host moved to Israel. Knowing only the classic Hebrew songs and some cantorial tunes, Shron originally demurred. As a self-defined “radio geek” who loved music, he agreed to at least give it a try. He realized that his researching and finding songs paid off when he “recognized the music and felt Israeli and connected to the country” on a trip shortly after beginning his host duties.

East Brunswick residents Norma and Fred Teicher join Elissa and PJ Smith at the presentation.

He was hooked and has stayed with it ever since. Family, friends and audience members told him he had to go back on the air after Oct. 7. His move to Israel a mere few weeks earlier complicated things as all the equipment was still packed in the 300+ boxes that were not unpacked. He finally set things up and discovered that “new songs were coming out. Some are sad, some are inspirational, but all are meaningful.” The country is mourning the tragedy and people are incredibly devastated, but music has a lot to teach about how Israel is coping. The musical hugs share comfort and love between Israel and the United States.

According to Shron, Israeli music has been dominated by three categories since Oct. 7: songs of pain and loss and prayer; songs in support of the hostages; and songs of pride, unity and optimism. “Emotions in Israel are like a roller coaster heading in a million directions at once,” said Shron. While English speakers may not understand the words, they can understand the vibe and feel the deeper connection via the music.

After 120+ days, it seems like normalcy has mainly returned outside Israel. In Israel, our brothers and sisters are still suffering, reserve soldiers are still deployed, and there are still many hostages and people unaccounted for. Virtually all Israeli music stations dedicate the second song of every hour to one of the hostages. Families were asked what songs/artists the hostage liked and one of the songs is played with a personal message to the honoree. One of the released hostages said that sometimes they heard radio and it is hoped that the songs will give the remaining hostages hope.

(l-r) Presenter Josh Shron, EBJC Rabbi Larry Brandspiegel, event organizer Dov Pollak.

The program included snippets of a variety of songs in each of the categories and presented the song histories and back stories and unique descriptions of the artists. The stories were often as moving as the songs themselves. One popular song was written by two young men who survived the Nova music festival and shared their experience during a television interview. A producer was so moved by the emotions that were expressed, he contacted them and had the song recorded and distributed. Another song, “Mapal,” was written as a poem by the sister of a young woman killed at Nova. Originally meant as a eulogy to be read at the gravesite, she posted it on Instagram where a musician set it to music.

Several of Israel’s popular songs today are repurposed hits that were written in other decades but are equally applicable to today or songs that remind people of other songs. The song “Winter of 2023” brings to mind “Winter of 1973,” which was written after the Yom Kippur war. The new song was sung on an Israeli show similar to “American Idol” by a trio of children composed of a Jewish brother and sister and an Israeli Arab. Senior musical statesman, 84-year-old Yehoram Gaon, showcased the diversity and spirit of the IDF by joining them in singing a decades-old song originally written by Naomi Shemer. Rapper Static repurposed a hit song written during another period of uncertainty and fear — the coronavirus shut down of 2020. The song was altered to reflect the times of today.

Shron highlighted a song by 2018 Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai. Her winning song, “Toy,” was perceived as a “wacky song by a wacky artist,” but this featured song is the polar opposite. It was recorded with drummer Tuval Haim, whose brother Yotam was abducted from the Nova festival, as a plea to return all the hostages. Sadly, after the song’s release, Yotam was one of the three hostages accidently killed by the IDF.

Even Israelis disconnected from religious observance are steeped in the spirit of Israel and Judaism, often believe in God and are familiar with the Torah, even if they choose their own version of observance. Shron closed the program with an image of heavily tattooed veteran singer Eyal Golan wearing tefillin. Golan’s version of “Am Yisrael Chai,” whose video showcases pictures of Israelis of all types, will be a song remembered for generations.

Shron concluded the program by reminding the audience that music has major therapeutic health benefits and engaged the audience in singing along to a song with English, Hebrew and transliterated lyrics posted on the screen and reminding attendees that we are “building a stronger Israel one song at a time.”

Josh Shron with audience members after the event.

Event organizer Dov Pollak noted that Shron had held a well-received program at EBJC several years back and the timing worked out to bring him back under the sponsorship of the Men’s Clubs of the EBJC, Congregations Beth Ahm and Beth Ohr, and the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.

The program was especially meaningful to East Brunswick’s Ora Rotblum. She had relatives in Kibbutzim Holit and Be’eri on Oct. 7 and found the evening’s program accurately presented and “covered the atmosphere” in Israel. EBJC’s Rabbi Larry Brandspiegel noted that everyone got together to support their brothers and sisters in Israel through music.

Connect with Shron and the Israeli music scene at www.myisraelimusic.com; on Facebook/Israel Hour Radio; or catch the Israel Hour live at 11 a.m. on WRSU 88.7 FM, “Building a Stronger Israel One Song at a Time.”

Deborah Melman is a staff writer at The Jewish Link.

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