Tuesday, November 30, 2021

I was a bit hesitant to go to a concert during Aseret Yemei Teshuva. But a friend of mine mentioned to me that Ishay Ribo was performing during Aseret Yemei Teshuva in Caesarea. I had always dreamed of going to a concert in the Roman amphitheater in Caesarea and I was a casual Ishay Ribo fan, so I couldn’t resist. I navigated the Israeli Hebrew ticket websites and tried to see if there were any tickets left. When I finally got to the right page the Hebrew words הכרטיסים אזלו appeared on the page, which is the Israeli way of saying, the event was SOLD OUT. Still, something in me didn’t want to believe that, and as I clicked on the words it took me to a page that indicated there were two seats left. After a few false starts with my “USA Credit Card,” which I realized the site wasn’t accepting, I borrowed my brother’s credit card number and poof...I had two seats booked for a Ishay Ribo concert in Caesarea. This unexpected success was just the beginning of the magic of the evening.

Prior to this evening I had never heard Ishay Ribo live. I was, however, aware of some of his songs. In fact, I had recently become fairly obsessed with “Sibat Hasibot,” which is more up- tempo than most of his songs, and of course I knew “Halev Sheli,” which even my 5-year-old grand-nieces and -nephews who live in Israel knew the words to. But I certainly was not a Ishay Ribo groupie and probably never heard of most of his songs. Still, I was so excited to be going to a Ishay Ribo concert in Caesarea. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to get the tickets and was so looking forward to it.

However, my experience there was beyond what I could have ever hoped for. Yes, the music and the songs were amazing, but that was not what touched me. At least not that alone. What touched me was the feeling that Ishay was able to create with and evoke from the crowd and the effect that being in that crowd had on me as I drove home that night and beyond. It is that feeling that I would like to share.

The first thing one notices about a Ishay Ribo concert in Israel is the diversity of the crowd. About 60% of the people who attended the concert in Caesarea were whom you might expect. A cross section of frum Jews, Mizrachi, chardal and charedi people whom you might find at any frum performer’s concert. But it is the other 40% who attend that remind you that you are attending something special. For these Jews are not wearing kippot and don’t look particularly observant. But all these differences fall away the minute Ishay starts singing and you realize that everybody, yes everybody, in the crowd knows just about all of the words to all of his songs. He opens his mouth and suddenly thousands of people are chanting the most gentle and beautiful words about human vulnerability and how focusing one’s heart on their relationship with Hashem can assuage and heal one’s heart. Perhaps the magic actually begins with the words. For Ishay Ribo has a gift of writing words, original words, that can be felt and experienced equally and simultaneously as relating to Hashem and as relating to one’s interpersonal relationships. And at the concert, one feels that each person in the room singing is actually experiencing both of those emotions and kavanot simultaneously. Paradoxically, it seems as if each intent reinforces the other, as one feels the layers of distance both between man and man, and man and God, melt away through the power of song.

All of this openness stems from the words and from the man. Ishay’s presence on the stage is humble and real and, above all, honest. And he subtly convinces you and assures you that you too can be real and honest for these few moments and sing songs that are honest and true to what you experience and feel in life. This incredible ability to write words that capture the struggles we have in our relationships with others and in our relationship with the divine is the key to his appeal to all strands of Israeli society. For at the core of our human hearts and at the center of our Jewish souls is the desire to connect authentically, honestly and meaningfully with man and God. Ishay’s humble personality and authentic presence allows all types of Jews who attend to feel the music and the yearnings and recognize them as their own.

That night in Caesarea, in addition to singing many of his special songs, Ishay had the band play Avinu Malkenu. As I looked around the outdoor amphitheater at a few thousand Jews singing Avinu Makeinu from the depths of their hearts, I realized that there could not have been a better way to spend my Aseret Yemei Teshuva than attending a Ishay Ribo concert.

But the evening didn’t only give me inspiration, it also gave me hope. For despite the dream of the Land of Israel that is so special and surreal, there is a pain on many Jewish hearts. A pain when one sees so many Jews connected to the land but seemingly disconnected from the holiness of Torah. And there is the pain of seeing the division among Jews that seems to exist everywhere, even among the Torah-observant community. And this pain often feels unsolvable and depressing. And yet, at the concert, for a few brief moments, one was able to see the holy yearnings in all Jews and understand that their connection to Hashem and His Torah are ever present and universally shared despite the external divisions. And that at least at a Ishay Ribo concert, a way can be found to unite them as one in this connection. And if it can happen to a few thousand people in Caesarea, perhaps it can happen on an even grander scale one day.

That night as I drove home to Beit Shemesh and arrived at 1 a.m. I saw some charedi yeshiva boys looking for a ride. They needed to go to Ramat Beit Shemesh and I was just about to turn into my street in Beit Shemesh. But having been inspired to connect and grow I decided to drive them the extra few miles and do something for another Jew on Aseret Yemei Teshuva. On my return I picked up yet another young passenger, but this passenger was a chasidic charedi boy from the Nachala U’Menucha neighborhood near where I was heading. He was dressed in about as insular garb as any charedi young man can be dressed in Israel and headed toward a particularly insular neighborhood. As I was driving him, I couldn’t resist and asked him in Hebrew, “Did you ever hear of Ishay Ribo?” To my amazement he looked at me and answered, “Betach” (of course)...and we spent the rest of the ride listening to “Sibat Hasibot.”

As I dropped him off I smiled, thinking to myself, if there is a song that is lovingly played on secular Israeli music stations and at the same time is recognized and cherished in the most insular charedi environments, and whose words about man and God are felt and recognized by all, then perhaps there is a way to connect to all Jews despite all the divisions, and that the magic of Ishay Ribo’s music is one special step in that direction.


Rabbi Scheinfeld is an educator and ski instructor  and the founder of Camp Kanfei Nesharim  and Camp Bnos Kanfei, growth oriented teen ski and adventure summer travel programs. He can be reached at [email protected].

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