June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Returning From Israel on a High Note, Eitan Katz Continues to Wow

After nearly 10 months overseas, Eitan Katz has returned to New York, his extended stay in Israel leaving the prolific singer, songwriter and musician ready to spread simcha and spirituality like never before.

Despite its considerable hardships, COVID had a silver lining for Katz, presenting him with an opportunity that was too good to pass up: a chance to spend significant time with his family in Israel. Katz, his wife and children had originally planned to head to Israel in July 2020, but a new wave of pandemic-related restrictions last summer had them postponing their trip until after Sukkot. After finally arriving in Jerusalem in mid-October, Katz took a few minutes to reach out to his friends and family on Facebook, sharing that living in Israel was the fulfillment of a dream that had grown increasingly vivid over the years.

Drawing on his academic experience in New York, where he had been part of Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv’s kiruv program, Katz took on a position as an afternoon seder rebbe at Yeshivat Reishit where he taught tefillah and hashkafa. He describes his time at Reishit as “the most growth-filled experience of my life.”

“I got to connect with these boys during their first time away from home, when they were out of their comfort zones and had to think for themselves,” Katz told The Jewish Link. “I had the ability to give them Yiddishkeit and Torah from my heart in a way that wasn’t necessarily tied to music, which was very inspiring and refreshing to me.”

One of Katz’s most memorable experiences of his year as a rebbe came when he stopped a student who had previously been in his shiur but hadn’t shown up in a while.

“I just wanted to make sure he was okay, and he explained to me that he really did want to come to my shiur but that for the first time in his life he was learning Gemara like never before and didn’t want to stop,” recalled Katz. “I told him it was my biggest honor to have him not come to my shiur under those circumstances.”

Despite his love of teaching, there is no getting around the fact that Katz, who comes from an extraordinarily talented family, has music running through his veins. Over the course of the year, in addition to his work as a rebbe, Katz made several music-related trips back to America and he reveled in the opportunity to play with what he describes as “Eretz Yisroel-dike musicians.” He also performed at numerous yeshivas throughout the year, including playing for the rosh yeshiva of the Mir who traveled to Ein Gedi to visit quarantining students.

“Mamesh inspiring to see the love the Rosh Yeshiva has for his talmidim,” wrote Katz on Facebook, where he posted a clip of the joyous singing and dancing in early November.

Katz acknowledges that living in Israel isn’t for everyone, but he waxed eloquent about being in a place whose every inch is saturated with centuries of spirituality and holiness.

“When you walk around in Yerushalayim and every other person you pass is a tzadik or a talmid chacham, it is an eye-opening experience,” noted Katz. “Still, people who live in America or anywhere else can still have aspirations to be better, holier and more wholesome wherever they are.”

Katz feels invigorated and inspired by his time in Israel, an experience that broadened his horizons, both musically and otherwise.

“I fell in love with writing nigunim again and it was a breath of fresh air not to constantly be in the car and running to gigs,” said Katz. “I loved being able to sit down by my shiur and say, “We are going to write a nigun now,’ sharing that music on a consistent basis with people that I love, respect and admire and my talmidim.”

As difficult as it was to leave Israel, Katz is excited to be back in Far Rockaway and seeing how his compositions continue to make their way to new audiences, as the yearning for new music continues to grow unabated. As he looks ahead to a future that will likely include more albums and additional surprise projects, Katz remains focused on his ongoing mission to keep Jewish music feeling more authentic, and is glad to have his band back together, his time in Israel paving the way for a musical experience that is simultaneously familiar and different.

“We’ve been playing weddings for 15 years and are looking forward to infusing new nigunim into our sets and taking a new approach that is still embedded in the old,” explained Katz. “We are continuing to get the message out that an inspiring kumzitz isn’t the only place to enjoy meaningful music; you can be dancing up a storm at a wedding and be having a spiritual experience at the same time.”

The name of Katz’s band, Pure Simcha, sums up what its music is all about, a play on words letting the world know that it is totally focused on happiness, a sentiment that is truly pure and eminently real. As always, Katz appreciates having the opportunity to play music that runs the gamut, balancing vibes of class and elegance with heartfelt moments of soulfulness and spontaneous, exuberant joy.

“We are back and better than ever with an energy level that is off the charts,” noted Katz. “Most importantly, Pure Simcha is committed and more motivated than ever to light up every chasunah and every chuppah with music that is all about simcha in every sense of the word.”

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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