Looking for the perfect Chanukah gift? Look no further than
ISRAEL ROCKS!: A JOURNEY THROUGH MUSIC OF VISIONS AND
DIVISIONS, a survey of the Israeli music scene that’s stimulating, provocative, & lots of fun. But seriously, you don’t have to be Jewish to love this vibrant tour of 21st Century Israel. Anyone who truly believes that music can reach a place in the heart beyond words will love this film. Just ask Rich, FF2’s “gorgeous Goy”
The title is misleading. While the film does include some genuine rock musicians, they are more than balanced by solo folk singers and large choral groups, and the grand finale is a sing-along with the Israeli Philharmonic. So “rock” here describes the spirit of the musicians themselves rather than the particular style of the music they actually play.
ROCKS! mirrors its subject; the country of Israel, geographically tiny but abundantly rich in peoples and points of view, is captured by the film’s remarkable ability to depict great diversity in slightly less than sixty minutes. The first half of
ISRAEL ROCKS!, focusing on “Divisions,” addresses three core conflicts: belief (religious versus secular), dominion (settlers versus refugees), and class (rich versus poor). The second half, “Visions,” has one overwhelming concern: the search for peace between people and among nations. Through it all, Yoav Kutner, Music Editor for the Army Radio Station, functions as an unofficial host, popping in and out to provide historical context for the nineteen different sets of artists who give voice here to myriad complex emotions.
Director Izzy Abrahami’s great accomplishment is to capture everyone on the move; juxtaposing the pieces, and melding the performance clips and artist interviews with lively street scenes, he creates an ebullient narrative arc. The restless energy of this adolescent country can barely be contained. The Israeli melting pot is boiling on high.
To explore the division between the religious and the secular, the film begins by rapidly alternating between live concert performances and open debates in the marketplace. Most Israel citizens are Jews, but that doesn’t mean they agree about their personal beliefs. Singer Shalom Hanoch represents the ironists when he asks God to “save me from religion” whereas Rabbi Tuvia Bolton, an American making
aliya, pleads with God to “take me home, I’ve wandered enough.” Hearing this cacophony of voices, Shlomo Artzi laments: “How can this country of fear ever find peace?”
The pace quickens as the film’s crew jumps into a car and drives north. First they find
Kol Barama (The Voice of the Golan Heights), a mixed male/female chorus who add a Brazilian beat to their Hebrew lyrics, then they zero in on Palestinian beauty Amal Murkus who entertains a crowd in the Galilee in Arabic. By night fall they are back in the city where Aviv Gefen, in full punk regalia, shouts “We’re a $#%& up generation!” to his huge and appreciative audience.
Maybe Gefen is right, and dominion over the land isn’t Israel’s biggest problem. Do the rich use the constant threat of war to make ordinary people passive?
The Cubes think they know the solution for people living in poverty: “Let’s burn all the money in the world.” The rap group
Snake Fish agrees. “We’re not suckers!” they scream out at the scheming politicians.
With such huge clashes between belief systems and social classes overlaying deeply divisive questions of daily survival, is there any hope? Yes. In part two,
ISRAEL ROCKS! presents its solution: singing together will help break down the barriers.
The “Visions” section opens with an all male group called
The Joys urging: “Let’s take the moon and split it in half, and write our names on it so we don’t forget each other.” Arabs and Jews, Russians and Sabras, Religious and Secular, the members of
The Joys stay on key together. They’re followed by another mixed group called
White Flag. The leads, an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man, sing alternate verses to a solid Middle Eastern beat. “Oh, darling, if you leave me, I’ll never make it alone!” They’re covering
The shock of recognition is immediately followed by a series of ethnic pearls: Anna Fishkin from
Absolut, surrounded by swirling dancers in a Russian night club, cries “Odessa is my beloved city;” Margalit Zanay wails “the women of the tribe cry for you” to her Yemenite ancestors; world music star Noa croons “Let yourself dream” with no accompaniment as a car takes her to the airport. This segment culminates with Shlomo Gronich’s
Sheba Chorus, black teenagers from Ethiopia, singing “She [Israel] was born out of a dream.” The Hebrew lyrics were written by Shimon Perez.
So who is the “average Israeli”? Seeing so many different musicians one after another has a cumulative effect which directly contradicts the misguided notion that Israel is a European “colonialist” power mistakenly transplanted into Middle Eastern soil. Although there are certainly singers in the mix who have Ashkenazi backgrounds, Margalit Zanay, Noa, and the members of the
Sheba Chorus (to name only the most obvious) clearly do not. Coming together in clubs and concert halls, parks and stadiums,
ISRAEL ROCKS! shows Israelis from all over the world joining together in song, always with the fervent hope of a peaceful future.
By the time the Israeli Philharmonic leads its packed house in a chorus of “Alenu,” the spiritual yearning is universal: “May He who makes peace in His high places make peace upon us and upon all Israel, and say: Amen.”
© Jan Lisa Huttner (11/1/05)
Click HERE to order
from the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University.
Director Izzy Abrahami is currently at work
on a follow-up doc featuring White Flag (seen above)