But if you ask Yehuda Leuchter, the organizer of the festival and the band's lead singer, “It’s not really a tour, it's more like a journey.”
Leuchter admits he is not really in charge of the festival, because. “Only HaShem (literally, The Name – a Jewish word for G-d) is in charge.” He also claims he is not actually the band's lead singer, but rather “just some guy that dances on stage.”
Aharit HaYamim is far more than a band – it is a full-fledged grassroots movement. How does one join this movement? “You don't need to,” says Leuchter. “Everyone is already a member. Aharit Hayamim is just here to wake you up and spread the message of unity, love and Israel.”
Leuchter says all this with a smile and twinkle in his eye. The music school drop-out and his friends have been jamming their unique mix of reggae, Carlebach, rock and various ethnic musical styles for about six years.
Two years ago, after repeated requests from fans and the appearance of bootlegs tapes of their live shows, Aharit HaYamim’s demo disc was released. It immediately became an underground cult favorite, fueled by their energetic impromptu performances in downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square and various other spots around the country. At one such performance American Chabad Reggae-master Matisyahu stepped up to the mic and seamlessly joined the jam.
Wearing brightly colored clothing – some home-sewn replete with tzitzit, ritual fringes, the four-member group of 20-somethings humbly exudes the image of a movement.
At the Dead Sea Jewish Rock & Soul Concert over Passover, almost a dozen people took to the stage when Aharit HaYamim was announced - all friends and fellow musicians the band could not resist inviting to jam along at the high-profile gig.
The Aharit HaYamim festival began in 1994 as a tribute to Leuchter's father Emil, an American-born musician who played with Shlomo Carlebach and the Diaspora Yeshiva Band. The small jam-session tribute grew into a full fledged two-day festival, attracting a wide mix of hasiddim, artists, mystics and hilltop hippies - both religious and secular – who camp out overnight in the forest as dozens of Redemption Rockers take the stage.
Leuchter says he and the band lose money on the festival every year. "But we're not about money,” he says. “This festival was always my dream.” That dream includes traveling throughout Israel and bringing searching Jews together with good music and lyrics from the heart that encourage all Jews to embrace each other and their heritage. “Something like this has to happen. People are waking up, slowly, slowly," he says.
The forested location of the festival is in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem - near where Leuchter grew up. The site itself, Old Massuot Yitzchak, was where his kibbutznik grandparents were taken captive by the Jordanian army in 1948. The ruins of the old kibbutz can still be seen, festooned during the festival by colorful tents in which vendors sell hand-made clothing, healthy food, CDs and religious books.
From the Four Corners of the Earth
The other members of the band have equally colorful backgrounds. Bass player Avraham Shurin is the son of singer Dov Shurin, known for his folksy songs, including his hit Biblical ode to Samson, Zochreini Na.
Guitarist Shmuel Caro is from Reunion Island near Madagascar. He is married to Avraham's sister. On saxophone and multiple other wind instruments is Raphael Barkatz from France. He and Shmuel went to high school together.
Leuchter and Shurin's father's played music together in the late 60's and Leuchter himself played keyboards for Dov Shurin on more than half of the rocker’s albums. Every member of the band sings back-up and plays multiple instruments.
In Aharit HaYamim, Leuchter plays keyboard, sometimes with his feet, as he dances, smiles, rhymes, freestyles and general exudes joy.
The diversity of the band brings a happy mix of music to the group. Shurin mixes old Modzitzer hasidic niggunim with Carlebach and 60's rock. Caro brings reggae and African music and often brings his father along to play drums, including a large home-made drum made from a wine barrel. Barkatz brings a wide variety of French music to the band as well.
"Israel is all around the world in different kinds of forms. All the tribes of Israel are returning to their roots." says Shurin. "When Yehuda and I were in India, we did a music lesson in a Muslim children's school in Kashmir."
"We played the shofar in the school, and they loved it." Interjects Leuchter. "The teachers became kids again."
"We were walking in the market in Kashmir," continues Shurin, "and someone runs up to us and calls out "Beit HaMikdash! Beit HaMikdash!" He takes us to his shop and he has all these pictures of the Holy Temple."
The ingathering of the exiles is a theme in the band's personal lives as well as in the lyrics of their music. Avraham's wife is from Italy, Yehuda's wife is from Ethiopia and several of the back-up musicians Jewish immigrants from Russia.
Another central influence on the band is the 19th century Hassidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who preached a don't-worry-be-happy philosophy and urged the Jewish people not to fear. The band's demo disc was partially recorded in Uman, Ukraine - the burial place of Rabbi Nachman, where thousands of his followers make a pilgrimage every Rosh HaShana.
Jamaican icon Bob Marley’s musical and philosophical themes also show up in the band’s repertoire – albeit with a Jewish twist. "It's not only love and peace and light," says Shurin, "but we also have to unite sometimes to fight together, to respect all our brothers and sisters and to have faith in HaShem."
Aharit Hayamim's music consists of tight singing, with four-part harmonies and start-stop rhythms. Lush instruments flow through the songs with clarinets, flutes, mandolins and more exotic instruments making appearances. Most songs have a reggae and ska influence, with a post-Carlebach Jewish folk flavor that is completely their own. And of course there are the groovy ten minute instrumentals. "Some people like their felafel with only spicy sauce or only techina," says Leuchter, alluding to the band's music, "I say, throw it all in."
Many songs include the traditional shofar, the ram’s horn used mainly for services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Leuchter insists it's an instrument like any other. "Raphy can get up to three or four octaves." He exclaims excitedly. Once in a while, when performing in Zion Square they will even break into an electronic techno dance groove. "We like to experiment," says Leuchter.
The End of Days
The band's name roughly translated means "End of Days" and is taken from a quote in the Torah where Jacob prophesizes the days of redemption to his sons. Don’t expect the band to give a Torah lecture between sets, but references to Jewish history and Biblical references pepper and spice nearly every song, and Leuchter will often call out prayers to the Creator before or after a particularly moving song. Their message is all in the music and their lyrics lament the 2,000-year absence of the Jews from their 'mama-land' alongside the calls to renew the pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
The journey begins at 4 PM on August 6th at Old Massuot Yitzhak, near Bat Ayin, in Gush Etzion. Also performing will be hilltop singer Sinai Tor, Aaron Razel, DJ Dub Reggae, Nachat Ruach, Benny Landau, and several others. Tickets are 35 shekels in advance and 40 shekels at the door.
Not to leave out the Tel Avivians, a later show will be take place Thursday, August 10th in Tel Aviv’s Inbar Music Bar.
For more information visit www.aharit.net or call Renana at 054-201-0494. For ticket information call 054-201-1494. Or visit http://www.aharit.net
Benyamin Bresky is the host of The Beat on Israel National Radio. He maintains a music journal at