Dead Sea Jewish Rock and Soul Festival

The festival featured many of the artists and events that fall under the category of "original Jewish roots music" or "redemption rock."

Ben Bresky ,

Dead Sea Music
Dead Sea Music
Yaakov Lefcoe, bass player of Yood

The second annual Dead Sea Jewish Rock and Soul Festival was held during the interim days of the Passover holiday, on Wednesday and Thursday April 4th and 5th.

The festival was sponsored by Pirsumei Nisa, a music production and distribution company that handles many of the artists and events that fall under the category of "original Jewish roots music" or "redemption rock." Proceeds of the festival went to the IsraeLife Foundation to benefit the purchase of medical equipment for Hatzalah and other emergency rescue organizations in Israel.

The man behind the festival is Jonty Zweber, an immigrant from Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). Although he doesn't look like a rocker or a Carlebach hippie, Zweber is responsible for management of many of modern Jewish musicians. He and his wife started Club Tzora on a kibbutz near Beit Shemesh. He also organizes the annual Beit Shemesh festival and the Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach memorial concert. He also runs the Pirsumei Nisa production company, and manages singers and groups, including Neshama Carlebach and the Moshav Band. Although most of his musicians were personally influenced by Shlomo Carlebach, Zweber prefers to call the music "original Jewish roots music", "alternative Jewish music," or "Jewish Rock and Soul." Rabbi Carlebach was an individual, not a name brand, he explains.

Regarding the increasing popularity of religious rock music, Zweber says, "It's not only at Pesach time." He spoke during the festival on IsraelNationalRadio's Yishai Fleisher Show. "It's a phenomenon that is spreading, and not only in the Diaspora but in a lot, and not only among the religious, but among mainstream Israeli society. There are a number of examples. A major singer like Etti Ankri is returning to her roots, and Ehud Banai and we just did a tour with Neshama Carlebach who teamed up with Mika Karni. These are Israeli icons. There's a lot going on in the country, we feel it and we're proud to be a part of it."

The stage was built on the beach with the audience facing the calm waters of the Dead Sea, in the Ein Bokek area where most of the large hotels are situated. The audience was a mix of families staying at the hotels for the Passover holiday -- both Israeli residents and visitors from the United States -- as well as young people who camped out in tents.

One such visitor was Grammy Award nominee Jewish-American recording artist Matisyahu, who attended the festival with his wife and toddler. Originally just an observer, Matisyahu was eventually invited onto the stage, first as a recipient of an award from the IsraeLite Foundation and then for a finale performance with Israeli singer Aaron Razel. The two sang a medley which blended Aaron Razel's music -- such as his song Shir L'Tzion -- with Matisyahu singing the vocals of his own hits songs, such as Jerusalem and King Without a Crown. The surprise performance, a major crowd-pleaser brought the first day of the festival to an end on a high note.

The performers in this years festival consisted of mainstay performers who played their hits and newcomers who brought different sounds. One group in particular was A Groyse Metsi'e, who calls its style "progressive Jewish klezmer music." The band, whose name is a Yiddish expression meaning "big deal," consisted of a mix of young musicians both with and without kippot who played guitars, violin, hand drums and other instruments. Most of their music was fast klezmer style with yells of "oy gevalt!" They surprised the audience with a Caribbean/ska-sounding ode to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and a reggae piece. The band's debut album was just released this winter.

Another new band was Bein HaShmashot, which played moody, Pink Floyd-style rock with lyrics about Israeli issues. Lahakat Regaim, a new band, opened up the festival.

HaMAKOR is a young band with a changing line-up of musicians due to the fact that several of its members have just been inducted into the Israeli Defense Forces. Their lead singer is Nachman Solomon, who grew up on Moshav Mevo Modi'in with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. His father, Ben-Zion Solomon, performed with Rabbi Carlebach for many years. One of his brothers is in the Moshav Band. Another brother is in Soulfarm.

HaMAKOR's music is straight-ahead rock, with lyrics both in English and Hebrew, some sounding Carlebach-inspired and others sounding like American hard rock. They have just released a debut album.

Adi Ran, whose his hit song Atah Kadosh was featured in the movie Ushpizin, was another crowd pleaser. His music is electric-guitar based, with quirky lyrics ranging from religious exhortation, his love for long peyos (sidecurls), scat singing and animal noises. He also played a distortion-filled instrumental version of an Israeli nursery rhyme.

Sinai Tor brought his ancient Hebrew-looking white head wrap and long flowing peyos to the stage for an introspective, acoustic performance. The Hevron-area singer performs a sort of folk music with an edge and lyrics about faith and redemption.

Udi Davidi is also from the Hevron area. Raised in Kedumim and currently working as a shepherd, Davidi plays upbeat pop rock with inspirational lyrics. He often performs on the drum set singing simultaneously with a headphone/microphone attachment. One of his popular songs is the catchy feel-good Am Yisrael Chai, which was commissioned by the father of 17-year-old terrorist victim Avichai Levy. The father specifically asked Davidi to write a happy song to reflect his late son's personality. Davidi, with an ever-present smile, also dedicated a song called Dayenu to imprisoned Yehonatan (Jonathan) Pollard.

Simply Tsfat is a trio that includes an acoustic guitarist and violin players from the northern Israeli city of its namesake. The band played a lightning-fast set of jumpy Hassidic niggunim and klezmer melodies.

Shlomo Katz
Israeli singer Naftali Abramson
Matisyahu and Aaron Razel
Matisyahu and Aaron Razel

A new group called Yood also performed. The three members sport long beards and black hats. Between songs they told Hassidic stories in English. Their music is blues and hard rock influenced by 1970's classic rock bands like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. They even talked about Hendrix on stage, comparing him to a Hassidic rebbe. They perform regular gigs at Mike's Place, a bar that caters to Americans living in Israel, with locations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Reva L'Sheva is a group of Jewish American immigrants who are going on ten albums. They played an energetic mix of Carlebach-style folk rock. Bass player Adam Wexler was a former member of Prince and Sheena Easton's touring band in the United States before making aliyah to Israel.

Shlomo Katz played traditional Carlebach-style folk-rock highly conducive to dancing the hora and singing along. Most of his songs consisted of catchy "na na nas," with which the audience sang along. Katz has released one solo album, and another with his brother Eitan Katz. He spoke between songs about kidnapped soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Israeli rock group Yood
Udi Davidi singing on stage with crowds dancing
The stage in the background, the recording equipment in the foreground

Sinai Tor
Tsfat-based klezmer group Simply Tsfat

Israeli band HaMAKOR
Israeli duo HaAkevot
Young people dancing at the Dead Sea Festival
Young people dancing at the Dead Sea Festival
Chaim Dovid and Shlomo Katz
Chaim Dovid and Shlomo Katz
Israeli band Bein HaShmashot
Israeli singer Adi Ran
A Groyse Metsi'e
A Groyse Metsi'e guitarist Shai Perelman

A Groyse Metsi'e with guitarist Shai Perelman and violinist Oren Tsur

Naftali Abramson also sang Carlebach-style folk rock. The young singer has released two solo albums. He was followed by HaAkevot, a young duo, consisting of Naftali's brother Shlomo Abramson, who has recently finished his army service. The two brothers also performed together on stage. Abramson spoke excitedly about his experience at last year's festival with Benyamin Bresky, host of The Beat on IsraelNationalRadio, when the first day of the festival was rained out and everyone in attendance gathered under the roofed area of the beach entrance.

"It was crazy," related Abramson. "What are the chances of rain down by Yam HaMelach (the Dead Sea)? It was such an amazing experience. There was no sound system, no anything. Whoever was there just started playing music. Everyone just got up and started dancing. It was one of these amazing situations where you're there and you can't get out so you just make the best out of it and that's what we did."

Although this year's festival had a smaller turnout, the weather was beautiful.

The final act of the concert was Chaim Dovid (also spelled Chaim David), an older folk rocker who has been a mentor to the younger bands. With a flowing grey beard, Dovid led the audience in catchy, repetitive, easy-to-dance-to songs with "ay yai yai" choruses and lyrics taken from Psalms and other religious sources. He was joined on stage by Shlomo Katz and guitarist Yakir Hyman of HaMAKOR. Dovid's kind and gentle stage presence was peppered with brief references to the situation in Israel and the desire for people to offer a hand of assistance and a prayer. He played a mix of slow songs and fast, folk rock horas.

Benyamin Bresky is the host of The Beat on Israel National Radio. He maintains a music journal at