Mordechai Yitzhar Baumol -- or simply Mordechai Yitzhar, his stage name -- is a young singer who has recently released his first album, entitled My Special Path. The upbeat, danceable songs have a lot of Sephardic-style singing despite Baumol's Ashkenazi background. In this interview with Ben Bresky, the host of the Israel Beat Music Podcast on Israel National Radio, the Gush Etzion-based musician talks about his love of Middle Eastern piyutim, Shlomo Carlebach, and his message of never giving up hope, even in times of dispair.
INR: Tell us all about your new album, My Special Path. How would you describe your style? You have many Sephardic songs, and some slow songs, and some other styles.
Mordechai: From when I was a little child, I liked the Sephardic style. I learned piyutim every Shabbat. We had two halabim from Ocean Parkway who came to our neighborhood and each Shabbat they taught us Sephardic and halabic songs. I took it with me and it goes with me to my special path. The music is Sephardic but I also put in my own words. Also I was very influenced by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. So there are songs like Mizrachi songs and also other styles of music on the CD.
INR: So you are Ashkenazi.
Mordechai: Yes. My parents came on aliyah from the States. All of my grandparents are from Poland and Europe. After the Holocaust, they went to America and from there they came to Israel. I was born here.
INR: What exactly is a piyutim?
Mordechai: Piyutim are traditional songs of the Jewish community of the Middle Eastern, from all over Turkey, Iraq, from all over.
INR: Maybe you could tell us a concert story. Where have you performed?
Mordechai: I can tell you an example from today. This morning I played at a gig at a brit milah of people who are halabim, Israeli, but they came from Syria. I played all their traditional piyutim and they didn't understand if I was Ashkenazi or Sephardi. From where do I know all these piyutim? I did also Carlebach music and regular Chassidic music. Usually I plays at simchas, at weddings and bar mitzvahs, all kinds of celebrations.
INR: It's interesting that you were taught by Sephardim from New York City because I personally have met very few Sephardim in America.
Mordechai: They say in Israel all of the Jews came to Israel and it happened to be a salad of all kinds of countries and music. I grew up with this and on the CD I tried to make a good, tasty salad with all the music I grew up with and was influence by.
INR: Do you have any inspiring or funny stories from shows? Did anything crazy every happen?
Mordechai: I can tell you a story about a woman from Beit El whose husband died. She had, mamash, not simple life. He was sick for many years. After he died, she could not get up out of bed in the morning. She was down. My brother once happened to give her a tremp [a lift] and he had my CD playing on the stereo and it touched her deeply. Then she bought the CD, and she bought copies for all of her family. A month ago she got married again. She is like 60 years old. She wanted me to come to her wedding. It was a little wedding, not a lot of people. It was very emotional and very special. I have all kinds of stories like that, people that my music touched them. And that's what I want to do.
INR: Do you know which specific song they were playing in the car?
Mordechai: She liked the first song. It meant a lot to her. It talks about two things. The first one is not to stop searching. Keep going forward all the time. Don't step out of place. But the second part talks about how we have to be happy with what we have and to be happy with our life as it is. It's two things that I think everyone has to have. You need both. Always keep going further and further, but also always thank G-d for what we have and for how our lives are, as they are. You got it man? It's called In the Light and in the Darkness.
INR: Why don't you tell us about Gush Etzion, where you're from. I see in the CD you have some photos of you playing near Mount Herodion.
Mordechai: I live in the yishuv (community) of Tekoa. It's near the Herodion. It's the start of the Judean Desert. It's a very special place and I like it very much. You have here Ashkenazim and Sephardim and non-religious and religious, all Am Yisrael together peacefully. Also there's a lot of musicians here.
INR: Another song that I think is very unique is Od Yishama. What's that about?
Mordechai: I wanted to put in the vibe we have at weddings. This traditional wedding song, it's like South America, like Argentinean and Brazilian. But the beginning starts like hazanut in Carlebach style.
INR: What's the last song about, Lizkor et HaKe'ev (To Remember the Pain)?
Mordechai: Our band is called Kissufim. When you hear Kisufim you think about the Disengagement from Gush Katif, but the truth is we had the name five or six years ago when we first started playing. Kissufim means longing. The last song on the CD talks about Gush Katif and all the vibe that was in that period of time. I hope it will not come back, and G-d willing we should go back to Gush Katif and be able to play music there and swim in the sea.
INR: Were you in Gush Katif?
Mordechai: Yes, lots of times. I had a lot of friends from there. Also we played for the migurashim [exiles] several times.
INR: You were also in the army.
Mordechai: Yes, and I also do miluim [reserve duty] every year. Not far from Gaza. That's how we live here. What can we do?
INR: Anything else you want to say about your CD or your music?
Mordechai: It's my first CD and I jumped in the water and I like it very much. But I'm already waiting for my second CD and I hope Hashem will give me the strength and the opportunity for the new CD. I hope that everyone who hears the music and the words will touch them. And that's what I want to do. To make people happy and full of hope.
For more information on Mordechai Yitzhar Baumol, email email@example.com
Ben Bresky is a music journalist and recording engineer living in Jerusalem. He hosts The Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast live every Tuesday interviewing a wide range of Jewish and Israeli musicians from Carlebach to klezmer, from hasidic to trance. To downloa dteh podcast click on http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Radio/Author.aspx/1180