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Traditional Jewish Music Sought in Secular Kibbutzim

Jewish cantorial music is picking up in the least likely locations: the secular kibbutzim of the Galilee.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 12/22/2009, 6:54 PM / Last Update: 12/22/2009, 10:48 PM

A new initiative by the Ayelet HaShachar (Morning Star) outreach organization is gaining in popularity in the Galilee: Cantorial (hazanut) evenings featuring traditional Jewish cantors singing traditional Jewish music. The first one was held in Kibbutz Kinneret, one of the first kibbutzim (agricultural cooperative communities) in Israel and long considered a bastion of secularism, and enthusiastic requests have already come in for more.

The first part of the Kinneret concert, which was held over the Chanukah holiday, took place in a room that serves as a synagogue – but is known only as “The Hut.” The renowned Cantor David Weinbach sang songs, accompanied by the children in attendance.

A good and inspiring time was had by all, participants reported – and in fact, other nearby secular kibbutzim, such as Afikim and Deganiah, have also requested similar cantorial evenings. In addition, Ministry of Education officials have informed Ayelet HaShachar that they are interested in setting up a national program of such concerts.

This coming Saturday night, a traditional hazanut concert will be held in secular Kibbutz Givat HaShloshah, east of Petach Tikva – together with a Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of First Born) ceremony.

The driving force behind the idea is Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, head of Ayelet HaShachar. He says the goal is to bring Judaism into people's lives: "They'll taste it and realize it's good!"

Collection of Menorahs - in Naomi Shemer's Basement
An added bonus of the event was a visit to the basement of the late great poetess and songwriter Naomi Shemer – she was born in Kibbutz Kinneret – where she stored a fascinating collection of obsolete agricultural equipment fashioned into candlesticks, menorahs, and chanukiyot (Chanukah menorahs).

Rabbi Raanan has much experience with sparking Jewish interest where there has been no Judaism before. He and his organization have built synagogues in secular communities, organized literally thousands of telephone study-pairs (chavrutot) between religious and secular Jews, and sponsored Torah programming and classes in places that had never seen the likes of it before. A recent successful event he orchestrated was a triple Pidyon HaBen in the very secular Kibbutz HaChotrim, near Haifa.