Some 60 musicians from Israel and around the world are taking part in the Jerusalem Klezmer Festival this week, and perhaps the most popular of them all took some time out to talk with Arutz Sheva's Yoni Kempinski.
Asked about his connections with Jerusalem - the subject of many of his most famous songs - radio personality and musician Yehoram Gaon said,"To be a Jerusalemite is in one's blood; it's as if there's a Jerusalemite 'race.'
"There's no force in the world that can change the fact that I'm a Jerusalemite. Whoever grew up on the horizons of Jerusalem, in the atmosphere of Jerusalem, and in the spirit of Jerusaelm - he is of Jerusalem, and that's that."
Gaon in fact served on the Jerusalem City Council, and has been actively in civic affairs in many capacities. He grew up in the Beit HaKerem neighborhood, which he acknowledged is still his favorite part of the city.
Gaon will host the Thursday evening edition of this week's Jerusalem Klezmer Festival. He explained that the word Klezmer, which is a contraction of "klei zemer", meaning musical instruments,,"is a very Jewish term. It refers to people who see their music as something spiritual, a means by which they can gladden a bride and groom or do other good deeds; it's music that comes from a spiritual place."
He admitted that he would have been hurt if he had not been included in the Festival: "It's titled 'Jerusalem Melodies' – how could I not be involved?! It's a natural for me."
Gaon currently hosts a weekly radio program on which he discusses current events and trends. Asked about the difficult times that Jerusalem experienced in recent months in the form of Arab terror attacks, Gaon said, "This city and its people are strong… Jerusalem is like an old woman standing straight and proud, smiling and watching the events and people go by… The city's secret is that the people who truly love it remain here. Many, many nations tried to take over Jerusalem and rule it, but they didn't succeed – because they didn't realize the secret: Jerusalem itself is the sovereign."
Gaon, who is known for expressing patriotic, nationalistic views on his radio show, said that he feels free to speak his mind there: "When I appear as a musician or comedian, people don't come to hear my views; that's not the place for me to express them. But the radio is my chance to say whatever I think about everything. I feel free there, where there's only a technician next to me; it's easier to say brazen things, which I wouldn't dare to say in front of an entire hall of people … I don't think I'm right-wing or left-wing, but I speak rather as a Jew, and an Israeli – in that order."
Given a chance to speak of the political scene, Gaon said only this: "It is said [in the Talmud] that the face of the generation is like the face of a dog. People misunderstand this; what it really means is that just as the dog leads his master, but constantly looks back to see if he's going the right way, so too with our leaders: They are constantly looking at the ratings to see if the public likes what they're doing. If our leaders would just charge ahead and do what's right, things will be okay."
Asked about today's musical trends, Goan said modestly, "I'm not a musicologist. I just know that people should sing what they want and what they believe in, not what they think will bring them success. In this profession you have to really love what you're doing."
As an example, he said that he has been working for the past six months on a project with Ovadiah Hamama – composer of the popular "Koach" – on songs from the liturgy and religious sources. "We never gave a thought as to whether it would succeed or not."
Kempinski said, "That is, in fact, a popular genre these days!"
Gaon responded, "It has been made popular partly by those who really feel it inside them, and also by others who are doing it just because they feel it will bring them fame – who are the ones I believe in less."