Israeli music to soothe the soul

David Broza entertains residents of the North in a bomb shelter last week. (Photo: Barry Davis)I had been up north just a couple of weeks earlier. That was a long-awaited three-day vacation to Banias, near Israel’s northern tip, and sleepy …

David Broza entertains residents of the North in a bomb shelter last week. (Photo: Barry Davis)I had been up north just a couple of weeks earlier. That was a long-awaited three-day vacation to Banias, near Israel’s northern tip, and sleepy Moshav Amirim just down the road from Safed. It had been the ideal break among the tree covered hills of the Galilee, an area favored by many Israeli families during the school summer vacation looking to get away from the urban grind and keep the kids gainfully occupied.

But things were very different on this trip. The first thing you notice is the gradual drop in traffic. Normally, at 8 o’clock on any morning of the week, much of the coastal road is fender-to-fender stuff, with commuters from the north inching their way south towards Tel Aviv, while the northbound side is full of others heading to work in the Haifa region.

As I drove up the highway to my rendezvous with stellar Israeli guitarist-singer David Broza, at the Galilee village of Clil near Nahariya, the gaps between the vehicles increased appreciably.

Broza was the first artist to his offer his morale-boosting services to the beleaguered residents of northern Israel just two days after the hostilities with the Hizbullah began. In the intervening two or so weeks he has made umpteen trips from his Tel Aviv home maintaining a grueling schedule of up to a dozen impromptu gigs a day.

“In the circumstances I couldn’t really do anything else,” Broza told ISRAEL21c. “I just felt I had to do something to help. It’s no fun for those guys in the north right now.”

On this particularly foray, Broza was accompanied by Israeli-born, French-bred New York resident singer-songwriter Keren Ann who, after monitoring the progress of the war from her Manhattan apartment, simply got on a Tel Aviv-bound plane to offer her own musical services to Israeli citizens and troops stationed in the north.

If the occasional burnt field, scorched by falling Katyusha rockets, or empty roads hadn’t quite got the message across – that just a few kilometers to the north a full-scale war was raging – the deafening crack of missile fire as we wend our way up a hill to the border kibbutz of Hanita left no doubt at all. This was outgoing Israeli fire and the forty-something reservists lounging by the kibbutz gate seemed oblivious to the racket. By the third or fourth shell I also get used to it.

The kibbutz members’ club is jam packed and the mood visibly brightens as Broza and Keren Ann carry their guitar cases in to the hall. Kibbutz member Esther Rozenfarb is delighted to see them.

“We feel we’re under siege here,” she says. “The roads leading up our hill are shelled and there’s nothing open around here except for a few food stores. It’s not fun but we’re not afraid. David coming here is very important for us. It really brightens our day, and it’s a chance for all of us to get together. Otherwise we mostly all just stay at home.”

Thirty years into a highly successful career, peaking in the eighties with his Spanish-inflected album Ha’Isha She’Itee (The Woman with Me), and a week and a half into his current northern circuit Broza is, by now, on automatic pilot. After a brief “hi” to the hundred-plus audience he launches straight into a trademark rapid Spanish-style instrumental which ends with some playful guitar waving, both for sound and visual effect. The kibbutz members roar with appreciation and clap enthusiastically. Even the sound of sporadic missile fire that rattles the windows does nothing to dampen the audience’s enthusiasm. The show is definitely going on.

One thing that is missing here, however, is young faces. Besides a couple of toddlers, the Hanita audience ranges from twenty-somethings to senior citizens. “The children and teenagers have been shipped south,” explains Rozenfarb. “As soon as the show is over I’m going off to Bat Yam [near Tel Aviv] myself to take over babysitting duties from my grandchildren’s other grandma.”

Meanwhile, New Jersey-born Nahariya resident Bob Goldfarb’s kids are safely ensconced in New York with Goldfarb’s mother who normally resides in Nahariya.

“This is something of a repeat nightmare for my mom,” says Goldfarb, who works at the kibbutz’s polyester-based filmic product manufacturing plant. “She was born in Britain and remembers huddling in bomb shelters during World War Two during the Blitz. For her to go through the same thing with her grandchildren is very depressing. That’s why she went away with my kids.”

Just over an hour after we arrive at Hanita, Broza packs his guitar case back in the van. “One gig down, six to go,” he says before we head off for Kibbutz Yehiam, the next pit stop in Broza’s schedule for the day.

“Wasn’t that great?” he enthuses over the Hanita show. “It’s the same everywhere we go.”

That is borne out by the reception Broza and Keren Ann receive as they climb down the stairs into the main bomb shelter at Yehiam which, these days, doubles as a kindergarten. Around 70 adults and children have somehow squeezed into the stifling room and Broza is on the receiving end of several friendly backslaps and handshakes as he makes his way to a wooden chair, and starts the next gig. There is plenty of audience participation, particularly on “Gan Sagur (Closed Kindergarten)”, taken from the 1978 seminal children’s pop album Hakevess Hashisha Assar (The Sixteenth Sheep).

“We’re very grateful that people like David come here,” says 38-year-old Itai Tzur. “It takes our minds off the bad stuff around us, and it shows us the rest of the country hasn’t forgotten us. I was born on this kibbutz and we’ve had quite a few scares over the years, but there was always a feeling that the Katyushas won’t hit us. This time it’s different. There have been some near misses in the past few days. It’s my daughter Inbar’s third birthday tomorrow, so this is a great birthday present for all of us.”

Meanwhile, Broza has five more gigs to do after Yehiam before he returns south to the safety of Tel Aviv. During the next show, at Bustan Hagalil, a siren goes off in the middle of the proceedings. But, despite local youth coordinator Yifat’s pre-show advice to go into the cultural center’s security room in just such an eventuality, beers are handed out and Broza and Keren Ann keep up their moral-boosting stuff unabated.

Broza’s efforts are having the desired effect. “I see how tense people are when I get to the shelters, and how relaxed they are after the show. Suddenly, they all start talking to each other and sharing things. We chat a little after the shows, but I don’t really have time to hang around. I have to get off to the next gig.”

Later in the day, while Broza is en route to his sixth pit stop of the day I wonder how he keeps going. “I’m not tired,” he says. “Every little bit helps. We’ve all got to do our part and hope all this ends very soon.”