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Vol. 1 No.2 , June 2023, Tamuz 5783

Music as living prayer

A May 30 gathering of Israeli sacred and spiritual music leaders at the HAVAYAH Center of Being could lead to a national organization for facilitators of prayer in Israel, Rabbi Or Zohar says. SOG organized the program, which was funded by the Honey Foundation. (SOG photo)

Israeli gathering of spiritual music leaders could lead to more events

Filling a void in prayer facilitation in Israel, Spirit of the Galilee convened a daylong gathering of Jewish sacred music on May 30 -- an event that could become an annual tradition.

The day, which attracted 30 musicians, spiritual leaders and poets from across Israel, provided a forum for modeling new melodies, sharing ideas for meaningful prayer and inspiring participants.

Nothing quite like this event exists in Israel, SOG Director Rabbi Or Zohar said.

“I have been involved with sacred Jewish music in Israel for almost two decades, and it’s been a long journey,” he said. “For the most part, it’s been also a lonely journey.”

While prayer leading is an organized profession in the United States, where umbrella organizations of music leaders and cantors exist, Rabbi Zohar said the vocation is still undefined and unorganized in Israel.

There’s not a sense of togetherness," he said. "Everybody is doing their own thing in different places.”

He hopes the May 30 gathering, which was held at the HAVAYAH Center of Being in Hararit, will change all that.

“The idea behind this gathering is to do a first step, inviting the people who are of the vocation from around Israel for a meeting," Rabbi Zohar said. "It’s a preliminary step of a bigger vision of becoming more unified and organized, maybe even the start of a guild or union.”

The day’s workshops offered something for everyone: Spoken Word Integrated in Prayer, led by poet Yonatan Konda; Drumming Rhythm, led by percussionist Refael Ben Zichry; and Singing Psalms According to the Christian/Gregorian/Arabic Tradition, led by Father Saba Haj of the Greek Orthodox Church and a member of SOG’s interfaith leadership team.

“Three great workshops,” Rabbi Zohar said, “and everyone was upset that they could only choose one.”

Rabbi Zohar also led a two-hour investigation of the identity of sacred music artists in Israel using verses from the Bible and other methods of communication.

Nava Tehila-affiliated song leader and sacred music composer Daphna Rosenberg said she was struck by the diversity of backgrounds at the event: spiritual leaders, cultural leaders, social activists, Jews from all movements, even non-Jewish religious leaders modeling experiences from their own traditions.

“You got different kinds of people from different kinds of places,” Rosenberg said, agreeing that a broad definition of sacred music brought many artists from many backgrounds together.

Konda, who led the spoken word workshop, said his participants went beyond their “comfort zones” to write poems that were "the truest, surprising and most powerful prayers.

"I think it was surprising," he said. "Most people surprised themselves.” Konda also chimed in on the idea of a national organization for sacred music leaders: “We definitely need and thirst for this kind of organization.”

The Honey Foundation, which invests in spiritual leaders who combine entrepreneurship with Judaism to make a more open, connected Israeli society, generously funded the event. “Music has a great power to move and connect people,” said its president, David Hoffman, “and we know Rabbi Zohar’s work is one of the key components that spiritual leaders need at this moment of Jewish history.”


Faith leaders visit famous Druze shrine

Rabbi Or Zohar shares a moment with Sheikh Yunis Amasha, an elder in the Druze religion, during SOG's recent visit to Nabi Shoaib. The site, which is said to be the final resting place of Jethro, the patriarch of the Druze, is the holiest site in their religion (SOG photo)

Twenty Spirit of the Galilee leaders visited Nabi Shoaib – the tomb of the Prophet Jethro – on May 24. The shrine is considered the holiest site in the Druze religion.

Druze leaders led the group on a tour of the shrine, which was built in the 1880s (though the significance of the site dates back centuries), and later joined them for lunch.

Jethro, who is remembered by Jews as the father-in-law of Moses and for whom a parsha of the Torah is named, is revered as the patriarch of the Druze religion.

SOG Director Rabbi Or Zohar said the faith leaders meet once a month at different religious sites to build unity and appreciation for each other's traditions.

Located near Tiberias, Nabi Shoaib “receives tens of thousands of visitors a year without entrance fees,” said Sheikh Nazem Sarkhan, a Druze elder who co-hosted the visitors. “We encourage people to come and be blessed by the prophet Jethro, peace be upon him.”

The Druze, whose religion dates to the 11th century, has approximately 800,000 adherents worldwide. Its largest communities are in Syria, Lebanon and Israel respectively. According to Sheikh Nazem, about 140,000 Druze live in 16 villages in the Galilee, Carmel and the Golan Heights.

“The Druze community in Israel is not well known even though it is loyal to the state and ... whose sons serve in the IDF and fulfill all the duties that a citizen should fulfill,” said Sheikh Sarkhan. “Unfortunately, the members of the community are discriminated against in most areas of life and do not receive the rights they should. The members of the community want to be recognized and accepted and be treated with respect.”

Rabbi Zohar thanked Sheikhs Sarkhan and Yunis Amasha for leading a tour of the shrine and for their hospitality.


We are growing with your help

The Book of Ecclesiastes speaks of “a time to plant and a time to reap.” I believe, for Spirit of the Galilee, that time is now.

Spring has brought amazing growth to our young organization. We have welcomed many visitors to the Galilee from different faiths. Several families from the United States are choosing us over Jerusalem for destination b’nai mitzvah.

Sacred music leaders have gathered at our HAVAYAH Center of Being to learn from each other and discuss how we can organize and expand spiritual expression in Israel.

International organizations are reaching out to us, including the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which invited Feliza and me to perform at the closing ceremony of its recent biennial. Such and honor!

Lastly, we just completed a two-day interfaith retreat seminar in Jerusalem in concert with Hebrew University, meeting with and learning from multicultural leaders from the Galilee and Jerusalem. We’ll have more to say about the seminar in our July newsletter. For now, please know that we built many bridges.

This is why your support of SOG is so important. We are making a difference; we are finding platforms for our message of pluralism and co-existence, and we are attracting our friends from abroad to the Galilee to tap into our spiritual expression.

As Or Sees It



Music from the Galilee

Listeners embrace 20-year-old melody

When Rabbi Or Zohar composed "Ivdu" 20 years ago, he had no idea it would become so popular.

But it has. Today, "Ivdu," which means to serve or worship, is sung in synagogues and summer camps from America to Australia.

Perhaps it is the uplifting Sephardic-style guitar and percussion that has attracted worshippers of all ages. Or perhaps it is the simple message of the prayer, which comes from Psalm 100:2: "Worship God with happiness."

Whatever the reason, "Ivdu" has caught the imagination of Jews worldwide. Or and Feliza hope you enjoy it.

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