Rockiah – A New Jewish Rock Group in Ramat Bet Shemesh

Those who attended the Shemeshfest Sukkot festival last week at the Bet Shemesh ampitheater were treated to a talented local rock group named “Rockiah” – the English name of the band is a play on their Hebrew name ???? (The Earth’s Firmament), and their American rock music roots.

Rockiah are Yehudah David (vocals, guitars), Zvi Newman (bass), and David Epstein (drums). Eli Krantman joined them on backing vocals.

Yehudah, Zvi, and David all live in Ramat Bet Shemesh and are olim from the USA.

I spoke with Zvi about the origins of Rockiah and what they hope to accomplish. Zvi told me they are all married with kids and come from different backgrounds, but their music speaks one language.

“Rockiah is about fusing the raw power of rock music with the spiritual inspiration of the Jewish mekorot (written sources). Yehudah is influenced by Van Halen and other power-pop artists, so his guitar playing is among the wildest on the scene. Dave’s drumming is influenced by punk, so we have a harder-driving sound in our shows – and his aggressive fills make you take notice. I’m influenced by John Entwistle of The Who, so the bass surprises the crowd with “stolen” solos that bubble up from underneath. And Yehudah’s singing overflows with pure heart and soul.”

“Rockiah’s music is written entirely by Yehudah, while the lyrics are straight out of the Psalms and various prayers. It’s meant to be lively and catchy for the audience, and it’s challenging for the musicians – the chords change every few seconds, so we have to be on our toes. Also, we love to improvise solos off the top of our heads – but all of this is meant to augment the uplifting, danceable essence of the songs. You can drive, work, jog, or clean the house to Rockiah, and come out of it very inspired.”

“At the end of the day, we try to give a fresh and energetic musical foundation to the experience of the holy as espoused by the lyrics. The Jewish content takes rock to a higher plane.”

Rockiah - Bonei Yerushalayim
Rockiah - Bonei Yerushalayim

Rockiah is now promoting its new CD and plan to join the performance circuit.   Their debut album, Bonei Yerushalayim, was released just a couple weeks ago and is available online at shemeshmusic.com and at GalPaz stores. You can hear sample tracks at shemeshmusic.com before purchase. You can also learn more about Rockiah on their Facebook and Myspace homepages.

We wish them much success!

Listen to Israel Radio on the Internet

I remember as a kid in Chicago how I used to walk around the house (and neighborhood) and try to find the best spot for reception on my shortwave radio. In those days, tuning in to Israel Radio was like catching an ephemeral glimpse of far away land.  At 4pm in the afternoon, I would tune in Reshet Bet and listen to the 6am Boker Tov announcement which included the incredible recital of the Shema and then the top of the morning news.

Nowadays, perhaps the mystery and anticipation are gone, but the fun is still there. Now you can listen to many thousands of radio stations around the world with a simple click of a link on your internet browser. In fact, now that I live in Israel, I listen to Chicago radio stations with the same nostalgia as I did as a kid tuning in from the other side of the world to hear the sounds of Israel.

Here are the most popular Israel Radio selections available for you to tune in live now. Simply click on a link, and your Windows Media Player will open and begin to play the selected channel.

1. Arutz Sheva Hebrew – Voice of the right of center in Israel
2. Galei Zahal – Army Radio, news, interviews, music
3. Galgalatz – Army Radio, mostly music
4. Kol Hamusica – Classical Music
5. Reshet Bet – Israel’s main news and talk channel
6. Reshet Dalet (Arabic) – news and talk in Arabic
7. Reshet Gimel – Israeli Music
8. 106FM Tel Aviv – Local Tel Aviv
9. 107.5FM Radio Haifa 107.5 – Local Haifa, Webcam of Studio
10. 88FM – Jazz Music, News

The Top 5 Modern Must See Israeli Movies

Israel has worked hard to shed its old image of producing cheesy ethnic insider, one or no-joke movies.

Today’s Israeli movie scene has produced some very creative, critically acclaimed on an international level. There are many dozens of quality films that have been produced in Israel in the past decade.

Highlighted here are five of the top modern movies filmed here in Israel in recent years. All of these films are must-sees.

1. The Band’s Visit – 2007 ????? ???????
IMDB Listing
This movie won Best Picture in 2007 in Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. Starring popular and acclaimed Israeli actor Sasson Gabai, (The Impossible Spy, Rambo III, Made in Israel).
Synopsis: An Egyptian Police Force band come to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center, yet end up lost in the wrong town with a similar sounding name.

Film critic Roger Ebert gave this film four stars and sums it up well:

They are in the middle of the Israeli desert, having taken the wrong bus to the wrong destination. Another bus will not come until tomorrow. “The Band’s Visit” begins with this premise, which could supply the makings of a comedy, and turns into a quiet, sympathetic film about the loneliness that surrounds us. Oh, and there is some comedy, after all.

2. Beaufort (2007) – This Oscar nominated film for Best Foreign Picture is the story of a group of Israeli soldiers stationed at an outpost prior to the withdrawal of forces from Lebanon in 2000. This movie cuts into the pathos of Israelis and their understanding about war, life in the Middle East, and obligation to country.
New York Times review aptly remarks that this is not so much a war movie as a study on human nature and inner feelings.

The men spend most of their time inside its heavily fortified walls, trundling down coffin-shaped corridors in spacesuitlike combat gear and bracing for the next round of attacks from an invisible enemy. Their lives are governed by tedium, claustrophobia and anxiety, and yet they clearly feel something like affection for the bleak, isolated place that has become their home.

Beaufort Movie Trailer

3. Ushpizin (2004)IMDB Listing Starring Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand (who are married in real life).

New York Times:

“Ushpizin” is groundbreaking on more than one count. It is a rare collaboration between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis and one of the first movies filmed in the insular Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Shearim with ultra-Orthodox actors.

Shuli Rand won the Israeli Academy Award for Best Actor in this film. This film also has an excellent musical score, including the popular “Atah Kadosh” from Israeli Religious Rocker Adi Ran.

Adi Ran – V’ata Kadosh:

Click here to see more video clips from this movie

4. The Syrian Bride (2004) – Clara Khoury stars in this semi-political, semi-humanitarian, semi-comedic film of a young Druze woman (Arab, but not muslim) who lives in a Druze village in the outermost portion of the Golan Heights, on the Syrian border, who travels to Syria to marry a Soap Opera star there. This tragic comedy touches on the heart strings as she says goodbye for good to her family, since she will be leaving Israel for Syria, to live with her new husband, in a country that Israel is at war with. Syrian Bride was nominated for 7 Israeli Academy Awards.

5. Medurat Hashevet (Campfire) (2004) – Set in 1981 in the early days of Israeli settling (occupation) of Judea and Samaria (The West Bank). Directed by Joseph Cedar (Beaufort), drew fire from the right-wing settler movement as the film portrays them as opportunists looking for good real estate deals rather than being motivated by political and religious beliefs. The Israeli secular crowd loved this film.

From the NY Times review:

Its broader political implications within Israel notwithstanding, “Campfire” offers an outsider an intimate portrait of family members living in uncomfortably close proximity and straining against one another during a difficult period of transition. Rachel, a tough, attractive woman whose husband died of cancer a year earlier, is tugged this way and that by conflicting desires. She longs for the security and companionship of the community. But because her first marriage was unhappy, she is unwilling to settle for another husband who won’t deliver the romantic fireworks the first one didn’t provide.

Winner of 7 Israeli Academy Awards, and nominated for another 8.

Honorable Mention: Etz Limon (Lemon Tree) (2008) – Directed by Eran Riklis (Syrian Bride). This year’s most popular film. Based on a true story, a Palestinian widow cultivates a lemon tree grove next to her house. Her new next door neighbor, Israel’s Defense Minister, Israel Navon, threatens to have the tree grove uprooted because of security concerns. This is another tragic-comedy-tear jerker-veilied left-of-center-political film. The acting is very emotional, but the message is a bit over-the-top left wing borderline propaganda siding with the Palestinians.
This film was nominated for 7 awards at Israel’s Academy Awards, and won at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival.

Also See: Top 5 Israeli Movies of All Time

Kefiyah / Keffiyeh – Arab Headress in many styles

The Arabs in Jerusalem can be seen wearing many different head dress styles. The keffiyeh means “kerchief” or scarf in English.

Many Palestinian men and women wear keffiyeh of cotton and wool mix, which lets them dry quickly and help keep the head warm in winter. The keffiyeh is usually folded in half, into a triangle, and the fold is worn across the forehead.

Palestinian Keffiyeh
Palestinian Keffiyeh

The black-and-white keffiyeh is a symbol of Palestinian heritage.

Simple White Scarf - unfolded
Simple White Scarf - unfolded

The red-and-white keffiyeh is worn throughout the Arab regions, but is most strongly associated with Jordan, where it is known as shmagh mhadab.

Red keffiyeh with black agal - rope circlet
Red keffiyeh with black agal - rope circlet

A kefiyeh can also signal a person’s status in society. It has been used by Bedouins throughout the centuries and was used as a symbol of honor and tribal identification.

Here are some different examples of keffiyeh worn by Arabs in Jerusalem.

At the suk
At the suk
Schoolchildren with keffiyeh
Schoolchildren with keffiyeh
Black modest dress
Black modest dress
White simple scarf
White simple scarf

Many Christian Arab women also cover their heads.  Their head coverings usually signify their religious order and are not worn as symbols of nationality.  In recent years, some Palestinian Christian Arab men and youths,  have begun to wear Palestinian national keffiyehs as scarves if not as head coverings.

Christian Arab headress
Christian Arab headress

Keffiyeh is often spelled kefiyah, kaffiyah, keffiya, kaffiya, and kufiya depending on dialect and region.

Reva L’Sheva

Reva L’sheva was (and is) one of the premier Jewish rock bands, fusing their influences from Reb Shlomo Carlebach and the Grateful Dead into a Jewish Soul Rock experience. Like the Diaspora Yeshiva Band before them, Reva L’Sheva is a pioneering Jewish music experience that shuns the traditional (and lame) vocals-centric, horn-accompanied Yeshiveshe music.

Like many bands, Reva L’sheva has had several lineups, although it always has centered around the band’s lead-vocals, guitarist, and front-man, Yehuda Katz.

Here’s me with the band in 2002 at Newark Airport, awaiting a El-Al flight to take us home in time for Sukkot. That’s Yehuda on my left.

Reva Lsheva & Me at Newark Airport 2002
Reva Lsheva & Me at Newark Airport 2002

Here’s a photo from their 2003 Sukkot Festival concert at the Bet Shemesh Ampitheater.

Reva Lsheva 2003 - Bet Shemesh Sukkot Festival
Reva Lsheva 2003 – Bet Shemesh Sukkot Festival

Top Five Israeli Movies of All Time

Top Israeli Films of All Time:

1. Sallah Shabbati (1964) – Directed by Ephraim Kishon, starring Topol. Notice the hillarious Mike Burstein in a cameo role. Arik Einstein is there too. This is the quintessential story of the young Israel set in the late 1950’s as Sephardic (Oriental) and Yemenite Jews were immigrating in waves due to changes in policy in the Arab countries. This man’s story, Sallah, is told to represent the light-hearted look at a heavy subject of the trials and tribulations of integration (or lack thereof) to an intrinsically Ashkenazic (European) society. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Not to be missed.


References: IMDB Movie Synopsis Wikipedia Listing

2. Givat Halfon (???? ????? – (1976 Directed by Assi Dayan, Starring Shayka Levi, Gavri Banai, and Yisrael Polikov (The stars of Hagashash Hahiver comedy troupe). This is probably the funniest movie ever made in Israel. Even 30 years later, lines from this film are used in everyday slang. “?? ?? ???? ???”. The plot and premise don’t really matter, other than to give devices for the Hagashash to have fun at the expense of everything. The scene where Shayka teaches the Egyptian Officer how to make good Turkish Coffee is truly inspired Israeli comedy at its finest. Watch also for the young Tuvya Tzapir as the zany Miluim Officer.

References: Wikipedia Listing Video Clip #1 Video Clip #2

3. Chagiga B’Snooker (????? ?????? (1975 – Starring Yehuda Barkan and Tuvya Tzapir. This film exposes the Israeli underside, the mob, as a bunch of nutsos in a madcap film. Yehuda Barkan gives his most hilarious and memorable performance as Snooker huksters try to outsmart the mob and all the craziness that ensues. Although admittedly cheesy humor, it is screened faithfully every year on Israeli TV usually around Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day).

References: Video Clip Wikipedia Listing

4. Ricochets (1986) (Shtei Etzbaot MiTzidon) ??? ?????? ??????
This anti-war story is told thru the eyes of a young recruit joining his unit in the Lebanon War (??”?). The movie was also well-received by international critics. The plot and action is simple, but the message is clear – war is bad.

References: Video Clip Wikipedia Listing

5. Hashoter Azulai “The Policeman” (1971) – Directed by Ephraim Kishon – Starring Shaike Ophir as Officer Avraham Azoulay. Ophir is policeman in Yafo. He is bumbling and naive, but with more pride and inner-knowing than others in this genre (such as Inspector Clouseau). The music and themes in this film are tragic and uplifting all at once. The final scene of this film, has become one of the most memorable in Israeli cinema. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and won the Golden Globe in the same category.
References: Wikipedia Listing IMDB Listing Video Clip

Also See: Top 5 Modern Israeli Must-See Movies