Josh Shron, MyIsraeliMusic.com
On Sunday, December 13, 2020, Israeli singing superstar Shiri Maimon performed a special virtual concert for Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan. The full concert is no longer available online, unfortunately, but you can watch a “highlight reel” in the video above.
I’m sharing this not only as an excuse to praise Shiri Maimon, in my opinion the best female Israeli voice out there. Shiri’s always great, and her talents were on full display in the 45-minute show.
But what really impressed me about this concert was that it made Israeli music much more accessible to American Jews.
How to bring Israeli music to the masses?
I’ve long argued that Israeli music is an incredible way to connect with the modern state of Israel. One doesn’t need to understand every lyric to appreciate the music of a foreign culture. Just look at opera! Lots of people appreciate the opera without understanding a single word.
But for Jews everywhere, Hebrew is so much more than a foreign language. It is the glue that has held the Jewish people together for thousands of years. It’s the common bond that unites all Jews around the world. And its revival reflects a turning point in Jewish history, signifying the miraculous birth of the modern state of Israel.
So whether or not you understand every lyric, it’s important to develop a stronger connection with the Hebrew language. And music is an amazing way to do it.
But for many, Hebrew is unfortunately a barrier to entry. Most Israeli concerts I attend in the USA are filled with native Hebrew speakers, hungry for a small taste of “home”. Most American-born Jews simply don’t take notice.
In order to bring Israeli music to the masses, we need to find effective ways to introduce Israeli culture to English-speaking Jews.
And Shiri’s concert did just that.
A paradigm for all Israeli artists
With an ideal blend of English and Hebrew songs, Shiri’s set list was the perfect introduction to her talents. Here are the songs she performed that night:
- Bashana HaBa’ah: Shiri’s interpretation of a treasured Israeli classic, well-known around the world.
- HaSheket SheNishar: the song Shiri brought to the Eurovision in 2005 – performed in Hebrew and English.
- Funny Honey / Roxie Hart: from Shiri’s 2018 stint in “Chicago” on Broadway.
- Neshima: OK, now that the audience knows how talented she is, Shiri can hook them into one of her greatest hits in Hebrew.
- Shallow: Yup, the beloved Bradley Cooper / Lady Gaga version. Shiri nailed it.
- Now That You’re Gone: An English version of Shiri’s “Chelek Mimcha”, the song Shiri took to the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2008 when she won the award for “Best Israeli Act”.
- L’an SheLo Telchi: A classic Shiri Hebrew tune.
- Chandelier: Originally made famous by Sia, Shiri’s been singing this song in concert for the past few years.
- Halleluyah: Just a few days after performing the song in Dubai, Shiri presented it here in English and Hebrew.
- Ahava Ktana: Probably her best knowמ Israel hit to date.
- Yerushalayim Shel Zahav: Americaמ Jews go crazy for this song, and for good reason. A perfect “grand finale” for this audience.
Why It Worked
I could be wrong, but I imagine that many of Temple Israel’s members had never heard of Shiri Maimon. Members of this Reform synagogue in the attended the show because it was taking place “in their community”, unsure of what to expect. Within a very short time, however, they were hooked.
“Where has this gem been hiding?” one delighted viewer asked in the comments. “She is amazing!”
Speaking and signing in perfect English, Shiri quickly endeared herself to her new fans. She sang many well-known songs, with the audience presumably singing along, And when it was time for her to switch to Hebrew, no one minded a bit.
I’ll bet many spent some time watching countless Shiri Maimon videos on YouTube long after the show was over.
Can other Israeli artists follow suit?
Not every Israeli singer can be Shiri Maimon. Many don’t have the same command over English, and can’t necessarily make classic American songs sound good in their heavy Israeli accent.
Still, Israeli artists should take note. It’s time to think beyond Israeli audiences. It’s time to pick up new fans in the English-speaking Jewish community. Now’s the time to think of ways to make their music more accessible to the masses. Shiri did it right…we can only hope others take notice.