May 8, 2008
Israel to rock the Kodak but hoping for more glam
Rami Kleinstein music video 'Winds of War' ( Hebrew)
So far they've managed to confirm appearances by Kirk Douglas and Larry King -- two titan Jewish entertainers, but not exactly the hoped-for vibrant faces of an Israel-embracing Hollywood. As of press time, rumors were still swirling about a possible performance by Stevie Wonder.
To be sure, much of Hollywood has never wrapped its arms around Israel with much enthusiasm, but on this unabashedly celebratory occasion, it would have seemed that at least some of the Jewish big leaguers -- Steven Spielberg, Natalie Portman, Sarah Silverman, Brett Ratner -- might have come out for this event to support the Jewish homeland.
"We did not get a great response," said Genie Benson, executive director of the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble and one of four producers of the Kodak concert. "I was very surprised. I thought more people would want to jump on board."
Benson attributes the lack of participation to the very nature of Los Angeles, a fragmented, sprawling city where many events commemorating the anniversary are taking place across the city throughout the month, with everyone inviting the same famous Jews.
"Every synagogue, every organization is doing their own thing," lamented Benson, who has been producing Israeli and Jewish events in Los Angeles for decades. "In New York, the whole community has come together."
California's governor and Los Angeles' mayor will not attend the L.A. concert. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not respond to the invitation to attend, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, usually eager to be seen in the Jewish community, cited a conflict, Benson said.
Nevertheless, the show will go on, and with gusto, according to organizers: "I'm going to celebrate the people who are coming," said Craig Taubman of Craig 'N Co., whose annual "Let My People Sing" event has as its theme "60-4-60" -- lining up 60 hours of programming toasting Israel's 60th -- of which the Kodak show will be the centerpiece.
"There's far more to celebrate and look forward to in the positive realm," Taubman said.
The lineup at the Kodak includes renowned Israeli artists Noa and the Idan Raichel Project; a new dance, "Shuva Israel," by the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble; a short film made by Jeremy Goldscheider, especially for the occasion; and other hinted-at surprises.
At the age of 17, Noa moved to Israel alone and served two years in the Israeli army. Her music career began soon after, when she met her musical soul mate -- her collaborator, co-writer, producer, guitarist and arranger Gil Dor.
Over the past 18 years, the dark-haired beauty has recorded a live album with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; shared a stage with Sting; was the first Israeli artist formally invited to perform in Morocco; sang in front of Pope John Paul II; had a song written specifically for her by Nicola Piovani; performed John Lennon's "Imagine" with Arab singer Khaled in Hebrew, English and Arabic; and was the headliner for the Nov. 4, 1995, peace rally in Tel Aviv moments before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
The Idan Raichel Project is enormously popular in Israel. The group includes some 70 artists and nearly as many strands of musical influences: Jewish liturgy, reggae, Ethiopian village songs, Arabic folk, Caribbean rhythms, hip-hop, Yemenite music, modern Israeli love ballads and others.
The name and dreadlock-framed face of the Project belong to Israeli Idan Raichel, who nevertheless says that the group actually has no front man. The 31-year-old sabra is quoted on the Project's Web site, "I wrote the songs, and I arranged and produced them, but I perform them together with other vocalists and musicians. On the other hand, we are not a group. It's something in between."
These collaborative recordings have produced three hit albums and numerous sold-out concerts in Israel, the United States, Europe and Africa. The Project's last visit to Los Angeles was in November 2007, when seven of the multifacited musicians performed to a wildly enthusiastic crowd at UCLA Live.
Raichel and four members of the gang will tour the United States this spring for a series of Israel celebrations, including an Israel solidarity day in Chicago, the concert at Radio City Music Hall and the Kodak show, and they can be expected to perform emotive hits such as "Bo'ee" (Come With Me), "Mi'Ma'amakim" (Out of the Depths) and "Im Telech" (If You Go).
Although no Israeli could utter Rami Kleinstein's name without conjuring thoughts of his recently estranged wife, Rita, the prolific composer and singer is also a megastar in Israel in his own right.
Kleinstein's charming front-tooth gap is not the primary reason he's been called "the Elton John of Israel." Both pianist and spirited performer, Kleinstein, like John, is likewise known for his timeless love songs -- sans the kooky wigs and eyewear. For more than 20 years, songs like "Tapuchim U'Tmarim" (Apples and Dates), "Kol Ma She Tirtzi" (Everything You Would Want) and "Harbe Panim" (Many Faces) have become iconic ballads across Israel.