For a country less than a century old, Israel has produced a remarkably deep trove of popular music. From the pre-statehood years of Shoshana Damari and Moshe Vilensky to the post independence music of Naomi Shemer and Sasha Argov, up to the present where acts like Idan Reichel and Hadag Nahash have found success in Israel and abroad, Israel has always been a musical land. Israelis have never been shy about competition either, winning the Eurovision contest on three occasions, and it's in that proud tradition that the Hallelujah Global Jewish Singing Contest is searching for the next generation of Jewish music stars. On June 17th, Hallelujah will hold a semifinal in Los Angeles to decide which of twelve competitors will go on to represent the US at the contest in Israel this summer.
Dikla Kadosh, the director of community events at the Israeli American Council (IAC), which is co-sponsoring the Los Angeles event with Marvin Markowitz, of The Mark, is excited that Hallelujah chose Los Angeles as the city to stage its American finals. Hallelujah's “existed for over twenty years, and it took a long, long hiatus, and now it's back,” said Kadosh recently at the IAC's offices in Woodland Hills.
Hallelujah was founded by Eitan Gafni, a longtime Israeli music producer who's worked with artists like Mati Caspi and Sholomo Artzi, among others. He founded Hallelujah in 1992, and it ran for three years, but was canceled after that due to a lack of funding. The competition restarted in 2011 and has been running ever since.
According to Kadosh, Hallelujah is not simply an American Idol or The Voice knockoff, it's something special. “It's not just another singing competition, the whole point is to bring Jews from all over the world and to get them familiar with Israeli culture and the Hebrew language.”
The Los Angeles competition will be held on June 17th at 7pm at The Mark in Pico Robertson. The twelve contestants, many of whom are locals, but some of whom are being flown in from the East Coast for the competition, will each perform a song in Hebrew which will be judged by a panel of twelve judges that includes musicians Craig Taubman and Misha Segal, as well as people like Ofer Mazar, a consular official from the Israeli Consulate. The judges will secretly score each contestant after their performance, and the winner will be given a free trip to Israel to compete in the world finals.
Kadosh says the Israel trip will be a special experience for the American winner. The trip is nearly three weeks long, but according to Kadosh, “they're not just sitting and rehearsing for 19 days,” the contestants will visit Yad Vashem, meet with Israeli artists and officials, and get to visit other sites of interest in the country as well.
The organizers hope to get a crowd of at least 500 people for the Los Angeles competition and they have priced the tickets cheap at $5 in hopes of making sure everyone who wants to come and see the show has a chance to get in.
Kadosh says the Israeli consulate has been fully behind the effort. “They think it's a great idea. It's a great way to bring people together. It's a great way to use Israeli culture as a connector.” Though she was quick to add that “This event has no political agenda, no religious agenda.”
Kadosh hopes that people who come will see the amazing artistry and musical history that Israel has produced and that they will perhaps feel more connected to the country. “Israel's working really hard to get publicity out about the good things we have to offer,” said Kadosh, who thinks the Hallelujah semifinals won't just be a good time, they'll be a great time.
For tickets to the Hallelujah Semi-Finals, visit israeliamerican.org/events/hallelujah