Jun 23, 2008

Yonatan and the Cello

We have found all of the gifted musicians we have written about through friends. We received a recommendation; made a call; set a rehearsal date . . . this has been our usual way. However, Yonatan and his cello were G-d sent.

Two weeks ago, we attended the first conference of independent Israeli prayer communities. Someone decided to survey this emerging phenomenon and that is how we discovered that we at Nava Tehilla are not alone. There are approximately 30 prayer communities throughout Israel that have spontaneously emerged. After discovering that we are part of a wave, we decided that we ought to meet.

200 people from across Israel gathered in a JCC in Petach-Tikvah. Among them were 7 representatives of Nava Tehila. Daphna and Reb Ruth, as two of the organizers, were asked to close the conference with sacred chants. The opening was provided by representatives from “Beit Tefila,” from Tel-Aviv, and members of “The Heart’s Niggun,” from Nahalal. Yonatan Niv and his cello are part of their team. We sat at the opening and knew we had found our cellist.

By the end of the conference, we already had spent a good time singing and playing together. When it was time for us to do the closing ceremony – he was already one of us - no rehearsal was needed . . .

Our spiritual connection was immediate. Yonatan's participation in four of the tracks raised our musical bar to unprecedented heights. Zechariah could not hide his delight! After recording Yonatan playing in Yoel’s “Talk to Us,” the atmosphere was so attuned that Yoel recorded the lead voice in one take. Except for the mix, this song is finished!!

Here is the clip where Yoel and Yonatan are rehearsing their duet “Talk to Us”:

This clip was shot at rehearsal with Yoel, who wrote the song, and Yonatan and his magical cello. The cello has the quality of a human voice. This verse is about talking and listening between God and us. We were fascinated by the conversation between the instrument and the singing voice.

And if you really want to see Yonatan and friends in a sensitive, intelligent, and spectacular show go see The Flying Tower – June 30 and July 1 at Leo Model Hall.

Jun 19, 2008

The Klezmers Are Coming!!

This is a long post with many clips so sit back and enjoy!

We wrote before about the different aspects of Daphna’s Lecha Dodi .You already know it is inspired by the Tumbalalaika, which is a Klezmer song. Thus, we imagined that this track would include a clarinet, violin and accordion. We started the search for musicians in our usual channels among friends who play world music and who connect to folk style from an artistic place. We even found a trio that seemed to be exactly that - but all phone calls and e-mails came back empty . . . What to do?!?

I am not sure how I dared get a Klezmer band from the web, but I did! The very simplicity of the "Jerusalem Klezmers" website caught my eye. (FYI - their site does not appear well on Firefox. It is much better on Explorer). I called Lev, who manages the group. We have the merit to integrate into the project a segment of Israeli culture that has not been represented so far – Russian-speaking immigrants. Oh, don't you dare call them Russians! There are those who came from Russia and those who came from the Ukraine, and they tease each other to death over the differences, which our uneducated eyes totally miss. These musicians are academics with advanced degrees, many former members of famous orchestras.

Rehearsing and recording with this trio was WILD! It was an experience to bridge three cultures and four languages: French by Zechaia, Hebrew by us, the Sabras, and the three Russian speaking musicians who, despite their fluent Hebrew, speak only Russian among themselves. To complete the “chaos,” we added a dash of English. Add to that different musical styles, and strong egos, and you have a complete tragicomedy!

We sent the trio two songs: Lecha Dodi and Dancing Gazelles. Alex, the accordionist, is the musical arranger and wrote all the solos. The other two have classical training, which means they only play frWe sent the trio two songs: Lecha Dodi and Dancing Gazelles. Alex, the accordionist, is the musical arranger and he wrote all the solos. The other two have classical training, which means they only play from notes by sight. That meant that Alex had to bridge the gap between our ideas and their playing.

This is our first rehearsal in which they present to us what they have prepared before any editing or improvement. Isn't it beautiful?

Daphna’s response after this was: “Who needs to sing? Let them play and that is enough!”

However, Zechariah, who has seen many musicians in his life continues according to our plan. With great patience and limited Hebrew he explains to them what needs to happen. Till now we have only spoken with Lev, who is the youngest, humblest and most communicative. He is the organizer, a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of music. At this point Vladimir, AKA Volodia, started expressing himself. He is a violinist, with the strongest musical resume of the three, and has very strong opinions. First he does not like how we sing.

“Do you want to sound like gypsies or like serious musicians?” he asks.

“Like gypsies!” we answer enthusiastically.

For a second he is baffled but he quickly gathers himself. He does not stay quiet for long. This is a verbatim of the dialogue I have titled: “How to insult (or amuse) two people in one sentence”:

Zechariah: Play this part without the clarinet, OK? Then, everybody together. It’s important!

Vladimir: (he does not listen, and speaks to Yoel and Daphna) He is Catholic - that is like rabbi.

Daphna: Like a rabbi?

Vladimir: Like a rabbi. He does not know, he is like a rabbi!

Zechariah: (doing his own thing completely oblivious) You remember after boee kala there are two measures…

Vladimir: That’s the way they are. Don’t know anything!

Daphna: laughing

Lev: (translated) Only rabbis, only rabbis.

Daphna giggles while pointing at the rabbi in residence: Ruth, who is behind the camera.

Half an hour later, we attempt to show Vladimir how we want Dancing Gazelles to end. He does not like it. Here are few key gems from this video clips:

Vladmir: This will be trash!

(Sarcastically): But of course he must be right! He is a Father, so he is right!

We started the studio time with apprehension. However, the studio is like a Temple. It influences everybody. All three excellent professionals musicians sat down and started playing, but we found out that we needed a mediator between their professional standards and our spirit. And Daphna saved the day. Without fear she entered into the studio and everybody was so-o-o-o happy!

Toward the end of the day Zechariah asked for a clarinet improvisation. Alex wrote a beautiful segment on the spot and Zechariah, fully inspired by Daphna, is also having a ball.

During the break we schmoozed and heard about their families and musical work. However, where Volodia is concerned, even friendship has boundaries. When Zechariah, who is also a violinist, wanted to pick his violin he jumped as if he was bitten by a snake. Nobody other than him can touch his violin which is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Don’t get me wrong - it was an amazing experience and the results are fabulous! If you are looking for a Klezmer trio or a musical quartet for your wedding - don't search any further! They are it!

Jun 18, 2008

What is Really Happening in Studio 1

A special reporter was sent to the studio to investigate allegations made by Rabbi Ruth, Father Zecheriah, Daphna and Yoel about working 24/7 on a certain music cd. Here are her findings:

Jun 1, 2008

The children of Nava-Tehila

Anyone who has set foot in our community at Kabbalat Shabbat knows that our children have adopted the chant Asher lo Hayam as their own. Every time we sing this verse, they serve as the Chazaniyot/Chazanim. When they sing everybody melts!

We decided to maintain the child-like spirit of this track. We arranged it in a way that makes it sound like a group of children and women singing on a beach . . . perhaps somewhere in the Caribbean.

One afternoon, a group of boys and girls who are part of our minyan gathered at Reb Ruth's home. We all enjoyed hearing them sing! The five year olds Amalyah, Abigail and Itamar joined in the fun, but decided they are not ready yet for recording.

Here is the Nava-Tehila’s children choir with Daphna: Uriel Gan-Sinclair, Mira Sayks, Avital Kagan and Avital Meir.

The entire childrens' recording lasted only one hour!!! We have to admit that adults’ recordings take much longer.

In this clip Zechariah and the children are listening to one of the tracks. I thought they were dancing for fun but Avital enlightened me to the fact that they were actually listening to off-key moments and point at each other saying: "You are off . . .

This track was just for fun. After we finished the recording Daphna went into the studio and sang with the children. Then, they all went out for pizza. They were sad that it had ended so fast!

May 28, 2008


We learned from our teacher Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi that every part of Shabbat has its own flavor and rhythm. Friday night is linked to three-quarters rhythm, which is the rhythm of a waltz. It has circularity and tenderness like mama.

When we, Daphna and Reb Ruth, sat three years ago to plan Daphna's first Kabbalat Shabbat we wanted to follow this energetic direction and looked for a waltz tune for Lecha-Dodi. In order to grasp how a waltz and Lecha-dodi fit together we sang the Yiddish melody known as Tumbalalayika. That led to Daphna composing the melody we jokingly nicknamed “Advanced Tumbalalayika” AKA Daphna’s Lecha-dodi. This is the same tune that gets you up from your seats many Friday nights and fills our davvening space with many dancing couples, triads and circles.

As we went about recording more and more layers of this track, we found out that we just couldn't stay seated. Those of us who were not bound by the headset cables had to get up and dance . . .

This first clip is arguably the first sign of this malady. It was shot in February during our stay in the monastery. We were sitting among the wild flowers arranging our niggunim when Zechariah showed up with his warm brown winter cloak. It looked so majestic we couldn't resist trying it on.

Daphna put it on and simply had to whirl . . .

As far as we can recall (Father) Zechariah and (Rabbi) Ruth also danced on several occasions. However, none of these dances were ever captured on tape. Is this a plot meant to protect their respectful status in the community? Or maybe the reason is that the camera woman is usually Ruth???

Unfortunately for them, Daphna and Yoel did not merit such luck! Here they are during one of the early recordings:

The next clip captures a rare and unprecedented event. The Klezmer band (whom we will cover in another post) are recording in the studio. Daphna invites Leo, the technician, to dance. Leo, as you may have figured out by now, is not as crazy as we are - but after a moment of hesitation, he said yes!!!

Initially Leo attempts a Russian dance in honor of our Russian-Ukrainian Klezmer musicians, but eventually, he is also taken by the waltz.

Do try this at home!!!

Alon Paner -Base Guitar

Some of you may know that this blog is originally written and published in Hebrew. Our friend Nachshon took upon himself the task of translating it into English. We have just realized that one old post – from before Passover - was not uploaded. So here is the story of the bass guitar – the second layer that was recorded after the percussion.

As Zechariah phrase it, the base is like a compassionate father who hugs all the Niggunim and supports them. Many people can’ t hear these low sounds but the base guitar is the roots.

We use a base in all nigunim except our two Pillars of Smoke (BeAmud Anan…).

After hiring Alon Panner to play we found out that he is considered one of the best in the country. One person put it in these words: "your guest musicians are too good for you"! Needless to say that after openly expressing this opinion he himself was NOT asked to come aboard…

To give you a taste of the base here is the niggun “Arbayim Ahana” . You will hear only the base with no vocals or percussions.

Few things we learn about Alon:

His family had been secular for a long time, probably since the Era of the Enlightment.

He had never been to a Kabbalat Shabbat and never heard of Lecha Dodi.

He is familiar with Shalom aleichm but not from home.

He is getting married this summer with a chupa and the whole ceremony.

He willingly joined us for our prayer circle with which we open every session.

The most amazing story Alon shared with us is that after seven years of working as a professional musician in weddings, recordings and bands he decided to choose an easier career path, one that will allow him to spend more time at home.

And what is this easy path he chose?


Alon went straight form 4 hours of to an exam at Haddasah Medical School. If he can sustain the calmness and concentration we experienced with him in the studio we predict he will make a fabulous doctor.

In this clip Alon plays the bass and Yoel provide the sounds that what will, in the future be played by the oud (or in the case of this blog, in the past... see the last post abput the oud).

And here you can hear the base on Yoel’s Lecha Dodi

May 22, 2008

Oud, Nay, Gilad and Tiran, A Desert Dream Comes True

One of our earliest dreams was to produce the chant, “Arbaim Shana,” with an accompaniment of a nay and an oud. Long before we found Zachariah, we started rehearsing for an independent disc production. For several weeks we soaked in Arabim Shana, wandering in the desert, experiencing the loneliness and despair of this chant. In the desert wind, we heard the sound of a nay. Yoel even sang those sounds out loud. The nay appears at the distance with the oud, the Israelites tired and covered with dust appear right after in a sand cloud. Oy, "they did not know my ways . . ."

Today, the dream came true!

When Tiran plays the nay, the soul pours out with longing. They nay strikes the tired soul, yearning . . .

In this clip, the nay answers Yoel in “Ki Ata YHVH Elyon.

Tiran Bublil, just like like Kobby Hagoel, grew up in a synagogue – this time Tunisian. His father, who is turning eighty these days, is a chazzan and performer of sacred Jewish music. As a child, Tiran was surrounded with Arabic music and Jewish - Tunisian sacred music. In this clip, he tells us about growing up in the synagogue choir, and of his father who worked as a leather cutter in a shoe factory to support his family. Tiran’s father is surprised that his son can make a living from music. He wished for that himself but could never afford it.

Gilad Hazzan, our oud player, is a Breslav chassid. As you can see he wears a typical big yarlmaka and tzitzit with techelet. In his tiny car, you can find side-by-side two children’s safety chairs, an oud, a kannun and Likutei Moharan, a book of teachings from Reb Nachman of Breslav. Check out the sticker on his oud case!

Gilad plays the oud with great devotion and sweetness as if he is playing a lullaby to his own baby. Gilad and Yoel both study in the Center for Oriental Music in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem.

In this clip, Gilad offers improvisations for “Arbayim Shana”.

During the break in the studio, Gilad drew us into a conversation about the fiery lion that emerged from the Holy of Holies after the destruction of the Temple. We moved to talking about the nature of passion, creativity, good, evil and overcoming our inclination to do G-d’s work.

Following Kobby’s advice, we invited Tiran and Gilad to play together. It was the first time we used two separate recording rooms at the same time. In this way the musicians could maintain eye contact through the glass and ear contact through the headsets while every instrument was recorded on a separate track that can be edited separately.

Leo Goes to Mexico and his Brother Abe Doron Snaps us to Ireland

The Doron brothers:
Leo - the studio owner and our recording technician always surprises us by his ability to stay calm. Studio life is full of tensions. Musicians are late, failed recordings have to be repeated. There are disagreements . . . yet somehow in the midst of it all he manages to keep a smile.
However, even Leo needs a break. One day, Leo packed his bags and went to visit the family in Mexico. It happened just as we were looking for a percussionist for our Asher Lo Hayam - the Caribbean-style children's song, and for our beloved reggae Anan Vaarafel. A few days before he left, we learned that Leo’s brother is the famous percussionist Abe Doron. Well, we thought, maybe Abe can do the job. But then Leo left and we had no phone no for Abe. We surfed the web and found him on myspace, on Utube , you name it – fully featured but not a single phone number!
Eventually, we located the missing brother who was busy establishing a percussion music school. Abe is well known worldwide as an percussionist, no less then an ex-Riverdance player! After we finished working on the two songs we planned for him to drum we begged him to play the bodhrán for us. Watch this!

After this delightful tutorial we could not resist! We asked Abe on the spot to add a bodhrán to our "Irish" Shameava Vatismach Zion. Our own Father Zachariah, who, in his previous incarnation had been an Irish fiddler, barely agreed to arrange this song as if it was truly Irish. His main complaint was that traditional Irish tunes are written in a different key. We would hear nothing of that and we stayed on Zachariah's case until he gave up and wrote an amazing Irish fiddle solo piece for this tune. And now we were going to "Irish" it even more by adding the bodhrán.
Here Abe is playing over Zecharie’s recorded solo piece. However, Zechariah is not happy… Apparently Abe was playing in a modern style, to go with our wrong key, I guess!

And then Zechariah asked Abe to play the bodhrán the old way. Listen to him describe his wishes to Abe. When Abe finally came up with “Old-style” drumming Zechariah relaxed – this is it, this is the real thing!!

May 11, 2008


The Shiviti is a Jewish art form that is based on the verse from Tehilim: "I equate G-D before me at all times."(Psalms 17 verse 8). It functions as an aid for meditation or contemplation.

The studio is a place of action - not always a place intended for prayer. We wanted to bring prayer into the studio and to maintain our awareness that we are singing to G-D, not to the microphone, the technician or the producer. Thus, we brought to the studio a Shiviti created by Reb Zalman who is the spiritual Zeide of many of us.

In this Shiviti, G-D's name Y-H-W-H is written downward as a reflection of the human silhouette.

In Kabbala, these four letters parallel the archetypical order of father, mother, son and daughter. The upper Yod represents Chochma, and is associated with the archetype of the father. The upper Hey is associated with Bina which represents the mother. The vav is The Holy Blessed One and the lower Hey represents the Shekhina.

We had not noticed until yesterday that metaphorically we represent these four faces. Father Zechariah sits in Chochma. He is the mind behind this project. Reb Ruth sits in the position of Bina. She is the translator and mediator between everybody making sure they eat and rest and know their role.

Yoel and Daphna, the young artists, sit for the Holy Blessed One and Shekhina. They express themselves through their creativity - writing the music, playing their instruments and singing.

BTW, without planning it, we have found perfect balance between the two of them. The disc includes 8 tracks written by Daphna and an equal number written by Yoel.

Yesterday, we consciously and humorously accepted upon ourselves these roles and painted the Shiviti together. Each one painted their letter and its corresponding background.

And here it the Shiviti in it's place in the Studio!

Apr 15, 2008

Percussion'- Kobi Hagoel

Kobi Hagoel (The literal translation of his name is "Jacob the redeemer . . .") is a magician of oriental percussion instruments. He is one of Yoel’s teachers and a professional creative musician who plays a wide variety of exotic instruments.

Have ever heard of a Zar? Rik? Kanjira? We tried a variety of drums and percussions in order to find what fit with every track. We discovered that the kangira, which is the tiniest, actually has the broadest sound.

For many tracks, Kobi recorded several different instruments so that we will mix to get a rich texture. As he was playing some of the fast -paced tracks it looked like he has 20 fingers . . . amazing!

In this video, Kobi is getting ready for Yoel’s Lecha Dodi. He is humming his original interpretation from what he remembers as the tune, not what Yoel wrote . . . This immediately raised our suspicion that he grew up in a prayer environment. Our investigation revealed some interesting reminiscing about the Salonika shul he frequented as child. He had no idea we are videoing him.

For those of you who don't happen to speak Hebrew, Kobi told us how at the age of 6 he was taken to shul with his friends and given a glass off arak. He can still feel the hit in the back of the throat to this very day – a good training, he said, for learning how to down alchohol . . .

It is common to record a few takes before achieving a good result. Nevertheless, we were surprised to do “Shalom Aleichem” in one take - the Angels were present!

Studio work is not all nice and dandy. There are challenges and tensions at times. However, the pictures capture the good moments!

Even Zacharia has moments of nachas.

What’s a “Guide”?

The guide is like an initial stitch or a pencil sketch that you erase when the final product is ready. It is an initial recording of lesser quality that follows the outline of a track. Accompanying musicians, like the drummer, base player, or other musicians can listen to it on their headset while they play and record their parts.

As a first step, we recorded Yoel playing the basic chords of every track.

At the second stage, we recorded simple singing over the chords. I shot this brief video from the technician room that is separated by a double glass from the wood-lined studio. Daphna is singing the song “Shaamea Vatismach Zion.” Yoel is pointing to the right place on the notes using a Yad. You can also see Father Zechariah's image, in which he seems to be conducting and singing with her, reflected in the glass.

This one is a line from “Hod Ve-hadar.” Ruth's image is reflected in the glass, which tells you its nighttime.

Apr 9, 2008

Into the Studio

The purpose of this blog is to include you, members and supporters of the Nava Tehila community, in the production of the Kabbalat Shabbat music CD. This week we have entered the studio. We have sent everyone an initial fundraising letter. The process of a musical production is a bit like pregnancy - hidden from the eye! We want to share the process with you!

Don’t expect deep musings in this blog . . . this will be a real time report on what is happening behind the studio’s closed doors!

For starters a bit of history:

We started gathering for Kabbalat Shabbat on Shabbat Shira, 2005, at the home of Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan. We wanted to create a space were prayer would be moving, relevant, and connected to the Shekhina. After a while we adopted the name Nava Tehila. If you are still not familiar with us you can visit our web site

Reb Ruth's vision was to create a place where we could experiment with different modes of prayer that would be grounded in a deep understanding of the flow of the traditional Kabbalat Shabbat

Over time, she was joined by few musicians and our Kabbalat Shabbat gravitated toward the musical aspect of prayer. In the past two years, we composed numerous niggunim for Kabbalat Shabbat. These niggunim add up to a spiritual journey that changes every time according to the parsha and to the season

A prayer facilitation team (Baalei tefila) emerged from this work that includes Rabbi Ruth Gan Kagan, Daphna Rosenberg and Yoel Sykes

Meanwhile other things were happening. People started inquiring about ways of listening to the music outside of our time together. Visitors from overseas brought those niggunim to their home communities and we started receiving emails requesting a CD.

In mid-December we felt a push to produce a CD that came from the Holy Blessed One.

“Nu” He said in our hearts, “ How long are you going to wait?”

We prayed on the matter.

“We can’t carry this project alone. We need a producer, a producer who is spiritually connected to our work, professional and fun to work with!”

Our prayers were answered that same day. That evening Reb Ruth received a phone call from Father Zechariah, a regular member of our group and a monk in the Beatitudes Order. The Beatitudes are a Catholic group whose monastery is located in Emmaus near Latrun. They emphasize the Jewish roots of Christianity by celebrating Shabbat. They pray Kabbalat Shabbat using Jewish tunes. They have participated in our prayers since the beginning of our community.

Father Zechariah was calling to tell Ruth that there is a demand for new Shabbat tunes in their international Order. He asked whether they could do something with our music.

You can imagine our joyful amazement!

Shortly thereafter we learned that Father Zechariah, who had been playing his fiddle in our services, used to be a performer of Irish music. He produced music, conducted choirs, and he had even put out a number of CDs. We received all that we asked for and more because, like the rest of us, Father Zechariah is doing this work for the sake of Heaven.

In this video you can see Father Zechariah writing down comments for our Lecha-Dodi during the first rehearsal he attended. Later he could not hold back and pulled out his fiddle.

Since January we have been meeting three times a week to arrange the niggunim. Listening to a CD is a different experience than praying in community.

In mid-Adar A we went to the monastery in Emmaus for a three day retreat to complete the arrangement. The monastery is located in the heart of “Canada Park” and the natural environment was a delight in and of itself..

We completed the arrangements and had the merit to see Father Zechariah in his Shema Israel robe.

Eventually, the big day arrived and we entered the studio.

We work in a “Studio 1” which is located in the Talpiot Industrial area. The owner and technician is Leo Doron, fondly thought of as Leo the Calm!