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Yoel Sharabi Encore

By Judah S. Harris

When I was a student at Yeshiva College in the mid-80s, a popular singing sensation who would appear at a number of the annual Chanukah concerts - and I remember him on Yom Haatzmaut too - was none other than Yoel Sharabi.

I’m not of the Sephardic tradition but there are many Mizrachi songs and melodies that I enjoy immensely. (Most will require more practice on my part to be able to sing competently, but one, a tune for the Sabbath song “Yom Zeh L’Yisrael” with a Spanish sound and beat, I have mastered well enough to present to, and even impress, those seated around any shabbos table.)

When I’m riding the buses in Israel, I hear this music. In the restaurants and at celebrations there (and occasionally here), I’ve heard singers whose lives are all about Sephardic music and who, invariably, are of Sephardic heritage. I once took a business card from a young Mizrachi singer in his late twenties who I heard performing at a mid-day Chanukah party for the children of Keren Or (a Jerusalem social service program) and their families. I didn’t know if I would ever have the occasion to book him, I living in NY, he in Jerusalem, but he won me over, and I wished I could. The music and his singing was powerful, alive, and the children, all visually impaired, along with everyone else at the party responded strongly.

On the Yeshiva University campus, Yoel Sharabi represented a taste of Israel, of the Israeli experience, of Israeli music, and Israeli life. Yoel’s fusion of the classic songs of Israel, Yemenite melodies, and Chasidic music went over extremely well with the students. He was a good singer and a good musician, as anyone who’s seen him with, not one, but two flutes, certainly knows.

What really got us going though was his presentation. It was dramatic and his shows opened dramatically. The Lamport Auditorium - with some 1200 plus seats, all filled - turned completely dark, and you knew that the performance was starting. You saw nothing, except the dim exit signs, if you looked. And then you heard a voice over the speakers, breaking the silence. Slowly, but clearly: “Ani chozer habayta…” Pause. “Ani vehagitara…” Another pause. “Ani chozer habayta…” “Vehaderech shara.” We couldn’t see him, but in a moment a long spotlight shone down from the balcony on an off-stage corner of the auditorium up front. It was Yoel. He and his “guitara” were back.

I’ve seen Yoel perform in more recent years – twice at the Kew Gardens Hills Public Library, at an outdoor Jewish music series held in Queens a couple of summers ago, and when he returned to the stage again on Saturday evening, this time to sing before a much older audience, mostly seniors, at a local synagogue in Forest Hills, Congregation Machane Chodosh.

For nearly two hours, with a dinner intermission in the middle, Yoel told stories through his music and his commentary, accompanied by Eitan Kantor on keyboard. I filmed a chunk of the concert intending to do something I couldn’t have done during my Yeshiva College years: post a video clip on YouTube for the world to see.

Yoel sang in Hebrew, he sang in Spanish, Yiddish, Ladino, English, Russian and a bit of Persian. I’ve always felt that he looks the same now as I remember him years ago, just older. And to prove that the years had indeed passed, he is accompanied by a slim Apple PowerBook laptop, completely programmed with his repertoire, which he bends down to adjust as needed.

This time at Machane Chodosh, he didn’t sing “Ani chozer habayta,” (if I had requested I’m sure he would have obliged), nor magically emerge from the darkness. But he did play the flute rapid-fire, a trademark of his for years (catch him sometime playing two flutes at once!).

Yoel informally introduced me later into the performance, “and this is Judah Harris… he’s a journalist,” and then related to the audience how I had been at the YU concerts years ago. “And you know who was also there?” he threw out to the crowd. “You tell them,” he said to me.

“Jerry Seinfeld,” I said loudly, looking up for a moment from the LCD monitor of the camcorder.

“Jerry Seinfeld,” Yoel repeated. “And look where he is now…”

“And also Carol Leifer,” I added quickly.

But Yoel was more caught up, even amused by the Jerry Seinfeld part. These two comedians, both already known in the world of stand-up, had in fact opened for Yoel Sharabi at the YU Chanukah concert one year. Jerry Seinfeld became "slightly" famous, of course, while the changing tides of Jewish music has made it more of a challenge for Yoel Sharabi and others like him to envelop a newer generation. And yet from the group of 10 or 12, maybe even 15 Mizrachi and Israeli performers who played prominently at a range of North American Jewish venues a couple decades back, Yoel Sharabi is one name that still appears frequently and appeals to so many. “He has a great staying power,” commented one woman sitting next to me during the intermission.

I’ll admit publicly that I never really got into Seinfeld. Yeah he’s funny. No debating that and the show was a classic. (And equally important, he’s also a nice guy.) But for me Yoel Sharabi represents something more interesting and lasting. The music you’ll hear on the Eged buses, at a Keren Or party, at an Israeli family’s simcha. Of course Jerry Seinfeld is popular in Israel too. So much so that he went there recently to promote his “Bee” movie. Check out the interviews he gave while in Israel last fall, his first visit since 1970, when at the age of 15 he worked in a kibbutz field (YouTube: Jerry Seinfeld Press Conference Israel Nov. 07).

But then take a moment to see the new clip of Yoel that I posted from Saturday’s concert (for the larger size version, watch it right here on the top of this webpage, but if you want to also look on YouTube, the URL is

Please be sure to watch the Jerry Seinfeld clip first. I’d like him to open for Yoel Sharabi. Just like in the old days.

Judah S. Harris is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker and writer. He photographs weddings, family events and a wide range of corporate, organizational and editorial projects in the US, Israel and other countries. Harris’ photography has appeared in museum exhibits, on the Op-Ed Pages of the NY Times, on the covers of more than 40 novels, and in advertising all over the world. His work can be seen at

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