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Yoel Sharabi Encore
By Judah S. Harris
When I was a student at Yeshiva College in the
popular singing sensation who would appear at a number of the annual
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
practice on my part to be able to sing competently, but one, a tune for
Sabbath song “Yom Zeh L’Yisrael” with a Spanish sound and beat, I have
well enough to present to, and even impress, those seated around any
When I’m riding the buses in
Israel, I hear this music. In
the restaurants and at celebrations there (and occasionally here), I’ve
singers whose lives are all about Sephardic music and who, invariably,
Sephardic heritage. I once took a business card from a young Mizrachi
his late twenties who I heard performing at a mid-day Chanukah party
children of Keren Or (a Jerusalem social service program) and their
didn’t know if I would ever have the occasion to book him, I living in
in Jerusalem, but he won me over, and I wished I could. The music and
singing was powerful, alive, and the children, all visually impaired,
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
Yoel’s fusion of the classic songs of Israel, Yemenite melodies, and
music went over extremely well with the students. He was a good singer
good musician, as anyone who’s seen him with, not one, but two flutes,
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.
clearly: “Ani chozer habayta…” Pause. “Ani vehagitara…” Another pause.
chozer habayta…” “Vehaderech shara.” We couldn’t see him, but in a
long spotlight shone down from the balcony on an off-stage corner of
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
Queens a couple of summers ago, and when he returned to the stage again
Saturday evening, this time to sing before a much older audience,
seniors, at a local synagogue in Forest Hills, Congregation Machane
For nearly two hours, with a
dinner intermission in the
middle, Yoel told stories through his music and his commentary,
Eitan Kantor on keyboard. I filmed a chunk of the concert intending to
something I couldn’t have done during my Yeshiva College years: post a
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
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
emerge from the darkness. But he did play the flute rapid-fire, a
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
how I had been at the YU concerts years ago. “And you know who was also
he threw out to the crowd. “You tell them,” he said to me.
said loudly, looking up for a moment from the LCD monitor of the
“Jerry Seinfeld,” Yoel repeated.
“And look where he is now…”
“And also Carol Leifer,” I added
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
year. Jerry Seinfeld became "slightly" famous, of course, while the
of Jewish music has made it more of a challenge for Yoel Sharabi and
like him to envelop a newer generation. And yet from the group of 10 or
maybe even 15 Mizrachi and Israeli performers who played prominently at
of North American Jewish venues a couple decades back, Yoel Sharabi is
that still appears frequently and appeals to so many. “He has a great
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
he’s also a nice guy.) But for me Yoel Sharabi represents something
interesting and lasting. The music you’ll hear on the Eged buses, at a
party, at an Israeli family’s simcha. Of course Jerry Seinfeld is
Israel too. So much so that he went there recently to promote his “Bee”
Check out the interviews he gave while in Israel last fall, his first
since 1970, when at the age of 15 he worked in a kibbutz field
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.
Harris is a photographer,
filmmaker, speaker and
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 atwww.judahsharris.com/visit.