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This week sees the Israeli debut of Chava Alberstein's new album, "Foreign Letters." It is the second international album for Alberstein, who had previously released "The Well," accompanied by the Klezmatics, which featured songs in English and Yiddish.

"Foreign Letters" is an amalgam of songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and English. It is a beautiful, well-produced, warm and reserved album that has a place of honor among the albums released this year in Israel. The New York Times described it as "a poetic, measured narrative that only emphasizes and adds to Alberstein's effect on the audience at her performances."

The album was produced by Ben Mink, who is identified more than anyone else with kd lang's transition from country to rock - although he has also worked with the Rolling Stones. Since the Israeli media likes to concoct big headlines, and Chava Alberstein has in recent years developed a successful career abroad, she wishes to make it clear that she has neither disappeared nor left for greener pastures. "The bottom line is that I'm doing a few things, and very much enjoying myself," she says.

Alberstein's Yiddish singing is flowing and fluent, and one assumes it will be well received by all music lovers, even those who do not have a perfect understanding of the Eastern European language.

In the current album, Alberstein sets to music the poems of Yiddish poets, in which she began developing an interest four years ago when she made a film with her husband, Nadav Levitan, called "Too Early to be Quiet, Too Late to Sing." The film was about Yiddish poets, but at the time Alberstein felt "it was a sort of farewell from the subject for me."

"But like everything in life," she says, "I didn't come to terms with the farewell, and I began energetically composing songs in Yiddish. Over a period of a month and a half, I composed 30 songs."

"In the course of my career I've turned out five albums in Yiddish, but I always felt as if it were my private, intimate corner. This time, I had a strong desire not to part from the language."

Alberstein proceeded to make contact with the New York-based ensemble the Klezmatics, who had hosted her at past performances. The Klezmatics are part of an increasingly expanding group of musicians around the world who view their Jewish roots as a welcome musical influence that blends with contemporary music. Another example is the excellent New York musician John Zorn, who used to play with the band "Sonic Youth," and who made a neat integration between them and the sources.

"I had a very good connection with the band, and they made the connection between me and Ben Mink. I knew that he worked a lot with rockers, and I didn't know how he would receive my music, but they sent him a tape and he was enthusiastic and got in touch with me," says Alberstein.

After recording "The Well," Alberstein remained in close contact with Mink. "We started having a lot of philosophical discussions about what is more important in music listening, the words or the melody, and what the audience plugs into more. We both reached the conclusion that the melody is more meaningful than the words.

"For years we listened to Greek and Spanish music, and although we didn't understand the words, we loved the music. Ben would always tell me that he was raised on `La Bamba,' but he still doesn't entirely know what it means. However, the words are always a nice extra."

The conversations with Mink led to the recording of the current album, which has a combination of songs in Hebrew and English written by Alberstein, and poems in Yiddish that she set to music.

"He didn't understand how I could even be undecided about releasing the Yiddish songs in Israel. Putting out a Yiddish album in Israel sounds like a weird combination, and is attended by all sorts of meanings and assumptions. Overseas, it's easy to free oneself from all sorts of constraints and preconceptions, and music is music. There is a big market there, and it reduces the pressure. There are wide margins and that is where I am, and it's very nice and easy. I always say that life is like a video library: there's a shelf of thrillers, dramas and action films, and you need a little bit of everything. When you're abroad, the classification into style categories isn't that significant.

"Sometimes I listen to radio here, and I hear three hours of songs by the army entertainment troupes, and then three hours of English-language songs that were hits 20 years ago, and I think about the new singers that now have to break through, and it sounds so hard to me. Besides the fact that I want to know what's going on here, and I can't always succeed in doing so just by listening to radio."

Chava Alberstein has not appeared in Israel for two years. "I feel like I'm a little on vacation," she laughs. "Nevertheless, I was a good soldier for many years." She has now completed a concert tour around the United States, and will begin another tour in the spring. The album "Foreign Letters" is available in music shops in Israel, where it is distributed by NMC.