Move Over, Barbra: The Real Israeli Love Affair This Weekend Was With Kaveret

The reunion of the beloved 70s band Kaveret was the closest Israeli equivalent to Beatlemania; and some 40 years after their heyday, they sounded better than ever.

Allison Kaplan Sommer
Allison Kaplan Sommer
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Allison Kaplan Sommer
Allison Kaplan Sommer

Imagine, for a moment, that all of the Beatles made it to retirement age, that they managed to settle their differences and decided to reunite for a concert marking 40 years since their debut in a performance that seemed almost certain to be their last. 

The rush for tickets would crash a website in minutes? The concert would sell out in less than an hour? An excited crowd of fans of all ages lucky enough to get tickets would ecstatically gather at the event, singing every word? An atmosphere unlike any other would prevail in the show as unadulterated love poured from the audience in the direction of the stage?

Barbra Streisand's two shows got most of the international press last weekend; but on the Israeli cultural scene, the truly big events were the two concerts by the beloved 1970’s band Kaveret that took place in the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem, where all of the abovementioned events occurred.

Beatles purists might blanch at any comparison, but the popularity of Kaveret - known to overseas fans as “Poogy” - is the closest thing Israel has had to Beatlemania, even though the band existed for only three brief years, from 1973-76, and produced only three albums. But during their short but brilliant run, the group turned Israeli music upside down with their clever wordplay and irreverent spirit. The permanent stamp they made on Israel's music scene is as meaningful as the Fab Four’s influence on British and American music.

The seven-member band have fed the public's appetite with reunion concerts in the 1980’s and 90’s, but this time was different - because it very well might be the last time they take the stage.

Older and gray-haired, all in their 60’s, it was not a foregone conclusion they would make it to the stage this time around. Yitzhak Klepter, one of the group’s members, has suffered from extended illness, and throuout the show played guitar while seated. Gidi Gov, who among the band members has had the most successful post-Kaveret career, performing as a singer, comic actor and television host, shattered his shoulder last week. Keyboardist Yoni Rechter fell and injured himself while rehearsing on the very eve of the first concert.

The band members’ infirmities and misfortunes only seemed to raise the level of affection for them - and deepened the meaning of the lyrics of their opening song “In spite of everything, we made it here.” They sounded as fresh as ever - even better, with the wise addition of a back-up crew of young musicians and quirky, Beatles-esque video art brilliantly accompanying the band members, who seemed genuinely moved by the affection and enthusiasm of the crowd.

It was refreshing to see that unlike many aging superstars abroad - Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Mick Jagger come to mind - the Kaveret members felt no need to provide their fans with an artificially preserved replica of themselves in younger years - no plastic surgery and hair implants were in evidence. There were no sparkling costumes or elegant outfits a la Barbra - the seven band members wore clothes you might go with to the corner store, as they thoroughly entertained a crowd of people the majority of whom were the age of their children and grandchildren, who got up together and danced in circles in the aisles and recited their legendary nonsense skits word for word. In Tel Aviv, the crowd was in awe of Barbra – but in Jerusalem, they adored Kaveret.

For my own family, it was probably the only concert where all of us - ranging in age from 51 to 8, could enjoy every moment. (My fourteen year old daughter commented that in addition to appreciating the music, she thought it was hilarious to ‘watch the old people dance.’)

Even more so than Streisand, the audience was multi-generational. Many of us old folks who don’t regularly attend live music concerts paid hefty prices to be part of these experiences and to share them with our children and grandchildren, painfully conscious that in both cases, they were likely to be once-in-a-lifetime chances to see artists that had accompanied us through our lives, who would likely not come around again. In fact, there will be one more chance - the demand for tickets was so high, that two shows were added in August in Hayarkon Park, and hopefully all of the band members will manage to stay in one piece till then.

With Barbra Streisand and Kaveret taking the stage on the very same nights in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem respectively, I jokingly dubbed it “Old Fogies Music Weekend” in Israel - an island of white-bread pop-rock nostalgia in an Israeli music scene that is currently - and perhaps appropriately - dominated by the Middle Eastern sound.

A last minute development in the weekend’s events turned out to add a nice additional twist. While Barbra and Kaveret were both on stage, the Palestinians had their moment of celebration when Gaza’s Mohammed Assaf was crowned Arab Idol. For a brief, shining moment, it seemed that nearly everyone in our corner of the Middle East - from the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, to Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, to the streets of Ramallah and Gaza, everyone was focused not on conflict and strife, but on music. 

Veteran rocker Itzhak Klepter on stage in JerusalemCredit: Gil Cohen-Magen