Diverse Pool of Performers Set for Religious Verse Festival in Jerusalem

With the exception of Israeli Jazz artist Omer Avital, all of the musicians who will participate in Jerusalem's religious verse festival next week are relatively unknown. The organizers say this attests to the event's authenticity.

The participants, who hail from various backgrounds, including secular and ultra-Orthodox homes, arrived yesterday at Beit Avi Hai in the capital for a rehearsal. This group demonstrated the diversity of the creative world of religious verse, or Piyut.

Those performing in the second national Piyut festival also span a wide range of ages. What they all have in common is a childhood link to traditional singing and religious song, whether in synagogue or at family get-togethers.

The Piyut festival is part of a cultural revival that in recent years has been rejuvenating traditional Sephardic and Ashkenazi songs - both religious and cultural. Some of Israel's most successful performers have been partaking in this cultural process, including Berry Sakharof, Micha Sheetrit, Ehud Banai, Meir Banai and Eti Ankri. But none of them will be performing at the event next week.

The festival's cultural director, Yair Harel, said that the event "will expose a [kind of] bubble culture here, which is the next generation of the world of Piyutim." He added that all the performers absorbed the art of Piyut-making "in synagogue or from the family, some in Shas," and that some of the performers are well-known in local circles and among Piyut lovers. "They are phenomenal performers and excellent musicians," he said. "These are people who don't need any rehearsing. You just name the Piyut and that's it."

One of the shows will feature four Piyut performers who have been recruited from synagogues in Jerusalem, mostly from the neighborhood of Nahlaot. "It's the most Israeli festival there is, in the deepest sense of the word," Harel said. "Where else will you get someone ultra-Orthodox performing on stage?"

The festival, scheduled to take place at Beit Avi Hai from Monday through Thursday, will include ten separate shows. It will also include well-known performers such as Kobi Oz, Shlomi Shaban and Shlomo Bar. One performance will showcase songs of the Jewish Ethiopian community.