Departures / Arrivals: Be It Jazz or Reform Judaism - It's All About Improv

This troupe just arrived from Florida, where they part of the URJ conference's in-house band.

Liat Elkayam
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Mattan Klein, Miri Polachek, Adar Polachek and Yoav Polachek.
Mattan Klein, Miri Polachek, Adar Polachek and Yoav Polachek.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam

Mattan Klein, 42, lives in Kfar Yona; Miri Polachek, 43, Adar Polachek, 14, Yoav Polachek 50, live in Tel Aviv; Mattan, Adar and Yoav are arriving from Toronto

Hello, where are you coming from?

Yoav: From a concert tour in Florida. Mattan and I are musicians, and Adar is a young musician who joined us. The World Union for Progressive Judaism held its biannual conference in Orlando and we were part of the conference’s in-house band, made up of Jewish musicians from all over the world. There were 20 instrumentalists and a choir of 100.

What did you play?

Yoav: Prayer melodies. The Reform movement took the regular prayers and added an element of music, which is also played in synagogues

Mattan: We play jazz, which fits in very well with Reform music, because of the improvisation.

Yoav: There are hundreds of melodies for different prayers, written by various composers.

Mattan: Each person has his own interpretation or prayer, and there are always new melodies. It’s refreshing.

Yoav: As a jazz musician, I really connect with it.

Do you also connect to the Reform approach?

Yoav: I identify with the movement and its values, but I don’t necessarily go to a Reform synagogue every week. I lived in the United States for 20 years, and encountered the movement there and fell in love with it.

Miri: We missed Israel, and the Reform community helped us keep our sanity. Music plays a big part in our family on an everyday basis. Our little one, Emma, plays the piano, Idan plays the guitar, Adar is a drummer and I sing in a band of old-timers called D-Day. Music also helps us cope with life in Israel; it’s a kind of therapy.

Do you need therapy?

Miri: We went through tough summers, two wars. I didn’t grow up here and didn’t spend time in bomb shelters as a kid. I didn’t lose friends in the army. For me, as a mother, to be in a situation of security rooms and sirens is complicated. It’s no less difficult for anyone who grew up here, but as an American, I have an alternative.

Where did you meet?

Yoav: There. Actually, I married my audience. When I was a student at Berklee [College of Music], I played jazz in a Russian restaurant, half of which was a gambling club. One day, I was called over to play for people at the restaurant.

Miri: It was me. I came with my parents to celebrate my aunt’s birthday. My family left Israel when I was 8, but we spoke Hebrew, and during the break Yoav heard us and came over to say hello.

Yoav: No, your mother came to the stage and said she’d like me to meet her daughter.

Miri: There’s no way they would have made me a match with a musician!

Yoav: Her father said that they’d just bought a piano and that I was welcome to play it. (They laugh)

Miri: In short, within two days I moved in with him. When he went back to Israel I immigrated, and we were married and lived in Israel. Then, after three years and the Rabin assassination, we wanted to resume our studies and were accepted to school in New York.

What was life there like?

Miri: Good. I worked in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Yoav: I played jazz and accompanied Israeli artists  there, such as Miki Gavrielov and Yoni Rechter.

What do you do in Israel?

Yoav: We returned five years ago, because there’s nothing like Israel. It’s home, for good and for ill.

Miri: We wanted to give the kids Israeliness, for them to grow up here.

How is that working out for Adar?

Adar: It’s a big change. I had to learn Hebrew – I came here in fourth grade and could barely understand a word. But I don’t want to go back. I have no reason to. I love Israel more. Even though everyone asks me why I came here.

What was it like going back to America for your dad’s performances?

Adar: I played, too. Not with the prayers, more along the lines of fun Israeli songs. Even though what I like best is progressive rock.

Yoav: I wanted him to experience the feeling of 5,000 people singing together. For me it was amazing, the two of us on one stage.

Adar: It was the first time I played for so many people, and it was terrific.

Yoav: People came up to him afterward, and told him his playing was great and had moved them. They asked him for an autograph.

Adar: What autograph are you talking about, Dad?

Alexander Korin, Shira Appel and Sophia Appel Korin (and Weitzman the cat).Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Alexander Korin, 34, Shira Appel, 39, Sophia Appel Korin, 3, and Weitzman the cat, 4; flying to Toronto

Hello, can I ask you where you’re headed?

Shira: We are leaving Israel and are going to live in Toronto.

Why did you choose to emigrate?

Shira: I am very attached to this place. My background is in cinema, but for the past five years I worked as a tour guide. I love showing tourists my beloved Israel: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Galilee, the Negev. We have an amazing, gorgeous country.

I feel a sense of impending doom...

Shira: But it’s very sad when government after government abuses the citizens and makes Israel an impossible place to live in, a place that cultivates insanity. Our life here was exclusively about surviving. Without the privilege of living. I am leaving with my head held high, because I feel that I am doing it for my wellbeing and sanity, and for our daughter. It reached a life-or-death stage.

You sound desperate.

Shira: Yes, simply desperate. Because no matter how hard I work I will never be able to buy a home, but for the price of slums in Yavneh I am buying a new apartment in Toronto, in a welfare state and a progressive city.

Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back?

Alex: We started talking about it five years ago, we went through some sort of crisis. But things changed in Operation Protective Edge, when I had to take our daughter alone to the security room, with sirens wailing.

Shira: That was a serious turning point. Our daughter used to imitate the sirens, and my body would tremble.

Alex: Until then it was a matter of, maybe we will make the move someday. As it was, we moved around here four times in two years. In one apartment the roof broke.

Shira: It was an asbestos roof that crashed, and the landlord refused to put it back up.

Alex: Then we found a place in Givatayim.

Shira: Where the landlady spoke to him in Russian and told him I was a schwarze – I’m half Yemenite. There was a fungus in the wall there, and Sophia had just been born, and the landlady wouldn’t fix it.

Alex: Then we moved to south Tel Aviv and found ourselves in a neighborhood of criminals.

Shira: The mover said to Sasha, “Do you have any idea who your neighbor is? No. 7 on the list of crime families.” When Sophia was 7 months old, we moved from Tel Aviv to Kfar Bin Nun, near Latrun. It’s a lovely village, but for Sophia to go to preschool, we had to buy a car, and the moment one of us left with the car, the other one was stuck with the jackals. Blood, sweat and three jobs. Everyone else lives at the expense of their parents, but we don’t. How did we get out of it, finally? My luck was that my mother, in her generosity and good-heartedness, left her home and moved in with her partner for a time, so that we could live in her place and save money. I am grateful to her. We worked very hard. I did guide work for nine full days at a stretch and woke up with Sophia in the mornings. Alex worked 18-hour shifts.

Doing what?

Alex: As a cameraman and assistant cameraman. Recently it was with [the popular satirical TV show] “A Wonderful Country,” the cream of the crop, great people. But long days of physical work. No time for anything. I achieved my dream from my student days and discovered how hard it is.

Shira: Everyone forgoes something, there’s no life/work balance.

Alex: It’s not that they forgo, they just pay a price – in terms of their relationship with their partner, family – from the most junior employee to the higher-ups. I’d finish one day of filming and rush to another production the next day. It’s a kind of trap: If I don’t take the job, there are plenty of others who are dying for the work.

Shira: And there’s the National Insurance Institute and the Broadcasting Authority, which puts a lien on your bank account by mistake. And neither I nor Sasha was born in Israel.

Where were you born?

Shira: I was born in Canada and grew up here by chance. Alex was born in the Soviet Union.

Alex: For 20-some years I fought to be an Israeli. Maybe two weeks before our flight I realized that I am an Israeli – I think in Hebrew, dream in Hebrew, like music in Hebrew, at last I have become an Israeli. But no longer in Israel.