Jerusalem quartet beat lockdown to play for Limmud

From Hong Kong to Madagascar, this year's festival is reaching more widely than ever


It was just as well Limmud had asked Jerusalem’s Nigunim Ensemble to do a morning shacharit service rather than ma’ariv in the evening.

Because with Israel due to go into another lockdown at 5pm on Sunday, their musical prayer service might otherwise have had to be called off.

As it was, the quartet were able to broadcast live from Kol HaNeshama Reform Synagogue in Jerusalem in the festival’s opening slot.

The size of the 120-strong digital congregation demonstrated the festival’s reach – probably many times larger than would have been so if the session had been taking place at the usual physical venue in Birmingham. There were people watching from Hong Kong and Massachusetts.

The previous night the audience of more than 450 for Limmud’s havdalah included Zoomers from Iceland and Madagascar. Cantor Zoe Jacobs and Rabbi Deborah Blausten of Finchley Reform Synagogue, who led the Saturday night prayers, were joined by guitar-playing singers from the USA in a seamless online link-up for a musical tribute to the late American songwriter Debbie Friedman, a Limmud favourite, whose havdalah melody has been widely adopted across the Jewish world.

Moving from gentle soulfulness to uplifting psalms, the Nigunim Ensemble gave a glimpse into Israel’s religious creativity, blending influences old and new and from different Jewish communities. Just as Israeli cuisine is famed for its bold fusion, so this progressive liturgy has a cosmopolitan span.

When Boaz Dorot, the musical director of Kol HaNeshama, founded the ensemble some 10 years ago, he wanted to start creating “an Israeli sound - it's just a mixture of everything".

Their repertoire ranged from their own setting of one of the blessings before the Shema to a song sung to the Persian Jewish tradition to Silence Above Me, a song whose music was composed by Ahuva Ozeri, who died in 2016: "the great priestess of Eastern music", as she was described on the BBC, she carried on writing even though cancer had robbed her of her voice.

Nigunim’s vocalist and co-founder, Shani Ben Or, is due soon to be the first Israeli to achieve a double ordination as a Reform rabbi and cantor.

The synagogue, located in the district of Baka, was one of a hundred in the neighbourhood, where you can find "all the spectrum of Jewish life and Jewish thought and ways of living,” she said.

Fittingly enough, the service ended with a prayer for healing, Refa Tziri, from the Jerusalem Sephardi tradition. When a person recovered and was received back in to the community, Ms Ben Or explained, the community would “burst out in song”.




Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive