Have you ever been to Israel and been surprised by how divided the country can sometimes appear to be? There are so many differences: religious and secular. Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Right wing and Left wing. Chassidic and non Chassidic. Rich and Poor. It’s hard not to wonder if we Jews are more different than we are the same.
Even in the Diaspora, our natural instinct is often to label people: orthodox, reform, conservative. When we think about how much divides us, it’s easy to get depressed and despondent. After all, what could we possibly do to help the situation? We might be right to think we couldn’t do anything. But that’s not what Professor Linda Allen thought.
What could we possibly do to help the situation?
Allen, a Professor of Finance at New York University realized that there was one common bond that unites us that cannot be broken: we are all Jews. Further, Allen wanted to connect with people using a vehicle that speaks to everyone: music.
She knew that she found the right song when she heard Schlock Rock’s Lenny Solomon (interviewed on Jewlarious here) perform his original song Ani Yehudi (I am a Jew) as she said it was the “best Jewish unity song ever written.” So Allen along with her husband, Elliot, and her brother and sister-in-law, Dr. Alan and Karen Mazurek got the idea to make a song that adapted Solomon’s lyrics and drew from a large cross section of Israeli recording artists in a “we are the world” style collaboration, and they agreed to bankroll the production.
As if by Divine intervention, the pieces began to fall together quickly. Solomon signed on Kobi Oz, formerly of Teapacks, to produce the project who then secured popular Israeli artists such as Yirmi Kaplan, Lior Almaliach, Yehuda Katz, and Gadi Altman, as well as hip-hop artists Fishi HaGadol and Aksom. A sampling of the lyrics is below (translated from Hebrew):
When I ask myself / Who am I? / A bit Sephardic / A bit Ashkenazi / A bit Israeli / A bit of a foreigner / Maybe religious / Maybe secular / But in my heart of hearts / … I am a Jew / And that is what makes me unique / Not better than the other…and not worse / ….Simply a Jew…….Even though each is certain of a piety all his own / We are all Jews before the Holy Throne.”
By all accounts, the song and video have been extremely well received in Israel. Who knows, perhaps it is because it tapped into that part of us that yearns to connect with each other and our common history and values, fulfilling the ancient Jewish maxim: All Israel all responsible for one another.
So in the future, any time we get depressed about the Jewish people being divided and feel hopeless that we can’t do anything about it, think of Professor Linda Allen and Ani Yehudi.
Until then, enjoy the video of the song below.