Tag Archives: Hasidic

Jews of the Week: Idelsohn and Nathanson

Hava Nagila

Abraham Tzvi Idelsohn (1882-1938) was born in Latvia to a religious Jewish family. He studied to be a synagogue cantor. At 27, he made aliyah to Israel and worked as a musician and composer. In 1919, he opened a Jewish music school. A few years later, he left for Ohio where he served as professor of Jewish music at Hebrew Union College, the major seminary of Reform Judaism. Between 1914 and 1932 he published his ten-volume magnum opus, Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies. Many consider him “the father of Jewish musicology”. His most famous melody is undoubtedly ‘Hava Nagila’. In December of 1917, British army general Edmund Allenby defeated the Ottomans and conquered the Holy Land for Great Britain. The Jews of Israel were elated, and celebrated the general’s arrival in Jerusalem. They asked Idelsohn to compose a song for the special occasion. Idelsohn remembered an old happy tune he had adapted from a Hasidic niggun. The song was a hit. A few years later, he asked his music class to write words for the song.

A young Moshe Nathanson (1899-1981) was in that class, and wrote a couple of simple lines based on Scriptural verses from Psalm 118. The rest is history. Nathanson was born in Jerusalem, the son of a rabbi. In 1922 he moved to Canada and double-majored in law and music at McGill University. He ended up studying at what is now the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York. From there, he was hired to be the cantor of the first Reconstructionist Synagogue, and served in that role for the next 48 years. He wrote an important four-volume tome of liturgical songs. Nathanson also spent 10 years broadcasting Jewish music on American airwaves (“Voice of Jerusalem”) and dedicated much of his life to promoting Jewish folk music. Today, Nathanson’s and Idelsohn’s ‘Hava Nagila’ is the most recognizable Jewish/Hebrew song in the world, and a staple of every bar mitzvah and wedding. There is even a full-length documentary about it, called Hava Nagila (The Movie). This past year marked the song’s centennial anniversary.

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Words of the Week

One who cannot survive bad times cannot see good times.
– Hasidic proverb

General Allenby’s December 1917 proclamation to the people of Jerusalem.

Jew of the Week: Yehoshua Sofer

The Father of Israeli Hip Hop – and Hebrew Martial Arts 

Nigel Wilson, aka Yehoshua Sofer

Nigel Wilson, aka Yehoshua Sofer

Nigel Wilson (b. 1958) was born in Jamaica to a Chasidic family, and grew up in Los Angeles. There, he fervently studied the Korean martial arts of Tang Soo Do and Kuk Sool Won, earning black belts in each before working as a martial arts trainer and bodyguard. At the same time, he took a great interest in LA’s hip hop scene. In 1989, Wilson moved to Israel and became a rap artist himself, under the stage name Nigel Ha’Admor. His songs gave rise to a new form of “street Hebrew”, and inspired later famous Israeli rappers like Subliminal and Hadag Nahash, which is why some have described Wilson as the “father of Israeli hip hop”. By 2000, his rapping days were behind him, and Wilson went back to martial arts, heading a Korean martial arts school in Jerusalem for a couple of years before opening his own schools in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These schools, however, were quite different, teaching a new martial arts style that Wilson, now known as Yehoshua Sofer, called Abir Qesheth. Hebrew for “Bow Warrior”, Sofer claimed that this was an ancient Israelite martial art going back to at least the time of King David, and passed down in secret from generation to generation by a small group of grandmasters. He claimed to have received this wisdom from his own father, tracing it back through their Yemenite Jewish roots, as the secluded Jews in Yemen were the last to carry on the Abir tradition. Not surprisingly, many scoff at Sofer’s claims, especially in light of his background in the entertainment industry. However, researchers have indeed found a great deal of supporting evidence for his claims, and Abir has grown tremendously in popularity. Today, it is a complete fighting system with unique, practical self-defense tactics based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. More significantly, Abir incorporates spiritual teachings, Jewish prayer, and Torah study, making it truly one-of-a-kind. Before all else, Sofer’s greatest vision is to end the age-old stereotype of the “weak diaspora Jew” and bring back the old spirit of the ancient Hebrew warrior.

Words of the Week

Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.
– Napoleon Bonaparte