JOINS IN—Eitan Frysh, a senior at San Diego Jewish Academy, joins with
singers of the Israel Defense Forces at Friends of the IDF campus appearance.
By Yiftach Levy
SAN DIEGO, California–What can you say when a concert experience runs the gamut from deeply moving to bizarrely surrealistic to profoundly annoying to just plain fun? You could say there’s something for everyone, I suppose. Or you could respond with, “Oh, so you were at the Friends of the IDF Tribute Concert featuring the IDF Performance Troupe on Sunday, Dec. 13 too, were you?”
My fondness for the entertainment troupes of the Israel Defense Forces goes back to long before I served in the IDF in the early 90s. In the late 70s, my father was the sound man on the Israeli film “The Troupe” (הלהקה), considered by some the best Israeli film up to that point in history, and still one of the best of all time.
The movie – a musical, naturally - tells the (sometimes melodramatic, but always entertaining) story of the members of the Nachal Troupe during the War of Attrition in the late 60s-early 70s. It launched (or in some cases sent into high orbit/boosted) the careers of some of Israel’s top performers of that generation, including Gidi Gov, Gali Atari, etc. etc. I was only in elementary school when the movie was made, but my exposure at such an early age to the timeless tunes of that period cemented a love for that material that has never waned. Most of the songs performed in the film were a kind of standard, known as Troupe Songs (שירי להקות), and my familiarity with the music and lyrics was anachronistic for a certain period of time in my youth (especially growing up in the States), but it’s all come back full circle as now, at the ripe and happy age of 40, I’m again “allowed” to know, love, and sing along with those songs.
I was thus really looking forward to attending this concert, hosted by Congregation Beth Am in Carmel Valley (where the IDF Performance Troupe has played twice before, it should be noted). The occasion was a tribute to the chair of the local chapter of the FIDF, Dan Brodsky, and the kickoff of the 2010 fundraising campaign. These elements of the evening were handled without a hitch, including an apt tribute message from the chapter’s Vice Chair, Norman Smith, and a video presentation detailing the story of one soldier, Lieutenant Yaakov Tesema.
Lt. Tesema (who was present at the venue and followed up the video with personal remarks) was born in Israel after his parents made the harrowing journey on foot from Ethiopia to Sudan and were airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Moses in 1984. His story is inspiring and would have served as a fine centerpiece for an evening solely dedicated to raising money – this, among a couple of other moments, was deeply moving. But this event was about more than that, it was about showcasing a different side of the IDF and Israel – the Performance Troupe’s singing was the real draw.
Unfortunately, sound problems plagued the event, with feedback, muffled vocals and an overwhelming music track contributing to a less-than-stellar audio experience – that was the annoying bit. Thankfully, though, the Troupe members’ energy and enthusiasm overcame what would have been a show-killer for many, and the audience stuck with them and then some. Some of the younger members of the audience (there were quite a few families with school-age and younger children in attendance) were dancing in the back rows early on, and by the end of the show, a significant portion of the capacity crowd in Beth Am’s spacious sanctuary was on its feet, many dancing in the aisles alongside the soldiers. That was the fun part.
As a native Israeli IDF veteran from a secular background (regardless of my current level of traditionalism), there is no other way to describe the soldiers singing the Chabad standard Ani Ma’amin (the one with the “Mashiach, mashiach, mashiach!” refrain) besides “surreal.” That song, part of a medley of “traditional” Jewish tunes that also included Hava Nagila, Heveinu Shalom, and others, was clearly arranged for consumption by a diaspora audience. The evening’s repertoire included a few modern Israeli tunes, including a lively medley of Israeli pop tunes with Mizrachi (“Oriental” or Middle Eastern) roots.
Having a few moments after the show to thank the soldiers personally was a highlight for me. It was a joy to let them know how enjoyable the show was, and how moving it was to see the show as a civilian, nearly two decades after my service in the IDF, during which I got to enjoy at least one performance from an entertainment troupe.
Levy is a freelance writer based in San Diego