At the IDF’s service

For NY-based jam band the Humble Kings, it is important to let IDF soldiers ‘know that they’re not alone.’

July 4, 2013 07:21
3 minute read.
The Humble Kings

The Humble Kings band370. (photo credit: Courtesy PR)

Remember Bob Hope and his frequent USO (United Service Organization) tours that brought entertainers to US troops stationed in Viet Nam and other military hot spots? They may not have the same name recognition as the legendary American comic, but New York-based jam band the Humble Kings are following in his footsteps, to a very different location – IDF bases in Israel.

Jon Weiss, the 35-year-old founder of the band, launched his own organization – the ISO (Israel Service Organization) – in 2007 with the mission of supporting the IDF by boosting their morale through music and other creative entertainment programs.

“I had been playing with the band around New York since 2004 and I decided I wanted to take this music to Israel to perform there,” said the Orthodox-raised New York native.

“The impetus was the Second Lebanon War in 2006. I felt the need to be close to Israel and doing something to help.”

Weiss and his fellow Jewish band mates made that desire a reality the next year, performing their mix of trance, rock and reggae at clubs around Israel At one show at a club near the Tzeelim army base in the South, the audience consisted mostly of reserve soldiers.

“I saw how they reacted to the music and it inspired me,” said Weiss. “It meant something to them that we were there. And I said that the next time we come back to Israel, we’re going to come as volunteers and play for the IDF so the soldiers know that they’re not alone.”

Upon his return to New York, Weiss spent countless hours submerged in IDF bureaucracy as he attempted to make the right contacts to crystallize his vision. And as most worthwhile endeavors are, it wasn’t an easy task. Gone were the less stringent days of the Yom Kippur War when a young Canadian folk singer named Leonard Cohen flew over and within hours was performing for troops close to the front.

“I worked day and night and kept getting the same response – ‘What you want to do sounds really niche but it’s never been done before.

Good luck, but it’s never going to happen,’” recalled Weiss.

However, his persistence paid off and after reviews of the music, background checks and other security considerations, the Humble Kings arrived later in 2007 for seven shows at air forces bases, including Tel Nof and Hatzerim. When one show was postponed due to joint exercises with the US Air Force, an impromptu concert was arranged for a small group of infantry soldiers.

“We absolutely fell in love with them. They’re in the field with no recreation and they were so appreciative,” said Weiss.

Upon his return to New York, Weiss founded the ISO after realizing there was no apparatus to arrange similar visits by American artists to perform for IDF soldiers.

Through the organization, the Humble Kings returned to perform in 2008, and are slated to come back for a series of shows from July 16 to August 1.

This time, the band will be performing together with various IDF entertainment troupes including the Air Force Band. While there’s still a fair share of bureaucracy involved, Weiss said that his track record is beginning to speak for itself.

“It’s much easier working with the IDF now that we’ve been there twice.

We’re a known commodity,” he said.

Besides Weiss on vocals, the band features Ben Hyman and Noah Soloman on guitar, Mitch Friedman on bass and Andrew Frawley on drums.

According to Weiss, the members all make a living making music in various endeavors in the New York area, and are only paid a stipend when they come to perform in Israel.

“We’re all able to say, ‘hey, I’m going to take some time off and do something fun and something that’s going to make me feel good and do something special for Israel and the Jewish people.’”

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