Although they became surprise audience favorites on the recently completed
season of the Kochav Haba music reality competition show, the sight of the
haredi Gat brothers performing soulful renditions of Simon & Garfunkel and
Eagles classics really wasn’t so jarring or unexpected.
In recent years,
the synthesis of religious/pop/rock crossover artists has become an increasingly
mainstream occurrence, with practitioners ranging from the more secular-looking
Ehud Banai and Evyatar Banai to the all-black Yonatan Razel and Hassidic blues
guitarist Lazer Lloyd.
But now, one of the first Israeli bands to rock
out on Jewish themes is on the comeback trail. Reva L’Sheva, the seminal Jewish
jam band founded by Yehudah Katz and featuring Lloyd, built upon the blueprints
laid out by spiritual forefather Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and adding an electric
Grateful Dead-tinged sense of rock & roll exploration and
reviewer Ben Jacobson wrote in 2004 that Reva
L’Sheva were “the leading candidate for title of godfather to the post-Carlebach
rock bands.” Indeed, their smashing of religious/secular barriers in the 1990s
helped set the stage for latter-day spiritual jam rockers like Soul Farm, Blue
Fringe and The Moshav Band.
For Katz, the satisfaction of being a musical
pioneer takes second place to his larger goal of bringing people together
“I guess a lot of young bands started modeling themselves
after what we were doing,” said Katz last week. “But we weren’t intentionally
setting out to create Jewish rock.
We were just musicians playing what we
liked – this fusion of rock & roll and Shlomo.”
“I’ve always been a
believer that if I turn myself on onstage, then the audience is going to get
turned on. It all boils down for me at this point to using music to unite
people. That’s what I see as the only thing that’s going to open the gates to a
During their approximate decade together from 1994 to 2004,
Reva L’Sheva did a lot of bringing audiences together.
Formed by Katz, a
veteran immigrant from California, and bassist Adam Wexler, a Minnesota native
who had performed with 1980s proto-Jewish rockers the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, the
new outfit struck a chord with its combination of rock, soul, country and
“There hadn’t been much Jewish rock music until then – you had the
Diaspora Yeshiva Band and a smattering of other things, but nothing really
caught on,” said Katz, recalling when he realized that Reva L’Sheva had the
ability to be the missing link between the religious and secular
“We performed at a Yom Yerushalayim show on Mount Scopus in 1997
that featured lots of Hassidic pop, for lack of a better term,” said Katz. “We
went on at about 2 a.m. in front of 10,000 people. Nobody knew who we were, and
we got up there and started doing our thing.”
“Channel 1 was there
broadcasting, and I remember the reporter saying that ‘this band Reva L’Sheva
started playing and turned the evening into a pure and holy Woodstock.’ That was
a real kickoff for us.”
Through a series of well-received albums and
energetic, mind-expanding performances, the band’s name and reputation spread,
and they picked up some influential champions like the late Ehud Manor, who used
to feature them on his daily radio show, and occasional slots on Army
A number of top-rate musicians passed through the band’s gates,
including guitarist David “Harpo” Abramson, Lloyd who used to be known as
Eliezer Blumen, violinist Nitzan Chen Razel, singer/keyboardist Chanan Elias and
percussionist Yitzhak Attias.
Aside from Abramson, who died in 2010,
that’s the lineup that will be appearing for Reva L’Sheva’s first fullfledged
show in seven years, taking place on January 7 at Zappa Jerusalem (there must be
something about seven).
“Jonty [Zwebner, a Beit Shemesh-based promoter]
called me a few weeks before Succot this year and asked me if I could come and
do a gig in Harpo’s memory, and as an aside said ‘bring some of the guys,’” said
Katz received enthusiastic responses from the other former members
and he responded to Zwebner that if he was willing to promote a full-fledged
reunion show, Reva L’Sheva would do a half-hour in Beit Shemesh on Succot to see
how it felt.
“When we walked off the stage, Eliezer turned to me and
said, ‘wow, I forgot about the magic – that was awesome!’” said
Katz. “And what was surprising to me was that the audience of around
3,000 consisted mostly of 16-25 year-olds and they all knew the lyrics to our
songs – that was a great feeling.”
Musically, the band members quickly
found their old vibe and the years of diverse experience they picked up in the
ensuing years introduced new elements into the repertoire.
For Katz, the
chance to play with his old friends again brought with it new
“I just love playing with Eliezer, he is such an
accomplished guitarist,” he said. “When you’re a rhythm guitarist like I am, you
can think one of two ways: I’m the second fiddle, not really important and just
the strummer, or it can be ‘I’ve got an important job here, I have to lay down a
steady groove for one of the greatest guitarists in the country.
love singing with Chanan. I really feel that ever since I started singing with
him, my voice has taken on all these new colors, and I’ve been less afraid to
take vocal risks. And just the fact that Nitzan and Yitzhak immediately said yes
to the project brought such a positive feeling with it.”
In addition to
offering faithful renditions of their trademark back-catalogue, the band is
intent on adding a new level to the reunion, so it doesn’t become just a warm,
fuzzy exercise in nostalgia.
“I understand that we have to play our hits,
and play them in the arrangement that people recognize. But at the same time, I
have the chance to do some new creating with some extremely creative people,”
said Katz. “We have some cool ideas to introduce some new songs, arrangements
and twists that will make the show interesting for the audience and us as
Rather than calling the Zappa show a one-off reunion, Katz and the
other band members are considering the reunion as being
“Everybody has said ‘bring it on!’ I know that Jonty has
received a few calls already and we’ve given him the green light to go ahead,”
said Katz. “Of course everybody has their own careers, lives and schedules. But
if there’s serious interest, I think we’ll find a way to make it work. For me,
it doesn’t matter in what form I get to connect with people. As long as I get to
connect through music, then I’m happy.
“I don’t want to be trite and say
that music is the universal language, but that is the way to cross borders and
at this point in my life, that’s the only thing I care about professionally.
We’re going to come out onstage and rock.
There’s no other agenda other
than to bring people – religious and secular – together.”
L’Sheva, the seven-year itch is about to get a big scratch.