Jewish jams return

Legendary singer-songwriter Ariel Zilber will headline the revival of Aharit Hayamim – a religious reggae, rock concert with a connection to the 1948 War of Independence.

By BEN BRESKY
July 2, 2019 23:05
Jewish jams return

(FROM RIGHT) Yehuda Leuchter, Rafael Barkatz and Shmuel Caro of the band Aharit Hayamim rehearse in 2009.. (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)

 
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It’s been 10 years since the Aharit Hayamim festival last graced the woods near the old Kibbutz Masuot Yitzhak in Gush Etzion. Now the Leuchter family, who started the event as a small gathering in memory of their father, is ready for a revival on July 10.
Yehuda Leuchter, who is organizing the festival, spoke to In Jerusalem about the concert and his band of the same name.

“Many were just starting their careers in the new Jewish music scene,” he said of the festival, which highlighted many young up-and-coming acts. “This is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock,” Leuchter said, “so the time is right for a reunion of the Jewish indie rock Woodstock festival.”

The summer concert was part of the new burgeoning scene of religious Jewish music that developed in the mid 2000s. Then-obscure performers such as brothers Aharon and Yonatan Razel were becoming more mainstream, as it became commonplace for kippah-wearing guys to rock out to biblical words from Psalms or original lyrics about faith and spirituality. Even nonreligious musicians felt comfortable incorporating elements of Judaism into their act.

Rock, reggae and other styles were performed by young Israelis with tie-dyed tzitzit and dreadlocked pe’ot. As the years went on, big-name Israeli acts such as Ehud Banai, Kobi Oz and Shlomo Bar played the festival, along with local acts from around Judea and Samaria.

“My brothers and sisters and I started getting married,” Leuchter told IJ, “and we took a break for a while,” he said of his six other siblings.

A bass player, Emil Leuchter played with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and the Diaspora Yeshiva Band in the 1970s, in the days when rabbis with guitars were a novelty. He moved to Israel from the United States after the Yom Kippur War. His tragic death from cancer in 1996 was the impetus of the annual memorial gathering and jam session held in the family’s backyard. When the gathering grew every year, the Leuchter siblings realized they had the makings of a full-fledged festival, and by the year 2000 they shifted the location to the grounds of the old Masuot Yitzhak kibbutz.

THE SITE has significance for the Leuchter family as well.

“Our grandparents were here,” Leuchter explained. “There were four kibbutzim in Gush Etzion, with many of the kibbutzniks being Holocaust survivors,” he said.

The four communities were Kfar Etzion, founded in 1927; Masuot Yitzhak, founded in 1945; Ein Tzurim, founded in 1946; and Revadim, founded in 1947. Located south of Jerusalem, in the Judea district, they were overrun in 1948 by the Jordanians.

“My grandmother decided to stay and fight on the day of independence and sent her child to Jerusalem,” Leuchter said of his uncle, born before his mother. His grandmother, Rachel Doron, who was in charge of communications between the Gush and Jerusalem, stayed with her husband, Yoni, to fend off the attack.

“My grandfather was in charge of the ‘slick’ where they hid the weapons in a cave,” Leuchter explained of the days when firearm ownership by Jews was restricted by the British Mandate authorities.


EMIL LEUCHTER leads the Jerusalem Blues Band at the JBR – Jazz Blue Rock club circa 1981, with singer Libi, drummer Don Slovin, guitarists Victor Azus, bassist Federico Erlich and violinist Yonatan Miller. (Credit: Mark Feffer)

In the end, Gush Etzion fell and many of the residents were massacred by the Arabs. The survivors, who included Leuchter’s grandparents, were taken captive and eventually released.

All this was related to a crowd of enthusiastic Israelis one year at the festival as they chanted “Savta, Savta,” Hebrew for “grandmother,” with the ruins of the former kibbutz still standing in the background.

“My grandmother got on stage that year and, with tears in her eyes, said she couldn’t believe so many young people were dancing,” Leuchter said. She likened it to a biblical prophecy, from which the festival gets its name. “Aharait hayamim” literally means “end of days,” with the Prophet Isaiah stating “and many peoples will stream to it....”

Today, most of the Leuchter kids, now grown, live in the renewed communities of Gush Etzion.

YOUNGER ISRAELIS may associate “aharit hayamim” with the jam band of the same name. The band Leuchter was a part of, playing keyboard and singing, was a phenomenon for their street performances in downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square.

He teamed up with fellow street musicians guitarist Shmuel Caro, bass player Avraham Shurin, saxophonist Rafael Barkatz and a crew of other musicians to round out various gigs and create a much-in-demand wedding band.

“After a while, we got such a crowd that people asked us to play their wedding,” Leuchter said. “We played a wedding almost every night in those days,” he added.

“The special thing about the band is every guy was from a different place in the world,” he explained. Caro and his father, Moshe, one of the group’s percussionists, came from Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar. Others were from New York, France and Russia. “Every other gig we had another guy joining us on stage,” Leuchter said of the revolving addition of various instrumentalists and guest performers.

EMIL LEUCHTER and children with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. (Credit: Don Slovin)

The band toured festivals around Israel and abroad in New York, France and England. It released several demo albums and one full-length major-label release, before each member moved on to pursue other opportunities. Leuchter continued his music career, releasing a solo album, Light, and later playing as Yuda and the Retro.

But he, too, has taken a break from being a touring musician to raise a family in the Gush Etzion community of Bat Ayin. That’s when he became TeffMan, baking and selling the gluten-free bread he learned about from his wife.

“She walked up to the microphone one night and asked if she could sing with us,” he said. “Right away I knew this was my wife. I met my soulmate on the street.

“She had me taste something one day and I said, ‘This is amazing, what is it?’”

That led the couple to marketing and selling teff bread. “It’s gluten-free, so it’s great for people with celiac disease and other food allergies,” Leuchter said.

But now, he and his former bandmates and family members are ready for a reunion. The highlight of the festival will be Ariel Zilber, a friend of Leuchter, who is a household name in Israel. Zilber was awarded an ACUM award in 2014 and a lifetime achievement award from the Israeli Union of Performing Artists in 2016 for his decades on the Israeli music scene. His hits such as “Ten Li Ko’ah” and “Ve’eich Shelo” have achieved airplay and cover versions over the past 40 years, while his new material reflects a more religious outlook.

Others on the bill will be Shimon and Levi, the new duo comprised of members of Shotei Hanevua, the Portnoy Brothers, Aharon Razel, Yonatan Razel, Bini Landau, Yehudah Katz, Sinai Tor, a children’s area and an option for camping out.

The event will take place on July 10, starting at 3 p.m.
For more information: tickchak.co.il/5979 or call 054-241-5707.

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