A former army helicopter pilot from Los Angeles, Elazar Brandt prepared for his
final trip to Israel in 1996. After decades of soul-searching in Texas, New York
and LA, Brandt discovered that his passion lay in using music as a tool to
transform the tears of those suffering from terrorist attacks.
and with his Dr. Jazz Dixie Land band, he performs throughout Israel,
particularly in places struck by acts of terrorism and violence. He is commonly
known for his “senseless acts of simha [happiness]” in Sderot, Hebron, the Gaza
perimeter, and Jerusalem’s Rehov Ben-Yehuda.
thirst for Israel came when he was 13, in 1965, just two years before the Six
Day War. During his bar mitzva at synagogue, he heard whispers among the
congregation about the Old City of Jerusalem that was now occupied but not
“Two years before the Six Day War, I would hear stories in
synagogue of people who had been to Israel, actually been to [the] Western Wall
with their foreign passports. It fascinated me,” he recalls.
was planted a few years later when he heard about Israel’s triumph during the
war. “I was in high school, and suddenly people were shouting out, we got back
Jerusalem! There was a lot of excitement in synagogue, and my yearning to visit
After high school, he studied engineering in
college, but quickly grew despondent with the program. In 1973, he joined the US
Army, where he got married for the first time and flew helicopters during the
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“I would hear about soldiers being sent to Egypt and Israel to
fight, and my connection to the country intensified. I had to find a way to get
there,” he says.
Brandt became interested in religious studies and Jewish
history. He went back to graduate school in Texas and majored in Bible, Hebrew
language and literature.
His first opportunity to venture through the
land of milk and honey came when he moved to New York in 1979 and took a job as
a reservations agent with El Al.
He was given free airfare to Israel once
“From the moment I touched Israeli soil, I fell in love with the
land,” he says. “I was fascinated by how the country was developing out of
nothing after hundreds of years. Experiencing what I had learned, being able to
touch the history, the idea of being part of it was intriguing.”
second trip, an early mid-life crisis and a divorce, Brandt decided it was time
for a change.
“At 37, my first wife and I got divorced, and it was almost
time for my mid-life crisis. I didn’t have an established career; I was moving
from place to place looking for something to do. My dilemma was that I did not
want to leave my 10-year-old daughter.”
Six years later, he decided to
share his passion for Israel with his daughter and took her on a flight to
Jerusalem for her birthday. Two weeks later, he was standing in line at the
Interior Ministry, filling out aliya forms.
“I didn’t want to wait any
longer. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I did not want to be too old
to make a life here. I still wanted to get married again.
So I thought,
you know, I’ve just got to go for it.”
Brandt had been
told to bring his paperwork “just in case.” The ministry told him to come back
in a month, not realizing he would be leaving again to the US. “I didn’t know
you couldn’t leave the country. They just said, come back in a month, so I
thought, okay, I’ll come back in a few months. I took my daughter back, packed
up and arranged for a shipment.”
Three months later, he arrived in
Jerusalem and went directly to the ministry for his second visit. They were
reluctant to help him, as he had left the country, and they told him to come
back in a few months. But Brandt learned how to be Israeli very
“Three months ago, I gave you my application, you told me to
return in a month,” he told them. “I want to start working, take ulpan and
receive my shipment.
I don’t have a month.”
Three days later, he
was a citizen of Israel.
Born in 1952, less than 10 years
after the end of the Holocaust, Brandt understood the need to help those struck
by terrorism and violence.
“It was my dream to make simha in the streets.
Suicide bombings were going on, bus bombings, war on the Lebanese border. I
thought my banjo would help liven up the atmosphere a little bit.”
started off on Rehov Ben-Yehuda 12 years ago. He played for three hours and
earned NIS 11. He now plays 10 instruments and runs the Dr. Jazz Dixie Land
Band, which goes around in colorful costumes to make people smile.
got used to playing in places that were being attacked during the intifada,” he
says. “I decided the best weapon is not to be afraid. I went onto Ben-Yehuda and
played. We played for kids, schools and soldiers.
I played in yishuvim,
Gush Katif, Judea and Samaria, Hebron. I like to play at normal events and
celebrations, but there are also places that get attacked, that need to recover.
I like to make balloons, play happy music and try helping people to feel a
little bit more human.”
He recalls playing at the back of an open truck
in a settlement during a Hanukka celebration. “I was going around playing, and I
saw a truck opposite me handing out doughnuts in merit of the
Asked about the challenges he has faced as an oleh, he replies,
“It’s not easy. I opted not to worry too much about money. I have a small
apartment, and I live comfortably.
I have a background in computer work
and technical writing, but you have to work a million hours a day in that
industry. I came here because I want to do things I enjoy that matter. I like to
make music, make people happy. I even play at parties and events with no
electricity; once, we even performed in the woods.”
Brandt has created
two CDs: Doctor Jazz’s Ben Yehudah Street Parade and his own solo album Blowing
My Own Horn. He also found love again, marrying his beautiful bride, Krina. When
not performing, he teaches instruments privately and works freelance as a
biblical Hebrew consultant with Bible translators, including with local
translation teams in India and Africa.
Brandt also dreams of
expanding his band. He encourages all those interested in learning an
instrument, particularly those around his age who want to sharpen their skills
or take up their instruments again, to contact him: “Anyone who would like a
chance to play in a band can call me. I want my students to get into my band, so
I am motivated to work with them and get them up to speed so they can
Has he ever considered living anywhere else in Israel? “Never,”
he declares. “Jerusalem is my home. My aspiration is summed up by the words of
Isaiah 66:10: ‘Make Jerusalem happy; rejoice in her, you who love her.’”
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