'Running Up That Hill' to Israel: Lena Glikson on aliyah and her career

Emmy Award-winning Jewish music editor Lena Glikson has had a successful career in Hollywood. Now she hopes to bring her skills to Israel and get more in touch with her Jewish roots.

 ‘STRANGER THINGS’ Season 4 New York premiere.  (photo credit: Julia Mochnatkina)
‘STRANGER THINGS’ Season 4 New York premiere.
(photo credit: Julia Mochnatkina)

Music editor Lena Glikson is currently at the top of her game. Having taken home an Emmy Award for her work on Season 4 of the Netflix hit Stranger Things, Glikson has received one of the greatest validations for all of her years of hard work and dedication to her craft.

And now she hopes to bring her skills with her to Israel.

Glikson’s career has seen her work on a number of critically acclaimed films over the years, and her interest in music is unsurprising, having been the focus of so much of her life, even back in her hometown of Voronezh in Russia.

“I’ve always been a musician,” she explained to the Magazine. “I started studying music when I was six years old when I lived in Russia. I always loved singing, and that brought me to the US.” 

Glikson had a number of musical institutions around the world that she wanted to attend, at one point considering the Rimon School of Music in Israel. But ultimately, she chose the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the largest independent contemporary music college in the world, after receiving a scholarship and moving to Boston in 2012.

 ‘IT’S THE most significant award a music editor can ever win,’ says Lena Glikson (credit: ECE MUNIROGLU) ‘IT’S THE most significant award a music editor can ever win,’ says Lena Glikson (credit: ECE MUNIROGLU)

“At first I wanted to become a jazz singer but changed my mind and decided to study film scoring,” she explained. After that, she moved to Los Angeles and began looking for work in the film industry. Ultimately, she ended up getting an internship with music editor Nick South, who became her mentor.

“My career kinda started from there,” Glikson said.

Glikson has worked on a number of successful projects in Hollywood. These include the sci-fi drama Ad Astra; the comics-inspired films Joker and The Suicide Squad; the musical rom-com A Star Is Born; and, most recently, Season 4 of the Netflix smash hit Stranger Things.

Glikson helped adapt the 1985 Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill” for use in the series. It was used throughout the season, with two particularly memorable scenes in Episode 4 and Episode 9. As part of her job, Glikson essentially had to sculpt and build this piece of music to make sure it fit around the scenes in the show, emphasizing every important event in the scene. 

And her work was an absolute success, helping bring the 1985 song back to the top of the charts around the world and receiving widespread praise in the process.

But just as important to Glikson as her career is her longing to get in touch with her Jewish roots.

Growing up as a Jew in Russia

“Growing up in Russia, it’s very challenging being a Jew,” she explained, recounting her life in Voronezh, a city of around a million people close to the Ukrainian border.

“There was no functioning synagogue during the Soviet era, and there were no Hebrew schools or Jewish kids around, or at least we were not able to tell each other that we were Jewish,” Glikson said. “When I was little, they actually changed my last name from my father’s last name, Glikson, which I’m using now, to my mother’s maiden name because it sounded more Slavic. At that time in the early 1990s, swastikas would appear all over the town. It was a very scary time for Jews, so my parents were always trying to protect me.”

Glikson later began looking into her family history. Her grandfather, she discovered, ended up in Russia in 1939 right before the Nazis invaded Poland and World War II began. He had only gone to help a relative move but ended up stuck in Russia during the war. His entire family, except for his sister, would end up dying in death camps during the Holocaust. 

A few years later, when she was around 15, Glikson would be more active in getting in touch with her Jewish roots, such as trying to attend High Holy Day prayer services. 

“But society wasn’t very welcoming of my Jewish roots. It wasn’t safe for me to say I had a Jewish background,” she recounted.

Going to the US helped change that, using her music to get in touch with Judaism and her Jewish roots by using older Jewish songs in her college work.

One notable experience she had took place in 2013, when she took part in a music festival in Kyiv, Ukraine. The festival featured Ukrainians and Russians and was organized by Israelis and helped connect young Jews from the former Soviet Union to Judaism and Hebrew. This, she recounted, was a very emotional experience and an important part of her Jewish/Israel journey.

But unfortunately, it seems that Hollywood wasn’t as welcoming of her Jewish roots.

“When I moved to Hollywood, I was told by someone whom I know well that I should avoid telling people that I had Jewish roots because there were going to be people around who would hate it,” she explained. This, to her, was shocking. “I always thought it would be the opposite because there are so many Jews in Hollywood, like heads of studios, actors, composers and people who started this industry; but it looks like there’s another side of it, one of antisemitism.”

“I always thought it would be the opposite because there are so many Jews in Hollywood, like heads of studios, actors, composers and people who started this industry; but it looks like there’s another side of it, one of antisemitism.”

Lena Glikson

This sparked doubts in Glikson, who began to worry if concentrating on getting back in touch with her Jewish roots in the US was a good idea. But soon her fears would be assuaged

“As time passed, I found nice Jewish people around where I live, and I began to feel really connected to who I am and to people who share the same values and grew up in a similar environment,” she said. “That’s definitely a very important part of my life.”

Making aliyah to Israel from Hollywood

That is helping bring her to the next part of her journey: making aliyah.

“I always wanted to become a part of Israel,” she explained. “I always wanted to learn Hebrew. That’s what I’m doing right now, and it wasn’t an easy decision. But it’s important to know that there’s a place where you feel at home. For me, Israel is a very special place, and I feel special when I’m there. It’s a thing that’s very hard to explain, but it’s a deep connection that I have.”

Glikson made aliyah a few months ago. While she said that she would love to live just about anywhere in Israel, the best place for her is Holon, where she has family.

In the future, especially as her Hebrew improves, she hopes to break into the Israeli film industry as well, bringing her skills to cinema in the Jewish state.

“It would be wonderful if I could contribute to the Israeli world of film. I’d love to work on an Israeli film one day,” she said. 

Right now, though, Glikson is still working in Hollywood. She has an upcoming project, the 1920s period piece Babylon, directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, set to hit movie theaters this winter. 

But now she isn’t alone in Hollywood, with many other Israelis having made waves in the American film industry.

“There are people like Gal Gadot, composer Eldad Guetta and, of course, Shira Haas,” Glikson said, though the full number is much larger; there are many other Israelis working to build their careers professionally. “I feel so happy when I see Israelis coming to Hollywood because there’s so much we can learn here. It’s a wonderful opportunity.” ■

Lena Glikson From Voronzeh, Russia, to Boston From LA to Holon, 2022