Cohen builds a glorious, spiritual Tower of Song

Leonard Cohen builds a g

Leonard Cohen, 75, the Canadian singer-poet sometimes derided for making music to slit your wrists to, energized and transported a packed Ramat Gan stadium to a vibrant spiritual high on Thursday night. "I don't know if we will pass this way again," he told the audience early in the concert, but then promised "to give it everything tonight." And so he did, with a set list drawn from throughout the decades of his career. Live, however, and backed by a sumptuous group of musicians, his songs transcended their recorded versions. A magnificent "Who By Fire," for instance, began with an oriental flourish and featured an exquisite harp passage. The biblical basis of songs like that one have always resonated uniquely in the Israel psyche, and hearing them delivered with such poignancy and conviction, in these days ahead of Yom Kippur, made for a particularly unforgettable experience. On a warm summer evening, with a light breeze, the crowd applauded ecstatically when Cohen played favorites like "Bird on the Wire" and "Dance Me to the End of Love," but were utterly, respectfully silent in the quieter passages of songs, responding to Cohen's obvious passion and sincerity. Cohen's voice was strong, and gravelly, as ever, his delivery clear, and his eyes closed in concentration during key verses. Cohen spoke admiringly of the The Parents Circle-Families Forum group, to which part of the proceeds from this concert are going, praising bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents for "the nobility of this exercise" in reconciliation. Their effort, he said, represented a "holy holy holy response to human suffering" and "God willing" it could mark the beginning of a process toward peace. Earlier in the evening, Cohen's manager Robert Kory, novelist David Grossman and other local dignitaries inaugurated the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace in a tent outside the stadium. The fund will be financed with proceeds from the concert, which are estimated at $2 million, and will be directed to organizations working with Israeli and Palestinian organizations committed to reconciliation. Besides The Parents Circle, the initial recipients of the funds include the Palestinian Center of Research and Information, Radio Kol Hashalom and Saving Children-the Peres Center for Peace. "Leonard decided that if he was going to play in Israel, he wanted the money to stay here," Kory said. "We've met so many Israelis and Palestinians in doing this who are committed to peace." Grossman, whose son Uri, 20, was killed in the Second Lebanon War in August 2006, praised the initiative. "It seems so easy to believe that war is the only possibility and that Israelis and Palestinians will continue to kill each other," he said. "But those gathered here tonight know what we have inflicted upon each other and the price we have paid. Leonard Cohen, through his art, indicates that he understands this suffering." Ali Abu Awwad, an activist in the Parents Circle from the village of Beit Umar, whose brother was killed by the IDF, said that the common bond of the gathering was a group of broken hearts. "We are stuck in being right; we came here to be successful," he said. Talking about pressure from Palestinians that led to a boycott of a proposed show in Ramallah, Awwad said, "I can't boycott a heart as big as Leonard Cohen's." Upon leaving the event to go to the concert, Kory told The Jerusalem Post, "That was the hard part. The concert is going to be easy."