‘Hallelujah’ looks for next Jewish singing sensation

Singing competition aims to create new musical tradition for world Jewry that will strengthen connection between young Diaspora Jews and Israel.

Tzahi Gavrielli 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tzahi Gavrielli 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Call it the the Maccabiah Games of the musical competition world.
While that hallowed institution has been bringing together the world’s top Jewish athletes to compete against each other since before the founding of the state, the organizers of Hallelujah, a newly launched global song contest for Jews aged 16 to 26, are hoping that their endeavor will establish a new musical tradition for world Jewry that will strengthen the connection with the Diaspora.
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Backed by a coalition of government bodies and agencies including the Foreign Ministry, the Jewish Agency, MASA Israel Journey, the Ramat Hasharon Municipality and Nativ, the Hallelujah initiative was launched this month, calling on Diaspora singers to send in video clips of themselves performing in Hebrew or in their native language.
Thirty lucky finalists will be chosen by a group of judges – including singers Yehoram Gaon, David Broza, Achinoam Nini and Hanan Yovel, and DJ Skazi and musical producer Kobi Oshrat – to fly to Israel in August for three weeks of guided tours, musical boot camp with leading Israeli singers and an American Idol-styled competition.
It will culminate in a live final on August 25 from the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center stadium that will be streamed online and on one of the TV channels.
“Hallelujah was established to help cope with the worrisome phenomenon of young Jews in the Diaspora distancing themselves from Israel and Judaism,” the chairman of Hallelujah’s volunteer public executive team, Tzahi Gavrieli, said on Thursday.
“It’s clear to us that in order to connect them anew, we have to use unconventional means, and Hallelujah is one of them. That’s why we’re not just settling for a contest and an impressive final. Our plan is to broadcast – on television and Internet – the experiences of the participants from the moment they take off to Israel until their participation in the final, in order to forge solidarity with Israel among the young Jewish communities of the world,” he said.
According to Gavrieli, a former adviser to Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert, the winner of the Hallelujah contest will receive a cash prize, career and management consultation with an established talent agency, the opportunity to record a duet with one of the country’s most famous artists, and the chance to go on tour performing for the Jewish world.
The organizing partners have begun blanketing their constituencies via e-mails and Facebook pages with announcements of the competition, and more than 100 video auditions have already been received, said Gavrieli, adding that the deadline for submitting a song is June 15.
(Audition tapes can be sent in via www.hallelujah.org.il.) “Applicants can sing in any language, but if they are chosen among the 30, they’ll have to sing in Hebrew in the finals here in Israel. That’s what it’s all about, connecting the youngsters with Israel. But at first we don’t want to limit them or us.
“We’re looking for Jewish singers, whether they’re singing Lady Gaga or “Shir Hama’alot,” he said.
A sampling of audition tapes on the competition’s website revealed a cross section of applicants. Tessa Rosenberg from Australia chose to sing a soulful pop tune in Hebrew, American Joshua Tobias sang a gospel song in English, and Nicole Raviv from Canada offered a Broadway show tune, also in English.
As to the thorny question of what constitutes a “Jewish singer,” Gavrieli admitted that the vetting process won’t be as stringent as the Chief Rabbinate’s.
“We’re not going to deal with the issue too deeply.
The 30 finalists will be asked to provide a letter from their synagogue – whether it’s Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, or some other Jewish institution in their community vouching for them,” he said.
“We want them to reconnect, and we can’t put barriers and filters in the way. We’re not talking about a conversion process here.”
Confident that the competition will become an annual event, Gavrieli is already planning Hallelujah 2012.
“We believe that Hallelujah will connect Hebrew music and the State of Israel to hundreds of thousands of Jewish youth around the world each year, and we call on additional Jewish organizations to come aboard our initiative.”
Can we get a ‘hallelujah’ to that?