In times of trouble, Broza is there

'The Jerusalem Post' travels south with musician David Broza as he brings a moment's respite to its Kassam-weary inhabitants.

David Broza is fast gaining a new reputation, albeit an unwanted one. After years of chart success, starting in the Seventies with HaKevess HaShisha Assar (The 16th Sheep) followed by Eighties smash hit album HaIsha She'Ittee (The Woman With Me), Broza is getting an abundance of media exposure for his wartime entertainment efforts. Last summer he tirelessly leapfrogged between bomb shelters and army camps during the Second Lebanon War and now he's devoting some of his time to morale boosting in the Kassam rocket-hit south. A couple of days ago he played for over an hour to a couple of hundred students at Sderot's Amit Comprehensive School followed by another outdoor gig at the Hevel HaBessor school just a few minutes drive away from the Karni crossing into Gaza. But Broza is quick to dismiss the notion that he is making hay while the Kassams fly. "I don't have to do this," he declares flatly. "It costs me time, gas, car hire. But I do it gladly, and for no other reason than cheering these poor people up for a short time." As we drove into Sderot it was clear that Broza and his ilk have their work cut out. While the streets were not quite as desolate as the north of the country last summer, there was certainly no buzz about the place. There were, however, a bunch of guys from the Jerusalem-based Yad Ezra VeShulamit charity organization who had ridden into town with van sporting a mock missile on the back and a black comedy message that read: "Sending love to our brethren in Sderot". As the students filed out of the Amit School auditorium most looked to have enjoyed themselves. But it was only a brief sunny break from the daily stress. "Yes, it was fun, and I'm glad David Broza made the effort to come here," said ninth grader Adi Amzaleg, "but that won't stop the Kassams." It is a sentiment Broza fully appreciates. "I have no illusions about the benefits of what I do. I go along to these places and give them an hour or two of my time. We need 30 or 40 artists to help relieve some more of the despondency. We could do with a solution for the whole situation too, but that won't come from us musicians. We can only provide some temporary relief." Broza should have appeared in Sderot together with writer Yehonatan Geffen, with whom he collaborated all those years ago on HaKevess HaShisha Assar, but Geffen's health-related issues prevented his attendance. The next gig was at a school at the Eshkol Regional Council center, very close to Gaza. As we drove out of Sderot we caught a glimpse of some placards near the center of town which read: "Olmert failed in the north and the south." The message came from a group called "Reservists with Sderot." The atmosphere seemed surprisingly lighter at the Eshkol school, and the students were just as excited at Broza's arrival. "I thought they were joking when we were told David Broza was coming to play here," said 16 year-old Noam Kaufman. "We are not allowed to meet in groups during the current security situation." Kassams notwithstanding, the teenager seemed to be in good spirits. "Life is good here," he said. "Anyway, the rockets don't really land near us. It's more heavily populated places like Sderot which are targeted." A few minutes later Broza took up position on a plastic chair in the shade of an enormous tree and dozens of students began to gravitate to the lawn. One of the teachers issued last minute pre-show instructions - "If we get the color red signal you can take cover in the concrete shelter or, if you prefer, in the corridor of the school building" - and Broza launched into a fast Spanish-inflected guitar intro. One of the teachers, 25 year-old Ilan Gutkin, appeared to be particularly calm despite having first hand experience of a Kassam attack. "I was in a classroom at the [nearby] Sapir Center school when a Kassam rocket hit a classroom five meters across the yard. It didn't bother me much. Anyway, as a teacher I have to set an example for the students. We have to stay calm." Meanwhile, Broza carried on, spinning out hit after hit while trucks, tractors and the odd army jeep trundled noisily by. At the end of the day, Broza says he could do without a "wartime entertainer" tag. "I'd rather there were no wars and there was no need to do this."