On a musical path to aliya

Crowned the ‘Jewish Idol’ in Israel’s Hallelujah singing competition, Kleinberg has won more than the cash prize.

Adam Kleinberg and Momi Levi 390 (photo credit: Tomer Levy)
Adam Kleinberg and Momi Levi 390
(photo credit: Tomer Levy)
An off-the-cuff suggestion from a friend that he send an audition tape to the Hallelujah 2011 singing competition proved to be a life-changing remark for 21-year-old Mexican singer Adam Kleinberg.
The dreadlocked winner of the international Jewish singing contest held last August in Ramat Hasharon has not only just released his first single – a duet with Israeli vocalist Momi Levy on Meir Banai’s classic “Geshem” – but he’s in the final stages of packing his bags on the way to making aliya.
“It’s been hectic – that’s a good word for it,” said Kleinberg with a laugh, describing the past year during a call from his home in Mexico City last week.
Kleinberg, whose great-grandmother was David Ben-Gurion’s first cousin, was one of hundreds of aspiring stars who answered the appeal for Jewish youth, age 16-26, to choose a song in their native language or Hebrew and upload their performance onto YouTube. Based on his version of “Lo Kal” by Hayehudim, he was chosen to compete against 29 other finalists representing Jewish communities from Israel, the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, France, Australia, Argentina, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Turkey, Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Upon winning the Hallelujah title, he was crowned the “Jewish Idol” and received an $8,000 cash prize, the opportunity to record the duet with an Israeli singer and a tour of Jewish communities worldwide.
But what Kleinberg didn’t expect from the 20 days he spent with the other contestants before the finals touring the country and learning about Israel was the added prize of the turbo boost to propel him to move here.
“I’ve been a Zionist all my life ever since I joined the Habonim Dror youth movement in Mexico,” he said, “so I’ve always talked about Israel and making aliya. But being there for the contest made me feel more connected to the country and made me want to move there. I just love the atmosphere, and it’s where I want to be.”
Following a return trip to Israel in December to record “Geshem” with Levy and producer Tzvika Kogan, Kleinberg began to put the aliya wheels in motion and expects to return as an Israeli in April to continue pursuing his music career.
“I hope to study at the Rimon School of Music and to make Israeli music,” he said.
Although aliya might not have been on the minds of the contestants who were chosen among hundreds of applications for the song contest, according to the Hallelujah competition’s founder and head producer Eitan Gafni, it was on his agenda.
“This is much more than just another reality show,” he told The Jerusalem Post’s Hannah Brown last year. “It fosters a love of Hebrew songs among young people from around the world. It starts out in the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, and then moves to Israel. It’s not just about the music and the artistry, but about the heart and the soul. In these songs there is the story of this country and the feelings of those who built it.”
Kleinberg, wearing a leather jacket and pacing the stage during the August competition before a live audience of 3,000, received sterling marks from the team of judges, headed by Yehoram Gaon and including Gafni, Kobi Oshrat, Hanan Yovel, Yehuda Edar, Tomer Hadadi, DJ Skazi and Niv Tomer.
But for him, the best part of the experience was befriending and traveling with the other contestants from around the world as they toured the country, visited historical sites and prepared for the competition.
“The Hallelujah experience was amazing because you get to meet Jewish people from around the world who you have so much in common with,” he said. “You’re together 24/7 with other Jewish people who are all singers or musicians, so we were constantly singing together, no matter where we were traveling.”
Music has been an integral part of Kleinberg’s life since he began taking taking bar mitzva lessons at age 12 and, encouraged by his synagogue’s cantor, discovered that he had a great voice.
“He was an opera singer, in addition to being the chazan of the temple, and he urged me to start singing Kabalat Shabbat. Later, I joined a rock band with some friends, and that was it. It’s all I wanted to do,” said Kleinberg, adding that he won a Mexican Jewish singing competition last year singing the same Hayehudim song.
When the time came to record his duet as part of his prize, however, his producer Kagan suggested he listen to Banai’s “Geshem.”
“I had never heard it before, and I really liked it. It’s an emotional song, and it spoke to me,” said Kleinberg. “We got in touch with Momi Levy, who’s an amazing singer, and we began to work on vocal arrangements. When I arrived in December to go into the studio and I heard the musical arrangement that had been prepared, I loved it. I hope it’s going to make a good impression on the Israeli people.”
Whether it does or not is beside the point at this stage because, thanks to the Hallelujah contest and the surprising ramifications on his life, Kleinberg already feels like a winner.
“I feel like I am marching in a new direction, and the beginning is already so wonderful.”
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