A musical journey back to the Holy Temple

A view of the Europe-Ashkenaz room (photo credit: HEBREW MUSIC MUSEUM)
A view of the Europe-Ashkenaz room
(photo credit: HEBREW MUSIC MUSEUM)
In Jerusalem paid a visit to the new Hebrew Music Museum to bring you a sneak peek of this first-of-its-kind spot in the city center, offering an interactive journey through the world of Hebrew music.
Museum director Eldad Levi, the musician who initiated the project, believes that Hebrew music, as opposed to Israeli music, can be traced back to the Holy Temple. Even though Jewish music departed from the Holy Land when the Jews were forced to flee to the Diaspora, much is shared between all Jewish musical traditions throughout the world. Jewish music from Iraq, Syria, Morocco, Europe or elsewhere has a common denominator – connecting people to God. Though the sounds and instruments may be different, the texts, te’amim (cantillation notes) and piyyutim (para-liturgical songs) are much the same.
Stemming from this philosophy, the museum is planned in a way that represents the various Jewish traditions, devoting a room to each region, in which the indigenous instruments are displayed. The regions are Central Asia, Morocco-Andalusia, Iraq-Syria, Europe-Ashkenaz, Balkan and Africa- Yemen.
Visitors end the tour at the Hebrew Room, which ties all the various musical traditions together. In this room, one can find instruments strongly tied to Jewish music, such as the nevel, a 12-stringed harp. Using a virtual-reality technology called Oculus, visitors take a 3D tour through the Second Temple, accompanied by Eldad Levi’s narration and original score. Visitors can wander the Temple using a joystick, experiencing day-to-day life there – including witnessing the kohen and levi rituals centered on music. Even though the experience being fun and original, the technological aspect could use some refinement, as the 3D tour was slightly overwhelming to the senses.
The museum’s collection includes 260 ancient musical instruments from all over the world. Most of them belonged to Israeli collectors, but some were found in their country of origin. Notable instruments on display include the Kurdish zorna, Persian santor, string cajon, an ancient mandocello, Greek bouzouki and many more. The pieces are arranged in seven rooms, each designed and built according to a specific culture. The architect, Avraham Aberjel, did an outstanding job in creating an authentic experience for visitors. The architecture is truly beautiful, and exhibits remarkable attention to detail. Each room is rooted in a specific culture. The Morocco-Andalusia space, for example, has high ceilings covered with colorful mosaic-like paintings, a Moroccan-style sitting area and Moorish-style niches in which the instruments reside.
Levi believes that music is a path through which individuals can connect to God, and he hopes the museum will help provide visitors with a divine connection. In order to undergo a very private and spiritual experience, visitors are given a tablet that accompanies them throughout their tour of the museum. In this way, Levi believes visitors can create their own personal sound track.
The screens in the different spaces and the personal tablets exhibit a fictional animated character named Saba (Grandpa) Levi. The significance of the name “Levi” is two-fold. Firstly, the museum’s visionary Eldad and the investor Laurent share this surname. More importantly though, Eldad Levi explained that the Levites were selected to sing in the Temple. As such, they are strongly connected to the philosophy of the museum, which is connecting people to God through ancient Hebrew music originating in the Temple.
The museum is part of the Kikar Hamusica (Music Square) initiative in the city center, near Zion Square. The square includes a music school, hotel, restaurants and cafes and a central outdoor stage meant to host a variety of concerts. Levi said he has had this idea for more than 13 years, to create a music center in Jerusalem that would bring the Hebrew music back from the Diaspora. He approached Laurent Levi, who invested in the project, and together they set out on this ambitious endeavor a mere four years ago. The development included extensive renovation of the square and construction of several new buildings. Construction of the museum alone took more than two years.
The true highlight of the museum, according to Levi, is the fact that it is part of a bigger concept, aimed at reconnecting individuals to this “lost” Jewish music. Another innovative aspect is the interactive journey, which includes a guitar-hero-esque game, the first of its kind in Israel, with ancient instruments such as the sitar, a stringed instrument from India. Each instrument has a specific symbol, when detected by the tablet given to visitors an explanation about the instrument appears, and its music is heard. The museum realizes its philosophy by utilizing technology in a superb way.
The museum’s collection displays a vast array of instruments used by Jews all over the world, all the while providing an entertaining experience through interactive activities and the use of personal tablets. A visit to the museum is a great activity for the entire family. 
The Hebrew Music Museum 10 Yoel Moshe Salomon Street (02) 540-6505 NIS 50 for adults; NIS 25 for children