The simple truth about Yonina

Although they began playing together almost immediately, Yoni noted, “It wasn’t so natural in the beginning.”

Yonina (photo credit: PR)
(photo credit: PR)
Every Friday, Yonina fans are treated to a new music video, intended to “make people happy and get them in the atmosphere of Shabbat.” Yonina is the stage name of Yoni and Nina Tokayer, a young married couple who live in Pardess Hanna with their five-month-old daughter Ashira.
Asked whether people assume that his wife is Yonina, Yoni noted that mistake happens often. Once, a radio station introduced them as Yonina and her husband. But, like “Brangelina” and “TomKat,” he told In Jerusalem, they came by the name rightly.
“When we were dating, people called us that as a couple. It’s almost like we didn’t choose the name. It chose us.”
Yonina began on the rooftop of Livnot U’Lehibanot in the Old City of Safed. Nina was in her second year of national service, working for the educational nonprofit. One day, a tour group of high-school students climbed onto Livnot’s roof. Speaking briefly to the group’s tour guide, she okayed their plan to meditate on the rooftop, overlooking the picturesque mountains of Meron.
That tour guide was Yoni.
Yoni received permission, but he didn’t get her name. Two months later, Livnot produced a video for Tu Bishvat. When Nina appeared in the video, her name flashed on the screen. That was the only clue Yoni needed to find her on Facebook.
Yoni’s Facebook message to Nina quickly led them to begin dating.
“We really clicked,” they both laughed. Indeed, their chemistry as a couple is plainly visible to their fans.
Nina and Yoni have similar backgrounds. Nina’s parents are immigrants from Evanston, Illinois, and Los Angeles. She was born and raised in Jerusalem. Yoni was born in New York and was five when his family made aliya to Ra’anana. Music has been a big part of both of their lives. Ironically, for a few years they crossed the same halls of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on Friday afternoons, singing for patients, without ever meeting.
“I never thought I would marry a musician,” Nina commented, “but once we met, it was only natural to sing together and create together.”
When they met, Yoni was already writing and recording his first album, and the pair exchanged recordings of their music before they began dating.
Although they began playing together almost immediately, Yoni noted, “It wasn’t so natural in the beginning.” Singing together got easier over time. Nina explained, “Music is connected to people’s souls and their emotions. The more you know a person, the more you connect.”
The first video they made together, in which Nina and Yoni sang wedding songs, was shared only with friends; it’s how they announced their engagement.
Six months ago, they opened a Facebook page and started posting weekly pre-Shabbat videos. They hoped to have 5,000 Facebook likes on their page by September 2016. By the end of August, they already had more than 81,000.
Dozens of messages a day come from all over the world. “We’re reaching a very diverse group of people.” Their sweet and sensitive, soulful music appeals to both Jews and Christians in the US. One Muslim fan from Jaffa said that, out of respect, she waited until after Shabbat to “like” their Facebook page. Other fans are from more distant places such as Brazil and Dubai. Their third-largest audience is in the Philippines.
“There’s something in music that allows people from all different walks of life to connect. We didn’t know how much it was going to break barriers. Music is above all that,” Nina explained. “There is a lot of tension between different groups in Israel, and music can go beyond that.”
“The songs we choose are positive, uplifting songs. We sing in response to what’s going on in the world. Music has the power to open people’s hearts and bring more positivity into the world,” Nina elaborated.
The pair are “incredibly surprised at the reaction. Every time we have a viral video, we worry that we’ve reached our peak, and every time it doubles. We’re in the midst of figuring out how to manage the audience. We’re overwhelmed, but it’s a blessing.”
Married for just 15 months, Nina studies psychology at IDC in Herzliya, and Yoni teaches IDF soldiers studying for conversion to Judaism.
Despite these commitments, music is almost a full-time occupation.
In addition to their popular weekly YouTube videos, the couple performs at one or two private concerts and weddings each week.
This month, they have three public concerts booked. Their show in Petah Tikva is already sold out. They are scheduled to play in Beersheba on September 22 and in Jerusalem on Sunday, September 18 at Beit Alliance on Ki’ah Street near Mahaneh Yehuda.
With so much going on, the pair is in search of the right manager.
In classic Israeli style, Nina calls their work together “a bit of a startup.
It’s really our dream. If there’s ever a time to take a risk, it’s now, when we’re young.” Yoni’s dream has long been to teach in the mornings and perform at night. His life today, he said, “is almost like that.”
As a religious couple in a community where some men are careful not to listen to women singing, they do get some push back about Nina’s role in Yonina.
“It’s a topic I’ve explored and struggled with,” Nina elaborated.
“It’s been an issue since my bat mitzva. I went through a stage in which I didn’t sing in front of men. I kept trying to learn more about the idea. I kept talking to people, to really try to find an answer that I feel whole with but is also halachic [consistent with Jewish law]. I felt like it would be a shame not to do something with my music, and I tried to find ways to do this within the bounds of Halacha.
“We only chose to take this path after discussing it with my rabbi. His take on kol isha [the issue of men listening to women singing] was different. The [fact that we are] a married couple singing together, and the content that’s positive and meaningful, I really do feel the way we’re doing it is [permissible].
“We’re not waving any flags. We’re not trying to force ourselves on anyone,” Nina commented. Yoni sends the text of a Jewish legal opinion to friends who ask about it. Despite the controversy, the pair agreed that they get much more positive than negative feedback.
Aware that through social media they “can reach people halfway across the world with technology,” the couple is working hard to find a balance. Currently, their workloads are intense because they’re still doing everything themselves. And, as important as music is, they don’t want to lose sight of their involvement with their young family, psychology and Jewish education.
When Yonina started making weekly videos, they did covers of other people’s music. Behind the scenes, they compose original music – his, hers and theirs. Nina and Yoni just released “Ahava,” their first single, and they recently launched a crowd-funding campaign in Hebrew and English on Headstart, Israel’s version of Kickstarter, to raise money to produce Emet Pshuta (Simple Truth), their first album of original music.
“That’s what we want to stress in this album. The simple truth, without masks and sarcasm,” Yoni said.
For tickets for Yonina’s Jerusalem concert on September 18, call Ticket- Line at 072-233-8888.