Rand from the inside

The venerable Breslov hassid musician-actor Shuli Rand returns with more musical story telling

SHULI RAND: It is my life story (photo credit: YAEL HERMAN)
SHULI RAND: It is my life story
(photo credit: YAEL HERMAN)
We all have our tales to tell, but some appear to be more compelling than others. Shuli Rand certainly has a story and a half to relay, which he is telling to audiences up and down the country in his new Tashlich show which opens this evening at Zucker Hall of Charles Bronfman Auditorium (Heichal Hatarbut) in Tel Aviv, 10 p.m., with further slots lined up at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on February 3, 8 p.m., and the Shalva Center in Jerusalem on February 4, 9 p.m.
Rand is one of the more colorful, and media-covered, characters around. It seems the Breslov hassid musician-actor can’t pop out to the grocer’s without some eager reporter catching him in the act of something “newsworthy.” But, hype notwithstanding, the 57-year-old artist says he does not pander to sensationalist demands in Tashlich. He just wants to tell it as it is, in music and words, in his own inimitable style.
“It is not a standard music show, it is more of a solo musical,” he explains, adding that he is not exactly on his own on stage. “I have a four-piece band with me. They are wonderful musicians.”
The shaker and mover on the musical front is multi-instrumentalist Asaf Talmudi who wrote the arrangements of the songs Rand will perform, and also plays piano and accordion in the show. “Asaf and I have been working together for some years now,” Rand notes. “Despite the vast discrepancies between the ways we see life, in terms of our artistic work I really like the things we do together. There is something in there which is more interesting than me or him, and it all comes together beautifully.”
In terms of biographical raw material, Rand seems to have more to offer than most. He hails from a national-religious family, but says he began moving towards a secular lifestyle at the age of five. In an interview with TV presenter Kobi Meidan a year or so ago, he related how, during the shiva for his brother his mother tried to explain the most unfathomable of concepts for an infant to grasp, by telling him that God takes the good ones back. That set him on a collision course with his parents and religious thinking, which eventually led him to discard his kippah and observance around the age of 18.
HE WENT on to become a leading member of the local theatrical scene, and starred in movies and TV productions, before ultimately returning to the religious fold, as a Breslov hassid, around 20 years further on. He put his thespian activities on hold for five or six years and reemerged with a bang, in 2004, with a leading role in Ushpizin. Naturally enough, the film focuses on the interface between the secular and religious worlds. Rand was rewarded for his troubles with an Ofir Prize, the Israeli Oscar. He subsequently developed a career in music and has recorded three albums to date.
Despite the personal nature of the new show, Tashlich is mostly not based on Rand’s own lyrics. “I perform songs written by top Israeli artists, like Amir Lev, Aviv Guedj, Fortis-Sakharof, Shalom Hanoch, The Hamachshefot [The Witches] band and [fellow Breslov hassid musician] Adi Ran.” That’s quite a roll call. “I didn’t choose the songs because they are great, which they are. I chose them because they fit the story, my story,” Rand explains.
The audience gets a better handle on Rand’s biographical junctures with some anecdotal narration excerpts betwixt the musical spots. “I wrote the material with the help of [multidisciplinary Israeli cultural figure Dr.] Eitan Bloom. It is my life story.” There is plenty to tell so Rand and Bloom had to take a discerning approach to the personal plot. “You can’t tell the whole thing. It could take 15 or 30 hours,” he chuckles. “But there is some guiding line through my life story, which progresses along a narrative timeline, from an embryonic state – the Talmud talks about that stage of our life development – through my early childhood in Paris, my return to Israel and then my encounter with death – of my brother – which started my relationship with God on the wrong foot. I talk about all of that in the show.”
The title of Rand’s current artistic vehicle reflects some of the psychological backdrop. Tashlich is a ritual custom, performed on or around Rosh Hashanah, in which Jews symbolically offload their sins that they accumulated during the course of the previous year. That suits the Tashlich script. “I talk about all the things I cast off, although that’s not a final act. Tashlich is an ongoing activity.”
Rand hopes, like the religious act, that Tashlich will continue to develop in tandem with the way his life pans out. “I hope this show will change as I change. We must never stop changing. I leave an opening for changes and new insight, and for the material to be constantly refreshed.”
That stands to reason. Artists are not just the sum of the technical skills they acquire through formal training. They must, necessarily, express their morphing selves as they progress through life. Rand says he took that contingency into consideration from the start. “I prepared a format that can accommodate that. When you act in a classic play you have to stick to the script, regardless. But, with this show, I am in control of the content and I leave room for modifications over time.”
THERE HAVE been an abundance of twists and turns along the Rand timeline to date. “I left the religious world, and the religious customs. I talk about that too. How I made the break.” Psychologists will tell you that if someone has experienced life within a clearly defined framework and system of practice they will later tend to seek out another formally regulated path, even if it is not officially defined as an observant way of life. After divesting himself of what he perceived to be the shackles of Jewish orthodoxy, Rand immersed himself in heady and, by all accounts, highly successful thespian activity. “I worked with a lot of energy, and I relate many of the events I experienced during that stage of my life. I also talk about my relationship with God. That is the thread that runs through the whole of the show.”
Things went well for Rand professionally and creatively, but he was still searching for something, some deeper meaning in life. Despite his meteoric rise in the entertainment business, there was still a void to be filled. “I got to some kind of apex in theater, really quickly. That enabled me to attain certain insight quickly too. I realized that the pit in my life was not going to be satiated by this [theater]. That began my journey to rediscovering religion. That was not an intellectual journey. It was very intuitive.”
The unfolding autobiographical storytelling is complemented by pertinent musical vignettes. “The songs add weight and another dimension to the story, on emotional and intellectual levels,” Rand notes.
Sounds like a fascinating and enlightening evening’s entertainment. It also seems like it presents Rand with an ideal opportunity to work through some of the baggage he has picked up over the last half century or so. I recall a Robin Williams show at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in the mid-1980s, in which the manic comic took a poke at his audience for doling out bucks on psychiatric care whereas he offloads his emotional impedimenta on stage, and got paid handsomely for it too. I put it to Rand that Tashlich offers similar emotional payback.
Rand initially steered a wide berth around that one, preferring to adopt an impersonal generic take on the remedial benefits of his latest venture. “All creative work is therapeutic,” he states. “I am fully aware of the therapeutic elements of this, for me. It’s not by chance that I wrote this or that song.” Still, Rand was not going to go tabloid on himself. “I decided to write this show in the first person but – to the great disappointment of my producers – there is nothing gossipy about this show. There is nothing connected to external life. It is all about my internal life.”
For tickets and more information: Charles Bronfman Auditorium (Heichal Hatarbut) – *2207; Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Shalva Center –*6565, and shulirand.co.il