The Journey Through Music History: Celebrating music in Jerusalem

The Magazine spoke to the Ohalecha management husband-and-wife team of Meir-Simchah and Devora Panzer, as well as the center’s musical director, David Frankel, about the upcoming event.

BELGIUM-BORN David Frankel, guitarist and Ohalecha musical director, ‘fell deeply in love’ with Israel (photo credit: MARCO JONA)
BELGIUM-BORN David Frankel, guitarist and Ohalecha musical director, ‘fell deeply in love’ with Israel
(photo credit: MARCO JONA)
Nestled in a quaint historic Jerusalem neighborhood is the Ohalecha Arts & Events Center, which despite the COVID-19 pandemic, is forging ahead with its concert series and other events, both online and in person. Its four-part monthly “Journey Through Music History” series runs from November to February and spans the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras. The series kicks off with its first installment – music of the Renaissance era – on November 16.
The Magazine spoke to the Ohalecha management husband-and-wife team of Meir-Simchah and Devora Panzer, as well as the center’s musical director, David Frankel, about the event.
The most familiar piece in the Renaissance performance will be “Greensleeves,” which Meir-Simchah likens to the Beatles’s “Yesterday” in popularity.
“Everyone knew it,” he said. “It was reworked hundreds, if not thousands of times.” He calls the Renaissance period “the pivot point between modal liturgical music and the tonal music that defined the basic musical vocabulary of Western music until today.”
He is not alone in his enthusiasm. Frankel, who will perform on classical guitar accompanying soprano vocalist Liron Givoni, hopes to share “the uniqueness of character which comes across in each period, to hear the different stages in music development, to enjoy and understand the endeavor of music.”
Born to a hassidic family in Belgium, Frankel grew up with a love of music.
“When hassidim get together they sing, they believe it’s an avodah [form of worship], and rightly so. Growing up we always sang and believed that’s the highest thing we could do.”
Always attracted to the guitar, he was finally given one as a present for his 17th birthday. This led him to the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp and later to Jerusalem.
“I have been coming back and forth to Israel since the age of 14,” he explained, “but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I truly discovered Israel, learned its history, past and present, and fell deeply in love with it.”
TEL AVIV-born soprano Liron Givoni will be accompanied by Frankel in the music series. (Marco Jona)TEL AVIV-born soprano Liron Givoni will be accompanied by Frankel in the music series. (Marco Jona)
The vocalist for the series, Tel Aviv-born Liron Givoni met Frankel at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Frankel calls her a “jewel” who “sings with utmost commitment to the song.” The two have performed together at previous Ohalecha concerts – before the advent of coronavirus, which has shut down many performances.
But Frankel and Givoni have vowed to continue, albeit online for most spectators.
“We’ve been blessed that Ohalecha has a beautiful open-air garden,” Frankel explained, which allowed for limited hosting. Online tickets are offered as well.
“It’s very hard to perform online because I feel that I have to connect to the audience and look in their eyes,” the guitarist said. “The same goes for the audience. But I’m constantly thinking of how to give the people watching from home the most participatory experience possible,” he added.
DEVORA AND Meir-Simcha Panzer are proud of the small, intimate performances, weddings, bar and bat mitzvah parties, and study groups they have hosted at the venue. Discussing one concert, he said, “It was perfect. Not too small, not too big. It was intimate enough that David could speak directly to the children seated on pillows at the front and that an older lady could request a Yiddish tune, but big enough that everyone met someone new.”
The online reaction to the concerts has been extremely positive.
“Our concerts are special for their quality and intimacy. When people think of classical music, they usually think of a big symphony or something fancy and ostentatious. That’s not what it has to be and that’s not who we are. We want to give people a new way to access the music so that they can really connect with their unique soul. This is true since we started inviting people back to experience the music in the flesh, while still livestreaming.”
Native to the United States, Meir-Simchah met his Italian-born wife while they were both studying at a Hebrew ulpan in Israel. Devora Lugarini Panzer made aliyah from Rome in 2005. Ohalecha was her vision and her husband runs the public relations and other programming. In its short history, Ohalecha has been making its mark in Jerusalem.
“Ohalecha is a place where people share and collaborate,” Devora said, “where anyone who comes and bring gifts and passions to express, can give to others.”
THE BAT mitzvah girl gets a boost in festivities held outside at the Ohalecha event tent. (Marco Jona)THE BAT mitzvah girl gets a boost in festivities held outside at the Ohalecha event tent. (Marco Jona)
Located in the Mekor Haim neighborhood, the center is straddled by the Talpiot Industrial Zone and the Mesila Park bicycle path. For decades, the path was the former Jerusalem rail line and for a period, marked part of the border with Jordan. The once-dangerous border area retains historic buildings and synagogues as well as new apartment complexes and a cluster of renovated parks.
In addition to concerts, the venue also hosts small private events weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and other family events, which in the era of COVID-19 have become more popular due to mandatory limitations to prevent the spread of the virus.
Other events include workshops. In one unusual class, Bibliodrama, participants explore biblical teachings through participatory interpretive role-play.
“We work very hard to be a space open for artists and creative people of all kinds who want to try new things. Jerusalem is teeming with incredible people,” Meir-Simchah enthused. “It’s a city ready to burst with creativity.”
In these times when large-scale productions need to be scaled back, local residents, like the team behind Ohalecha, are making that magic happen.
The Journey Through Music History concert series will take place at Ohalecha, 143 Rehov Mekor Haim / Rehov Nehorai, Jerusalem. Renaissance: November 16; Baroque: December 15; Classical: January 13; Romantic: February 11.
For online and in-person tickets: ohalecha.jlm@gmail.com, 054-527-7205 or
www.ohalecha.org.