Catching up with old friends

From Mexico to Moscow, last year’s Hallelujah finalists have made their mark on the global music scene.

Hallelujah Song Contest 311 (photo credit: Aviv Ahofi)
Hallelujah Song Contest 311
(photo credit: Aviv Ahofi)
With finals just around the corner, 29 young Jews from across the map are preparing to show off their pipes at this year’s worldwide Hebrew singing competition, Hallelujah.
The competition has helped last year’s finalists take a giant running leap into the professional music industry. Many have become stars in their home countries, and they are all inspiration for Jewish youth across the world.
Featured in professional theater, television programs and much more, the overwhelming success of last year’s contestants explains why so many young people want to be a part of this one of a kind ‘Idol’-like competition.
“Even after everything I have done since Hallelujah, it will always be my favorite experience, and has helped my music career more than anything,” says Oliver Ghnassia, last year’s runner up.
Click here for full coverage of Hallelujah
Click here for full coverage of Hallelujah
Ghnassia has been singing since he was just a toddler, but it was Hallelujah that jump-started his career. He was featured on "The Voice: Belgium" shortly after Hallelujah, which made him a local star.
After receiving great recognition for his performance of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida on The Voice, Ghanassia was asked to perform on the main stage at the Brussels Gay Pride Parade in May.
“It was an indescribable experience. I was so happy to be able to stand up for what I believe in and have so many people support me,” he explains.
Ghnassia says there were twenty thousand people who stood in the crowd to watch his performance. “It was kind of terrifying, but so amazing.”
This fall, he will be taking his career in a slightly different direction as he debuts in his first musical, a Paris production of Piano Plage, which he is both nervous and excited about.
Hallelujah consists of being selected out of hundreds of auditions, and contestants who are chosen for the semifinal round are invited to Israel for a three week intensive competition. This is an experience that 2011’s crowd favorite, semifinalist Happie Hoffman, says really brought her closer to her Jewish roots.
The 20-year-old born in Memphis, Tennessee just completed a semester at Tel Aviv University. During which she recorded a duet with Jewish Rock Radio’s Rick Recht, which they performed at the Western Wall.
While living in Tel-Aviv, she also performed in folk festivals including Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival, and the popular Tel Aviv Folk Club.
“After the competition, I really wanted a more solid connection with my music and with Israel,” she says.
Hoffman says that if she could give this year's group one piece of advice, she would tell them not to hold anything back because "Hallelujah can change your whole life."
After winning first place in Hallelujah 2011, Adam Kleinberg has made quite the impact on both the Israeli music scene as well as the Mexican Jewish community.
“Adam has been a big help with Hallelujah Mexico and has really put himself out there in the Jewish community,” says Tzahi Gavrieli, chairman of Hallelujah's public council.
Recording his first single Geshem (Originally written and performed by Meir Banai) with renowned Israeli musician Momy Levy was only the first step in his musical journey. Along with a cash prize, recording a duet with an Israeli recording artist is part of Hallelujah’s first place winnings.
Currently on the verge of making aliya, Kleinberg has also been a large contributor to Mexico’s local Hallelujah competition, a fairly new project but a promising one. His dreadlocks may make him memorable, but it is his passion and his rock star voice that has gotten him to where he is today.
“The most important thing, more than the music, more than being on television, is bridging the gap between youngsters from every country and their connection to Israel,” says Gavrieli about the variety of nationalities represented in the competition.
Along with Kleinberg and Ghnassia making their marks in Mexico and Belgium, David Kobiashuili and Julia Belayaeva, both from Russia have been touring the Soviet Union together performing for Jewish communities across the country, making their footprint in the Russian music industry.
Fans may not remember winner of The Voice: Israel, Kathleen Reiter, as a Hallelujah contestant, but she is now a household name in the Holy Land. Unfortunately, she had to drop out of the competition early due to conflicting auditions, but Gavrieli knows that she would have made it far in the competition.
“Someone has some serious talent over here,” Gavrieli remembers saying while going through 2011’s audition videos. Kathleen, who grew up in Montreal, Canada stood out to the judges as one of the most powerful.
“Kathleen was a part of Hallelujah and she is now an inspiration for so many Jewish youngsters, and so are so many Hallelujah alumni," he says. "We are so proud of everything the 2011 contestants have accomplished.”
Gavrieli says that last years finalists really gave the Hallelujah audience a reason to tune in. He was so excited to hear that groups of young Jews huddled around satellite televisions in countries across the globe from Mexico to Moscow just to be a part of the Hallelujah phenomenon. This was something he had not known until recently, but says it is just one example of how Hallelujah is bringing Jews together.
From Mexico to Brussels to Russia to France to right here in Israel, it is clear that these young Jews are all making their musical mark in their respective countries, and they have Hallelujah to thank for that.