'Hallelujah’ puts a blue-and-white spin on singing contests

By fostering love of Hebrew songs, this competition is more than just another reality show

Sharon Cunha Hallelujah contestant (photo credit: courtesy)
Sharon Cunha Hallelujah contestant
(photo credit: courtesy)
What do you get when you combine American Idol, the Eurovision, Glee, a Birthright tour and an Israeli-style singalong by the campfire? It’s “Hallelujah,” a competition to find what its organizers call the “next Jewish star.”
It’s a new version of a nearly 20-year-old Hebrew song contest for young Jews from across the globe, amped up for the Internet age.
The grand finale will take place on August 25 in Ramat Hasharon in front of an audience of 3,000. The 30 finalists – who come from all over the world – are currently in Israel for rehearsals and to tour the country.
You can listen to the contestants, and will soon be able to cast your votes, via the website, www.hallelujah.org.il, or on the Facebook page.
“This is much more than just another reality show,” says Eitan Gafni, the competition’s founder and head producer. “It fosters a love of Hebrew songs among young people from around the world. It starts out in the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, and then moves to Israel. It’s not just about the music and the artistry, but about the heart and the soul. In these songs there is the story of this country, and the feelings of those who built it.”
Although the contestants chose mostly contemporary songs, Gafni says, rather than anything biblical, “they all have the experience of singing in the Hebrew language.”
Although surely the experience and the exposure are the biggest draw for the participants, there are cash prizes. The winner will receive $8,000 and will record a duet with an Israeli artist that will be played on radio stations here and Jewish radio stations worldwide.
The two will go on a concert tour of international Jewish communities. The winner will also receive a scholarship. The runner- up will receive $4,000, and the thirdplace finalist will win $2,000.
A LONG list of organizations have joined to sponsor this contest, among them the Foreign Ministry, the Jewish Agency, MASA, the Ramat Hasharon Municipality, Beit Hatfutsot, Nativ, the IDF Education Corps and Taglit. Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat put a great deal of effort into getting this competition off the ground, the organizers say.
Hundreds of teens and young people, aged 16 to 26, took part in the preliminary round.
The finalists represent Jewish communities from the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, France, Australia, Argentina, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Turkey, Costa Rica and Uruguay. There is also an Israeli, Mor Machlav of the IDF Education Corps.
As they tour the country, they will be accompanied by musicians and artists, as well as staff from the IDF Cultural Department and the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music.
The team of judges will be headed by veteran singer Yehoram Gaon and includes such well-known musicians and producers as Kobi Oshrat, Hanan Yovel, Yehuda Edar, Tomer Hadadi, DJ Skazi, Niv Tomer and Gafni.
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When the organizers turned to Tzahi Gavrieli, a former adviser to prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Binyamin Netanyahu, for help in making the idea a reality, “I immediately understood the potential,” says Gavrieli, who is now chairman of the public executive team of “Hallelujah.”
“The younger generation around the world has distanced itself from Judaism and from Israel,” he says. “So this was a creative way to use the power of reality TV, social media and the Internet to bring them closer to Jewish culture. It involves those who are contestants, but it also involves their entire communities.”
And it will be more than a one-shot deal, since the participants’ visit here and their experience in the contest is being made into a movie that will be shown on television in the fall.
For one contestant, Sharon Cunha, 18, of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, it’s a chance to have some fun – and perhaps to launch a career.
“My father is a Hebrew teacher, and I know Hebrew and English, as well as Portuguese,” she says. “My whole family is musical and I love to sing. I am studying in a program here, and my program director asked if anyone wanted to try singing, and I did.”
The song that landed her in the finals is “Inyan Shel Zman” (“A Matter of Time”), a modern classic written by Ehud Manor and Rami Kleinstein, that has been performed by many Israeli artists, among them Gidi Gov and Rita.
But although it’s a competition, Cunha is taking it easy. “I never expected this would be happening. I’m meeting a lot of people and having a great time. And practicing.”