The hills are alive…

What do you get when you put 540 total strangers in a Tel Aviv hall on a warm April evening?

From left: Or Taicher,  Michal Shneiderman and Ben Yaffet (photo credit: KOOLULAM)
From left: Or Taicher, Michal Shneiderman and Ben Yaffet
(photo credit: KOOLULAM)
What happens when 500 strangers join together to sing? An exciting evening of song they will remember for a long, long time.
What do you get when you put 540 total strangers in a Tel Aviv hall on a warm April evening? You get “Koolulam,” the fulfillment of a dream of 31-year-old film director Or Taicher. Last year on a visit to Canada, Taicher went to a similar event called “Choir, Choir, Choir” and immediately saw the importance of having a unifying event like this in Israel.
He approached his friends, Michal Shneiderman, 33, the owner of On-it, a Tel Aviv digital advertising company, and Ben Yaffet, 26, the baby of the group and the “music man” of the team. A graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music with a degree in conducting and composition, Yaffet conducts Vocatikva, a youth choir made up of teens from the impoverished Hatikva neighborhood.
The aim of Koolulam is to bring people together regardless of age, gender or education to sing and have fun doing so. The name comes from the syllables of the Middle Eastern warbling of rejoicing, “koolooloo,” plus the Hebrew word kulam, meaning everyone. Kulam also contains the word olam, Hebrew for “the world” and kool, which of course is cool. Put it together and voila! The team chose April 15 as its target date and got to work. The first thing to do was to decide on a venue and Tel Aviv won hands down. Since no one in Israel knew what Koolulam was, they decided that Tel Aviv would be the easiest place to draw a crowd. The aim was to attract some 300 people, with a minimum of 200 needed as critical mass to make the evening work. The announcement went out on social media and included materials from “Choir, Choir, Choir” to give an idea of what the free event would be like.
With a date and venue in place, they needed a song, which was not as easy as it sounds.
“We needed a song that would connect people and be positive and optimistic,” Shneiderman explains. “We didn’t want any songs about love and romance; we wanted something that represented the aim of Koolulam.
“It also had to be easy enough to teach in a short amount of time. We approached Yaron Eigenstein, a musician and arranger, and he and Yaffet worked together to find the right song. They came up with “Or Gadol” (A Big Light), by Amir Dadon. Eigenstein’s task was to make an arrangement, with Dadon’s permission, that would meet all our criteria while we continued planning the evening.”
The next step was rounding up volunteers to work on the musical, technical and logistical side of the evening. This included the owner of Bascola, who donated the hall. Next in line were the musicians and camera, sound and light technicians.
“We also prepared a very short questionnaire to get an idea of the demography of our first group,” Shneiderman said, adding “and we hoped for the best.”
On April 15 at 8 p.m., volunteers from Vocatikva met people at the door and gave them short questionnaires to fill out. They were also given handouts of the lyrics to the song with the alto and soprano parts highlighted. Women were divided into altos and sopranos; all the men stayed in one group.
The questionnaires revealed that the participants had come from as far south as Eilat, all the way up to kibbutzim in the North. Some brought their children, some came with friends and some came alone. There were people of all ages and all walks of life, who came because they love to sing.
Rami Cohen, 52, came from Ashkelon, because “I enjoy singing and wanted to see how this Koolulam was going to work. I was surprised to see so many people just like me who love to sing, and met people from all over Israel.
“I was standing next to a young guy from Haifa and a grandfather of four from a kibbutz near Sderot. We were all smiling, everyone was happy, and we sang with all our heart. My singing partners and I agreed we’d meet again at the next Koolulam, this time as friends, not as strangers.”
Lorna Szefler, a retired special education teacher also from Ashkelon, was also there.
“I heard about if from Suzi Eigenstein, Yaron’s mom, and since I love to sing, I said yes immediately. I easily got two other friends to join me and off we went. We speculated as to how many people would make the effort to come to Tel Aviv ‘just to sing’ and wondered if only a handful of people would show up.
“When we arrived, there were already lots of people there, and as we stood on line to get in, more and more were coming – singles, couples, even families came with their kids! We registered, filled in a questionnaire, got stickers and a lyric sheet of the song we were going to be singing with our parts highlighted.
“We were told to go over the part we’d been assigned to, alto or soprano, then we went inside. There was a sea of people and we knew this was going to be something extraordinary, and it was exciting before it even began. We spent an hour learning the song, did a few run-throughs, and then filming began.
“I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to be surrounded by the sounds of people singing with so much positive energy. It was uplifting, empowering and just plain fun. There was electricity in the room, a buzz. It was well organized, and from my side everything went smoothly. A special shout-out to Ben and Yaron, who were incredibly professional and fun at the same time. It was a wonderful evening and I can’t wait for the next one!” The organizers agree that Koolulam was a resounding success.
“We were hoping for 300 people and were thrilled to see that we were off by 240! The 540 singers all thanked us and told us what a joyful experience it was,” Taicher says. “We received wonderful feedback in more than 1,000 messages on Facebook, not only from Israel but from France, Uruguay and London.
“Amir Dadon put the video of the evening on his Facebook page with one word: ‘Exciting.’ People wanted to know when and where our next Koolulam would be, but we still haven’t decided. We would like to do a few more Koolulam events this year all across the country.
“We also got inquiries from private organizations that want us to come and have a sing-along with all their employees.The possibilities are endless and we’re in the process of going over each one.”
An unexpected bonus was the support of Pnima, a nationwide social movement whose aim is to heal the rifts that divide Israeli society. They loved the idea of unifying people through song and were happy to offer their support.
And as for Taicher fulfilling his dream, well, “klululululuuuuuu – mission accomplished!”
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