Is a Hanan Ben Ari concert the solution for diaspora, Israeli divisions? - opinion

The event, organized by the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, was an intentional celebration of our shared identity as a nation.

 Hanan Ben Ari and a new shaliach called Joseph (photo credit: GPO)
Hanan Ben Ari and a new shaliach called Joseph
(photo credit: GPO)

Potentially, a group of young 500 very diversified idealistic Israelis,  getting together in one room, with politicians and Jewish leaders, could have ended up with rallies for and against the proposed judicial reforms. From the moment I arrived at an event on Tuesday evening, organized for hundreds of new shlichim (emissaries), who will embark this summer to hundreds of Jewish communities around the world, I found myself amidst a diverse tapestry of Israelis representing all backgrounds and walks of life, all seeking solace from the issues that often tear our society apart. The vibrant energy pulsated through the air, creating an atmosphere charged with excitement and a shared sense of pride for our beloved Israel.

While political tensions and judicial reforms loom large in our societal discourse, this evening provided a respite from those contentious debates. Surprisingly, despite the presence of individuals from different sides of the political spectrum, the focus remained solely on unity, Zionism, and the love of Israel. There was no mention of the issues that often divide us.

The unifying powers of Hanan Ben Ari

The highlight of this event, that was intended to energize the shlichim before they get on an airplane for a period of one to five years, was a performance by Israeli pop sensation Hanan Ben Ari. The 35-year-old religious singer grew up in the religious-Zionist community, but has quickly become one of the most successful Israeli artists, with songs dominating the charts and prime time commercials as a presenter. 

The lyrics of Ben Ari's song echoed through the venue, serving as a powerful reminder of the need to break free from societal stereotypes and embrace our individuality. With passion in our voices, the audience sang along to the words that challenged us not to be “confined in cages,” or “summarized on Wikipedia,” as Ben Ari sang these words in his hit song Wikipedia. We understood that “we are everything and nothing at all, forever light dressed in a body,” as Ben Ari wrote so wisely. These verses became a rallying cry for self-expression and a rejection of simplistic categorizations.

In that moment, as the audience raised their voices as one, the atmosphere transformed into an arena of unity. Strangers became friends, embracing each other in warm hugs, breaking down barriers that had divided us for far too long. The spirit of the concert transcended the lyrics themselves, embodying the essence of the message—unity, acceptance, and pride in our diverse nation.

 Hanan Ben Ari and a new shaliach called Joseph (credit: GPO)
Hanan Ben Ari and a new shaliach called Joseph (credit: GPO)

The event, organized by the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, was an intentional celebration of our shared identity as a nation. It aimed to unite Israelis around the common goals of promoting aliyah and strengthening Jewish communities worldwide. The absence of political discourse allowed the attendees to set aside their differences and come together in a spirit of harmony and camaraderie.

Minister Ofir Sofer, a member of the Religious Zionist Party was diplomatic and idealistic while speaking to the future shlichim. "The dear emissaries are young idealists who travel to Jewish communities around the world out of a deep sense of ideology and a great desire to connect many Jews to the State of Israel, to Jewish identity and to encourage immigration to Israel," Sofer said. 

Chairman of the World Zionist Organization, Yaakov Hagoel, emphasized this acceptance, stating, "Every emissary who goes on a mission abroad instantly becomes an ambassador of the Jewish people, of the State of Israel. The emissaries' touch of every Jew, the experience and personal experience they will give to Diaspora Jewry, will help advance Zionism in the future—its revealed value: the immigration to Israel."

The significance of the event was not lost on chairman of the Jewish Agency, Major General Doron Almog. He emphasized the existential importance of the relationship between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry and the crucial role that the missions and emissaries play in building that bridge. "We work to bring hearts together in the Jewish world during our shlichut and also after their return to Israel," he stated.

The concert was a celebration of Israeli diversity. It was a testament to our ability to rise above divisions and find common ground, even in the face of societal challenges. People from all backgrounds were present, representing the rich tapestry of Israeli society. From the leftist to the Haredi, the religious to the non-religious, the Mizrahi to the Russian, they all stood shoulder to shoulder, united in their love for Israel.

As Ben Ari's voice resonated through the venue, singing about the false assumptions that have plagued our society, the participants were reminded of the importance of breaking down these barriers. The lyrics challenged them to see beyond the stereotypes that had divided us: “Every leftist labeled as a traitor, every Arab as a suicide bomber, and every settler blamed for the tragedy that befell [Yitzchak] Rabin,” Ben Ari sung in the most exact way possible. He urged Israelis not to lock themselves into preconceived notions, but to embrace the uniqueness of each individual.

This concert was more than just an entertainment event. It was a testament to our resilience, our ability to overcome differences, and our commitment to building a stronger, more inclusive Israel.

As these shlichim continue in their individual journeys, we should pray that they carry the spirit of unity and acceptance with them, remembering the lyrics that sounded through the theater:

"I came naked and thus I will return; So don't lock me in any cage; You will not lock me in any cage."

These words serve as a powerful reminder that we are the authors of our own stories, and together, we can shape a future of unity, understanding, and pride in our diverse Israeli identity.

Usually, the shlichim seminars end in a more casual and modest manner. This event was initiated and organized by Adv. Avichai Kahana, the Director General of the Aliyah and Integration Ministry. After the event, Kahana articulated that "the essential connection between the emissaries and the ministry is significant, and I am pleased that under the leadership of Minister Sofer, we have initiated this groundbreaking conference, showcasing our deep appreciation for their work in the Diaspora."

One of the organizers, a senior Jewish Agency official, told me after the concert that Ben Ari was intentionally asked to perform for the shlichim. His engagement with the audience was not only extraordinary, but he actually spoke of the work that these future leaders will have in Jewish communities abroad. It was also the acceptance that he promotes in his music that causes the masses to fall in love with him.

During the performance of his hit song Dream Like Joseph, he asked the audience if any of them was named Joseph. One of the shlichim answered positively, and received the honor of singing together with Ben Ari, while standing in the middle of the theater, off-stage. This Joseph, or possibly Yosef, actually sang beautifully and Ben Ari, who was overwhelmed with this young man’s charm, asked “are you single?” Suggesting that there may be a potential female partner in the audience, but Joseph actually said, “I’m not single; I have a boyfriend whom I love very much.” The crowd cheered; this wasn’t the answer Ben Ari, an orthodox Jew, expected. But he didn’t care and gave Joseph a big hug. Ben Ari's uncle Dr. Michael Ben Ari established the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party, which promotes a more conservative Israel with regards to LGBTQ rights. Ben Ari studied at yeshivas and is a member of orthodox communities, but that doesn't cause him to distance himself from a gay Israeli; on the contrary. That may be the secret of his success.

This attitude of pure acceptance of Ben Ari, who grew up as the son of a former mayor in a settlement in Samaria, defined the exact act of acceptance and love of every Jew that is expected from the shlichim the different organizations send annually to Jewish communities around the world. Even though Ben Ari could have been categorized as a “Religious Zionist,” he defies these categories and has succeeded in becoming one of the most popular Israeli artists, because he looks upon those in front of him as complex human beings, and will not allow putting them in a box.

Leaving the concert, I carried with me a renewed sense of optimism. The absence of political discourse, though perhaps unexpected, allowed for a pure celebration of our shared identity and purpose. It was a testament to the power of unity and the unwavering love we have for our country, despite our differences.

Many of the participants said that their experience had been transformative. It reminded all of them of the power of music to bridge divides and unite every Jew in our shared love for Israel. The concert showed all those present, that amidst the divisions plaguing our society, we can find strength in unity and pride in our country and nation.

“Erase everything you knew about me up to now No,” Ben Ari sings in Wikipedia. “I am not the settler; I am not God's representative; Not a religious guy who excludes women; not a bridge between the sectors; The sectors will be burned, burn previous opinions. Everyone will have a chance to write their own story.”