Israel’s American Idol

March 19, 2012 3:42 pm 0 comments

Adam Kleinberg after learning that he won the "Hallelujah" competition in Israel. Photo: Aviv Hofi.

Adam Kleinberg has the rock star look and sound down pat. With a coif of heavy, brown dreadlocks, and dressed mostly in black and leather, this 22-year-old Mexican Jew has a powerful voice with deep range.

Kleinberg took first prize in last year’s “Hallelujah” global Jewish singing contest, a Hebrew singing competition in Israel that was revived after 17 years on hiatus. Along with 11 other finalists, Kleinberg performed for Israeli television viewers, as a lineup of judges representing Israeli music royalty—Yehoram Gaon, David Broza, Achinoam Nini, Hanan Yovel, DJ Skazi and musical producer Kobi Oshrat—selected a winner, à la “American Idol.”

In the final show, Kleinberg performed a memorable rendition of his original submission, “Lo Kal” by Israeli rock band Hayehudim, and won a cash prize, the chance to collaborate on a song with an Israeli singer, and the opportunity to perform for Jewish communities around the world.

Kleinberg, who is a distant cousin of David Ben-Gurion, recently released his first single, “Geshem,” with Israeli singer Momi Levy (the original is by Meir Banai).

From the moment he heard the song, which in English means “rain,” Kleinberg says he fell in love with it.

“I really felt what the song is about and all the meaning of the words, and I thought I could really give the song its meaning,” he tells JointMedia News Service.

The young singer, who already speaks Hebrew fluently, says he listens to “Geshem” from his home in Mexico City via the Internet. It is now being played on Israeli radio, and soon will hit Jewish radio stations around the world.

At the age of 13, while preparing for his bar mitzvah, Kleinberg says his synagogue cantor noticed his talent and encouraged him to take up singing. His cantor, also an opera singer, brought Kleinberg on board to sing at Shabbat services. Kleinberg also began writing his own songs, and soon after formed his first band, UFN (Until Further Notice), whose sound he describes as “happy punk” music. In 2009, after about two years of performing, Kleinberg picked up and left Mexico for Israel to participate in Habonim Dror’s yearlong program for high school graduates.

Kleinberg grew up in Habonim Dror, a Zionist youth movement, having participated both as a camper and counselor for a decade. “We spoke a lot about Israel, about aliyah, Zionism, and then I started teaching my chanichim also to make aliyah, to think about Israel,” he says.

During his year in Israel, Kleinberg says he heard about the Hallelujah contest from one of his group leaders. He began reading about it online, and decided to post his video submission. When he heard of his acceptance a month later, he says he could not wait to return to Israel.

Far from being competitive and stressful, Kleinberg says the contest felt much more like friends and musicians hanging out, with occasional performances for judges.

The young singer admits to being nervous at the finals, and even surprised he won. “There were people that studied music for a long time. I didn’t study music my whole life,” he says. “It was really a surprise that all the judges chose me before people who really studied music.”

The contest

Last year’s contest drew 230 applicants from around the world, ages 16-26, all of whom submitted video auditions over YouTube, says the contest’s director Yair Gafni. This year, contestants are still submitting through YouTube, but Gafni is also planning several live contests around the world. Kleinberg is helping produce the June 3 contest in Mexico, and will perform at the contest as well. Another contest in New York City is also in the works.

The Hallelujah web site, which updates automatically, boasts 122 submissions so far. Singers, this time between ages 18-30, have until April 30 to apply.

In their video auditions, contestants can sing in any language, but when it comes down to performing for the judges, singers receive a list of Hebrew songs to choose from.

“It’s all about spreading the Israeli music… around the world because we believe that through the music [Jews] will get closer to Israel, to their heritage, to their people, and that’s what happened,” says Gafni. “Bringing the people together to Israel from different countries, they discover that the meeting point is very easy for them.”

From the submissions, the judges narrow the contestants down to 30 who are then invited to Israel for about a month of rehearsal and travel in preparation for the televised performances. The first-place winner of the Mexico contest, and any other global contest, is included among this group of 30. Judges then choose 12 for solo television performances, while the others perform as a group.

Gafni said Hallelujah is “not a commercial project,” but rather, a “national Zionist project.” The 2012 competition is sponsored by Birthright, and like last year, is supported by the Foreign Ministry, the Jewish Agency, Masa Israel Journey, and others.

Gafni and the Hallelujah team are still working out this year’s logistics, such as performance space. While the list of judges is not final, it is slated to include Israeli singers like Dudu Fisher and Tzahi Halevi, music producers, and directors from the Rimon School and Meitar Association, which brings Diaspora and Israeli Jews together through song.

Hallelujah first launched in 1992 and boasted three seasons, but was canceled due to funding constraints. The contest came back last year, Gafni says, because the pervasiveness of social media reduced marketing costs. From 1992-1994, the Israeli government covered the contest’s costs.

“Everything had to go through TV and broadcasting, and it’s only because of the budget we stopped it, and now we’re back with a bigger possibility to do it with less [of a] budget,” he says.

The ‘best meeting point’

While aliyah is not the goal of Hallelujah, Gafni names four contestants from last year who have made or soon will make aliyah, all of whom intend to study music, pursue music production, or launch their own singing careers.

Among those taking the plunge is Kleinberg, whose move to Israel will come in April. He plans to study at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon, near Tel Aviv. “I want to get to Israel and start making Israeli music,” he says. “I don’t know if the contest is going to help me, but at least they gave me a really big chance to know some Israeli producers and some Israeli musicians.”

With or without the intent of making aliyah, the Hallelujah contest’s singers developed deep bonds with Israel. The “best meeting point” for these young Jews is music, Gafni says, rather than examining the Jewish state from political or religious angles.

“We bring them together around the music, which is their favorite subject in their life,” Gafni says. “It’s much easier for them to connect to Israel and to each other [through music].

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z by Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin (Pavilion Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 2013) Sophocles said, “What people believe prevails over truth,” Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z is ideal for the arm chair reader who would like a basic grasp of the terms used in the mainstream media’s presentation of the Arab-Israeli situation as is reported today. This is a book whose time has come. This is a book where the reader gains a [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    JNS.org – On Thursday, audiences around the country can feel what it is like to be William Shatner, the Jewish actor best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek.” Shatner’s one-man show “Shatner’s World”—which was on Broadway and toured Canada, Australia, and the United States—will be presented in nearly 700 movie theaters nationwide for one night only on April 24. Sponsored by Fathom Events and Priceline.com (for whom Shatner has famously served as a pitchman), [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.