A Beginner’s Guide to Israeli Rock

If you are a Jewish classic rock fan, or even just have Fleetwood Mac stuck in your head because of the TikTok algorithm, I implore you to give Israeli rock a chance.

For Gen Z, ‘60s and ‘70s culture is fully in style. Tie-dye has gone mainstream again. Roller-skating is back with a vengeance (just ask these sold out roller-skate companies). Essential to this revival? Music from this time period is re-entering the top charts.

Thanks to one TikTok trend, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” reentered the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in decades this past October. Vinyl record sales reached their peak for the first time since 1991 in December 2020.

As this nostalgia for a time that we did not live through continues, it is becoming increasingly clear that this era’s music continues to capture the fascination of generations. The era gave us no shortage of American Jewish musicians to fall in love with — from Lou Reed to Bob Dylan to Mama Cass. But if you are a Jewish classic rock fan, or even just have Fleetwood Mac stuck in your head because of the TikTok algorithm, I implore you to give Israeli rock a chance.

My parents are Israeli and my first language was Hebrew; as a kid, I would fall asleep every night listening to Israeli lullabies by Arik Einstein on my red boombox. Yeladudes (Kiddos) by Einstein was my favorite CD to listen to at bedtime — it’s like listening to a crazy uncle sing absurdist bedtime stories about the land of the dwarves (“Be’Medinat HaGamadim”) and a guy that goes around bending bananas at night (“Mekofef Habananot”).

As listening technology evolved past CDs and boomboxes, my favorite music bounced from iPods to iPhones, and I soon left the Hebrew albums of my childhood behind. As a teen, when my hipster wannabe self first became aware of the revival of vinyl records, it was because I had been gifted a trendy black and red Crosley record player. Like most teenagers playing with this retro tech, I looked to my parents for help, and the Hebrew rock records that immigrated to LA with my parents became the basis for my burgeoning record collection.

I am fortunate to live in the heavily Israeli expat population in the San Fernando Valley, so it is possible for me to accidentally come across such delightful albums as Poogy in a Pita — which has the entire band lounging inside of a pita bread as the album art — or a special Record Store Day reissue of Singles Rarities & Oddities by The Churchills. Every time I unearth one of these albums from a bin labeled “Foreign Rock” or “Middle Eastern,” I feel a sense of pride knowing that there were Jewish musicians that pioneered such a unique sound.

In my quest for more Israeli rock, I came across the blog, “The Diversity of Classic Rock,” run by music historian Angie Weisgal who blogs under the name Angie Moon and runs the Instagram account, @thediversityofclassicrock. Weisgal explains that “if it makes me feel like I’m living in a time that I didn’t really live in,” she knows it’s a track worth recommending.

For her and many fans of “foreign” classic rock, the language doesn’t matter. “It just definitely helps you understand other people’s cultures better. Why limit yourself? If you don’t know the lyrics, I think you can make your own meanings. It’s art, you know, I don’t think there’s any wrong way to interpret art.”

Regardless of if you understand the lyrics or not, there are plenty of excellent Hebrew classic rock tunes worth listening to. Because if you listen to the Beatles channel on Sirius XM as much as I do, unlocking your inner Israeli grandparent won’t be so hard.

Here’s where to start:

Kaveret

Any list of Israeli classic rock must begin with Kaveret (in Hebrew, means “beehive”). Like other Israeli bands of the time, they had a different name when they performed internationally, and so outside of Israel they were known as Poogy. Kaveret is one of the greatest (and largest) Israeli bands of all time, with seven band members that all went on to have very successful music careers.

In 1973, Israel entered the European song contest Eurovision for the first time, and in 1974 Kaveret was the second entry for Israel ever, performing “Natai la Chaii” (I Gave Her My Life). Four years later, Israel won the competition for the first time with “Abanibi” and again the following year with “Hallelujah”. (Israel hosted the competition in 2019).

Arik Einstein

Arik Einstein was an Israeli icon, with a successful career in acting, singing, songwriting and more, having released 34 albums over the course of his extensive career. He sang in the trio The High Windows, and though he collaborated with many artists in the course of his life, perhaps none was as influential as the work he did with singer/songwriter Shalom Hanoch.

In addition to his own impressive discography, Arik Einstein covered many famous British and American artists of the time in both Hebrew and English. including the Beatles and Elton John. My favorites include “Mazel,” a cover of “Do You Want to Know a Secret” by the Beatles, and a Hebrew cover of “Yesterday” with fellow Israeli artist Yafa Yarkoni.

The Churchills

The Churchills were an excellent psychedelic rock band that gained international acclaim since many of their songs are sung in English. Like Kaveret, the band performed under a different name internationally, since they did not want to alienate their foreign audience.

Their cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Living Loving Maid” called “Living Loving” is an excellent jumping off point for their music. For the rare experience of listening to them since in Hebrew, check out “Enlight Our Eyes” or “Achinoam”.

The Pure Souls

The Pure Souls’ debut album “The Pure Souls” is such an influential album (and it is my mom’s favorite) so I feel compelled to talk about this band. The trio was comprised of three artists who served in IDF army bands before forming this group.

“Cafe Etzel Berta” the opening track of the album is one of my personal favorites. The second track on the album, “Achake Lecha” is another classic example of Israeli pop-rock from the time. 

Tamuz

Tamouz was another extremely important rock band of the time. Their only album “End of the Orange Season”, is one of the most influential Israeli rock albums (and my personal favorite album art of all time). The track by the same title is an excellent starting point for the band’s music, as well as “Kacha At Ratsit Oti”.

Many of the band members went on to have extremely successful solo careers, so if you enjoy this band’s sound be sure to check out Shalom Hanoch as well as Ariel Zilber.

It’s long past time this music was talked about outside of Israeli communities or Hebrew speakers. I know there are at least some Ofra Haza fans on TikTok; the algorithm brought me this gem over the summer. But I want Arik Einstein-tok! Kaveret-tok! I want all of this music to get the love and attention it deserves. Mostly, I want friends to listen to these Jewish rock stars with.

Britt Jacobson

Britt Jacobson (she/her/hers) is a senior at the University of Southern California studying Global Studies and Music Industry. She has a mint plant and a pet tortoise named Pistachio. She loves making quesadillas and listening to records. Britt is a 2020-2021 Alma College Writing Fellow.

Read More