Israeli Folk Music: Part II - Should Messianic Congregations Embrace Israeli Folk Music?

by “Joyful Joe” Miterko

We learned in my last post that Israeli Folk Music has a vibrant history with  vast sources influencing its making and development. Today we are looking at why Messianic Congregations and Synagogues should incorporate Israeli Folk Music into their flow of worship, and how it fits within the context of congregational life. Incorporating Israeli folk music into our worship celebrates Messianic Jewish revival and is a way of celebrating the God of Israel and His faithfulness to His people. Incorporating the traditions and songs of Israel is a way of honoring our heritage and shows a clear connection to our roots.

First of all, much of Israeli folk music has its basis in Scripture. There is a substantial repertoire that draws from the Ketuvim (Writings), particularly from the Tehilim  (Psalms) and Mishlei  (Proverbs). This should be embraced; the more Scripture the better!  I’m not saying you have to sing HaTikvah (The Hope – Israel’s National Anthem) at every single Shabbat service. There are too many options and approaches for that! One option is to incorporate modern versions of the early piyutim (liturgical poems), such as Dr. Greg Silverman’s Be Turned. He  incorporates modern elements with a sense of an old melody, the Eits Chayim, hovering over it.

Another way to utilize Israeli folk music is by using medleys. Israeli folk music medleys are very practical because the simpler songs are often in the same modalities. Jonathan Settel’s Super Medley is a great example of how we can take classic Israeli melodies and add English lyrics or treat them as niggunim (wordless songs). Settel’s Od Yishama/Sisu Et Yerushalayim is another strong example of a two song medley  without the niggun. Niggunim can be powerful on their own as well because people are connecting to the music, the community, and to God without having to focus on lyrics.  

The Israeli folk music genre has gone through many phases and evolutions and is now really breaking into the Messianic community! Check out Joshua Aaron’s version of the classic Hinei Ma Tov. This song is a staple in Jewish and Messianic cultures, but it does not have to be the same version Shabbat service after Shabbat service. Adapt it to the needs and style of your congregation. This crossover, Hebrew-Arabic version of Heveinu Shalom Aleichem is an amazing version of a classic. These artists and many others don’t treat the older traditions as outdated. Instead, they learn from and appreciate these treasures which keeps the heritage of this music alive.