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HomeIsrael and SocietyJewish Music and ArtsMeet Yonatan Razel
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Meet Yonatan Razel    

Meet Yonatan Razel

Yonatan Razel, one of the Jewish world's most versatile musicians and composers, and a Torah scholar as well, speaks to Breslev Israel in an exclusive interview...


If I were to make a list of my favorite Jewish composers, Yonatan Razel would be in the top 5. If I were to make a list of my favorite Jewish musicians, Yonatan Razel would be in the top 5. If I were to make a list of my favorite people, Yonatan Razel would once more appear way up near the top. You can forget about speaking to him before 2 PM; Yonatan Razel, one of the Jewish world's foremost and versatile musicians and composers, as well as one of Israel's finest classical music conductors, is totally immersed in Torah in the mornings at Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz's Jerusalem Kollel. As such, I met Yonatan on a sunny Jerusalem afternoon at his home in the Nachlaot neighbourhood of Jerusalem.


Image, right: Yonatan Razel on the streets of Jerusalem – always a Gemara in hand


Breslev Israel: I understand that you were born in the USA?


Yonatan Razel: Yes, in 1973, but when I was two, my parents made Aliya. My father Micha and my mother Carol, may they be healthy, met each other as psychology students in university. At the time, they were very Zionistic but not yet religious. They were drawn close to observant Judaism after they came to Israel.


BI: What's the secret of the Razel family talent?


YR: First of all, we're Leviim. Second of all, we come from a musical home. My paternal grandfather had a fantastic musical aptitude. Even before my parents became religious, they were against passive entertainment. My father threw the television out of the house before I was 5 and instead gave me and my brother Aharon piano lessons. Although my father liked classical music, my mother preferred pop music; I inherited both loves – classic and pop, Dad's seriousness about music and Mom's joy in music.


BI: What type of academic, religious and musical education did you receive?


YR: I went to a regular secular Israeli elementary school. By the time my parents had become religious enough to want to transfer me to a religious school, I was 10 years old. I only learned for two years in a national religious school. When it became apparent that my aptitude for music was so promising, I moved over to the high school under the auspices of the famed Rubin Academy of Music. That was quite a secular environment. I succeeded in my studies, and began my BA in conducting at age 17. After the army, I was accepted to do my master's degree at Cambridge.


BI: How did the army affect your music and religious life?


YR: I served in the army as a musician, but my religious life had not yet gelled; I was looking for direction and hadn't yet found it.


BI: After the army, didn't you leave music for a while? Tell us about Sussiya and your career as a shepherd?


YR: I was looking for direction, trying to get in touch with my true spiritual identity. I left the city and went down to the hills of Hebron near the ancient town of Sussiya. I lived with Yair Har Sinai and his family; Yair was a shepherd. He taught me how to live, how to eat naturally, how to adapt to nature. I stayed there for a year to connect with myself. Ultimately, Yair was murdered by Arab assailants.



BI: How did you get back to music?


YR: I had never really left, for here and there, I was playing concerts. I was cloned to be a classical conductor, and I had received several offers in the city that I couldn't refuse. Once I came back to the city, I met my wife Yael, who's originally from Moshav Ramot in the Golan.


BI: What attracted you to each other?


YR: Although I'm a musician, I have the hands of a farmer – she liked that. Baruch Hashem, we've been married now for eleven years and we have 5 children.


BI: How does Jewish music mean to you? Is it a way to make a living or more than that?


YR: I'll tell you a story, first about what music means to me: when I was 11, my family went on a trip to the Arava desert. There was oil on the road and my father lost control of the car – it flipped several times and became a total loss, but we came out miraculously OK. I gave a souvenir from that trip – a burnt and torn piece of the Beethoven's Ninth symphony score that I was learning at the time by heart in the car. At any rate, I don't see myself as an entertainer – rather, as an emissary. I often play with secular musicians and in front of secular audiences. It's a sanctification of Hashem's name when all the cliché stereotypes about Haredi Jews fall by the wayside. When I compose and perform Jewish music from deep down in my soul, I try to open their hearts and break down barriers.


BI: Hashem has certainly given you success. All of Israel sings your Vehi She'amda at the Seder table – it's one of the most gorgeous melodies I've ever heard.



YR: Thank you…


BI: What were some of your best career moments, and who are the musicians and singers you most enjoy working with?


YR: Performing Vehi She'amda with Yaacov Shwekey was a highlight. He is a marvellous individual. I enjoy performing with a lot of people – Eviatar Banai, my brother Aharon, Shlomo Katz – many more…


BI: What has been your most successful original songs and composition?


YR: Katonti has been tremendously successful – it was the ACUM #1 song for 2014 – this is the secular music world of Israel that chose a Jewish melody as its song of the year.



BI: Tell us a bit about Yonatan the father and husband; what do you want for your children?


YR: There is no TV, internet, or videos in my home. We do our utmost to preserve an atmosphere of holiness at home. The kids are immersed in Torah but they all learn music.


BI: What do you want for the Land of Israel and the future of the Jewish People?


YR: I want people to understand how beautiful we are as a nation; I want to help people come home to their roots – this is happening through music.


BI: Where does YR hope to be going spiritually and professionally in the future?


YR: I hope to learn more and to teach Torah. I want to be the type of Jew who learns from everyone and is not confined to a small group. I pray that my music gets to the wellspring of the Jewish soul and connects people to Hashem. And I pray that we'll be able to perform in our rebuilt Holy Temple…


BI: Soon, amen. Thank you so much, Yonatan, and may Hashem bless you and your family with every bit of material and spiritual abundance, amen!




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  Sinai indaba event
Pertunia10/16/2015 10:04:10 AM
  Yonatan Razel
Anonymous,2/9/2015 5:09:24 AM

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