A Conversation with Dr. Ariel Lazarus, Composer, Guitarist, Lecturer

Dr. Ariel Lazarus is a Composer, Classical Guitarist, Music Lecturer, and the conductor and co-founder of the Israeli Ladino Orchestra. He is very active in the composition and study of Jewish-Spanish music, and holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Music at Bar Ilan University. His works are published under the Israeli Music Institute, and was recorded for the European label Smoothfactor. He performs with many bands in Israel and abroad.

Ariel teaches at the Givat Washington College of Education near Yavne, and at the Rimon School of Music in Ramat Hasharon. He received creative scholarships from Israel’s Association of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers, and the from Israel National Lottery Council for Culture and art as a composer and performer. You can hear Ariel’s music at his website, www.ariellazarus.com.

A Fascinating Trend in Israeli Culture

In Israel today, we’re witnessing a fascinating pick in of  an evolving cultural movement

In the past 30 years, many Israelis are searching for the cultural roots of their ancestors, which were often deemphasized or ignored during the establishment of the State. Today, that desire for a connection to one’s historical and cultural roots is re-emerging and claiming a prominent place in the center of Israeli culture. Nowhere is the more apparent than in the renewed interest in classical Sephardic music and liturgy.

In my talks and performances with Jewish communities, I share the unique musical and liturgical tradition of Spanish Jewry, with its rich, wondrous history. I perform a special musical program called “Jerusalem of Spain” which helps familiarize the communities with the Ladino and Piyyut traditions that exist in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. I also share my own personal stories of a musician born in Israel to a grandfather who serves as a cantor in Gibraltar whose tradition “emigrated” to Israel through my artistic work.

Over the past two years, I have participated in three OTS Amiel BaKehila delegations – two to Europe and one to the United States. My latest trip, to Poland, my first visit to that country, provided me with unforgettable experiences. The show in Wroclaw took place inside the newly renovated and beautiful Mikveh. It was the first time I gave a concert in Mikveh and I could feel the soothing and natural combination of water and sound.

In Lodz, I was thrilled to be at a downtown coffee shop where the younger members of the community and other visitors frequent. The interest and curiosity for Jewish music and culture was incredible and moved me in a way which is difficult to describe. Part of my father’s family was sent to Poland during the Holocaust, so returning as a third generation to places where so many Jews suffered, as a cultural ambassador of the State of Israel is a great privilege and a great statement about our strength of living and our national resilience.

I have been playing to different Jewish communities for quite a few years and I always get emotional and amazed each time I perform in front of a new audience by the diversity and the unique historical, cultural, geographical, background story of every community. I want to thank the communities that opened their doors and their homes to me, and to all the members of the OTS Amiel BaKehila communities for their desire to deepen their cultural knowledge and to connect to what is happening in Israel. Our very connection with you strengthens us all.

At the same time, I am equally moved by the unifying power of music. Perhaps, as it says in Tehilim (Psalms) 77:6: “I call to remembrance, my song in the night”, meaning, when we play some couplet in Ladino or a Chassidic tune – we not only enjoy it through our sense of hearing. Rather, that music connects us as individuals and as a community to an ancient and common