Settler Rock Comes to The States

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“We don’t get into politricks, man.” So says Shmuel Caro, the heavily bearded lead guitarist of the Israeli jam-collective Aharit Hayamim, or End of Days. It’s an unexpected statement from the front man of what’s been called the house band of the Hilltop Youth, the young radical settlers known for setting up makeshift outposts deep in the occupied territory of the West Bank.

Caro and his band are backstage at 92YTribeca, a Jewish music venue in Manhattan, preparing for a headlining set on the East Coast leg of a North American tour that had included a performance annual Jewlicious festival for Jewish college students, among other venues. While the band is associated with some of the most extreme elements of the settler movement, fellow performers and promoters say that their politics shouldn’t prevent them from appearing in mainstream Jewish venues.

“We’re here to represent the real vibe of Israel,” says keyboardist Yehuda Leuchter, before bursting into spontaneous harmony with the rest of Aharit Hayamim. Dressed in flowing shirts and large, knitted kippot, the four band members sang a reggae-inflected round of “Holy Mt. Zion.” After a minute, Yehuda announces: “That’s all we got to say, man.”

Aharit Hayamim was touring North America with Shemspeed, the Orthodox hip-hop label. They shared the bill at their March 15th concert at 92YTribeca with such regulars on the Jewish music scene as black Orthodox rapper Y-Love and Dov Rosenblatt of Blue Fringe, along with newcomers Eprhyme and Shir Yaakov. Matisyahu, the breakout Hasidic reggae star, made a surprise appearance.

Despite their avowed aversion to “politricks,” the group’s ideological orientation is apparent to its fans. Chaya Hershkopf, a young Lubavitch woman from Crown Heights, says that she first saw Aharit Hayamim perform at T’Koa D, a small, unauthorized outpost 2 km from the settlement of T’Koa, itself 8 km past the Green Line. “They talk a lot about the earth and the land and how it’s ours and the importance of holding on to it,” says Chaya. “They talk about Jerusalem and keeping it ours. They’re very settlery, and that’s mostly what I like about them.”

When asked whether they considered themselves Hilltop Youth, the members of Aharit Hayamim are evasive. “If you have a beard and a big kippah, you’re on the spot,” says Leuchter. “Doesn’t matter if you’re, like, Arab…Kids all over the world have tattoos and long hair. So, in Israel, they don’t have tattoos and they don’t have earrings. They have big payis and they believe in the land and they believe in peace and they believe in music and they believe in redemption.”

Each year, Aharit Hayamim hosts and headlines a music festival in Bat Ayin, a settlement in Gush Etzion. The celebration began as a memorial to Leuchter’s father, a musician who played with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and has grown into a multi-day gathering for Israeli jam bands. “It’s the most high festival in the world, man,” says Caro.

“[At the festival,] everybody smokes pot and dances around,” says Jewish social entrepreneur and Jewschool.com founder Dan Sieradski. Meanwhile, he says, “the message that’s being imparted is one of opposition to the policies of the state of Israel, opposition to the interests of the secular Israeli public, opposition to having peace with Palestinians.”

“[Their] message is about a…neo-Zionist uprising against the state or secular Jews or against liberal politics in favor of religious nationalism, theocratism, and messianism,” says Sieradski. And yet, Sieradski doesn’t object to their appearances at major Jewish venues alongside American Jewish artists. “I may think their views are abhorrent,” he says, “but if I don’t engage them and I don’t share a stage with them, how can I ever hope to change their minds or confront them to question their own beliefs? I don’t support cultural boycotts. I would support financial boycotts against companies doing business in the West Bank, but I wouldn’t support an artistic boycott of a band that lives in the West Bank.”

Eden Daniel Pearlstein, an observant Jewish rapper who performs as Eprhyme and appeared on the same bill as Aharit Hayamim at 92YTribeca, agrees with Sieradski. “I’m totally open to appearing onstage with a diverse spectrum of artists—racially, religiously, ethnically, and politically. I consider it a great honor to present my work in front of people who might not be on the same page as I am.”

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, the organizer of the Jewlicious festival in Long Beach, California, where Aharit Hayamim performed on March 1st, said that the band’s politics played no role in the decision to invite them. “We don’t consider people’s political beliefs a barrier or an entrance into the festival,” he said. “It’s about the music.”

Regardless of whether American Jewish promoters and artists agree with the band, Sieradski says that chances are their message will be lost in translation. “If Aharit Hayamim was getting on the stage and saying support the occupation and support settlements and defend Israel from Arabs who all want to kill us, then I think it would be a big problem,” he says. “[But] they’re singing lyrics in Hebrew that 90% of the people coming to their shows are not going to understand. So I don’t know how big a deal it is. I don’t know that they’re going to have that much of an influence.”

Additional reporting by Wesley Pinkham.

12 Older Responses to “Settler Rock Comes to The States”

  1. Shmeul
    April 23, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    “settler” music? C’mon folks. Music is music. It is really disturbing how you try to isolate anyone who is not party line left wing.

  2. Rabb Yonah
    April 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    There could not be group of peace loving, mellow, lovers of the Jewish people and Gd than these guys.
    They are what Bob Marley would have been if he had been born Israeli.
    One love – let’s get together and feel alright.

  3. David Abitbol
    April 23, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    How exactly does their message “about a…neo-Zionist uprising against the state or secular Jews or against liberal politics in favor of religious nationalism, theocratism, and messianism” manifest itself? It’s not in their lyrics. It’s not in anything they say while they perform. This article makes Aharit Hayamim look like White Power band Skrewdriver, but for the Zionists. And yet, nothing can be further from the truth. Even your article doesn’t specify exactly how this alleged hateful message is imparted upon their audience. I know these guys. They performed at our Festival, I see them at the shuk in Jerusalem all the time, I went hiking with the clarinetist during Passover. This article does not do these amazing musicians justice. Frankly, I’m a little aghast. So yeah, please fell free to explain.

  4. moshe
    April 23, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    At MSNBC Aharit Hayamim was presented as a Peace band chck it out
    http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/04/17/907693.aspx

  5. Guy Emanuel
    April 23, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    You should write fiction man! you are so good at it. You managed to turn a hippie band into a hateful group of musicians? David, I am not surprised you should see his article about Chabad. It was the worst most irresponsible one-sided piece of writing I have ever read.

  6. Rabbi Ben Packer
    April 23, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    This article along with everything else in “new voices” is complete trash! Don’t get me wrong, I always instruct my students to read it and in order to be good Jews – just do the opposite of whatever they say! I’m not sure if there is a more anti-Jewish magazine in all of America. Leavened products are a symbol of arrogance, so I saw it proper to burn all the New voices I could find with my chametz this year, since its full of vast amounts of extreme arrogance! Acharit HaYamim are wonderful people and their music is amazing – and if you don’t believe me, just see what new voices had to say and think the opposite!

  7. Eliezer Israel
    April 24, 2009 at 6:55 am #

    I’m a bit puzzled by the article. There’s very little effort made to communicate what the band stands for. There’s not even a strong picture of what ‘Hilltop Youth’ believe, advocate, or stand for.
    Yet, in the second half of the article, they are all but hung due to pictures painted of them from the outside. “Can we play on a stage with such people?”, is the question asked, but from their own presentation there seems to be no basis for the question. References are made to objectionable song lyrics, but none are cited.
    I’ve heard the bands music, recorded and live, danced in Bat Ayin (I didn’t smoke pot, but I had some nice soup and enjoyed the view), and I understand their lyrics. In light of all that, this hanging seems a bit bizarre.

  8. Dan Mets
    April 24, 2009 at 7:04 am #

    It is clear if you read the article carefully that it is not Aharit who are closed minded or hateful but the sophisticated people quoted who use labels and stereotypes to put Aharit and their fans in a little box- an unliked box. Aharit and their fans are willing to live in peace with all people. It is not Aharit and their fans who support segregation and racial exclusiveness.

  9. dividendI
    April 25, 2009 at 2:20 pm #

    fortunately, unimaginative reggae/jam band music is as it sounds, and completely irrelevant in the U.S., so we can rest assured these paper tigers remain just that… good luck with the 16-year-old stoner set, fellas

  10. Sergey Kadinsky
    April 25, 2009 at 8:14 pm #

    Kazis tried hard to press the musicians into an ideological box, but they just didn’t fit. Because they happen to live in the West Bank, they happen to be “settlers.” Is that a crime?

  11. gsike
    April 25, 2009 at 9:02 pm #

    perhaps the writer or one of the people interviewed has some kind of personal reason they dislike this band. I on the other hand, like all the other commenters here love them. go buy their album here: http://www.israel-music.com/aharit_hayamim/jerusalem_12676/ You can also see them on YouTube rocking out with Matisyahu.

  12. shaul
    April 28, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    as far as simple reporting– “this band hailing from the west bank” all have Jerusalem address– Agripas, Tzomet haBankim, Old City, the Kastel, Nachlaot… but even if not– what if we all lived across the line– does that still define how I relate to my arab neighbor?
    Stop squishing living breathing evolving and singing people into your political boxes… Take a look and open your ears to listen! You take a band of six individuals and squash into one– while the band itself is a living version of different opinions… This author so sets the stereotypes that people who actually are trying to move past them are being cast again. How will we set each other free?
    Leave the boxes and the forms that you/I/we keep this world in, and let the story move forward… one could see that the vibe of this band is actually reaching out to a new place–
    when we played at sulha we had arabs on the shoulders of jews dancing with refugees from Dar-Fur to klezmer music…. does “Hilltop House bAnd” contain that?
    Enough that we played alongside the Anti-Israel Apartheid demonstrators in Berkley with really only smiles between us- despite totally disagreement…
    Instead of just labeling and deriding people who are different- listen to the lyrics that we did sing in English…
    ‘Peace for Jerusalem- Peace for All,,
    Everything you need you’ve got– you got everything you want- Strength to get up, strength to go down, lift up your eyes and pray…”

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