Forget life in the fast lane Israeli star shoots for longevity

At 26, Amdursky — who calls his sound "somewhere between rock and roll and jazz" and is the son of the late Israeli folksinger Benny Amdursky — is being touted as one of Israel's hottest musicians. Both his albums are nearing gold, and an Israeli magazine recently rated him the fourth best-looking man in Israel.

Not too shabby for a high school dropout who never served in the army.

"Not everyone has the tools to deal with the social forms of the army," he said. "They knew I was trouble."

Amdursky will perform in Berkeley on Sunday, March 16 at the 15th annual Israel Education Day.

Speakers at the event include Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America; political consultant John Rothmann; and Israeli DJ Ronen Doron. The event is sponsored by the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay and a number of congregations and Jewish organizations.

Growing up, Amdursky listened to Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop and "everyone in between."

At 17, he left school and his parents' home to pursue his musical aspirations. His "typical Jewish mother" had hoped her son would be a doctor or lawyer. His father, though a professional performer himself, disapproved as well.

Instead the young Amdursky cooked, washed dishes and "did a lot of dirty work in order to survive." He formed the band Escott Blend, which released an album in 1991.

The band secured a respectable following in Israel. Nonetheless, the members parted company soon after their record was released.

Amdursky has released two solo albums since then, each selling nearly 20,000 copies. He has made a few music videos, which air on Israeli television shows and on El Al Airlines flights. Amdursky is a regular on Israeli radio rotation lists and is "easily identifiable on the street and in taxicabs," he said.

But being a star in Israel doesn't afford him the luxuries his American counterparts enjoy.

"Israeli music has changed a lot. Israel has changed a lot," he said, attributing these changes to Western culture influences.

"In the 1950s, Israeli music was close to its Arab and Russian influences. Now every home in Israel is attached to cable and MTV," Amdursky said. But professional musicians in Israel "make small amounts of money and have to live like all the other people."

Even so, Amdursky isn't aiming for American success.

"It's a different culture, a different education. I believe someone who grew up in the Middle East cannot and will not dig the state of mind of someone who grew up in the States. And vice versa," he said. "In America you have to live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse. That doesn't work here. You have to live long.

"American rock and roll is not like Israeli rock and roll," he adds.

"Hebrew sounds a lot more serious than other languages. Its associations are of the Bible and the military. It's a harsh language, a lot like German and Dutch — all the ch's."

Nonetheless, the themes in Amdursky's music are universal. He sings mostly about relationships: between lovers and friends, and our relationships with ourselves.

"These are pretty international subjects," he said.

Nevertheless his two concerts overseas, in Maryland and Berlin, did not meet with much success.

"In Maryland I had to sing in a high school gym. There was no PA system. I had to play the piano without any amplifiers. It was pretty painful," he said. "Berlin wasn't much different.

"This time will be different," he said of the Berkeley concert. "It will be professional. It will be cool."

For now, Amdursky and his four-member band are content to perform mostly in nightclubs and small concert halls around Israel.

"Israel is a small market. But if you stick around long enough you can make it," he said. "You have to be persistent and have faith in yourself. In the end, you get the jackpot."