Singer and educator Noa Levy
Singer and educator Noa Levy

Explore Israel’s history through its music in upcoming web series

Noa Levy is steeped in song. “I have been singing my whole life,” said the Israeli artist, who moved to the Bay Area five years ago.

Now she’s combining her knowledge of music and her home country in a multipart lecture series on the history of Israeli music, offered virtually over four Mondays starting Dec. 7 by Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco.

Levy wants to take American Jews past their usual nostalgic Israeli favorites for a deeper look at how events and culture have informed song throughout the country’s history.

“There’s room for expanding the horizons,” Levy said.

Using rare videos, photographs and a lot of recorded music, she will walk people through Israeli history — no Hebrew required. Levy uses 1880 as a starting year, exploring music from the early days of immigration from Eastern Europe and how the romantic ideals of pioneers reclaiming the land of their forefathers were expressed in song.

“The music was an indicator of what was going on,” Levy said.

The next lecture will cover the struggle to establish the State of Israel and the ethos expressed in the music of that period, followed by a period (post-independence through the 1980s) during which Israeli music underwent major changes.

“My personal favorite is the ’60s/’70s,” she said. “There was really a boom of interesting music that is significantly different than what was before it.”

As is common everywhere, the music tells stories about place and time and reflects changes in Israeli culture.

“That was the beginning of separating a little bit from the big Zionist ideas,” Levy said. “And where it gets really interesting is in the ’80s, when societal divisions really began to bubble and surface.”

The last lecture will focus on the music of today and the individualistic and multiethnic ideas that are pervading the current scene, with its global stars and mix of languages and cultures.

Levy is a professional jazz singer who got her start in high school. Her Israeli military service was with the prominent Navy Ensemble, which performed throughout Israel and toured the United States.

All of that makes her well-suited for the task of guiding people through the music and the history — topics she loves so much that it’s hard for her to prune the series down to four parts.

“Every time I run this series, I tweak it more and more,” she said. “I always run out of time!”

Because many aspects of Israeli history touch on difficult subjects, she knows that the conversations, at times, may get political, but she encourages people, no matter what their feelings, to come for a deeper understanding of Israeli culture.

“Generally we’re talking about music, but we’re talking about music as a representation of history,” she said. “Just keep an open mind.”

“Israel’s Music History” gets underway at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 and will continue on Dec. 21, Dec. 28 and Jan. 4. Each session is 90 minutes, and the cost for the series is $20. For more details, call (415) 661-3383 or visit nertamidsf.org.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.