Israel’s musicians sing for troops and injured, mourners and missing

Ishay Ribo and Berry Sakharov, Hanan Ben Ari and Netta Barzilai, Harel Skaat, Shlomo Artzi and others compose new songs and perform old ones for the nation

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Singer Ishay Ribo entertains the troops, like many of his musical colleagues around Israel right now during the 2023 Israel-Gaza War (Courtesy Ishay Ribo)
Singer Ishay Ribo entertains the troops, like many of his musical colleagues around Israel right now during the 2023 Israel-Gaza War (Courtesy Ishay Ribo)

Singer Ishay Ribo was in the midst of a round of shows for the Jewish holiday season, with his last show scheduled for October 8, the day after the Sukkot festival ended.

That performance never happened, as Israelis were instead reeling from the horrifying assault on southern Israel by Hamas terrorists on October 7, the last day of the holiday, during which they massacred around 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, in their homes and at an outdoor rave, committing atrocities and abducting more than 220 Israelis, taking them as captives to Gaza.

Now Ribo, like so many other Israeli performers, is making the rounds of IDF bases in the country’s south, singing for and with soldiers, doing what he does best to hold and lift the spirits of fellow Israelis.

“You are an inspiration!” wrote Ribo on his Instagram page, posting videos of several performances to groups of soldiers. “May God succeed through you and your tasks, and may you return home safely and unharmed.”

Ribo is not the only Israeli musical star praying for better days.

A cadre of Israeli performers — including Shlomo Artzi, Ivri Lider, Netta Barzilai, Harel Skaat, David Broza, Jonathan Mergui and Jane Bordeaux — are crisscrossing the country performing for hospital patients, singing at impromptu weddings, attending funerals and houses of mourning and in some cases, grieving their own losses.


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Artzi, who completed a round of shows in the US last month, was back in Israel and performed on September 21 in Sderot, his first time playing in the city that has been the hardest hit by rockets from Gaza.

He called it “an emotional and unforgettable evening” at the time. Just two weeks later, the southern city was overrun by Hamas terrorists who rampaged through the streets, killing dozens of residents.

Artzi made his way to the hospital beds of those injured, and to the homes of those sitting shiva, mourning for those killed in the onslaught.

He sang at the home of a soldier who died defending Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and at another shiva, for Jonathan Rom, who was killed at the Supernova desert rave.

“A song can’t heal pain, but it can show love and sympathy for this family that lost what’s more important than anything,” wrote Artzi on his Instagram page, wiping his own tears in the video recorded of his visit and quiet singing with the mourners.

On October 8, singer Hanan Ben Ari told his nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram that he would go live on the social media platform at 3 p.m. to talk, process, sing, pray and cheer together.

“This is the best thing I know how to do, sing with people,” said Ben Ari, a religiously observant singer with seven children, who served in the army, but is no longer called up for reserve duty.

“I’ve been racking my brain all night,” wrote Ben Ari, adding that he was never a great soldier. “I am neither a politician nor a journalist nor do I speak [foreign] languages ​​to explain us to the world. There is no time now for commissions of inquiry, for accusations and not even for mourning. We are at war for our home.”

And with such an enormous death toll in such a close-knit country, so many Israelis, including some of its most well-known performers, were acquainted with someone — often more than one person — killed in the Hamas rampage.

Aviv Bera’am, the technical producer for both Ben Ari and singer Lider, was murdered by Hamas terrorists during the battle in his community of Kibbutz Kfar Aza.

“Only last Thursday we laughed together. We were excited for the flight to the US. We wished you a happy holiday,” wrote Ben Ari.

Ben Ari then told followers to let him know about weddings that could use a singer, about those who were injured and would appreciate a song, or children cooped up in safe rooms who need some encouragement.

“Write me private messages, I am your soldier,” wrote Ben Ari.

Since then, he has performed at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, at a soldier’s impromptu wedding and he also wrote a song that is currently trending on YouTube.

Called “Birthplace,” the song explores what has been happening in the more than two weeks since the start of the war, the ways in which Israelis have pulled together, supporting the massive reservist callup of 350,000 reservists, volunteering, helping those evacuated from the ravaged southern communities.

“This song is dedicated to my nation,” wrote Ben Ari. “Not the one that was here a week ago, the one that we’ll create again when all this is over.”

In the song, Ben Ari sings:

“You are the special unit,
You will always be my homeland.
Even on the brink of an abyss,
Even in hell,
you are heaven,

“Toy” singer and Eurovision 2018 winner Netta Barzilai, without her usual colorful makeup and costumes, has been posting Instagram stories about the unfolding horrors and heroes of October 7, in between attending funerals, visiting hospitals and spending time with evacuees from the south staying at Dead Sea hotels.

One such stop was at the home of the parents of Tuval Haim, Barzilai’s drummer, whose brother, Yotam Haim, also a drummer and resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, has been missing since October 7.

Many Israeli singers performed on Friday afternoon at army bases, singing songs about Shabbat, about peace, about Israel.

“He shall neither slumber nor sleep, the keeper of Israel,” sang Berry Sakharoff, considered one of Israel’s most acclaimed rock musicians, to a base of swaying, uniform-clad soldiers.

Harel Skaat sang that same well-known tune at Tel Hashomer hospital, as he was visiting those injured and wounded in battle — and ended up in the hospital shelter with patients and their families during a round of rocket fire.


There are other singers slowly emerging with lyrics and music that reflect the somber yet resilient mood in Israel at the moment.

Jane Bordeaux, a Tel Aviv band known for their American, folk-country style music in Hebrew and English, canceled their October concert dates and lead singer Doron Talmon wrote something new, this time in English:

“Some words that came out of my heart yesterday,” said Talmon, as she sang “B’seder” (It’s okay), about all the emotions people are feeling in the wake of the attacks.

And Atara Uriya released her song, “Forever,” dedicated to the police forces who fell trying to protect those in the cities and border communities attacked by terrorists on that infamous Saturday.

“Because if there is fire I come,
I always jump first.
Then grab the bullet,
I don’t know how to stop.”

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