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Will it be OK? David Broza has done 116 popup concerts since war broke out saying it will

The first thing that made me cry in this awful war was hearing David Broza sing Yihye Tov, his signature peace anthem whose title roughly translates to “It will be OK.” I was walking down the street in Manhattan listening to Broza crooning at a kibbutz in Israel’s north, part of a blitz of pop-up concerts across the country.

It was Oct. 25, 18 days after the horrific Hamas terror attack on Israel that launched Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza, and nothing was OK. But Broza was nonetheless singing his song, as he has since he wrote it with the late, great poet Yehonatan Geffen around the 1973 visit of Egypt’s president to Israel, through each tortured turn in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And he has kept singing it, three or four times a day for most of the last 68 days — for the deployed soldiers and for the spouses they left behind; for the families of the hostages and for the survivors of the music festival; for the volunteers, for the wounded, for the traumatized. 

So as I wrapped up an 11-day reporting trip to Israel this weekend, the  very last thing I did was follow Broza on Saturday night to Gush Etzion, the settlement bloc south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, for his 106th pop-up concert of this war. By Wednesday, he’d notched his 116th.

“This is what I know how to do,” Broza said as he strummed his guitar during the brief warm up. “If I was a doctor, I’d be in a hospital. If I was a sandwich maker, I’d make sandwiches. I’m 68, so I’m not a soldier. I give what I know how to give.”

I first met Broza in 2012, at his annual sunrise concert at the foot of Masada for Tu B’av, Israel’s Valentine’s Day. Two years later, I profiled him for The New York Times, focusing on his coexistence work — with Palestinian musicians on an album called East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, and with Palestinian kids in the Shuafat refugee camp. 

During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, we did a “concert-versation” with Broza on Zoom, and last year I wrote about his latest project, Tefila, an album and live series based on the Shabbat evening liturgy. This spring, when I heard Israeli pro-democracy protesters singing Yihye Tov, I wrote a column saying things were not actually OK

Back then, in March, none of us had any clue exactly how “not OK” it really was. What’s the opposite of OK? Israel and Gaza right now. 

Yet there was Broza on Saturday night, in his trademark black jeans and black button-down over black T-shirt, sitting on a plastic chair in a community center in the settlement of Alon Shvut. He was flanked by two buddies, one also playing guitar, the other percussion. There was a paper cup of turkish coffee next to his gray boot — the 106th shot of turkish coffee in this war, he said. That’s the one thing he requires of the hosts of these popup concerts. 

Actually he doesn’t think of them as concerts, or even shows, but “events,” Broza said. There is no green room, no roadies, sometimes not even a sound system. He keeps the house lights on — if there even are house lights. He’s done events in the lobbies of hotels where evacuees from Israel’s battered south and terrified north now live, on kibbutz lawns and army bases, in bomb shelters and parking lots. 

He played at the bris of a baby from Kfar Aza, one of the prime sites of the Hamas massacre. On Monday, he sang a few songs for a severely wounded soldier at Lowenstein Rehabilitation Center in Raanana.  

“Yesterday we performed in a hothouse, because that’s where the soldiers were sleeping,” Broza told me Saturday. “There were no plants.There were cots.”

Then people started to filter in. Most were modern Orthodox: men in knitted yarmulkes, women with colorful scarves wrapped around their hair. Shabbat had ended two hours before, and some were dressed for a date. Others brought their kids. And there was a group of grown-up kids in their 20s, some of them off-duty soldiers carrying rifles.

“Thank God for these people,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, I wouldn’t want to be part of any other society. If I wouldn’t fight for it, I don’t deserve it. My father fought for it, my grandfather fought for it, my great-grandfather.”

Broza chatted folks up before they took their seats. Where are you from, what do you do. A selfie? Sure. One middle-aged couple asked him to sign the ticket stub from his very first “Not Exactly Christmas Show” in New York in 1995. He was stunned they kept it; they explained that it was one of their early dates.

Broza was supposed to be touring this fall to mark the 40th anniversary of his album Haisha She’iti (The Woman With Me), but scrapped most of those gigs when war broke out. “I can’t do concerts in this state of mind, I can only do this show,” he said. Each set is about 50 or 60 minutes. Always including Yihye Tov.

He’s done the same thing in other times of trouble, including Israel’s first war with Lebanon in 1982, when, Broza recalled, “I was performing under real fire, rockets everywhere, a guy that just lost a leg.”

He admitted that the concerts — events — are something of a defense mechanism, a protective shield against becoming engulfed by the awfulness unfolding around him. 

“I haven’t watched TV since October 7th at midnight, I only read headlines,” Broza explained. “I don’t want to be sucked into the trauma. I don’t think a doctor who operates on a heart is thinking about the people, he’s thinking about the heart. I hear stories — I hear it in the elevator, I hear it in the taxi — I don’t want to take it in, otherwise it’s hard to put a smile on.”

At Alon Shvut, he sang one song about how thunder and lighting can be “not nice to hear, especially when you are alone.” He sang another about how wonderful it can be “to drink something cold in the desert.” And, yes, he sang Yihye Tov. And the kids and the grown-up kids and the grown-up grown ups knew the words and sang along.

Yihye Tov is a peace anthem. It talks about “one hundred years of war” and about dividing the land “between what’s theirs and ours,” about children living “without fear, without borders, without bomb shelters.”

And it includes the line “just go out from the territories,” referring to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank like the one where Broza was singing Saturday night.

When he got to that line, someone in the audience yelled, “We’re not going to leave,” triggering an eruption of applause. I thought, this is not OK.

But Broza was unbowed. “I’m anti-boycott,” he told me afterward. “They know I work with Palestinians. I don’t let this show get political or into debate mode at all. As long as they don’t shut me up. Nobody’s allowed to shut anybody up.” 

After Yehye Tov, he played a couple more. There was a standing ovation, and then an encore. Broza was due in Tekoa, another settlement in the Gush Etzion bloc, at 9 p.m. for another show.  

“How far away is Tekoa?” he called out to the crowd. 

“A quarter of an hour!” someone screamed back.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“8:32 p.m.!” they responded.

Then he played two more.

The post Will it be OK? David Broza has done 116 popup concerts since war broke out saying it will appeared first on The Forward.

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