‘Peace is the only way’

‘Peace is the only way’

Noa to perform in Short Hills to honor Israel at  76

Noa often performs with Gil Dor. (Ronen Akerman for Afterallogy)
Noa often performs with Gil Dor. (Ronen Akerman for Afterallogy)

In honor of Israel’s 76th anniversary as a modern state, the Israeli singer, songwriter, percussionist, public speaker, and peace activist Noa (Achinoam Nini) will appear in concert at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills on May 10 after Friday evening services.

“I’m going to present there, for the first time, several new songs written after the seventh of October,” the award-winning international performer said.

Noa, 54, was born into an Israeli family of Yemenite Jewish ancestry. She spent her formative years in Riverdale, N.Y., before returning to her native Israel to finish high school.

“My brother and I were the only dark-skinned kids in SAR Academy,” she said in an earlier interview with me. Their parents infused their home with Israeli foods, customs, and general worldview, never fully jumping into the American melting pot.

Over the past 30 years, Noa has released 16 albums, given hundreds of concerts across the world — including at Carnegie Hall and the White House — and performed for three popes. She has shared the stage with musical icons including Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli, Sheryl Crow, and Sting.

Noa represented Israel in the 2009 Eurovision song contest with Israeli-Palestinian artist Mira Awad, singing Noa’s original song “There Must Be Another Way” in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. She also wrote the lyrics to the theme song of Roberto Benigni’s Academy Award-winning film, “Life is Beautiful,” and she performed it.

Perhaps the performance of her career that had the most impact on her life was when she sang at the fateful peace rally where Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated in November 1995.

This was the spark that continues to light the passion of her with left-leaning political activism.

“I’m a Zionist best embodied in the philosophy of J Street and similar organizations,” she said.

“My approach always comes from my love for Israel. I have always borne the flag of peace and continue to do so. Some people no longer believe peace is the way, but I believe it’s the only way. I will continue to work for peace just as I have since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.”

The events of October 7, she said, “have been devastating for all of us. You’d have to not be part of the human race to be unaffected by what happened. I went through myriad emotional states of being since this horrible occurrence befell our country.

“The first emotion was a sense of betrayal in almost every category imaginable. Deep sadness, anger, rage, misery, mourning, and grieving. It was appalling to see the reaction from institutions and individuals I held in high esteem before October 7, beginning with the meccas and medinas of academia.

“Having said that, nothing has changed in my approach. I am still a total believer in peace and diplomacy. I don’t see any other way to survive and flourish here in this liberal democracy, a place where I’ve created my home and career.”

Her reputation as a peacenik and outspoken opponent of Israel’s current government and its policies have given her wide credibility on social media, she said, since she cannot be accused of being a government mouthpiece.

“Since the 7th of October, I’ve been appearing in TED Talks and press conferences in Europe because I have a lot of credibility with the audience.”

But even before she began telling Israel’s story on social media, the first thing she did after the Hamas attacks was to post an open invitation to any Israelis who might find comfort in her voice.

“I got hundreds of requests, and went everywhere I could to sing, visit, hug, and just to be with my suffering people,” she said. “I did concerts in communities hosting refugees, at hospitals, in private homes of families experiencing horrible loss. It was a moment of grace for me. I felt enormous gratitude that I was able to help the healing process.”

She canceled upcoming concerts abroad, “at first because I couldn’t even think of leaving the country and my family, and then additional concerts were canceled because producers were not willing to deal with security issues and my vulnerability as an Israeli. Recently I have started tentatively traveling but my schedule still doesn’t come close to resembling the usual schedule.”

Before her upcoming American tour, she will spend Passover with her brother and his family in Los Angeles.

Short Hills is her first concert stop, where she will debut several new songs in English – which she considers her first language — and perform “some of my well-known and well-loved songs” in English and Hebrew. The acoustic concert, supported by the Hellring Fund, will feature her longstanding musical collaborator, Gil Dor, on guitar. She will play percussion.

On May 13, Noa and Mr. Dor will perform at Temple Emanu-El Streicker Cultural Center at 10 E. 66th Street in Manhattan, accompanied by Grammy-winning jazz pianist Ruslan Sirota. After that, she’ll give concerts in Boulder and Dallas.

“The only place I perform for Jewish communities is the United States,” she said. “Elsewhere I perform almost only for non-Jews. In countries such as Italy, France, Germany, and Spain, I have a very big following at concerts and festivals.”

In addition to her peace activism, Noa dedicates much of her time to the relationship between cultural diplomacy and resolving the climate crisis. She has been selected by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog to be part of the Presidential Climate Forum, and is involved in Reefs of Hope, a project to preserve the unique coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Eilat region.

She also has established Noa’s Ark, a foundation that uses art and culture to drive projects geared to social change. A festival of the same name debuted in Italy in the summer of 2022.

What: Yom Ha’atzmaut Shabbat & Noa in Concert

Where: Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills

When: Friday, May 10 (5:30 p.m. Shabbat service, 6:45 “light bites,” 7:30 concert)

Cost: $36

Information: (973) 671-6674

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