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Justin Bieber to Come to Israel, says the Shema

Office Admin : 23/02/2011 13:30 : Israel news

Teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber is coming to Israel. Cue a million girls in Tel Aviv screaming in an unbelievably high-pitched tone.

Bieber, whose manager is Jewish, has got into the habit of saying the central Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael (שמע ישראל) before going on stage. While being a central tenet of Jewish faith it seems like it can also double as a new-age spiritual mantra for teen pop idols.

For more info check out this article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and witness Justin saying the Shema for yourself in this YouTube video:

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Chilean Miners Coming to Israel

Office Admin : 22/02/2011 11:05 : Israel news

Israel and Israelis are used to making the headlines. So it’s nice that there will be a group of people in Israel who made some pretty miraculous headlines of their own.

Thirty-one of the 33 Chilean miners who survived 69 days buried deep underground in a collapsed copper mine last year will be visiting Israel this month on a pilgrimage to give thanks for their escape.

The miners (coreh in Hebrew, plural corim – כורים ) will visit many holy Christian sites throughout the country , including the Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem (Yerushalayim/ירושלים ), the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Beit Lehem/בית לחם) and the Sea of Galillee (HaKinneret/ים כנרת)

The group will also visit the Western Wall and King David’s Tomb.

The trip is the brainchild of Israel’s rather generous tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov, who extended the invitation of this all-expenses paid pilgrimage not only to the miners but to their wives, mothers (two of them), 33 children , grandchildren (just one) and nephews (also just one), as well as their tennis partners, a pet tortoise and a partridge in a pear tree (ok, we may have made up the last few).

The miners will be in Israel from February 23 until March 2. If you see them, make sure to say Shalom and let them know about all the great programs for individuals and for groups to learn Hebrew with Ulpan-Or!

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Oud: The sound of the Middle East

Office Admin : 21/02/2011 15:08 : Israel news

November in Jerusalem saw the start of a very funky cultural event; the International Oud Festival.

Yes, Oud. A stringed instrument, similar to a European lute, commonly used in Middle Eastern music, according to the all-knowing oracle, Wikipedia.

The Oud festival creates some fantastic cultural crossovers, with Hebrew lyrics and poems being set to Middle Eastern music and beloved Arabic songs being played to the tunes of Hebrew melodies.

The festival, in its eleventh year, comprises two weeks of nightly performances of Middle Eastern music, with various ensembles featuring instruments such as the oud, qanoun, nai (or ney) darbouka and others.

If you’re trying to imagine what these various performances and ensembles sound like then just recall any movie or documentary you might have seen involving the Arabian peninsula, or conjure up images of desert oases, spice-bearing camel caravans and devout pilgrims prostrating themselves on prayer rugs. Now put those scenes to the music of your mind’s ear and you should get something like this.

One of the standout performances of this year’s festival was the Nightingale of Baghdad concert, performed by an ensemble led by renowned Israeli musician Yair Dalal and which your faithful correspondent was lucky enough to hear. The performance was a heady collection of Iraqi classics, with vocals sung by Yossi Baghdadi, Dalal Salam and Haim Ankri.

It soon became clear that the majority of the audience was comprised of Iraqi Jews because as soon as the first piece began, the crowd began to sing along in Arabic with Haim Ankri, the first vocalist to perform. It was really quite amazing to hear so many people singing with the ensemble to tunes and songs they’d heard and loved growing up. An old lady sitting next to us knew the words to every piece and a man in front of us who was born in Baghdad clapped and sang throughout the whole performance.

Other performances during the festival included that of the Beit Aba ensemble, led by another famous Oud and Qanun musician, Elad Gabbai. The ensemble presented traditional פיוטים (piyyutimJewish liturgical poems) set to music from the region of Kurdistan which, for a long time, had a large Jewish population. Jews from Kurdistan moved en masse to Israel after the establishment of the state in 1948 and have had a deep influence on Israeli culture and music, a fact which Beit Aba paid tribute to through their performance.

The Oud Festival is such a highlight of the Jerusalem cultural calendar because it is a truly multicultural event which is able to transcend political barriers. Many of the performances include ensembles comprised of Jewish, Arab, Turkish and Indian musicians in which collaboration together helps expose the rich musical heritage of the Middle East to Israeli audiences.

In addition, this year saw the Arab-Jewish Youth Orchestra perform at the festival. Conducted by Taiseer Elias, the orchestra combines traditional eastern instrument with classical western ones and creates an unbelievable symphony of the two musical cultures.

The festival is so prestigious that dignitaries like Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, foreign diplomats and Israeli politicians are often to be found opening this musical extravaganza and attending the performances. If you’re ever in town during the festival (perhaps while learning Hebrew!) then be sure to attend at least one of them. It’ll get you hooked on the tantalizingly beautiful sounds of the Middle East and you’ll be sure to come back again and again.

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End of Season Specials at Ulpan-Or

Office Admin : 20/02/2011 15:26 : Israel news

Ulpan-Or has anounced huge discounts to anyone who signs up for our Hebrew learning programs before the end of Februray. If you’ve been meaning to start Hebrew lessons from one of the top programs in the world at especially low prices, this is the time to do it!

Looking forward to hearing from you.

End of Season Specials on Learning Hebrew

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Hebrew School Blues

Office Admin : 18/02/2011 08:31 : Israel news

If your parents wanted to instill in you a Jewish identity and to have Jewish pride, you may have attended “Hebrew School” for seven or so years of your life. That’s fifty two Sundays a year and some other days of the week, week in and week out, over a long period of years. You should have come out with the ability to read the constitution in Hebrew, or at least not struggle through your Bar or Bat-Mitzvah reading.

But alas, you didn’t really pick up that much, and now years later, you’re wondering why. Other than “shalom,” you can’t recall too much Hebrew, and your accent got you some curious stares when you tried to speak Hebrew on your last trip to Israel.

Ok, so a main factor in your inability to access those parts of your memory was the lack of interest. With public school, sports, and other extra-curricular activities in addition to your social life and family, Hebrew school wasn’t up there foremost in your thoughts about important areas of life.

But another essential element was the teaching process. The boring, lecture-based way that you learned Hebrew can have a reverse effect on the students – it’s actually conducive to forgetting.

If you’re regretting your disinterest, there are courses available that teach Hebrew in an innovative fashion where you’re immersed in a conversational Hebrew environment to help you learn Hebrew faster. It’s fun and it’s social and you’ll be speaking in no time. At your next trip to Israel, be prepared to impress.

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Shyne takes a shine to Israel

Office Admin : 10/02/2011 12:41 : Israel news

With his recent and highly publicized conversion to Orthodox Judaism, rapper Shyne has been quoted in publications from the Jerusalem Post to the New York Times using words like “נשמה (neshama,)” Hebrew for “soul,” and “גיור (Giyur,)” or conversion. How did Shyne, a former protégé of Sean Combs, (formerly known as Puff Daddy) come to end up in the Holy land of Israel, embrace Judaism and learn Hebrew?

Rapper Shyne before conversion to Orthodox JudaismRapper Shyne since conversion to Orthodox Judaism

The road was twisted, but as Shyne, (or Moshe Levi, the name he has formal taken) puts it, destined from the beginning. Shyne was born in Belize thirty two years ago as an illegitimate child of a prominent lawyer who is now the country’s prime minister. His mother took him to the U.S. where she cleaned houses in New York in order to make a living. Shyne says that his maternal grandmother came from Ethiopia and used to tell him stories about Moses and David, leading him to believe that she was probably Jewish. In any case, this planted in him an identity tied to those personalities and a desire to find out more.

During his nine year prison sentence following a high profile court case after a shootout while with Puff Daddy, Shyne stayed upbeat and looked deeper to figure out the purpose of his life. He studied with several rabbis, and after being released he came to study at the center of it all in Jerusalem. He can now be spotted wearing Hasidic garb and quoting from the חומש (Chumash) and the גמרה (Gemara.) And don’t be too surprised if you hear some Hebrew sounding lyrics on the title track of his soon to be released comeback album, “Messiah.”

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The foremothers, or the four mothers

Office Admin : 06/02/2011 14:35 : Israel news

Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah – What do all these names have in common? They are the anglicized versions of the Hebrew names of the biblical foremothers, the female equivalents to the biblical forefathers. Many secular sounding English names come from the bible, the Jewish Torah, and originate from the Hebrew text. Each of these names is based around a שרש, or “root,” that has an original, Hebrew meaning. If you learn Hebrew, you’ll realize how many names come from Hebrew and you’ll know what they mean.

The name Sarah comes from the original Hebrew שרה, or Sara. The root of the name Sara is “sar,” which means princely. Sara, Abraham’s wife, had a royal bearing and was fit to be a princess and the matriarch of a noble family. Incidentally, she has a second name, יסכה, which is the Hebrew form of Jessica. The root of this name mean to gaze, which was suitable to Sarah since she gazed with prophetic visions, and the masses gazed at her majestic beauty.

The name Rebecca comes from the Hebrew form רבקה, or Rivka, which actually refers to a calf. This is to signify Rivka’s wholesome innocence. She was brought to marry Isaac at a tender age and is known for her sincere and innocent kindness. The root of Rivka also means to tie or bind.

Rachel comes from the Hebrew form רחל, which is spelled the same as Rachel. It means sheep, and it refers to Rachel’s purity. She selflessly let her sister marry Jacob before her. Leah comes from the Hebrew לאה, also spelled the same as Leah. It means tiredness, because she often looked tired from crying about her fate to marry Esau.

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