Reva L'Sheva, Sheva and Bustan Avraham--three local groups playing in Israel and abroad--all emphasize the theme of unity and fellowship. Whether consciously or unconsciously they pay less attention to differences and more to living in harmony. None of the groups spreads the message in the same way. Reva L'Sheva, perhaps the most religious of the three, uses references to the Torah and the Book of Psalms. Sheva creates a world music sound that appeals to a wide audience of all ages and types, looking to bring a little more love to the world. Bustan Avraham, a group of classically trained Jewish and Arab musicians, meld Western and Eastern themes to create a new brand of Middle-Eastern sound.
The bands don't consider themselves political, and they aren't activists. Two of the three include both Arabs and Jews, but the mix isn't a rallying point for any cause. Says Reva L'Sheva founder Yehuda Katz, "We play for people, not causes."
Nonetheless, Yehuda Katz a hippyish 48-year-old father of eight, says wants his music to heal and uplift his listeners. He uses words and phrases from the Torah to describe what's happening in the world. On Reva L'Sheva's most recent album, "Etz Chaim Hee--Secrets" ("Tree of Life"), Katz asks God, "Show me your way. Open my eyes and open my heart, I won't fear evil because you are by my side. I asked for one thing from God, and it is You that I ask for."
In "Hinei Ma Tov," a song based on the Psalms, Reva sings, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity." "I write about things that I want to be fixed," said Katz, an observant Jew and former New Yorker with a bushy beard and bowl-sized, rainbow-colored yarmulke covering a head of dark curls. "If God gives you a blessing"--a good voice, for instance--"you have to share it."
With Katz as their leader, the six Israelis and Americans that make up Reva L'Sheva (the name means "quarter to seven") mix rock n' roll, blues and country with spiritual lyrics to produce a kind of Jewish soul sound. Only half of the group is religious, but they are heavily influenced by Katz's personal mentor, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Known as "the Singing Rabbi," Carlebach, who died in 1994, wrote and sang songs that have become an inseparable part of Jewish liturgy and vernacular.
Sheva--seven in Hebrew-is made up of seven Jewish, one Arab members, all equally committed to peace and harmony, according to guitarist Amir Payes. Playing over 30 different types of instruments gathered from the musicians' global travels, Sheva makes music its method of instilling harmony. When they perform, says Payes, the intention is always to break down the walls between the band and its audience.
Friendship, in fact, is the basis of the band. Seven members of the band live in the same community, Moshav Amirim, one of Israel's traditional farming cooperatives in the northern Galilee. Their eighth member, Ahmed Tahar, lives in Acco, a predominantly Arab city in northern Israel.
"Peace with nature, peace within ourselves, with our families, peace with all our neighbors," Payes says "When we can be harmonious together, we'll have a chance of harmony in the world."
Bustan Avraham, seven Jewish and Arab musicians who have been playing together for the last nine years, combining classical, jazz, flamenco and folk influences, making full use of its exposure to other cultures.
The band itself is a kind of melting pot, with two classically-trained Arab musicians, one American and four Israelis weaving Eastern and Western music on the flute, oud (a kind of rounded violin), guitar, banjo, violin, a table harp known as a kanoo, bass and a number of percussion instruments. Yet despite the convergence of cultures and opinions, Bustan, much like its other musical colleagues, is more about merging than clashing.
"We're really more of a musical environment than a band," says Miguel Herstein, the group's banjo player, who originally hails from Colorado. Herstein came to Israel in 1968 as a tourist, when he landed up playing his banjo on the local version of the "Ed Sullivan Show." On that trip, he met his Israeli wife and after a stint in the States, ended up back in Israel in the mid-1980s.
"A confluence of culture exists here [in Israel] because of the geographics and demographics," Herstein said. "You've got immigrants from all over, it's the ingathering of the exiles."