While the audience was joyful, the music itself was, in fact, a response to tragedy. In the auditorium of Adath Zion Congregation in Northeast Philadelphia, more than 200 people had come to see two different bands — the Kabbalah Dream Orchestra and Simply Tsfat — perform in a relief concert for the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, which was hit repeatedly by Hezbollah rockets during the conflict this past summer.
For Rabbi Shalom Pasternak, the lead singer of the Kabbalah Dream Orchestra, the exhilaration of performing onstage was in stark contrast to the fear he and his family had experienced just a month or so ago in their home in Tzfat.
They didn't know what to think when they heard that the attacks had begun, said Pasternak. But soon, they witnessed everything firsthand.
Nearby explosions rattled their house; Pasternak, his wife and their two young daughters dropped to the floor; then they set up tables and chairs as barriers to protect themselves. When they realized that they were not safe in their own home, they raced to the bomb shelter in a friend's home nearby. They stayed there for three days.
While onstage, the rabbi recounted his experiences while his bandmates continued to play softly in the background.
"I saw Mount Miron on fire," he said. And after he described the pillars of smoke rising from the mountain after a Katyusha rocket attack, he seamlessly flowed into another song.
The melodies that Pasternak sings "are divinely ordained," he explained — melodies passed down by the sages. "It's a powerful form of music," he added.
Dance, Dance, Dance
When Simply Tsfat took to the stage after intermission, the crowd was already abuzz with life from the Dream Orchestra's performance. With violin, acoustic guitars and bass guitar, Simply Tsfat had the crowd on their feet, clapping and singing. While some songs were melodic and deliberate, most featured lightning-quick violin and guitar work, accompanied by a harmonious pair of voices.
For one song, guitarist Yonatan Tzarum jumped down from the stage and pulled audience members up from their seats to dance along with the music. By the time he rejoined his bandmates, most of the first few rows were dancing along, too.
"I love watching the men dance," said Denna Frankel of Adath Zion. She also said she felt proud of the congregation for helping such a good cause.
The three core band members of Simply Tsfat actually live in Tzfat, where they all originally met. About seven or eight years ago, they formed their band.
"It was the right time and the right place," said violinist Yehonason Lipshutz.
"We live with music day in and day out," he said. "These are nigunim melodies that we sing, that we dance to every day."
A nigun is a traditional chant to a prayer.
An eclectic mixture of styles infuses their distinctive sound. Lipshutz has a background in classical violin; Yonatan Tzarum learned flamenco guitar from his father; and Elyahu Reiter builds on a folk music base. "We take the nigunim and add those influences," said Lipshutz.
According to his accounts, after spending a summer in fear, the people of Tzfat are just trying to regain a sense of normalcy. Still, he noted, "I think there are definitely psychological and emotional casualties that a person carries around with them."
Both bands had come from a city in need of healing, and what they found in Philadelphia was a community ready to embrace them and their talents.
"It was incredible," remarked Lipshutz. "It was beautiful. People are so open to what we do. We think we come here to give people strength, but they give it to us."