International Jewish Music

Jews have wandered the world over, and sometimes all that wandering gets packed into one song.


This article, originally written for the AVI CHAI Bookshelf, where birthright israel alumni can order free books and periodicals, tracks the multinational influence on Jewish music, creating unique sounds reflecting the diversity of the Jewish people.

Spend an hour turning the radio dial in Israel, or attend a Jewish music festival anywhere in the world, and you’ll quickly realize that all the moving around the Jewish people have done over the past few thousand years has definitely seeped into the music. Performers freely mix languages and traditions, just as they mix Biblical references with snippets from their love lives. A blend of Greek, Polish, and Italian is par for the course, as is a medieval poem written by a rabbi, accompanied by electric guitar and drums. Jewish music, like the Jewish people, spans the globe and the centuries, and sometimes all that wandering is packed into one song.

What is Jewish Music?

But what is “Jewish” music, anyway? Generally, it’s divided into three categories: Ashkenazic, or European music like Klezmer; Sephardic, which means Mediterranean music from Spain, Portugal, North Africa, Greece, and Turkey; and Mizrachi, which is the music of Jews who lived in Arab countries for thousands of years. What’s exciting about today’s Jewish music is how much those three categories blur, especially if you’re listening to Israeli pop or musicians who draw from their fascinating personal backgrounds. They include the descendants of Marranos or conversos (those who converted rather than be exiled from Spain), the children of Sephardic-Ashkenazic marriages, and rockers who returned to their Jewish roots once they hit 50.


Sample the Tunes

Click to listen to samples of the following songs from the CD “A Jewish Odyssey“:


Di Goldene Pave,

By Chava Alberstein


Shalom Aleichem,

By Fortuna



By Ofra Haza

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Aviya Kushner is a Lecturer of Creative Writing at Columbia College of Chicago. She is the author of And There Was Evening, And There Was Morning.

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