There’s a new type of kiruv going on in Israel. Kiruv, which literally means “bringing something close,” refers to religious outreach. It usually calls to mind pictures of dancing rabbis pouring out of vans, putting tefillin on peopleâ€™s arms and giving out Shabbat candles.
Yehuda Katz and the people behind Artists and Musicians for Israel, have something different in mind. For one thing, they’re all creatives — Katz himself, the founder of AMI, is a guitarist and singer for the hippie-religious-rock band Reva l’Sheva. Other AMI leaders include kabbalistic photographer Eliyahu Alpern, Torah scribe Shoshana Gugenheim, and a bunch of different artists. Their stated goal is to engage the next generation — that is, classes of kids and show them, from a personal level, why Israel and Judaism are cool.
All the A’s and M’s of AMI are Israeli, and most of their work is done in Israeli schools, but they’ve just started running programs in the United States as well — curiously enough, in schools and synagogues of all denominations. We spoke to Katz about his programs, his coworkers, rock and roll and religion, and what it’s like to inspire kids … both on the stage and off.
MJL: When did the big transition away from religious education in Israeli secular schools begin? I remember even in the early ’90s, they were teaching Tanakh in schools…
Yehuda Katz: I have had the zchut [merit] to live in Eretz Yisrael since mid-1993. I specifically remember a time within a few years after our arrival that there was a clear cut move away from require Tanach and other Jewish content matter from the school curriculum. I can not specify the extent of the drawback. I do know that I have read numerous articles about the lack of knowledge of Tanach with today’s Israeli teens, as opposed to people who are today in their 40s and older, where something written in Torah was seen as an indelible part of “our” history.
Is your program designed more to bring music to kids who are already up on their Judaism, or to bring Judaism to kids who already like music? Does kiruv ever happen in the other direction?