A psalmist for the modern age and a prophet of the human heart, Leonard Cohen long danced along the tightrope between the sacred and the profane in songs laced with memories of Jewish sorrow and ancient prayers. But in 1973, trapped in a creative dead end, he took that music into the heat of modern Jewish sorrow and prayer, to the bloody battlefields of the Yom Kippur War during Israel’s darkest days. His guitar in hand, Eliezer ben Natan haCohen traveled across the front lines in the Sinai desert to lift the morale of soldiers battling to save the Jewish people – and emerged with one of the best albums of his career.
Upon the release of his deeply researched, moving account of those weeks in Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai, journalist Matti Friedman joins us to talk about Cohen’s extraordinary journey and the mark it left both on those who heard him perform and on Cohen himself.
Matti Friedman will screen rare photographs from Cohen’s Sinai trip and will be in conversation with journalist Abigail Pogrebin.
Joining the program will be Cantor Gideon Zelermyer of Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, the spiritual home to six generations of the Cohen family. The Cantor and Shaar’s renowned choir provided the backing vocals for Cohen’s Grammy Award-winning song “You Want It Darker,” which they will perform along with a selection of Cohen’s best-known songs.