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By Rhonda Spivak

When Israeli singer Yoal Sharabi was a teenager studying at Sde Boker high school in the Negev, he was asked to perform a few Sephardic melodies at the 83rd birthday of David Ben-Gurion. It was during that performance that he realized he wanted to sing and perform professionally for the rest of his life.

Sharabi, a natural born entertainer captivated an audience here at the Berney Theatre with his wide repertoire of  modern Hebrew, classic Yemenite, popular Chassidic and Spanish songs on December 14, sponsored by Chabad Winnipeg.

 The younger brother of famous Israeli singer Boaz Sharabi, Yoal has a very powerful, tenor singing voice. In addition, he is a terrific guitarist, percussionist and flutist, who wowed the crowd when he played two flutes in perfect harmony.

“The first instrument I learned to played when I lived in the Negev was the flute,” said Sharabi, the youngest of ten children. Sharabi taught himself to play all of the instruments himself because his family was too poor to afford music lessons. He began his professional career as a flutist in the Be’er Sheva Dance Company, moving to New York in the 1980’s.

 After playing an exquisite rendition of “Manginat HeHalil” (The Flute Melody), evocative of the deep romantic rhythms of the dessert, the charismatic Sharabi held up two flutes to show  the audience.

 “On the first I will play the melody, and on the second I will play the harmony,” he said, as he played the two simultaneously from different sides of his mouth.

 In one of the Yemenite selections, Sharabi even began banging on the guitar as if it were a darbuka, showing his impressive versatility as a performer. In between musical selections, Sharabi, charmed the audience by sharing his memories of growing up in Tel-Aviv. As he said,

 “I was born in Tel-Aviv, and was very lucky to have been born in a hospital, as most of my brothers and sisters were home deliveries…We moved into an apartment that was one of the most modern high rises in Tel-Aviv at the time; four floors and no elevator…I was known as the building trouble maker. I use to tie a rope to the doors of two apartments and ring both door bells…My parents didn’t know what to do with me so they sent me to a boarding school in Sde Boker.”

Sharabi, who now resides in “New York and Tel-Aviv,” opened the concert by singing a  lively medley of Channukah songs, and then began performing a delicate  and beautiful rendition of the “Al Tashlicheni, (Don’t Forsake Me”), and a soulful Hebrew prayer-like song, “Guard Me As A Child.”   

In a post-concert interview, Sharabi told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, that “Everyone in my family was musical. It came from my father, who immigrated to Israel in 1912. He was the unofficial cantor in his synagogue in Yemen, where there are no cantors traditionally.” 

As a child in Tel-Aviv, Sharabi grew up singing with and imitating his older siblings at the shabbat table, and his love of Jewish music spread enthusiastically to the audience.  People of all ages clapped and sang along, especially during his rendition of ‘Halleluyah,” “Beshana Haba’ah,” and “Mashiach, Mashiach.” There were even some audience members who danced the horah, during the latter number.

Sharabi has performed at some of the most renowned halls including Lincoln Centre, Carnegie Hall, Place Des Arts in Montreal (when he was only 16), and Garden State Plaza in New Jersey. Film director Stephen Speilberg hired Sahrabi to perform at his 1991 wedding to Kate Capshaw.

In the latter part of the concert, Sharabi showed off his broad repertoire, by throwing off his jacket, dawning a vest and cap, and belting out songs from Fiddler on the Roof, as he danced around the stage.

He also performed a Spanish tune, and told the audience about a time when he performing for a non-Jewish Spanish speaking audience in Argentina.

“I only know a bit of Spanish, that I had picked up here and there.   So I opened my songs with a few recognizable Spanish words, and then switched into Hebrew and the audience didn’t know the difference.”

Sharabi’s performance here turned out to be on an especially freezing winter night   and probably dissuaded some people from attending (the event was far from sold out).

As Sharabi said, “Of all nights, this is the one that you bring me here to perform. The cold is even affecting my wooden flute.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.