Bus loads of Holocaust survivors came to hear a stirring performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Or Akiva Cultural Center, close to Caesarea in Israel, but not as they might have heard it before… this version was all in Hebrew.
Even though many Israelis know English very well, hearing something in its original Hebrew sounds very different; “When you know the meaning of the words in another language it’s not the same as when hearing in your own language,” said music conductor Monika Vasques. “It touches much more the heart.” And it certainly did touch many hearts in that packed auditorium; hearts and lives that have lived through hell heard words of comfort and redemption in the Messiah.
The auditorium was full, and other performances were held in Jerusalem and other locations in Israel, inspiring audiences to contemplate the powerful words of scripture that moved Handel to create this masterpiece. This is not the first year that David Loden’s “Kamti” association has put on such performances, and he says that they are always an “unqualifiedly good” and uplifting experience, both for the musicians, singers, but also that they always receive such wonderful feedback from Israelis who are hearing these Bibical words about the Messiah in their own language for the very first time. Here are some of their responses from previous performances:
“I felt like this was like a fresh water experience; like going under the waters of the Jordan and coming up refreshed.”
“What you did for us was more than beseder (good), it was a Mitzvah Gdolah (Great Deed).”
“This brought much joy into our lives for those of us that have nothing but trials since childhood.”
“Physical bread is important, but what you gave us tonight was like bread for our soul.”
Irene Levy was a lady with a dream to see that masterpiece played in the original language of the Bible, making the words accessible to a Hebrew-speaking, Jewish audience. Instead of sounding Christian, Western and “other”, they would be able to recognise that these are familiar passages from their very own Hebrew Scriptures.
Many of the Messianic prophecies are wrapped up in a powerful presentation that has been largely unaccessible to the Jewish ear for centuries. Handel’s Messiah is one of the most inspired works of music ever written, as the German-British composer skillfully wove the powerful prophecies about Yeshua to moving music, famously including the Hallelujah Chorus. It’s a well-known and well-loved masterpiece, conveying the message of the Messiah, but it was written in the English language.
Using only words from Scripture, the oratorio tells of God’s beautiful plan of salvation in the person of Yeshua, and since its debut in 1741, it has been very popular in the West and English-speaking Christian countries. But now, the masterpiece has been brought back to the original language that the prophecies were given in the first place: Hebrew.
Irene carried her dream for thirty years before it became a reality, but unlike many others who faithfully pray and intercede without ever seeing the answer in their lifetime, Irene had the joy of sitting in the first ever performance of Handel’s Messiah, sung entirely in Hebrew to a Jewish audience. She shared the vision she had been praying towards with a couple called David and Lisa Loden, who had moved to Israel from America in the 70s. David was a professional Broadway singer and stage manager, and together with experts in translation, set to work on making the dream become reality. Years later, Irene saw the fulfillment of all their hard work.
“I heard a choir here singing once from Norway, all the time they were singing it I was hearing it in Hebrew,” remembers Levy, “And now tonight I’m crying, it was done.”