It wasn't until I lived in Israel as a Masa Israel Journey participant that I first learned any Israeli music. I hadn't been exposed to it before, I'm sad to say, but this was something my friends were determined to change. They introduced me to their favorites; I listened to the radio and heard new music every day. I quickly learned that I was a Mizrahi fanatic - what can I say, it's just too much fun not to dance to! I also discovered a band I could sing along with, as they were expanding into English language songs. Thus began my love affair with Balkan Beat Box, a group made up of Israeli ex-pats mostly living in New York. My friends and I watched their videos, learned the lyrics, and requested their songs when we went to pubs. Many of my memories of Masa and living in Israel have to do with Balkan Beat Box, including the time I traveled to Jerusalem to see them perform. It was at Gan HaAtzmaut where I experienced my first BBB show, and it was an incredible one. I was there with hundreds of other Israelis who were all dancing, singing and relaxing - and I felt like I was home.
I had just returned to Chicago after another two-month visit to Israel this past summer when I saw that my favorite Israeli band would be coming to Chicago. More than anything, I wanted to see them again and experience that sense of familiarity that I had had in Israel. I reached out to my fellow members of the Masa Alumni Board of Chicago and suggested that we get a group together. Perhaps Balkan Beat Box had been an integral part of someone else's Israeli musical journey; if not, they would surely become a fan after seeing them live. We decided to invite other area Masa alumni and put on an event. We met at the venue before the show to meet recent Masa returnees and share our Balkan tales over drinks.
It was incredible to experience a show in Jerusalem with friends, but seeing them perform in my hometown was a really neat experience as well. I loved seeing people who weren't familiar with the band simply enjoying the music and dancing with everyone else. The energy in the crowd was amazing; everyone danced the entire night, people grabbed their neighbors and pulled them into a circle to dance. It was a mixture of Americans and Israelis and I felt like I was home again. Music has a way of doing that, I suppose, particularly when it brings you back to a specific time and place as Balkan Beat Box does for me. I got to relive some of my favorite Masa memories while hanging out with new Chicago-area Masa friends. I can only hope that they will return for another show soon and bring us all back together again.
Cara Mendelsberg, Balkan Beat Box lead singer Tomer Yosef and Rachel Gutman at the event