By Chaim Kronenberg
Last Sunday evening, Zos Chanukah, at the United Palace Theater in Manhattan, a large crowd welcomed to the stage with wild cheering Israeli sensation Ishay Ribo, dressed in his trademark dark gray shirt, strumming a simple acoustic guitar, his eyes closed in fervent devotion, singing his original compositions of Hashem’s praises. “Such a freezing night in New York City,” Ribo said. “And yet, despite the cold, we have come together to celebrate tonight in warmth and unity.”
This was the first time Ishay held a separate seating concert in America. The show sold out, indicating once again the broad spectrum of fans Ishay’s music has garnered and the unique capability his music possesses to melt away any barriers between Sephardi and Ashkenazi, religious or non-religious, American Jews, and our brothers and sisters around the world.
Throughout the evening, on several occasions, the audience at the packed, sold-out theater rose to their feet, singing along to poetic lyrics in a foreign language as if it were their natural tongue. Whether or not everyone understood all the words didn’t seem to matter. The spiritual and emotional lyrics seemed to flow naturally from the participants’ hearts.
It was a fully Israeli production, end to end. The Ribo tour deliberately travels with the entire crew from Israel—not only the band but also the light and sound technicians, everyone from the production team, directors, and stage managers to the photographers. In that spirit, the songs were mostly Ishay’s original compositions, with a few Chabad Niggunim added to the mix, such as “Kelli Atah” and “Tzama Lecha Nafshi,” as well as a unique rendition of “Haneiros Halalu.”
In addition, Ishay was thrilled to introduce what he referred to as “the soundtrack of his childhood,” Mordechai Ben David, to join him on stage for the first time as the crowd welcomed him with a rousing standing ovation. The two sang together in a beautiful duet of their legendary hits, such as “Ma’aminim Bnei Ma’aminim and Halev Sheli.
The concert was opened by Rabbi Yechiel Kalish, CEO of Hatzalah, who lit the Menorah in honor of Chevra G’mach, who partnered with the concert to help families of Hatzalah members.
In an Instagram post, days after the concert, Ishay thanked the thousands of participants who joined in his New York concert, and his Miami concert a few days earlier with Avraham Fried. He also thanked his team who traveled with him and the families back home for supporting them from afar and mentioned the inspiring and uplifting Shabbos he had spent at the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens.
On returning to Israel, Ishay announced a series of intimate concerts across Israel, followed by an Australia tour to Melbourne and Sydney later in the winter.
As the concert’s inspirational spirit rose through the evening, Ishay repeated to the crowd an insight he had heard from Harav Shneur Ashkenazi, a well-known lecturer on Torah topics, while at the Rebbe’s Ohel earlier that day: “On the first night of Chanukah when we light just one candle, we recite three berachos, more than on any other night. Sometimes when we want to improve, we attempt to take on many things—too many things simultaneously. The secret is to take on one thing, something small, and to do it well. That’s where the real power lies, which will maintain and expand and grow over time like the lights of the Menorah.”
Participants at Ishay’s concerts always pick up on the extraordinary production level that he brings with him. Beyond the surface, as the crowd is swept away in emotion, unique, subtle professionalism and sophistication are hard at work. Not a moment is wasted. There’s not a light out of place or a missed cue. For Ishay and his team, this is a mission of Kiddush Hashem, of bringing Jewish music to the next level. The event is the culmination of months of logistical organization and the product of a large crew of professionals.
In the wake of his recent diaspora tours, it is clear that Ishay Ribo is no longer just some fad or a casual singer amongst singers. Rather, everything that he touches, he takes to the next level. His lyrics are brilliantly original and tightly written, piercingly emotional, and uncompromising in their substance. His music is perfectly structured, endlessly catchy, refined, spiritual, and just downright beautiful. His presence in the room instantly draws you in, holds your attention for hours, and touches everyone from all backgrounds. He is calm and collected, making only small moves around the stage, yet his energy touches every corner of the room. His production is invested at the highest level yet seamless to the point that you don’t even notice it.
Ishay Ribo may be relatively new on the Jewish music scene, but he is here to stay. He has opened the door to music of the highest level that is worthy of the big world, that catches the attention of the biggest names in music in secular Israeli society, but that is unquestionably ours, that talks about our topics and life’s pursuits, words that you could have been singing in shul on Rosh Hashanah but are instead singing in a concert hall.
To anyone who questioned whether a genuinely religious man has what it takes to pull off something for real, to make a true Kiddush Hashem to millions around the world and unite so many while at the same time closing his eyes and singing the purely Jewish music, Ishay’s concerts are your answer.