By Yochanan Gordon
Madison Square Garden, dubbed “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” and also known as the “Mecca of Basketball,” has been conquered by Israeli music impresario Ishay Ribo. On Sunday evening, September 3, Ribo and his crew of 60 musicians, sound technicians, and producers descended upon the Garden to the rousing applause of upwards of 15,000 people who came to be inspired and entertained.
This momentous occasion was made possible through a remarkable collaboration between Bnei Akiva of the U.S. and Canada, part of the world’s largest and foremost Jewish youth movement, the acclaimed Israeli artist Ishay Ribo, and the exceptional professionalism of Or Davidson Artists Management’s dedicated team.
The concert was a continuation of what has become Ishay Ribo’s annual Elul concert tour. Back in 2019, Ribo released an album called אלול תשע״ט, featuring a combination of older traditional High Holiday tunes in addition to original songs related to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which he has used to headline annual concerts, putting his fans and enthusiasts in the right mindset to enter the High Holidays. This year’s stage was shared by Israeli artists Amir Dadon and Akiva. For Dadon, it was his first formal U.S. appearance. He joined Ishay on stage to sing “Nafshi” and his world-famous song “Livchor Nachon” (choose correctly) co-composed by Ishay and Amir Dadon. The concert featured a surprise appearance by Avraham Fried, who was pulled from the audience to sing the famous Chabad “Avinu Malkeinu,” which continued the theme of Elul just a few days before Ashkenazim the world over began reciting Selichos, marking the countdown to Rosh Hashanah.
Music is a medium of communication like any other. People use speech or the power of writing as well as music to communicate a message they are seeking to deliver. However, people normally choose to be entertained by music that doesn’t seek to be preachy or is less focused on the message and more on the art form. What is most impressive about Ishay Ribo is his ability to sanctify every stage upon which he steps and every theater he enters. Think about all the other artists who performed in Madison Square Garden and the fans who occupied those seats; Ishay Ribo enters and instills it with a simultaneous sense of excitement and awe that can only be described paradoxically by King David in Psalms when he says, “Serve G-d with fear and rejoice in your trembling.”
Playing off his last New York concert at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, Ishay continued to echo his impassioned call to American Jewry to embrace the dream of aliyah, going so far as to promise a free private concert to anyone who leaves the diaspora for permanent residence in the Holy Land. To me, the thing about Ishay Ribo that draws people to his music and his concerts, especially in New York with the language barrier, is his simplicity and unpretentiousness. Although he may be using his music to beckon his fans to think deeper and strive higher, he does it with a sweetness and a sense of utter truth that hits the listener in the heart because that is where it came from.
Another indication of Ishay Ribo’s celebrity status is his ability to sing traditional Sephardic Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur piyutim and to keep his audiences engaged. Prior to the concert, Rabbi Shlomo Katz of Efrat tweeted (or X’ed, as it is now called), “If anyone is going to daven with Ishay Ribo tonight at MSG please PM me, I have a favor to ask.” And the truth is there is no better characterization of what Ribo is doing there other than davening. Meaning, he has the power to take the High Holiday prayers, which for some is a source of anxiety that spikes their ADD, and make it entertaining. Only genuineness has the power to accomplish that.
Credit goes to Or Davidson, Ishay’s producer, who had the vision of bringing Ishay to the U.S., decoded the language barrier, and proved the universality of the language of music. Ishay’s repeated successful U.S. tours have led to the shrinking of the world and paved the way for other Israeli artists to follow suit, purifying the exilic atmosphere with the purity of Israeli music.
I was thinking more into the NYC nickname “The City that Never Sleeps.” It’s not dubbed “The Awakened City,” with emphasis on the positive, but rather “The City that Never Sleeps,” which connotes a semiconscious state in which they are on the verge of sleep but not yet there. Ishay Ribo came to the Garden and woke up the city that never sleeps, and we are counting down to his return.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.