Rabbi Shlomo Katz (Courtesy)

Jewish musicians take to social media and Zoom in an effort to raise spirits and decrease loneliness during the coronavirus lockdown. 

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler

Music has been a source of inspiration, healing and unity from time immemorial. Today, under the duress of the threat of coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown in most of the world, musicians and spiritual leaders have taken to social media and Zoom to give concerts and share wisdom in an effort to raise spirits and let those in isolation know they are not alone.

Rabbi Shlomo Katz, a prolific musician who moved to Israel from California in 1989, is spreading joy through an array of free online concerts performed from his home in the city of Efrat in Judea.

“I’ve never been busier than I have been over the past three weeks since the start of the coronavirus lockdown,” he told United with Israel (UWI). “I am giving free concerts and leading classes every day for synagogues, organizations, schools, and special services before Shabbat starts and after it ends to raise people’s spirits and give encouragement during these challenging times.”

Many of Rabbi Shlomo’s songs incorporate words from the Psalms. “Every day I look at Bethlehem from my home, the birthplace of King David who wrote over half of the Psalms,” he said. “King David wrote Psalms for you and me. He expressed his emotions for all of us when we are in times of stress, like today.”

According to musician Chaim Dovid, who moved to Israel 45 years ago from South Africa and is also providing concerts free of charge through the use of technology, “music from the heart goes into the heart.”

‘Music Goes Beyond the Intellect’

“Everyone is affected by good music,” he told UWI. “Music goes beyond the intellect into an emotional place from a very high source. It has the ability to change a person’s state of mind and make a reset from the craziness going on in the world around us, especially now.”

International speaker Rabbi Doniel Katz (no relation to Shlomo), who moved to Israel in 2000 from Australia after abandoning his award-winning film and theater career for a spiritual life, told UWI that music, especially when combined with meditation, can cause people to transcend anxiety, stress and negative energy, which many are experiencing during the current pandemic.

Music has been used over the centuries for healing and lifting spirits during challenging times, particularly during isolation, Rabbi Doniel said. “When people feel deeply separated, music has the power to unify. What is song? It takes separate elements, like notes, words, instruments, and blends them together to make something beautiful. That blending makes something much greater than its parts.”

On the last day of the first Passover, when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea after escaping from Egypt, they sang a song of praise to God as they understood that everything they had experienced as slaves in Egypt, including the plagues, had a Divine purpose, Rabbi Doniel explained. Referring to a teaching of the 17th-century rabbi known as the Sfat Emet, he noted that “song” in Hebrew is “shir” and is made up of the same letters as the word for straight, “yashar.”

With that in mind, “the greatest pleasure a person can experience is seeing clearly that the suffering experienced had a greater purpose, and all the fragmented parts come together with understanding,” Rabbi Doniel continued. “In Judaism, the deepest song is sung when one recognizes that God was with us all along and blessing us. When confusing situations and painful feelings like loneliness, mourning, and being overwhelmed are understood, everything becomes aligned and clear.

“When that happens, if a person had used the time of challenges and struggles well, he or she can see the meaning and purpose of what they went through and see how they grew from it.”

‘How Can I Grow From This Experience?’

According to Jewish thought, the power of music can help one connect to a greater sense of calm, goodness, faith and unity.

“People like to ask why they are going through something like coronavirus or losing their jobs or family struggles, etc.,” Rabbi Doniel said. “During times of calamity, we can’t always know why we are experiencing challenges. We cannot fathom God’s ways. However, we should ask ourselves: What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? How should I respond? What is my responsibility and contribution to make things better?

“Music can bring us to a deeper place of resilience in order to meet the challenges of these times with the best of who we are and to contribute to helping others. It is a powerful way to unify one with the other and with oneself.”

Rabbi Shlomo concurs. “We need to take this unique time in national and global history and use it to go beyond ourselves,” he said. “It would be very sad to go back to our lives without any serious introspection and without getting to know ourselves on a much deeper level.

“Whatever is happening on a global level is not only a message for the world, but also for the individual. God is speaking to us all the time, and now it got very loud. I hope that through my music and Torah, I can bring people closer to themselves, to others, to God, and sooth some troubled souls.”