In the Shadows of War: Conflict and Israel's Music Scene

Chris McIntyre travels to Israel and examines how music and conflict diverge and collide.

Posted on

The year was 1948. Four months earlier the United Nations had passed a resolution to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, and Zionist organisations were busy amassing an armory capable of repelling the Arab states waiting patiently on all fronts for the British Mandate to end. Sitting at a bar below New York’s Hotel 14, Jewish operative Teddy Kollek fidgeted with his briefcase. In less than two months’ time, the Mandate would end. Israel would declare independence and become a state, but for now, it wasn’t. In the briefcase was $1 million in cash: a bribe for an Irish smuggler who would captain a ship stocked with arms out of New York, through the arms embargo, and across the seas to the Jewish fighters. Kollek was hesitant to deliver the bribe himself — federal agents were watching Hotel 14 to enforce the embargo — and so the night before it had been arranged for another man to deliver the money, someone who wouldn’t attract the attention of the authorities.

At 6:00am the man arrived, fresh from the Copacabana nightclub where he had headlined that night. He left through the back door, the contents of the briefcase hidden in a paper bag, and successfully delivered the package to the pier. As the sun rose, the ship set sail. There were no interceptions. Kollek had been right: his accomplice had not attracted any attention from the authorities, at least not with regard to the package he carried. The accomplice was Frank Sinatra.

In the years following Israel’s statehood, musicians continued to play an important role in shaping its development, albeit in a different way. Though Sinatra’s clandestine actions had served a short-term goal, Israeli leaders saw the opportunity for music and culture to bolster the new state’s credibility and identity. Teddy Kollek would go on to be Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, and later a six-term Mayor of Jerusalem. Throughout his tenures he placed great importance on arts and culture, writing in his autobiography, “I [was] constantly trying to attract people who stand out not only by the virtue of their talent but because of the glamour surrounding them. These visits are important as a counterweight to the wide publicity given to the occasional terrorist.” Before culture could come out of Israel, it had to come in.

Over the following decades, visiting artists buoyed Israel’s cultural scene and sense of nationhood. One of the first major artists to tour Israel was American Danny Kaye, whose parents were Ukrainian Jews who had immigrated to New York. Kaye was a movie star, singer and comedian who had performed for the Queen of England and hosted the 1952 Academy Awards. Though Kollek wasn’t responsible for Kaye’s 1956 visit to Israel, he didn’t let the opportunity go to waste: Kaye’s arrival became a major event, with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion receiving Kaye in his office and personally inviting him to his kibbutz. For the Tenth Anniversary celebrations of Israel’s Independence in 1958, movable stages were built across the country, with performers invited from across the world. After years of persuasion, Igor Stravinsky was convinced to come for the 1964 Israel Festival in what was a real coup for the government. He composed ‘Abraham and Isaac’ especially for the occasion, dedicating it to the Israeli people and conducting it himself, aged 84.

When violinist Isaac Stern came to the country in 1966 — one of many visits since his first in 1949 — he arrived to an intemperate mix of soft and hard power. On the morning of his show, held in Ein Gev, fighting from Syria spilled into the nearby Golan Heights. Stern asked organisers whether the concert would be cancelled; the drive to Ein Gev traced a precarious route along the Syrian frontier. The answer was no, and as the concert began the hall overflowed, the sound of gunshots “too distant to disturb the music of Isaac’s violin” according to Kollek, who had been in attendance. For Stern, Ein Gev was really a dry run; in 1991, he played in Jerusalem amidst Iraqi missile attacks. As the air raid sirens screamed, Stern began a Bach concerto. The audience donned gas masks and the performance continued.

As international musicians were lured in and shown off, Israel’s own musical culture took form from out of the tumult. The nation’s genesis begat a cultural identity inseparable from war, and though war in Israel has continued episodically through to today, this is where the inter-generational lines of culture are drawn. The existence and legitimacy of what is later described to me by musicians and writers as the ‘old generation’ was never secure and in turn, that existential preoccupation pervaded whatever artistic output was possible at the time.


On May 15, 1967, Israel celebrated its 19th Independence Day and the song ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ was sung for the first time. The song had been commissioned for the occasion by Teddy Kollek, who had been elected the Mayor of Jerusalem two years prior. At that stage, Jerusalem was divided into two: the Jordanian-controlled East and the Israeli-controlled West, separated by anti-sniper walls. ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ longs, hauntingly, for the reunification of “the city that sits solitary ... in it’s heart, a wall”. The fourth and fifth stanzas go on to mention specific sites in Jordanian lands:

“How the cisterns have dried?
The market-place is empty
And no one frequents the Temple Mount
In the Old City.

And in the caves in the mountain
Winds are wailing
And no one descends to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho.”

A mere three weeks later, the hopes of the song were realised: on June 5, Israel launched a preemptive attack on Egypt, beginning the Six Day War. The same day, an opportunistic Jordan attacked West Jerusalem under false information from the Egyptian President, who told the Jordanian King that Israel’s air force had been destroyed (it hadn’t). By June 7, Israel had captured East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank. Jewish soldiers took the Old City, gathering at the Western Wall and singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold’. Initially a song of independence, ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ took on a new solemnity as a hymn of the Six Day War. Triumphant final stanzas were added:

“We have returned to the cisterns
To the market and to the market-place
A ram's horn calls out on the Temple Mount
In the Old City.

And in the caves in the mountain
Thousands of suns shine
We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho!”


The gestation period of what evolved to be Israel’s contemporary musical culture is riddled with Janus-faced contradictions: a country and culture at once in solidarity and in need; as focused inward as it was outward; a mosaic tile in the oil painting of the Middle East. The context upon which contemporary music exists is fiercely wedded to Israel’s history, ever-present conflict the staves to the notes of today. In late 2013, I travelled to Israel with the aim of exploring the relationship between culture and conflict, the background to today’s music scene.

In Tel Aviv I met with Yossi Sassi, guitarist and founding member of Orphaned Land, a progressive oriental metal band which has been one of the country’s most successful exports. Orphaned Land’s record sales number in the hundreds of thousands, sales which span not just Israel but the world — including elsewhere in the Middle East. Yossi is a long man, with a kind face framed by thick hair, pulled back in a ponytail. When he speaks his face opens and his eyes sparkle, his hands gently teasing strands of conversation around them with an easy sincerity. When Yossi speaks of neighbouring Muslim and Arab countries, he laments the fact that politics has got in the way of music — however, in a slip of the tongue he describes the countries as “enemy”. Throughout our conversation he constantly reiterates his main points: his aim to fuse the music of the East and West; how such music represents music as a unifier, or universal language; social media’s creation of a global village facilitating all of this. In an average year, he will play 80 shows in 30 countries: “because of technology, and globalisation, Israeli and Jewish hearts are able to be an inspiration to billions of Arab fans and teenagers.”

In a 2012 TED talk, Yossi tells the story of one Arab fan, Johanna Fakhry. “She said to me, ‘I grew up in Lebanon as a little girl, and there I watched TV, and I saw cartoons and then a minute after, a Hezbollah commercial. Then I watched Tom and Jerry, running one after the other. Then, I saw an Israeli soldier being executed. I grew up to hate you.’” After hearing the music of Orphaned Land, she struggled to reconcile her love of the music with the nationality of its creators. She contacted the band, and in 2011, joined Orphaned Land on stage in France — “enemies, singing and dancing together,” Yossi says with pride — and raised the Lebanese flag alongside the Israeli flag (Lebanon does not recognise Israel’s statehood). Subsequently, Lebanese authorities banned her from returning to Lebanon, and she received death threats amid rumours that Hezbollah had ordered her assassination. Today, Johanna Fakhry lives in France. It’s been three years, and she still cannot return to Lebanon. “She’s doing well,” Yossi tells me, trailing off into a distant pause. “She has a life now in Paris, but is missing her family very much.”

His messages have the effect of him coming across as a sort of heavy metal politician, or as he’s later described to me by music journalist Or Barnea, “the diplomat of the music world”. His dialogue never seems forced or insincere, and seems to come both from and in spite of the conflicts his Jewish identity creates within the Middle East — conflicts he admits affect his music. He is a child of Jewish immigrants; descended from a hyper-musical paternal lineage which also fought in Israel’s wars. Yossi is distinct enough from the wartimes to not be bound to the mentalities of the war generation; now in his late 30s, he sees himself in a “middle generation”. “Realities are different,” he says, different enough for him to be able to connect with people of all religions and cultures around the world, but still hold ties to the old generation of Israeli artists. The first generation, Yossi says, effectively had to raise an identity from the ashes of conflict. “In Israel, it was all about war, and war, and more war.”


The musicians and locals I speak to describe the new generation of artists as looking past war and conflict in their music. Israel’s statehood is now well entrenched, and security concerns tend not to reach Tel Aviv, the hub of Israeli culture. Tel Aviv is surprisingly insulated from regional geopolitics by dint of mindset as much as anything else. It faces the West both geographically and in spirit — liberal, secular, and removed from the concerns of the state at large if not spatially, then at least in conscience. The major tourist attraction is the nightlife, which brings visitors from across Europe, and brings me to a lounge bar called Shesek to meet its musical director Amir Egozy. Shesek is Hebrew for loquat, an ornamental Chinese plant with small edible yellow fruit — Israel produces more loquat fruit than any other country except Japan. The bar has been open for 12 years, winning praise for cultivating local DJ talent, and even hosting a New Zealand music night when short-lived New Zealand television series Making Tracks visited Tel Aviv. (Nick Dwyer, DJ and host of Making Tracks, tells me Egozy is one of the most passionate New Zealand music fans he’s ever met). 

The years following Shesek’s opening were characterised by the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada, and suicide bombings occurred throughout Tel Aviv. Shesek remained open, and continued through the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and the Gaza War in 2008-9. Amir tells me conflict “definitely affects the way people behave, how they behave with their free time, and how they go out.” Though, in the same way bombs did not stop Isaac Stern performing in Ein Gev or Jerusalem, neither do they necessarily stop the new generation from performing or consuming music. “People leave or go to places to shelter, and others would party harder,” says Amir. “Many variations. Some people stop going out during wars, some stay at home.”

War casts a shadow on a country, and in the shadows bars and local DJs see decreases in patronage, revenue and their ability to attract or plan for international acts. Despite its effects, and despite the 1,311 Israelis who have died in conflicts since the start of the Second Intifada, war does not necessarily transmit directly into the creative process for the new generation of musicians. I speak to Israeli pop star Ivri Lider, of electronic pop group TYP. TYP stands for the The Young Professionals, a curious name given Lider is 39 and has been a professional musician for close to 15 years (the name is meant to represent the creation of something new, based on something old). After six straight solo albums reaching gold or platinum status, TYP is Lider’s new project: a collaboration with a 22-year-old producer called Johnny Goldstein. Together, they’re one album into a three-album deal with Universal Records in France.

TYP’s ‘D.I.S.C.O’ hit the charts and received airplay on French radio station NRJ, becoming so popular in former French Mandate Lebanon that TYP were invited to perform at a festival there. In Lider’s words, TYP are “effectively French”, having been signed to Universal Records in France. NRJ staff in Lebanon did not realise Lider and Goldstein were actually Israelis, and when Lider informed the organisers, their invitation was promptly rescinded.

Lider tells me conflict doesn’t affect his music in a direct way, but that it has influenced his life from the first day. “It’s part of who we are, part of our lives,” he says. “Everyone deals with it at some point.” With art, Lider says, the old and the young generations treat the subject differently. The young generation is “numb”; they look from Israel to the West, they’re liberal and culturally akin to Paris, London, Berlin or New York. “Those are the cultures they draw from,” Lider says, pausing: “They’re over the question of ‘will Israel survive?’”

That Israel’s survival seems to have been secured has had little effect on nationalism. As a general rule, Israelis of all generations are fiercely nationalistic, though this nationalism is not to be confused with Zionism or Neo-Zionism (In short, the aims of the original Zionists have been achieved, whereas Neo-Zionists are pro-settler and wish for the expansion of Israel into Palestinian lands). Nationalism is inherently part of Israeli culture, a requisite for public life or a career in the mainstream music world. Tellingly, the government department with the greatest effect on Israel’s music scene is arguably the military.

Musicians' relationships with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is a fickle one. To play for IDF troops is an honour, though in recent times pressure has grown for the honour to be restricted to those who are soldiers. In 2007, the Prime Minister’s Office — the very same office once headed by musical proponent Teddy Kollek — planned a blacklist of musicians, in order that local councils could avoid hiring those who had not completed service and thus keep civil celebrations as nationalistic as possible. Conscription for all over-18s is universal, although a variety of exemptions exist and the true proportion who serve is less than 100 per cent. Service lasts 3 years, and is held in high regard; respect for civic duty and civil duty itself is very much a part of Israeli society and culture.

In 2007, Lider was dropped from the bill of a ‘Friends of the IDF’ concert when it was found he had not completed his service. “The fact that those who do not serve in the military can become cultural heroes is worrying,” then-IDF personnel director Major General Elazar Stern — whose grandchildren’s toy cars have bumper stickers reading ‘A real Israeli does not dodge the draft’ —  told state broadcasters weeks later. Last year, Stern was elected to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) where his campaign against “draft-dodging” musicians continued through open harassment aimed at showing that dodging “was not worth its while”. Though Lider was not able to perform for the IDF for a number of years, he is quick to downplay the entire saga when we speak. He left service after a month, “like a lot of people”, and for 10 years was able to perform for soldiers. When Stern was promoted, he changed the rules, and Lider wasn’t allowed to perform any more, but “about a year ago, the person making the rules changed to a different position ... and the rules changed again.”

Not being able to play for the military was a bigger deal than Lider lets on. The IDF demanded he sign a letter stating “Ivri Lider loves the IDF and respects its values”, and as recently as mid-2013, calls for Lider’s ban have continued. Music journalist Or Barnea told me that at the time, Lider’s ban made “a huge big media storm,” drawing musicians everywhere into the debate regardless of whether they’d served or not. “A lot of artists stayed on his side, but a lot kept quiet,” says Barnea, who openly laments the self-censorship encouraged by a cultural climate created by IDF and government policies. Speaking out against the establishment can be career suicide for an Israeli musician: “The minute you say one sentence you can be tagged [as anti-Israel], if not for life, it’s a long long time.” Barnea points to winner of Kokhac Nolad (Israeli Idol) Jacko Eisenberg, who declined to serve conscription and encouraged people not to join the military. He was subsequently blacklisted by the IDF and by Israeli media. Releasing a song called ‘Medina Zona, Medina Motsetset’ (‘Whore Country, Blowjob Country’) did not help his cause.

Despite the petulant challenges nationalism has presented to Lider, he is still very much a nationalist. “Israeli musicians artists performing abroad is very important for Israel,” he says, “because people don’t expect that kind of culture, those sorts of lyrics, the kind of people we are [to come from Israel]”. Though Lider’s music is not necessarily thematically political or conflict-driven, he is unashamed when telling me it’s “about reforming notions of Israel abroad.”


This is not the first time I’ve heard that phrase. In the early stages of research for the article, I contacted an organisation called Kinetis: slogan, ‘Israel. Think Again.’ The mission statements of Kinetis are buoyant epithets: “exposing Israel to the world through people-to-people experiences”, “inspiring passion in visitors for the Israel of today”, “empowering Israelis with knowledge and pride for their unique identity” and “sharing Israel's creative energy with the world”. Founded in the hopes of changing Israel’s image from a political hot-bed to a veritable smorgasbord of innovation, creativity, and culture, Kinetis has a deep pockets with which to fund its goals. A slick website introduces visitors to a deep staff, and expensive initiatives: in March 2012, Kinetis funded a week-long trip of pseudo-celebrity treatment, non-stop music showcases and a stack of new CDs bigger than my suitcase itself” for five indie music bloggers, combined audience 9 million. It was one of 10 blogger trips funded that year. (In the interests of full disclosure, I received no funding from Kinetis or any other organisation during the production of this article, though Kinetis did put me in touch with three of the contacts used.)

Though Kinetis does not have an explicitly political stance, other organisations do, and some actively sponsor or promote musicians who align with their views. Interestingly, government funding for music is low; Israel’s nationalism does not translate into government funding for culture. Alongside private and foundation donations, Kinetis receives some government support, with approximately 25-30 per cent of bloggers’ tours funded this way. 

Anecdotally, funding tends to go to Jewish-aligned groups, not to anti-Zionists. This occurs in music, but also in fields like academia. The result is that investment in Israeli music is first and foremost an expression of soft power.

A Kinetis spokesperson tells me artists are chosen “based on whether they themselves are representative of Israel’s creative energy. Do they have an interesting personal story to tell, are they well respected by others in the industry, will they be interesting and inspiring to meet with?” These criteria aside, no one I’m introduced to seems to be remotely at odds with mainstream political views. Of course, many musicians don’t want to be ‘sponsored’ by such organisations and forgo any funding or promotion, and as Barnea mentioned, many hide their true views: you don't get shot if you keep your head below the parapets. As I’m told by Amir Egozy of Shesek, “everything is political, but they don’t want to be related to the state ... sometimes, you’re just a DJ.”

Musicians I’ve spoken to have said regardless of political persuasion, music isn’t funded enough for many smaller artists to spread abroad. Spreading is already difficult, given that Israeli musicians are regionally isolated by dint of geopolitics, creating not only a lack of audiences but also a cultural insularity that means music may not transmit to Arab states even if it were politically viable. This seems ill advised, given the status of Israeli artists abroad: Barnea states that successful artists become ambassadors for Israel overseas. “Other countries’ musicians’ success, the place you’re born doesn’t matter. If you’re from Israel, it has a great effect. You bring some sort of message to the stage,” citing Orphaned Land and singer-songwriter Idan Raichel as people dealing with the burden “every day”. State officials take some artists overseas, but Barnea says they sell it to the Jewish community, as opposed to non-Jewish people who may be able to be swayed on Israel. “They are selling to people who are sold.”


Sinatra’s involvement with Israel would continue, blossoming into a life-long appreciation for the Jewish people and the state itself — “If you don't know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he's just like you … It's one world, pal. We're all neighbors,” Sinatra told Playboy magazine in 1962. He performed in Israel a number of times, donated a million dollars towards the construction of what was later named the Frank Sinatra International Student Center at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, helped fund Holocaust film Genocide, and in 1978 received a National Scopus Award from the Hebrew University — their highest honour — to recognise his contributions to Israel and the Jewish people.

However, as time has passed and the atrocities against the Palestinian people have flared into the cultural consciousness of the West, Sinatra’s commitment to Israel stands out. As Israel’s artists were increasingly exported around the world, the heads of Janus turned again as international artists stayed out. In recent years, Israel has been boycotted by Carlos Santana, Gil Scott-Heron, The Pixies, Gorillaz, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Massive Attack, Annie Lennox and The Klaxons, amongst others. The 'Boycott, Divestment, Sanction' (BDS) movement continues offshore, too: at the Toronto Film Festival in 2009, Talking Heads’ David Byrne, along with Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Julie Christie, Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and John Pilger, signed a letter protesting the festival’s inclusion of a Tel Aviv theme. In late 2012, Stevie Wonder cancelled a Los Angeles fundraising concert for an IDF charity after extreme pressure. “I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere,” Wonder offered as explanation.

Despite BDS efforts, Israel’s truculence has continued unabated. Just months before the recent release of a number of Palestinian prisoners, Israel’s Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett suggested they be shot instead — “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that,” he told Cabinet.

During my time in the country, Israel was hit by one of the worst storms in living memory, blanketing Jerusalem in thick snow and cutting power to small parts of Jerusalem, and most of the West Bank. Days before, the IDF had destroyed tents belonging to Palestinians — Palestinians whom Israeli authorities had previously denied the very building permits which would have allowed them to construct and live in solid structures. During the same storm, Palestinian children detained for acts such as throwing rocks were placed outside in iron cages in the middle of the night as the temperatures dropped to freezing. More recently, in January, 272 new settler homes were approved on legal grounds which are at best, shaky, and at worst, non-existent.

Those who resist calls to boycott are chastised for what is perceived as an implicit support for Israeli actions, by protesters at their own shows around the world, and in the media. In an open letter to Leonard Cohen published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine before a Cohen tour, Jewish academics wrote: “You will perform for a public that by a very large majority had no qualms about its military forces’ onslaught on Gaza […] You will perform in a state whose propaganda services will extract every ounce of mileage from your presence […] And you are telling the Palestinians that their suffering doesn’t matter.” In 2009 Cohen performed anyway, prompting a letter from the Palestinian Association for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel “We consider your performance in Israel a form of complicity in its grave violations of international law and trampling on human rights principles.”

Within Israel, boycotts evoke a plethora of reactions that tend to be united on a key point: the act of boycotting Israel is not as simple as it seems. If they came to Israel and saw our side of the story, I’m repeatedly told, artists would not boycott the country. Considering the self-defeating nature of this rationale, it is provided with surprising earnestness.

Those against boycotts argue along two lines. The first, that boycotts hurt fans, producers and promoters, and have no effect on government actions. People, as the argument contends, should not be punished for the actions of their government. Barnea — who believes some of the boycotts are right, while others are for reasons he describes as “wrong” — tells me that no matter how many acts boycott, the government will not care. “They’ll keep doing what they did today or tomorrow. Even if crowds and promoters marched into the Knesset saying ‘look, we have a problem’, nobody cares.” Though he says “[boycotts] absolutely have an effect, not only in Israel but also around the world”, it’s a general consensus that whatever effect they do have will not translate into action. Lider, of TYP, and Egozy, of Shesek bar, both respect a musician’s right to boycott the state although they share similar misgivings regarding the artists’ motivations and the immediate efficacy of their actions.

The second argument is larger and more humanistic, rejecting state boundaries and political institutions as arbitrary constructions which should not come in between people’s enjoyment of culture. Before I met Yossi in person, he had told me on Skype that artists “cannot choose where we should and should not perform”, and became passionate about not being “judgemental about things that are none of my business”. He mentions that no one boycotts Serbia, despite atrocities there. Wherever his music is welcome, Yossi will perform — provided there’s no imminent danger. “I owe my music to those people,” he says. “No artist should boycott any other country.” When we meet, he chastises all boycotts, in particular Roger Waters’, as being “very presumptuous” and moulded by glib media coverage that skims the surface of the real issues. Yossi is echoed by none other than Elton John, who told a 2010 Tel Aviv crowd “Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.”

Despite the opposition, boycotts continue, and word from Israel’s five major promoters is that it’s increasingly difficult to entice artists to visit the country regardless of the pay cheque offered. The true number of these silent boycotts is unknowable, but significant. Musicians are an easy target for BDS activists; they’re risk-averse when it comes to publicity, and Israel is a small market which is relatively easy to bypass. While one boycott won’t change the world, the cumulative effect of many certainly won’t hurt efforts. Rightly or wrongly depending on your views, Palestinian activists are increasingly gaining traction in portraying Israel as an apartheid state, and musicians and their music are being placed in the centre of this debate.


In ‘The Road to Oxiana’, Robert Byron’s 1937 travelogue, he writes of leaving British Palestine with regret. En route to Syria, Byron writes: “it’s refreshing to find a country endowed with ... the germ of an indigenous modern culture in the form of painters, musicians, and architects.” Though not a Zionist himself, he attributes the culture to the Jews, and suggests to a local showman that it “might pay the Jews to placate the Arabs, even at inconvenience to themselves, with a view to peace in the future”. To Byron’s surprise, the showman said no, and Byron goes on to wonder whether Arab hostility is the “cloud on the horizon”, threatening to change the cultural and political course of the Jewish nation. After 76 years of hostility from both sides, it’s hard to fault his musings.

From the songs of Israel’s independence to the cosmopolitan cultural elite I’ve spoken to, the impossibility of extricating conflict from culture, or indeed from Israeli society, is increasingly apparent. The permutations of such a nexus are legion: musician’s regional isolation impedes touring and sales; elected politicians harrass any and all musicians who have the temerity to not also be soldiers; international acts decide it’s better to just not bother. Songs about cities become war songs, war songs become hymns. Everyone becomes an ambassador for a government they may be too afraid to speak out about. Musicians are ultimately used not for their music, but for what they afford a state endlessly desperate for stability and security.

Frank Sinatra died in 1998; Teddy Kollek in 2007. Years earlier, Kollek had hosted Sinatra on a 1961 visit to Jerusalem, where he was taken to meet Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. As Sinatra entered the office, Ben-Gurion looked him up and down and was said to have imparted his standard greeting: “What are you doing here?” He thanked Sinatra for his help in getting a shipload of arms to Israel before the War of Independence—a shipload of arms?

Kollek writes that it was only after leaving the office that Sinatra put two and two together. New York, the Copacabana. Teddy Kollek and Hotel 14. The pier, that sunrise. The package. After all those years, he had never known what was in the paper bag.