Rachel:Israel’s beloved national poet

gets her due in local musical

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen | August 16, 2017

As Cher is to pop music in the United States, Rachel is to poetry in Israel — a national treasure that you need only one name to identify. Her name is as well known among Israeli schoolchildren as, say, Mark Twain or John Steinbeck is known in U.S. schools.

Born in Russia in 1890, Rachel Bluwstein moved to pre-state Israel (then part of the Ottoman Empire) as a teenaged Zionist pioneer in 1909, and went about writing lyrical but simple poetry that often was set in the pastoral countryside of the Promised Land.

She began getting her poetry published in Israeli newspapers in the 1920s, but even though she was the first woman writing poetry in modern Hebrew, she didn’t get much attention until after her death in 1931 at the age of 40. Since then, many of her poems have been set to music.

Rivka Amado (Photo/file)Rivka Amado (Photo/file)To help Bay Area Jews get to know Rachel a little better, Efi Lubliner and Rivka Amado — a pair of Israeli ex-pats who live in the East Bay — have written, produced and directed an opus to Rachel that tells her story through her own words, with much of it set to music.

Rachel: Israel’s National Poet” will make its debut on Aug. 20 at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette as part of the year-round Jewish programming offered by Under One Tent in Contra Costa County. Subtitled “A Musical Celebration of Her Life and Poetry,” the production will feature free admission as Lubliner and Amado seek to generate interest for more performances throughout the Bay Area and beyond. (One has already been lined up at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley in the fall, though no date has been set.)

“We’re trying to expose Americans to Israeli culture and history,” Lubliner says. “For the simple knowledge and enjoyment of it. To enjoy and to learn.”

Lubliner, 68, who has been in the United States since 1970, said he developed a fascination with Rachel and her poetry many decades ago. “There’s only one Rachel. She was the first woman to have her face on money in Israel. All children learn her poetry in Israel,” he says.

A semi-retired computer specialist, Lubliner narrates the piece while Amado does the singing. Joanna Marcin (flute), Michael Gill (piano), and Doron Rotem and Gordon Lustig (guitars) will lend musical support.

No stranger to the performing arts, Lubliner has served on the selection committee for the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival for many years and is a member of the Lama Lo Trio, a group that leads sing-along programs. He also runs a monthly international film showcase in the Bay Area that he calls “a labor of love.”

Lubliner describes Rachel’s poetry as “very personal, about herself and her love for the land. She was a real Israeli patriot. She was in love with the land, with the people working the land.”

There’s only one Rachel. She was the first woman to have her face on money in Israel.

Rachel was, he says, “a woman with incredible art in her, but very unlucky. Anything that could have gone wrong did — from her love life to contracting tuberculosis from working with Jewish orphans. She’s a sad and tragic figure.”

So how did this production come to be?

Alubliner-efiEfi Lubliner“I have known Rivka a long time,” Lubliner says of his creative partner. “She’s done things about [Rachel] before and she asked me to put together a show about her. So we sat down and we wrote most of the script, based on a lot of research, and came up with a story, into which we insert her poetry and the songs based on them.”

A retired political science and ethics professor living in the United States since 2004, Amado, 63, is a singer who specializes in traditional Ladino music. Ever since she reconnected to her Sephardic roots, she has been “telling the stories of my ancestors and combining it with music. Since then, I’ve devoted most of my time to music.”

She composes music and lyrics, and two months ago released her second album, “Stations of My Life.” Her first, “Hija Mia” came out in 2009.


Amado attributes her interest in Rachel (often called “Rachel the Poet” or “Rachel the Poetess” by Israelis) to nothing more than growing up in the Jewish state.

“[As a child] I fell in love with Rachel the Poet’s work,” she says. “She grew up with the feeling of being estranged with her classmates, and I really connected with that.”

After putting one of Rachel’s poems to music and including it on her new album, Amado says it dawned on her that she ought to “write the story of her short life. So I collected the most representative songs and, together with Efi, we put this show together.”

Amado says she hopes people come away from the performance having internalized some of the poet’s deep affection for the Land of Israel.

“I think it’s really about her passions: her love for Israel, especially the Kinneret, the yearning for connection, her love for children, her adoration of the Jews coming to the land,” she says. “It’s also about the struggle of the Jewish people, and the wonderful spirit of the early Israeli pioneers who overcame tremendous obstacles and built a beautiful country while retaining their humanity.”

Rachel: Israel’s National Poet. A Musical Celebration of Her Life and Poetry,” 4 p.m. Aug. 20 at Temple Isaiah, 945 Risa Road, Lafayette. Free.

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen Rache

RivkaAmado-12Dec2012, Melbourne

‘It’s not just about singing

by joseph amster, j. correspondent


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Barbra Streisand sings about “memories” in one of her most famous songs, “The Way We Were.” The members of a new choral group at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville can relate.

The songs they’ve been singing in recent months have been lighting up the corner of their minds.

“The songs relate to my Jewishness and remind me of the good times in my past,” says 93-year-old resident Rachel Tunkle. “My father used to walk around and sing, so these songs bring back fond memories.”

Likewise, Gerry Gluckman, 104, says the songs remind her of her youth. “My parents spoke Yiddish because that was all they knew,” she remembers.

Now, through the choir, she is able to relive those memories of her childhood. An enthusiastic member of the choir, she always sits in the front row and especially loves singing the Yiddish classic “Tumbalalaika,” a Russian Jewish folk song performed by many stars.

 Rivka Amado 
Rivka Amado

Gluckman also loves hearing the stories behind the songs, which choir leader Rivka Amado points out is a vital part of the experience for the seniors.“The choir is important, but it’s also important to talk about the content of the songs,” Amado says. “It’s not just about singing the song, but also to give them some background about the song.”

Amado, 58, is a singer herself; born in Holon, Israel, she now lives in Berkeley with her husband and two sons. She released an album of Ladino music in 2009 and currently is working on a second CD, which will feature her own compositions.

Although she has a job in the field of medical ethics, Amado truly enjoys her involvement with the Reutlinger choir.  “I work with them on singing traditional Jewish songs, but the purpose of this is to engage them, to bring them back to reality, and suddenly, it’s fun. It’s a very graceful moment.”

Amado believes the choir also gives the residents an important outlet.

By participating, seniors are lifted spiritually, they can express their emotions, they interact with one another, and they are engaged and stimulated, she says. “What motivates me is that they really appreciate what you do for them. It’s very rewarding.”

To illustrate, Amado points to a choir member who used to be an opera singer when she was younger.

“When she started singing ‘Tumbalalaika’ in Yiddish, it was amazing, because it really brought her back to her childhood,” Amado says. “It triggered her longtime memory of when her father would sing songs in Yiddish to her. She was so excited about the song, she took the tambourine and started moving, she was so engaged and lost in the ecstasy of the music.”

The choir’s membership fluxuates between 12 to 15 people, most of them women, and rehearsals are twice a month. The group is preparing for an in-house concert later this year.

“There’s a consistent group that comes, and then there are others that will come occasionally,” says Carol Goldman, Reutlinger’s activity director. “They love it and look forward to it.”

Amado began at Reutlinger several years ago, starting with a program called “A Jewish Journey Back to Spain Through Songs and Story.”

Goldman says the choir not only enhances the residents’ creativity, but also has a therapeutic aspect.

“When I watch the group rehearse, you see a lot of personal things come out,” she says. “When she’s talking about something, you’ll see one of the people make a movement, as if to say, ‘Oh yes, I remember that,’ or ‘I’ve heard that before.’

“It’s not just about singing. It’s about taking that music to another place and pulling up memories. It brings something different to each individual.”

Amado hopes to take the choir to a higher level, beyond just singing for other residents or visitors.

“Maybe the next step is to ask them to write poetry and then I can write music for them,” she says. “There are a lot of things we can do. It brings back memories. For some of them, it’s an emotional challenge, but it’s good to let it out.”



Caption: Rivka Amado performs Ladino songs at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, California., Credit: Rhonda J. Miller 
Image by: Rhonda J. Miller
Rivka Amado performs Ladino songs at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, California.

Ladino Hanukah Songs Shed Light

on Endangered Language of Jews

From: Rhonda J. Miller
Length: 00:04:24


As the candles of Hanukah connect Jews around the world, holiday songs in Ladino shine a light on a language UNESCO rates as “severely endangered.” An increasing number of musicians in many countries are singing in this Judeo-Spanish language, which means it is no longer just your grandmother’s Ladino. Read the full description.

Rivka Amado performs Ladino songs at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, California.”
Credit: Rhonda J. Miller Rivkaamado_square

“Rivka Amado and Joel Siegel perform Ladino songs and share research about the endangered Ladino language.”
Credit: Rhonda J. Miller