Is Oleh Hadash Barry Braun Israel's next Eurovision finalist?
More than 8 million Israelis cheered and celebrated when Netta Barzilai took the crown at the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal. Israel will host the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest to take place in Tel Aviv and the question on everyone's mind is - can Israel take the crown for a second year in a row?
HaKovah Haba (The Next Star) is an Israel TV program wherein aspiring artists audition for the Eurovision Song Contest. Established singers and entertainers; Keren Peles, Shiri Maimon, Assaf Amdursky, Harel Skaat and Static and Ben-El are this year's judges.
Contestants come from all walks of life and their song choices are just as varied; Hebrew songs, English-, Eastern (Hebrew: Mizrachi) and everything else in between. The competition has, over the years, attracted Olim Hadashim, but this year an Anglo oleh from South Africa - Barry Braun had the audience and all of Israel gob-smacked and in the palm of his hands.
Barry's motivation to make Aliyah is typical of many Anglo olim. While on stage he shared bits of his story and the very next day he agreed to share his personal Aliyah story with us. Here it is:
My Aliyah Story – Coming Home
By: Barry Braun
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Barry Braun, 45 years young and living in Ra’anana, Israel. The land of opportunities, well for me at least!
I am married to Claudine and have 3 children, Daniel 16, Shira 12 and Ora age 11. Funny how all my children have Hebrew names, it must have been written in the stars, that one blessed day, they would be living in The Holy Land!
If you would have told me 2 years ago that I would be making Aliyah (Hebrew עליה) and living in Eretz Yisrael, I probably would have told you to go have your head read.
We were living in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities on this planet, with literally everything we needed and dreamt of……or so we thought!!!
So how did it come to pass that we would give up everything, all our comforts, to try and build a new life in a foreign land, unable to speak the language, having complete Emmuna, that yes, we will be okay?
So, this is my - Barry Braun's - personal Aliyah story…
It all started with a wedding invitation to a good friends son’s wedding, and lo-and-behold as luck would have it, the wedding would be taking place in Israel.
So there I was, plotting a holiday to Israel, with my wife Claudine, without our children, free from parental responsibilities for a full 10 day period. Oh, and then I uttered the famous words that would seal our fate and change our lives forever…
Should we use this as an opportunity for a pilot trip?
I remember seeing the kids on the streets of Ra’anana, living just like the words of the Israeli National anthem state, being “free” and living as a “free” nation.
That is when the penny dropped.
We would be making Aliya 6 months later, however, not as much for ourselves, rather for our children and for the sake of their future.
We made Aliyah and arrived on the 2 May 2017. What a day it was! Totally unplanned, we arrived in Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, and yes, I did go down on my hands and knees to kiss the ground!
I cannot express in words how lucky we are. When I was 3 years old I made Aliyah with my family. However, unfortunately, we returned to South Africa when I was 6 years old. Yes, I could have been Israeli and fluent in Hebrew…I think about that often. How different my life would have been if we didn’t return to South Africa, however, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that this is how it’s meant to be!!!
Barry Braun the Shiputznik
My parents built a house in Ra’anana in 1978, we lived in that house for less than a year and returned to South Africa in 1979.
This is the house that I now live in with my family.
After day 3 of making Aliyah, I started renovating the house.
The 5 of us started taking down walls and loading rubble bags.
We gutted the kitchen, bathrooms and basically I renovated the entire house with my wife and 3 children.
I take my hat off to my wife and kids for what they had to endure. We lived in the house throughout the entire renovation, with all the dust. At one stage all 5 of us were sleeping on mattresses on the floor, in the shell of the kitchen, with 2 dogs.
This continued for 6 months and I can honestly say that this was hands down the most challenging 6 months of my entire life!!!
This was no normal Aliya. Making Aliya is challenging enough, but making Aliya and living in a building site for 6 months and not being able to speak Hebrew...in hindsight, I’m not sure if I would do that again!!!
I received a call from Moshe Cohen, Choir master of the Eitz Chaim Choir. We met and we spoke about the choir and me being a Chazan. Shortly after our meeting, Moshe called me and asked me if I would like to officiate as Chazan for the City of Ra’anana for Yom Kippur.
I spoke to many of my friends and they advised me not to do it as I had just made Aliyah and I was in the middle of renovating the house.
Also, Claudine and I were starting Ulpan in September and the kids were starting school.
Not being one to dismiss a challenge, I accepted the offer.
So a few months into making Aliyah, I was renovating the house, studying at Ulpan Ra’anana and waking up every morning at 4am to practice the Yom Kippur prayer service and learn all the pieces that I needed to sing with the Choir. I hadn’t officiated as Chazan for Yom Kippur in 6 years and was very “rusty”.
The Tefilah for Yom Kippur was a massive success, the officials from the Iriyah loved the Tefilah and I was asked to meet with the Mayor and they presented me with a gift.
It was on Sukkot, at a community event, where I met my now good friend Ivan Horowitz. Ivan told me that he was about to start studying at the Center for Chazanut in Petah Tikvah. I immediately showed interest and the next day I called and enrolled myself into the school. I am now in my second year of studying under the guidance of Yisrael Rand, Yecheskel Klang, Yossi Schwartz, Menachem Bristovski and Maestro Elli Yaffe.
I must add that all this time we didn’t have a car. I thought that we could get away without owning a car, we commuted everywhere on bicycles but it just became too difficult especially when getting caught in the winter rains.
Barry Braun the Cyclist
After 9 months we were no longer 'carless', and my word, did this change our lives. We could actually stay late at the canyon without the fear of how we would get home!!! In a way it restored our dignity and made us feel human again.
It’s amazing how one adjusts. From having 4 cars in South Africa, to commuting everywhere on bicycles.
Ulpan was intense. Having to adjust to being a student again isn’t easy and takes getting used too. I loved Ulpan, I met so many people and it also gave me the opportunity to sing at all the events at the Ulpan.
This opened more doors for me, as often there were officials from the Iriyah attending the events giving me further exposure.
It’s funny how people come into one’s life...
In June 2017, I saw an advert on Facebook adverting auditions for a choir in Ra’anana of Olim Chadashim. I went to audition for the choir and this is where I first met Hedya Cavenor.
I joined the choir and we were both inspired by each other’s commitment and energy. It later emerged that Hedya was also the music teacher at Ulpan Ra’anana and by the time Ulpan started we already knew each other quite well. Hedya was so kind and welcoming to me and my family, she understood that we had no family in Israel and literally offered her extended family as our family, who welcomed us with open arms.
Another amazing thing happened at Ulpan. Out of all the teachers at Ulpan, I was privileged enough to have Esti Asher as my teacher. Esti was the only Dati teacher at Ulpan. When she heard that I was a Chazan, she would often teach me Hebrew by referencing Nusach and Tefila. We soon built up an amazing relationship. Esti also arranged for me to come and officiate as Chazan at her Shul, Ariel Shul, once again accompanied by the Eitz Chaim Choir. This was highly successful and many people called the Iriyah and gave me recommendations.
This led to the Iriya asking me to officiate as Chazan for the Shabbat before Yom Haatzmaut at the Great Synagogue in Ra’anana, accompanied by the Eitz Chaim Choir. One year after making Aliya, and there were now posters of me all over the city advertising this special Shabbat. Truly unbelievable!!! To put this into perspective, the previous year, the Iriyah commissioned Tzvi Weiss, the Chazan from the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem to officiate with Ofir Sobels Choir.
Barry Braun the Cantor (Chazan)
In March 2018, I entered a competition held by Chazonus.com and judged by the world famous Chazan Yaakov Motzen.
Cantors had to submit their rendition of Retzi – Moshe Ganchoff.
I won this inaugural competition, which was truly a great honour for me as many talented cantors entered the competition.
In May 2018, I received a call from Chazan Ezra Sher of Pine Street Shul, Johannesburg. Ezra is a good friend of mine and we have performed in many concerts together. Ezra told me that he was coming to Israel for his nephews wedding, this was a great opportunity for us to sing together again in concert. I approached the Iriyah and they agreed to let me use The Great Synagogue as a venue.
I produced and sang in my first concert at the Great Synagogue in Ra’anana with Ivan Horowitz and Ezra Sher, accompanied by my now good friend Hedya Cavenor (piano) and her 2 boys Avi-Noam (Saxophone) and Daniel (Clarinet). This concert was in honour of Yom Yerushalayim. This concert was very successful and was also attended by officials from the Iriyah.
In June 2018, I was asked to sing at the end of the year concert for the Center of Chazanut in Petah Tikvah, the only first year student to be asked to sing in the concert. This was a great honour for me. I was accompanied by the Ra’anana Symphony Orchestra.
In South Africa, being accompanied by an orchestra would have certainly been a faraway dream, however, in Israel, this dream has become a reality!!!
Throughout the year I was asked to sing at events and officiate as Chazan on numerous occasions.
I performed for Telfed, honouring Sylvia Raphael and at the Truth Be Told Event.
I set up my sound equipment and gave 2 free concerts on Achuza, the Main Road in Ra’anana.
I have built up a great relationship with the Moatzah Hadatit, and have been asked by them to officiate as Chazan at many Synagogues in Ra’anana. My goal was to try and officiate as Chazan at a different Shul every Shabbat Mevarechim accompanied by the Eitz Chaim Choir. This has turned out to be very successful as now I’m being requested to officiate as Chazan.
After my concert at the Great Synagogue, the Gabbi from the Synagogue requested that I do another concert. I approached the Iriya and suggested a concert with songs from the Yamim Noraim, however, unfortunately there was not enough time.
A Chanukah concert was confirmed, this time with the full support from the Iriya. A date was set for the 8 December 2018. The timing of was perfect as it coincided with the airing of my Kochav Haba performance……
It was great to know that the Iriya now had the faith to put their trust in me, appreciating my hard work and talent by supporting me with this Chanukah concert.
Once again, there were posters of me throughout the city advertising the Chanukah concert. Amazing exposure, resulting in a sold out concert.
This concert was an all-round success and this time the newly elected Mayor attended and spoke at the concert.
What was next?
I heard that there were auditions in Kvar Saba for a reality show called Hakochav Haba, I honestly didn’t think much of it, as I already auditioned unsuccessfully for X-Factor and The Voice.
Furthermore, I didn’t know that this was for Eurovision Song Contest!
However, this audition was different. The producers seemed to really like me, my voice and my story.
I made it through 4 auditions culminating in being accepted to perform on Israeli National Television in front of “apparently” famous judges and a live audience of close to 1000 people.
Why I say apparently is because I really didn’t know who the judges were. In fact, the day before I had to perform I embarrassingly sent through a message requesting the names of the judges so that I could Google them.
I had also never seen one of the episodes before. So the night before I had to perform, I watched my first episode of Hakochav Haba. Oh my word!! There I was lying in bed at around midnight with my heart beating really fast thinking to myself...”Why oh Why” did I not watch these episodes before, so as to acquaint myself with all the aspects of the show.
It was now 3am and I was still watching audition after audition, not because I needed to, rather because now I couldn’t sleep. It was a combination of emotions, fear, excitement and mostly frustration with myself, having left my “homework” for the night before my performance!
The performance was very emotional and I won the hearts of the judges, audience and the nation.
Barry Braun and his proud family during his performance on HaKochav Haba
I still didn’t realize how popular the show was until I was walking through the shopping mall (Hebrew: Kenyon) a few days after the show had aired and people were coming up to me asking me for selfies.
You know that people liked the performance when even the employees of the bank start helping you and being kind to you….true story……haha!!!
Where to with this new found fame...???
I have been asked this question, what do you actually want to do….Are you doing this because you want to be famous?
The answer is that I don’t know. I don’t know where this will lead? However, what I do know is that I love music, performing and singing. I love the way I have the ability to touch people’s hearts when they hear me sing. BEH’ I’ll be able to make a living and support my family doing what I love to do.
We all know the saying often used by the American singer Marc Anthony
In one’s job, "If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life!" (The actual origins of this quote are unknown. It is thought to be an oriental quote.)
So, I’ll continue doing what I love and reaching for my dreams by making my own luck, as I keep telling my children - Nothing lands in your lap and hard work will always eventually pay off!!!
Let me be clear about this….Aliyah has not been easy and everyday has its challenges. This new career change has also been very taxing. I usually wake up every morning at 4am and study music for at least 4 hours a day. I question myself continuously, am I doing the right thing but I have faith that this will lead to fruition …..In a way it already has!!!
I want to take this opportunity to thank my amazing wife Claudine and my precious children for all their love and support throughout this amazing journey.
And lastly, thank you to Hakadosh Baruchu for always being with me, helping me and guiding me through this amazing journey that we call life.
See you on Broadway…