Forty years ago this November, after Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Israel in peace, David Broza recorded Jonathan Geffen’s poem “Yihye Tov” (“Things Will Be Better”). Thirty albums and counting later, Broza still performs that first hit, his signature song and one of Israel’s unofficial national anthems.
Four years after “Yihye Tov,” Sadat was assassinated by Egyptian Islamic fundamentalists. You’d think that Broza’s stance would have hardened over the decades, that his personal and musical evolution would tilt toward middle age to whiskey-scented cynicism. But like Israelis who still yearn for Yitzhak Rabin — who had a copy of “Shir L’Shalom” in his pocket when he was shot — and Americans who continue to give peace a chance, Broza hasn’t let negativity force him to rebrand. “These are moments that could bring one down, but I never ever felt that there’s a loss of hope,” he says. “There’s always got to be hope. If you lose that, we’re not here anymore.”
Broza doesn’t view his job as a musician and entertainer as separate from his role as a citizen of Israel and the world. “I’m writing music, performing music, recording albums for the past 40 years. It has enlightened my life, broadened my life. It’s made me a more aware citizen of Israel, partnering to make our society a better place always. My contribution can be through music. It’s my vocation.” This vocation has taken him to the frontlines of war, to bomb shelters, to hospital bedsides, and to troubled youth, where the power of music brightens dark times. It’s taken him around the world, to towns off the usual route for performers. What does he have in common with someone in Corpus Christi or Wenatchee? It’s the music that binds them.
Seventeen years ago, Broza was introduced to another foreign land: the one in his own backyard. “I came to know East Jerusalem and found that very little artistic activity spills over from Tel Aviv or even West Jerusalem,” Broza says. “[East Jerusalemites] are not segregated, but they’re in their own world, even though most of them work in our hospitals or restaurants and all kinds of businesses. But they don’t mix culturally at all.”
Broza set up a studio in East Jerusalem and put Israeli and Palestinian musicians together for eight days in 2013. They created an album, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, while American singer-songwriter/activist Steve Earle produced a documentary by the same name. “It opened up my worldview of what could be if a little attention was given to bridging over the differences, mixing with the other,” Broza says of the collaboration.
Even as Israel leans to the right, Broza isn’t fazed. “Israel is becoming a more extreme society,” he says. “Ultra-patriotic. Anybody who questions the country and its motives gets scrutinized. The sad thing is, I think the government should serve everybody. It’s about hearing things that you don’t want to hear.”
He’s a believer in democracy. “There’s a destiny that’s involved here. In Israel we have to make our efforts and be committed to bringing a change. This is why democracy is so important to us. I always think of how bad things were, and then it turns out that life continues. That’s resilience. Our country was built on the tears of the people broken emotionally, broken physically. Israel is proof that there is resilience.”
Since wrapping East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, Broza has already put out Andalusian Love Song, and he’s got a few more albums to pull out of the drawer. “I’ll continue writing new music, making new productions, and I’m only half done,” he says. “This is only my first 61 years.”
David Broza performs at the Stroum JCC on March 1 at 8 p.m.