Feature Stories

Ishay Ribo draws some 15,000 to Madison Square Garden

By Mike Wagenheim

(JNS) Some of recent history’s biggest musical acts have headlined concerts at Madison Square Garden. On Sunday, Orthodox Jewish crossover singer Ishay Ribo became the first Israeli musician to do so, joining the company of the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Madonna and U2.

Organizers billed the concert as sold out, but the New York stop of Ribo’s annual Elul tour likely drew about 15,000—roughly 75% of the arena’s capacity.

After singing several songs, Ribo, clad in a blue dress shirt with matching yarmulke, offered his first remarks of the evening in English.

“I’m so excited to be here tonight,” he said, to thunderous applause. He added, half-joking in a thick Israeli accent, “I want to tell you. I’ve started learn to English.” 

“So, how is my English?” he asked. He submitted that it was cacha cacha, Hebrew for “so-so.”

Exclusively religious

In Israel, Ribo has found mainstream success with his spiritual music. “Religious pop star singing of ‘God and faith’ wins over secular Israel,” according to an April 15 Saturday profile headline in The New York Times. The article reported that Ribo drew an audience of “some secular, some devout, an unusual blending of two sections of a divided Israeli society that rarely otherwise mix.”

At the Garden, Ribo performed for an almost exclusively religious crowd, for which he sang a string of hits, including “Lashuv Habaita” (“To Return Home”) and selections from his 2019 album Elul 5779. The latter consists of High Holiday songs and hymns.

A pre-concert message encouraged those in attendance to immigrate to Israel, and Ribo promised an invitation to a private concert for all those who did so. The New York performance was sponsored, in part, by the religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva.

Early in the concert, Ribo also told those attending that it was time to love others without judgment, ahavat chinam.

At the beginning of the show, some younger audience members danced as Ribo performed. Others appeared overwhelmed by the unusual spectacle of Hebrew lyrics and images of Israeli neighborhoods streaming across plasma screens on the Madison Square Garden stage.

“This is definitely something extraordinary—to see observant Jews lined up down the block to fill the Garden for a performance,” Shlomie Rosen, of Tenafly, N.J., told JNS prior to the concert. “Ishay brings us something very important, fulfilling and meaningful, especially at this time on the calendar.” 

It took Ribo performing “Sibat Hasibot” (“cause of causes”), the most sung song in Israel in 2022, in the second half of the concert for the crowd to largely get to its feet. Few sat down for the rest of the performance.

Guest musicians joined Ribo on the stage, including Akiva Turgeman, who performed with Ribo at a sold-out event at New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2022. The two sang their hit duet “Al Taazvi Yadayim” (“don’t give up”) on Sunday.

Israeli musician Amir Dadon also joined Ribo on stage for his first performance in the United States. He and Ribo sang the 2018 song “Livchor Nachon” (“to choose correctly”), which topped Israeli charts for more than four years.

Brooklyn’s Avraham Fried, a well-known Orthodox pop performer, surprised the crowd when Ribo called him up to the stage. Sunday night was the 18th of Elul, an auspicious time on the Jewish calendar, said to be the birthday of both Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rebbe.

Ribo and Fried honored the moment by singing “Avinu Malkeinu” (“Our Father, our King”), a prayer that is recited with particular emphasis during the High Holidays and the 10 days of repentance.

As she exited the Garden with her husband and three children, Janice Rubin, of Queens, told JNS the show was “absolutely beautiful.”

“Beyond my expectations, and they were pretty high, because I’ve seen Ishay perform before,” she said. “It was a perfect mix, and a really uplifting night.”

Next June, Israeli pop sensation Noa Kirel is slated to become the second Israeli to headline a show at the Garden.
PHOTO: Ishay Ribo
CAP: Israeli singer Ishay Ribo performs live at Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem, on Sept. 21, 2022. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

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