Ramón Tasat gets emotional when he talks about Israel. His eyes moisten, his voice cracks.
The cantor at Shirat HaNefesh’s passion isn’t simply for the place. It’s also for the idea.
“I’m a very passionate Zionist, in case you can’t tell,” he says, sitting at the dining room table of his Silver Spring apartment. “And while I disagree with many of the political postures of the state of Israel, I find the creation of the state of Israel is one of the greatest miracles of our existence.”
That miracle, and the history that has transpired since, is what he’ll try to convey through music Sunday, when he performs at Kol Shalom in Rockville in celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary. The concert is sponsored by the Foundation for Jewish Studies.
The sextet (Tasat, plus a percussionist, pianist, cellist, violinist and flutist) will borrow from songs well-known and not, but the arrangements are all original, Tasat says. And while the concert will offer snapshots of life in Israel and the country’s history, the style will be notably diasporic, with Jewish musical traditions from Greece, Portugal, Brazil and elsewhere.
A narrator will read poems about the songs, giving the context or the story the song is attempting to tell.
No concert trying to tell a part of the Israeli story can ignore the violence and wars the country has endured, Tasat says. It will begin with music related to the first pioneers of the state and then quickly move to the wars of the 1950s and ‘60s. But he says he wants to refute what he sees as a misperception of Israel as a militaristic country, performing songs that represent the family and cultural life of the country.
“We’re trying to address in some, perhaps, not-too-deep way, ‘What is Israel?’” he says. “And to give people the feeling that Israel is not only about a soldier with a grenade or a rifle in his hand.”
Tasat was born in Buenos Aires and gained his musical education in five countries, ultimately earning his doctorate in voice performance from the University of Texas at Austin.
He has performed all over the world, but Tasat and his wife have built a community for themselves in Montgomery County. He helped to found Shirat HaNefesh an independent, liberal synagogue 10 years ago. He says it’s grown from 25 families to about 90 today.
“Montgomery County isn’t just Montgomery County. There are also my communities here, the people who understand what I’m after and value the same things,” he says.
Tasat says he didn’t want to take the easy way out and perform only popular songs on Sunday. He also wants to challenge the audience with lesser-known music. He says he’s been working on the show for six months and understands that he may not get to perform it again with the same musicians. In essence, he wants to get it right by his standards.
“I want people to feel like, after these 90 minutes, that something has opened. I don’t know if it’s the gates of heaven, or the gates of their hearts,” he says. “But I know, I hope, I wish that something opens up for them. And they feel like, ‘Wow, this was an experience for me.’”
Tickets are are $25, available at the door or through the Foundation for Jewish Studies.