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Batsheva hits high note at GOP

By DEAN M. SHAPIRO, Special to the CCJN

Billing her style as “a cross between Theodore Bikel and Tom Lehrer from a distinctly feminine voice,” award-winning Jewish singer, songwriter and musician Batsheva Capek captivated an enthusiastic audience at Congregation Gates of Prayer in Metairie on July 17. Her songs and the stories behind those songs spanned some 500-600 years, from the Middle Ages in Europe up to the present day.

Batsheva performs at Congregation Gates of Prayer. (Photo by Dean Shapiro)

Playing her acoustic guitar and singing in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino (the language of the Spanish Jews), Batsheva was alternately humorous and serious as she related musical tales of hardship and joy, sprinkled with satirical commentary on contemporary Jewish life that evoked laughter from her audience. At times the audience members were invited to sing along and clap along with the chorus portions of some of her songs.

A native of Toronto, Canada now living in Nashville with her renowned songwriter,composer and keyboardist husband John Capek, Batsheva has visited New Orleans many times previously but this was her first performance here. Professionally, like Cher and Madonna,she goes only by her first name.

Some of the original ballads she sang – comprising just a fraction of her extensive repertoire – focused largely on the “Golden Age” of the Sephardic Jews on the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, prior to their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and Portugal five years later. Throughout the Diaspora and the wanderings of the Jewish people over the past two thousand years, “The music is one of the things that kept us together,” Batsheva told those who gathered to hear her message.

Some of her original compositions in a more humorous vein took on subtle (and not-so-subtle) feminist overtones, with lines like “Eve was framed because she was a dame,” while others were playfully self-deprecating put-downs of Yiddish folk songs. For a first encore she sang Tevye’s song “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof
but from the perspective of Tevye’s wife (“If He Were a Rich Man”). For the second encore she sang fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” in Yiddish and English.

Batsheva’s appearance at Gates of Prayer was arranged by the Institute for Southern Jewish Life, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi and made possible by the joint adult education programming between Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel and Reform Congregation Gates of Prayer.

Over the years she has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Canada and Israel. Her award-winning original composition, “Song of Remembrance,” is part of the official archives of Yad Va-Shem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Another original, “Smaller Crowds,” which is about the persecuted Jewish community of Russia, won a first prize in the North American Jewish Songwriting Competition.

Classically trained on piano and cello at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Batsheva also holds a degree in Theatre from Toronto’s York University. Her 2008 CD, “I, BATSHEVA, SINGER” continues to receive critical international acclaim today, five years after its release.

In an exclusive phone interview from her Nashville home two days before the concert, Batsheva said she is working on material for a new CD, which will include a Hebrew translation of Leonard Cohen’s acclaimed “Hallelujah!” for which she has received permission from SONY/ATV, the copyright holders.

She also spoke with pride about her Czech-born husband who has written songs that were recorded by Rod Stewart (“Rhythm of My Heart”), Joe Cocker (“Take Me Home”), Cher (“Love So High”), Bonnie Raitt (“Deep Water”) and many other renowned older and more contemporary recording artists.

Speaking about New Orleans, Batsheva called it “an extraordinary and exceptional place. My husband and I love it. What’s not to love about it. We have fun every time we go there.”

For more information about Batsheva and and for information on how to order her CD release, click here.

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