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Jehoash Hirshberg, Natan Shahar, Edwin Seroussi, and Amnon Shiloah

Country in the Middle East. The history of the Jewish people was dominated by the traumatic destruction of the Second Temple (70 ce) and the dispersal of the majority of Jews in the Diaspora. Longing for a return to the Holy Land became a basic tenet in Jewish faith. Religious devotion, persecutions and the emergence of a Jewish national movement in the late 19th century triggered successive immigration waves of Jews to Palestine, beginning in 1880. The Jewish community of Palestine, referred to as the Yishuv (‘Settlement’), was culturally autonomous both under Ottoman rule (until 1918) and under the British mandate until the foundation of the independent state of Israel in 1948.

Israeli society has always been dominated by the ideological call to return to the Eastern biblical roots of the nation and to act as a melting pot, contrasted with internal pressures to preserve the heritage of the diverse Jewish ethnic groups, including the performance and study of classical Western repertory. Music played a role in bringing people together, whether for active participation in choirs, bands and folk singing, or as concert audiences. The deliberate revival of Hebrew as a modern language of communication was their most powerful unifying tool, and vocal music was encouraged as a potent device for disseminating the use and the correct accent of the language among immigrants. Lacking a common tradition of folksong, amateur and professional composers turned to inventing a new tradition of Hebrew songs in the hope of their dissemination among the people. Jewish communities of ancient Sephardi, or Middle Eastern, descent comprised expanded families that settled together, leading a mutually supporting cultural and religious life around their synagogue, with daily services and family events providing ample opportunities for music-making. By contrast, most European, or Ashkenazi, Jews immigrated as individuals or in nuclear families, and socialized through the Western institutional model of public concerts. Processes of acculturation ranged from complete compartmentalization to syntheses of traditions....