Shtar (meaning “Talmudic contract” in Hebrew), a Jerusalem-based hip-hop group, made a stop on their tour at the UCLA Jewish Awareness Movement house on Thursday, April 11. Originally created by two Yeshiva students, Ori ‘M’Ori’ Murray and Brad ‘Binyamin Adam’ Rubinstein in 2006, the band has been gaining increasing fame over the past few years. When JAM Rabbi Jacob Rupp learned the group would be in Los Angeles, he knew that he had to expose UCLA to this unique and talented group. The band was very willing to perform.
“We can’t turn down an opportunity to play at UCLA as one of our stops,” said rapper Ori Murray.
Ori was a professional rapper prior to becoming religious. He gave up his passion to study full time at a yeshiva in Israel.
“One of the rabbis at the yeshiva asked if I was still rapping and I said, ‘No, I gave it up,’ and he responded, ‘To give up rapping for you is a desecration of G-d’s name,’” said Ori. Shortly after, he began to delve back into the music world and bumped into current guitarist and back-up vocalist, Brad.
“[Brad] played me some sick trick hop beat… from a band he was in that had been signed to London Records, before he became religious,” added Ori.
After creating some music together, the two decided to become serious and form a band. Looking for a drummer, they came across Dan Isaac. Upon discovering that his voice was even more powerful than his drumming abilities, they placed him as the lead singer. To complete the band, Tzvi Solomons joined as the drummer and Avi Sommers entered as the bass guitarist.
Since the inception of the Israeli band, they have toured in many countries, including the United Kingdom, with upcoming shows in Poland this June.
When asked how difficult it has been to balance their religious endeavors with touring, Ori responded, “What is more difficult is balancing the combined fifteen kids and pregnant wife.”
Dan explained that music only contributes to his religious lifestyle: “I personally feel this actually helps me express myself in a much deeper sense religiously. If you have the talent there and you are passionate about something, you can combine music life and spiritual life. I think that is an awesome blend.”
Their music is a true representation of their religious identities. The lyrics convey spiritual messages through a unique style of hip-hop that resonates with sounds similar to Beck, The Roots, and even Coldplay. Ori’s rapping is clever and quick, as illustrated by the group’s cover of B.o.B.’s “Airplanes.” Following an exquisite chorus by Dan, Ori covered the song’s rapping with a flawless freestyle, incorporating a UCLA theme.
Beyond connecting with the audience, the band’s chemistry is palpable.
“I found myself musically in this band, which is weird because the young teenage life is where you are supposed to find yourself, surely. I think I have matured into a lead singer. I was always the drummer and backing vocalist and never had the confidence to take the mic and be a lead singer. But, with the encouragement of the guys, they have really helped me bring out my potential musically and I have discovered I have a nice voice,” Dan said.
The popularity of Shtar’s music extends beyond a religious audience. Performing annually at the Israeli music festival InDNegev, the group has caught the complete attention of the diverse audience.
“In Israel, the contrast between not religious people and religious people is very sharp and there is a bit of a gap between the two communities. We played this festival, which is like Israeli Woodstock. We play on stage in front of the crowd where no one is religious, full of Israelis and hippies, and we just connect. It is really awesome to just connect with anyone just through music. That is a big high point,” said Ori.
The group exceeded the audience’s expectations as they played an original set in addition to a few mind-blowing covers, which included Dre, B.o.B, and Linkin Park. The music was both entertaining and inspiring. Shtar closed the set, hitting a chord with the audience as Ori spoke of the struggles and devastations in Israel.
“You feel it affect your country, you feel it affect your city, and it will affect you. Just in our neighborhood, we have had kids blown up by rockets. At some point in time it screams out inside of you: ‘Something, make it end!’ When you feel that way, there is no way to really express it in words, so we put that into this song,” he shared during the set.
This speech, followed by their harmonious song “Oseh Shalom,” moved the UCLA Jewish students, who were reminded of why they had fought so hard the preceding Tuesday at the USAC council meeting, when a group attempted to impose a campus-wide divestment against Israel.
Overall, Shtar provided more than entertainment. They instilled a sense of Jewish pride amongst the students. It is this pride that allows UCLA students to fight for unity and harmony on campus.
“If you ask me the real meaning of the word ‘holy,’ spell it with a ‘w.’ When you are ‘whole’ and you bring in all different kinds of extremes together and you blend those extremes together in harmony, you have that balance — that wonderful harmony between all different aspects of life. I think that is what holy is — wholesome. It is [a] holistic approach to life,” said Dan.