Toronto’s Evan Malach is the new “Jewish star” after winning the Hallelujah Global Hebrew Singing Contest for Jewish Talent finals Saturday night in Israel. Malach topped the voting with his rendition of Ehud Banai’s K’nani Blues.
“I feel incredibly humbled. The talent of the group was at an extremely high level. To be chosen as the winner is such an honour,” Malach said in an interview the day after his win.
Of the 14 finalists, two were Canadian.
Winnipeg’s Alex Dashefsky, who came in second in the Audience Favourite voting on Facebook, was really excited on being told he had made it to the finals a week earlier.
“I didn’t expect to make the finals. I was quite honoured,” Dashefsky, 18, told The Canadian Jewish News. “It’s a great feeling.”
One of the youngest contestants in the contest, Dashefsky said he felt “intimidated at first” by the other participants as some of them were “quite professional.” But the University of Manitoba freshman, who will begin his studies next month, quickly showed that he was a singing force himself.
Both Malach and Dashefsky beat out hundreds of other Jewish singers from across the globe to secure their spots in the finale.
Some 1,000 people watched the Saturday night showdown in Ramat Hasharon, along with Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
“Hebrew song is the most beautiful, powerful and essential part of renewed Jewish culture. There is nothing more important than an evening like this that connects the Diaspora to Israel,” Steinitz told the crowd.
Malach won a cash prize of $8,000, the opportunity to record a radio single with Israeli cantor and stage performer Dudu Fisher (which will be released as a single in Israel and on global Jewish radio stations), and a singing tour that will see him perform at Jewish communities across the globe.
Second-place winner Courtney Simmons of the United States won a cash prize of $4,000. Third-place winner was Russia’s Polina Zizak, who took home $2,000.
The 27-year-old Malach said both before the finals and afterward that the level of talent among the contestants was “exceptional.”
“To give you a sense of how amazing the people in the group are,” he said, “[Simmons] has performed on Broadway and [Zizak] has been accepted to study voice at one of Russia’s premier music conservatories. I am thrilled, to say the least, and so grateful for the opportunity to connect with such wonderful and passionate people.”
The Hallelujah contest brings Jewish singers age 18 to 30 to Israel for a one-month experience that includes music training and learning about Israeli heritage and culture.
The idea for the song contest was conceived by the Meitar Association for Fostering Hebrew Songs among the Jewish People, whose aim is to create a cultural dialogue between Israel and the Diaspora.
Hundreds of people applied to take part in the summer program. Participants had to pass three stages – sending YouTube videos of them singing Hebrew songs – before being selected. Only 30 of the applicants were chosen to come to Israel.
“This is like the Jewish Olympics for singing,” Malach said of the experience. “It’s already given me 30 really close friends from around the world – people from South America, Russia, Uruguay, Australia, Argentina, the U.S. and Canada.”
There was no specific daily schedule for all the contestants. Some days the participants were taken on tours of Israel – Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Dead Sea. Other days, they met with Israeli musicians and producers for Hebrew pronunciation and interpretation of songs, rehearsals and group activities.
“The people here are world class. That’s probably the best thing. Just being able to play music with these Israeli musicians has been a highlight for me,” said Malach, who already has two albums on the market and is planning to record a third with Israeli musicians.
Of the 30 semifinalists, 14 participants were chosen to be in the finals.
Dashefsky sang Arik Einstein’s Oof Gozal in the finals.
“I grew up listening to Israeli music my entire life,” he said, adding that he understands the words and feels “a connection to Israel and Hebrew.”
Malach looked at it somewhat differently. “Music is universal. I feel like beyond the language, you can feel something from a song even if you don’t know what the words mean,” Malach said. “Having said that, I did learn Hebrew throughout my formative years at Leo Baeck [Day School] and CHAT [the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto] in Toronto, so I can tap into the meaning of the song.”
The final contest, which was broadcast live in Israel and streamed online for the global audience, gave the contestants a real audience in front of which to perform.
“Hallelujah is a new calling card. As opposed to being just another Jewish singer, I have ‘Hallelujah winner’ under my belt,” Malach said. “I hope that this development will lead to future opportunities performing in front of Jewish audiences around the world. I also hope that the victory will lead to progress with my [original rock musical sInagogue- The Shul of Rock]. Ideally, it will be easier to open doors to producers and other theatre and entertainment professionals around the world looking to collaborate on exciting and original material.”