Ultra-Orthodox singers defy stereotypes in Israel
In this photo taken Oct. 22, 2013, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish singers Arie Gat, right, and his brother Gil, perform as they participate in an Israeli tv show in Neve Ilan, Jerusalem. For most Israelis, the common perception of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority is that of an insulated, segregated society devoted to studying ancient biblical texts and rejecting the ills of secular life. But the pair of devout, soft-spoken brothers in skullcaps and sidecurls are now breaking down some stereotypes by emerging as the most unlikely of media darlings _ reality rock stars. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
JERUSALEM (AP) — For most Israelis, the common perception of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority is that of an insulated, segregated society devoted to studying ancient biblical texts and rejecting the ills of secular life.
But a pair of devout, soft-spoken brothers in skullcaps and sidecurls are now breaking down some stereotypes by emerging as the most unlikely of media darlings — reality rock stars.
Arie and Gil Gat are Israel's latest national sweethearts after dominating the audition stage of Israel's top-rated reality talent show, "Rising Star," drawing tens of thousands of votes and rave reviews from secular fans.
By day, the duo pray only with men in their synagogues. By night, women give them standing ovations for harmonic renditions of classic hits by The Eagles and Simon and Garfunkel.
"The power of music is above everything," said Arie Gat, 48, who lives in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem. "I'm not a man of lights, flashes and sparkles. I am ready to stand — I say that in the spiritual sense — with what I have, without external outfits. There is no need for that. And I believe that if it's good it will sell and if not then not."
So far, they've been a hit. Appearing in traditional ultra-Orthodox garb, including long beards and long black overcoats, with a guitar hanging gently across their chests, they've swept the votes of the show's four judges while raking in more than 80 percent of the interactive fan votes for performing "Hotel California" and "The Sound of Silence."
"Think about how many people in the world of entrainment, started with a weird look and became the biggest stars," said Tzvika Hadar, one of the show's judges. "These are not people with agents, and a story, and someone who pushed them, and photographed them for a photo-book, and you know what, even caused some provocation. You are taking people from the periphery, from their lives, their surroundings, their beliefs and they come and sing."
"Rising Star" claims to be the first program to feature real-time voting by viewers through a mobile app that is integrated into the show — familiar to anyone who has strummed away on video games like "Guitar Hero." The format, which is being adopted worldwide, has performers on a stage behind a screen that's lifted if 70 percent of viewers running the app vote for them. The studio audience of about 1,000 people wildly cheered as the screen rose during Tuesday night's performance.
Success on the show indicates wide support from an audience that includes few ultra-Orthodox Jews, who typically shun television. Neither brother owns a TV.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 10 percent of Israel's population of 8 million, have at times become aggressive in their efforts to impose their norms in public spaces. Most reject modern media and technology, and they are largely absent from the melting pots of the military and the secular workplace. Instead, they tend to stay in their cloistered communities and maintain a simple, pious way of life that has been adhered to over centuries.