JERUSALEM – Laurent Lévy believes that to understand Jerusalem is to understand the whole world. But it’s not an easy task.
“For many people, it is hard to enter into this world, to understand the history. Haredim, religious Zionists, Muslims, Christians, rich, poor, Ashkenazim, Sephardim …” said the entrepreneur and philanthropist.
“How can you do something to bring the people together? It’s the same God for everyone.”
The 50ish Lévy, who made his fortune at a young age with a chain of optical stores that will number 700 by 2020, became religiously observant in his 20s and made aliyah from Paris with his family in 2005.
He opened his first Israeli optical and hearing aid store in Jerusalem’s Zion Square in 2015, and immediately donated 20,000 pairs of glasses to the needy.
Lévy started thinking about ways to enter the human soul and celebrate his beloved Jerusalem that were not restricted by nationality, religion, income or language. The answer for him was music.
“Music connects you to the soul,” he said. “You listen to music and, suddenly, you’re in another world. And you never meet someone who doesn’t like music.”
In 2012, Lévy decided to create a place where people from all backgrounds could listen to music, learn about the history of music – especially Jewish music – enjoy good food and drink and find a connection with others.
The following year, he started building Kikar HaMusica (Music Square), a complex in the Nachalat Shiv’a neighborhood of Jerusalem that includes bars and restaurants surrounding an outdoor stage and performance area. It opened a year ago.
At its heart is the Hebrew Music Museum, a fascinating, interactive and technically dazzling collection of 260 musical instruments from seven lands where Jews have lived in the Diaspora.
Musician and composer Eldad Levy (no relation) spent years looking around the world for the instruments, which include originals and reproductions.
Each room is decorated in the mode of the country it represents – Yemen, Morocco, Central Asia, etc. – and shows how Jews have adopted and adapted the local instruments and music of each region to create a distinct Jewish style.
Upon entering, each visitor receives headphones and a tablet with a camera that accesses oral or written descriptions – in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish or Russian – of a particular period of musical history or a particular type of instrument.
Based on the English and French versions I sampled, the translations are excellent, unlike those in many Israeli museums.
But that’s just the beginning. By clicking on images of the musical instruments, you can hear a high-quality recording of each instrument being played. And two areas are literally “hands on,” where you can put on a different set of headphones and drum along with a soundtrack.
The visit ends with a breathtaking virtual reality tour of the Second Temple, which stood for 420 years before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Without moving from your seat, you climb the stairs, enter the temple and feel as if you are part of the world of the priests, their rituals and their sacrifices.
The animation and graphics are so vivid that you could swear you were actually moving up and down – which means it’s definitely not for those with motion sickness.
The multimillion dollar project will eventually include an auditorium, a music-themed hotel and an academy of dance, music and theatre.
“My dream is for people to see the real Jerusalem – not what they see on TV – a place that is open to everyone, where there are things you don’t have to pay for,” said Lévy, who credits his business success to his religious faith and the support of his wife, Rachel.
“People come here at the end of the day. They don’t know each other, but they connect through the music.”
“There is no better way to connect people than through music.”