JERUSALEM — Hundreds of people pass them on the streets every day and occasionally throw a buck in their open cases.
They don’t get much attention, but the street musicians of Jerusalem bring magic to the streets of the city, even in the middle of January. The 40-degree weather may be cold according to Israeli standards, but Jerusalem’s streets still have music as a few brave souls play their tunes on the corners.
Senior Lillian Quinones, who attended a Pssages-sponsored trip to the Holy Land over break, got to hear one of many street musicians as she was out one night.
“We stopped to hear the musician play, and he was awesome,” Quinones said.
While many other people unthinkingly pass by, these musicians are doing what they love.
For Shy Ashkenazi and Tamar and Netanel Amar, busking in the streets has given them exceptional experiences and opportunities to play their favorite tunes.
Shy Ashkenazi’s day job is coordinating the summer Shlichim program of the Jewish agency for Israel sending Israeli emissaries to be counselors at summer camps. But by moonlight, Ashkenazi busks around the streets of Jerusalem. With his guitar, Ashkenazi sings originals and folk music all over Jerusalem and has even taken his tunes to New York City and Maryland.
“One day I just started playing out on Ben-Yehuda for fun, to bring magic to the street, and loved it,” he said.
Ashkenazi enjoys the atmosphere and music of the popular street, Ben-Yehuda in Jerusalem and that’s where he spends most of his time when he plays on the streets.
Ashkenazi said he began busking for fun and didn’t expect money when he started playing.
“People asked me where they should put the money, but I was only playing to bring music to the street, so they had to grab my hand and put money in it,” he said. “After that, I started opening the guitar case for money.”
Around Jerusalem, Ashkenazi plays in Zion Square and Mamilla and also performs in different clubs and venues. But he said he thinks playing on the streets is the most fun.
“It’s a great stage to practice new songs, it’s the best stage to perform in general — no one expects anything from you, you’re not committed to anyone, and no one is committed to you, and every loving reaction means so much,” Ashekenazi said.
Through playing around Jerusalem, Ashkenazi met Tamar and Netanel Amar, a married duo that plays some of the American classics like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, and John Denver in the same popular squares and streets of the city.
While still working a day job, Netanel became interested in getting into Jerusalem’s music scene with his guitar and singing. Knowing his love for music, Netanel’s friend invited to him to hear a girl who played violin, guitar, and sang at his coffee and tea shop. That was where Netanel met Tamar.
“I really liked what she did,” he said.
In 2013, after getting to know each other and sharing music, Tamar and Netanel started playing around the streets of Jerusalem as a duo. From the streets of Jerusalem, all the way to performances in Boston and New York, Tamar and Netanel have dedicated themselves to their music.
“We wanted to fill our lives with shows like every day,” Netanel said.
Playing on the streets gave the duo a lot of good experiences, and they met some fascinating people.
But their music also brought a different magic to Tamar and Netanel’s life. They began dating about the same time they began playing together. Over time they fell in love. Now, Tamar and Netanel are married and enjoying life with their 2‑month-old baby. They recently finished recording an album and plan to release singles in the coming months.
Anyone busking around Jerusalem does it because they love spreading their music.
“Usually you don’t make tons of money,” Ashkenazi said.
From open mic night and a coffee and tea shop, to the city streets, and even to making an album, Ashkenazi, Tamar, and Netanel have used their talents to spread their love of music all over the holy city.