Original Concert at The Bram Center: "Wake Up, My Beloved"

Original Concert at The Bram Center: “Wake Up, My Beloved”

I had heard Yaron Cherniak play as part of MIQEDEM, but I didn’t get to talk with him until we were hiking with some mutual friends in northern Israel.

I told him I was enthralled by the unique sound of the diverse selection of Middle Eastern instruments he has mastered. He shared with me about his family and his passion for music. And for the time being, that was that.

I met Leat Sabbah at a Lunch and Learn event at the Bram Center for Messianic Jewish Learning in Jerusalem. She had brought her cello, which she happily took out of its case and began to play. We knew I had to get her to perform at the Bram Center. She responded that she’d like to collaborate, and the seed was planted—and out sprung a dual concert with Yaron Cherniak, full of original compositions, called “Wake Up, My Beloved.”

In anticipation of this concert, I sat down with Yaron and Leat over Zoom to ask them about their musical roots, journeys to faith, and themes they’re exploring in this collaborative work.

Musical Journeys

Yaron began picking up instruments as a teenager: “I started as a drummer, and I played the guitar when I was like, fourteen… and very quickly found myself writing songs and poetry.” He found early inspiration in Cuban and Arabic music and became especially fond of “Bustan Abraham… a collaboration of Palestinians and Jewish songwriters.”

Leat chimed in: “One of the first people that I met as a professional musician in NY was the bassist of Bustan Abraham.”

“No way,” said Yaron.

Leat’s musical career began with a one-eighth-size cello at the age of five. “It was really, really cute. And at the age of seven, I added on the piano, but the cello was always the main, serious classical instrument that I would have to practice and play in orchestra and lessons.”

After years of classical training, Leat’s father introduced her to Middle Eastern music: “When I was a teenager, my dad put on a record of Inta Omri for the first time. And that record of Inta Omri changed my life. I never looked back. Then, subsequently, all my friends in high school would just listen to Arabic music all the time and trade cassette tapes. I think I realized that was really the music of my soul.”

Yaron’s love of Middle Eastern music inspired him to pick up a wide variety of instruments. “After drums and guitar, I started playing the Persian tar. I prayed a lot for God’s guidance to see what I should do as a musician … and he actually guided me to explore the Persian music. I found this random guy on the streets, walking to the bus station in Jerusalem, with a strange case that I had never seen before. I approached him and asked him, ‘What do you have there in the case?’ And he said, ‘The Persian tar,’ and then I said, ‘Can I hear a couple of notes from that?’ And then he said, ‘Sure.’ He played a couple of notes, and I totally fell in love with the sound of the Persian tar.

“I moved to Spain, and I studied there from a Persian instrumentalist and composer, really crazy one, a virtuoso, who moved in 2009 during the protests in Iran. He was a very, very good teacher. Then I came back to Israel and started my bachelor’s degree at the music academy. And during the summers, I used to go to different places just to study from other masters. I also went to [Crete] to study the lyra, the Cretan lyra.”

In subsequent years, Yaron would also pick up the Turkish saz and the Kurdish tanbur, rounding out an increasingly impressive selection of Middle Eastern instruments.

Meanwhile, Leat’s mastery of the cello slowly grew. “The cello was a very long journey of study. There’s something about the instrument that’s actually quite difficult. I think that it was only in my high school years that I started to play decently, and then I would say, in my college years, where I started to play on a professional level. So we are talking about, like, a journey of fifteen years of study. Classical music requires you to master the style and repertoire of so many different eras, you know, the baroque classical, romantic, and contemporary, which has so many different subcategories within it. It took quite a lot of effort, a lot of studies, a lot of time to say to the cello. ‘I know how to play you. I think now I can move on to another instrument.’”

That next instrument turned out to be the harp. “As I came to faith, there was a desire to play something new. I was brought to a harp teaching on the Mount of Olives at the house of prayer of Kate and Tom Hess. I had no idea what I was coming to. I worked with a girlfriend who was a piano teacher. She was a believer as well, and she was like, ‘I teach this harp class on the Mount of Olives. Do you want to come?’ And I was like, ‘No, I do not want to go to the Mount of Olives.’”

Yet when she arrived, she was struck by the atmosphere there. “Once I got there, and I saw this upper room that they have with all these harpists sitting around in a circle and worshiping God, without any congregation, without any audience or anything, it was just, for me, after being on stage, the purest way to play music and to appreciate God. And so, I kind of got hooked.”

Faith Journeys

Yaron came to faith at the age of seventeen. He went to a music festival called Bereshit—“Genesis”—at the Sea of Galilee with some hippie friends. They pitched their tents next to a big Messianic tent: “All these different leaders and all these different believers from congregations in the land [came] together to share the gospel at the music festival. It was the first time, for me, seeing something like that. Like, prayer, spontaneous prayer, reading straight from the Bible, learning from the Bible, and seeing all these nationalities together, I was just amazed, and I felt the presence of God. At the end of the festival, I asked them how I could be part of whatever I was seeing here. And they were shocked. You know, normally, they don’t have anyone turning to them and asking things like that. But they prayed for me that I’d stop living a secular life, doing vain things, and basically come back to God.

“It was only a year later that I went to the same festival, and I was looking to meet more believers, and it was Sid Roth sharing his testimony in some random music festival at the Sea of Galilee, speaking in English, and he’s with a suit, with all his camera crew, like—what’s going on here? It’s a festival, and you have Sid Roth talking about the supernatural and all of that. Anyway, that’s where I actually opened my heart to God, and I repented for my ways and started my relationship with God, which was an amazing start. Very deep, very beautiful. It was during Sukkot, and I will never forget that just after I received Yeshua to my heart, and I accepted him as Messiah and as my savior, it started to rain. Like poured, super crazy rain.”

Leat’s initial spiritual awakening came in the middle of a musical performance. She had believed in God as a child but wasn’t particularly religious. “When I was about sixteen, I had a performance with an orchestra. I was playing the Saint-Saëns concerto. We got to this place in the middle of the piece, [and] something happened that I don’t really quite understand. But I was playing, and then I left my body. I was outside.

“I was so moved. And I think I know why this happened because right before the concert started, I prayed to God. I said, ‘God, please use me.’ And this was in a sort of innocent way, you know, not reading the Bible, I was just like, ‘Please use me as your tool to touch people, to truly move them, to truly do something within their hearts.’ And so, for like a minute, I wasn’t there; I was listening to the music, and my fingers were still moving, but it was like I was in a different realm. And when I came back, I was crying on stage. I don’t think anyone saw it, but for me, it was the testimony that we’re talking about a very incredible God. A very supernatural God.”

Leat came to faith in Yeshua after she made aliyah. A friend of hers, a believer, told her, “We’re at the end, and you better get yourself straight with God because otherwise, you’re going to hell.” Leat reminisces: “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I totally believe that!’”

Leat’s awareness of God’s coming judgment began even earlier. “I really loved New York, and I think that after God told me, ‘Go to Israel,’ it was a like a veil was lifted from all the darkness of New York, and I started to see the deep, deep corruption of humanity there. And it really pained me. It really pained me because I knew that God is a God of righteousness and justice. And when that message of the end came, you know, the book of Revelation, what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen, and the justice that will be taken over sin, over the horror of Babylon, and I was like, ‘That’s for sure in New York,’ you know, I accepted, I understood that the only, only, only thing that could save us was the Messiah.”

The Composition

This awareness fueled the writing process of “Wake Up, My Beloved.” Leat explained: “In the fall of 2022, I premiered a new piece that I wrote called the Hebrew Symphony. And the Hebrew Symphony is like a long saga piece, a vocal work. The lyrics of the chorus are ‘Wake up, my beloved; look at the times; look at the signs; you slept so long.’ And, like I said, from the very beginning of coming to faith and the whole journey that’s happened since, it’s interesting how the subconscious has brought me back to the same place as the beginning, which has always been about being aware of God and being aware of what is going on now. And how do we take that information and do something with it? What do we do? And I think it’s like, as musicians, we are the front lines of the war. We are the generals. We are going before our people to warn them, to alert them, to protect them, to cover them, to fight for them.”

Yaron adds: “I think in the Jewish realm, in the Jewish culture, we have a lot of emphasis on this waiting, waiting for the Messiah, or wishing for breakthrough, or hoping for salvation. You have the traditional songs of supplication, bakashot, or the liturgical songs we see before Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. It’s a month of singing these songs, leading to the high holidays. Preparing our hearts. You know, traditionally, we see this season of Elul as a time when the King is nearby. The King is in the field, so it’s a time, in Judaism, we see the King near us. Nature, the weather is changing. It’s going from the summer to the fall, slowly, gradually, so things are shifting as we get closer to the high holidays… Our hearts are in preparation for that. And also, melodically, it’s been expressed in so many Jewish cultures around the world through singing the songs of supplications, bakashot, and selichot that we sing in the wintertime. So this, this feeling, this feeling of…”

Leat found the word. “Longing!”

Yaron continued: “Longing, yes, wanting to come close to the King, the redeemer, I think it’s something we all grow up in and with as Jews. And as believers, we continue to express that because we are still longing and wanting to have more. We want to stir it in other people’s heart[s] as well. And in ours, too. And through music, to help others to, you know, to hear the wake-up call.”

The concert “Wake Up, My Beloved” will be hosted at The Bram Center this Sunday, July 2, 2023. For those of you who will be joining us, we look forward to seeing you there!

First Fruits of Zion