Lea Avraham’s journey from southern Yemen to central Israel was wrought with difficulty, tension and discomfort. It included arduous travel on foot, years in a dangerous new city, on the way to the boat that would sail Avraham and her parents to a brighter future, months in a tent city in the middle of the desert and weeks of waiting for coveted seats on the plane that would eventually touch down in Lod.
While many would look back and focus on the trauma of such a period and the shock of arriving in a new country, Avraham remembers it as sweet and full of wonder. “I was six when we landed in Israel,” she said over the phone. Avraham, 74, speaks from her home in Kadima. Her voice is warm and melodic. “It was 1949. They welcomed us with hot chocolate and cookies. It was amazing. It was this sense of arriving to a place of civilization. We were bused to Atlit, where there was a camp for immigrants. I remember that drive; the smell of the blooming of plants. We were there for a year, and then we moved to Kadima. The conditions were difficult, but the whole country was experiencing tough times. It was an amazing time for us.”
Avraham went on to become a seminal part of the Israeli dance community, bringing the sounds and movements of her home country to the developing aesthetics of an unfolding nation.
As a member of Batsheva Dance Company and Inbal Dance Theater, Avraham established herself as a dancer, choreographer, drummer and a vocal artist. In 1985, she founded the first high school dance department in Israel at Alon High School in Ramat Hasharon, which she continued to direct until her retirement in 2012.
Alongside her career as an educator, Avraham pursued a musical career, releasing her first album of songs in 1995.
This week, Avraham will present a new evening of music and collaboration at the Confederation House: The Center for Ethnic Music and Poetry in Jerusalem. Titled “WaTuyur/The Birds,” the performance will feature songs from southern Yemen.
“Effie Benaya was putting together a program of women creators, and he invited me to participate,” Avraham said. “Ofer Kalaf reached out to me. I was born in southern Yemen, and Ofer was born here. We decided to do a show that would be special, where we would bring all of the materials we have from our area of Yemen. Most of the information on Yemen and materials are from the center. Our area is unknown in Israel musically. The music of the women and their dance is very unknown in Israel. We wanted to go from our roots.
“The performance includes Ofer Kalaf, Tom Fogel – who is half Yemenite, also from the South. We are joined by Yarden Erez, who is an incredible musician, plays many instruments, and David Digmi on percussion.”
Exposing the music of her roots to audiences that are unfamiliar is a major part of Avraham’s artistic mission. She has presented her work around the world, notably in New York City.
“I was performing in Central Park and I sang in Yemenite. The audience was made up of all kinds of people, including some real Americans. They approached me afterward and told me that they didn’t understand a single word, but they were moved. What I brought through music reached them. That’s what art does. It connects between people,” she said.
With “WaTuyur,” Avraham hopes to forge a bridge that goes back farther and wider in time and space, back to her first years on the planet.
Leah Avraham will present “WaTuyur/The Birds” on January 31 at the Confederation House. www.confederationhouse.org
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