Ethiopian Israeli Idol winner Hagit Yaso comes to Maryland

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By Clarice Silber

Hagit Yaso, the 24 year-old Ethiopian Israeli Kochav Nolad winner, came to perform at the Samuel Riggs Alumni Center on Monday.

The event, which was co-sponsored by Maryland Hillel, the Jewish National Fund, TerpPAC, and Shalom Zionists at Maryland, brought students together for a free concert and an opportunity to experience some Israeli culture.

Photo courtesy of Leo Traub

Photo courtesy of Leo Traub

Yael Gertel, the Israel Fellow and overseer of Israel programs at Maryland Hillel, felt the event would bring something unique to campus. “The JNF contacted Maryland Hillel and offered to bring Hagit to campus as part of her tour. We thought that it would be a great opportunity to bring both an artist and an Israeli who can share her story that usually isn’t shared over seas,” Gertel said.

The event began with a preview of clips of Yaso in the documentary called Sderot: Rock in the Red Zone, which talks about the many artists that have emerged from the town of Sderot in southern Israel. The clips showed many of her performances, interactions between her and her family, her meeting with the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, and her iconic win on Kochav Nolad in 2011.

Yaso was unsure of reasoning behind the connection between the many artists who come from Sderot. “People always ask me this, and I don’t really have an answer. Sderot is a small area and music plays a big part there,” Yaso said.

Yaso was born and raised in Sderot after her family immigrated to Israel from the Tigray Region in Ethiopia. “It’s not easy growing up in Sderot. We often had to take cover because of the rockets being fired. It’s a hard life living there,” Yaso commented in an interview after her performance.

She has since visited the Jewish National Fund’s Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, which allows children in Sderot to play in a safe environment and provides a community center for Sderot residents.  Yaso has also performed many benefit fundraising concerts for the center.

Yaso performed a collection of songs ranging in Hebrew, English and the Ethiopian language of Amharic. She also gave an introduction before the songs she performed and explained the meaning and story behind each one. Her performance included renditions of Killing Me Softly, Adon Olam, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, as well as many originals.

Students who attended the event spoke very positively of Yaso’s performance. “I thought it was a very good event and I found her music to be very moving. I really enjoyed listening to her,” said Tamara Berman, a freshman civil engineering major.

Anne Greenspoon, a representative from the education department at JNF, explained that the event was a chance to promote a campaign at JNF called Positively Israel, which brings positive aspects of Israel to college campuses.

“This year we wanted to bring her back to entertain at the international conference gala which was in Denver, so we decided to go ahead and as long as she was here, have her tour and go to college campuses,” Greenspoon said.

Yaso will continue her month tour by performing at Towson University cohosted by Goucher College, Carnegie Mellon University, as well as in other locations in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

“We thought, here’s this young, beautiful, Ethiopian Israeli woman who grew up in Sderot and made it big, what more positive thing can we do?” Greenspoon said.

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