(JTA) — The Orthodox singer Ishay Ribo, whose music has attracted a diverse audience of religious and secular Israeli fans, will be the first Israeli artist to headline a concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
“I’ve been keeping this inside for a long time and more than once I pinched myself to check if I was dreaming or if this is real,” Ribo wrote on his Facebook page on Monday. “It seems that both answers are correct, thank God.”
At a time when Israeli society is deeply divided by political and religious fault lines, Ribo, 34, has achieved crossover appeal by blending religiously themed lyrics with pop melodies and is a leading voice in Israel’s “faithful pop” genre. One of his songs, “Sibat Hasibot,” was the most-played song on the country’s radio stations in 2021, according to a recent New York Times profile.
Born in Marseille, France, to parents from Algeria and Morocco, Ribo’s family moved to the Israeli West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim when he was 8. He grew up in a haredi Orthodox family and was first exposed to secular music when it played over the speakers during bus rides to school.
Ribo self-released his first album in 2014, and four of his five albums have reached gold certification, each selling more than 15,000 copies in the Israeli music market. He has performed alongside popular Israeli musicians such as Shlomo Artzi and Idan Raichel, and has drawn some backlash from Orthodox Israelis.
The poster for Ribo’s show at the iconic 20,000-seat New York City venue, which is scheduled for Sept. 3, highlights his religious identity. The concert is advertised with a photo of Ribo in silhouette, performing in front of a crowd full of flashing phone cameras. Block letters spell out his name in gold, above Hebrew text reading “Elul 5783,” — the month and year of the show on the Jewish calendar. One of the partners in the show’s production is Bnei Akiva, the religious Zionist youth group.
Ribo is not the first Orthodox Jewish musician to have captured the attention of secular listeners. Other such performers include Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach — who blended liturgical lyrics with the sensibilities of the Greenwich Village folk scene and, later, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood — and the Miami Boys Choir, an American musical group founded in the 1970s that recently had a song go viral on TikTok.
Nor is Ribo the first Orthodox singer to plan a concert at Madison Square Garden. In 2008, a Hasidic charity concert was planned for the stadium, to be headlined by singer Lipa Schmeltzer, but Schmeltzer ultimately dropped out of the event after a group of 33 rabbis signed a decree saying the concert would cause “ribaldry and lightheadedness” and “strip the youth of every shred of fear of heaven and [lower] them into a pit of destruction.”