The Leeds Jewish community’s new Shaliach, Amir Ben Hur, arrives in the city fresh from IDF service and with a passion for music he’d love to share. JLife finds out more…
Hi Amir! Welcome to Leeds! How are you finding it so far?
I like the community and the people are very welcoming. I feel like this is properly British, before I’d only been to London and Scotland a few times and Yorkshire is quite different, but in a good way! The Leeds Jewish community is a warm, unique one. So far everything’s going really great!
You’ve lived in many places around the world, tell us how this came about?
I grew up abroad in different countries because my dad was a diplomat and he was sent on different missions and delegations so we all moved with him. I attended American international schools and that’s how I grew up.
I was born in Tel Aviv and my parents wanted me to be born in Israel because when I was a month old we moved to Latvia as my dad was the ambassador to the three Baltic states, and I was there until I was three, so the first language I spoke was actually Latvian and a bit of Russian! But then I forgot it once I came to Israel. When I was about six or seven we moved to Italy and I lived in Rome for four years when my dad was the ambassador to the Vatican. Just to grow up exposed to amazing Italian culture through interfaith experiences and the international school was amazing. From the age of 11 until the age of 22 I lived in Israel…and then I moved here two months ago!
We hear you have a passion for music, especially singing?
I just joined the local school choir and I fell in love with it and it hasn’t left me since. I would sing Italian, Jewish and Christmas songs and Israeli songs from all over the world in different languages. When I came to Israel I joined a local school ensemble and performed in local talent shows and concerts. At high school I majored in music and was part of HaZamir, the international Jewish teen choir for four years and for two years I led the choir. The chapters around the world all studied the same repertoire of Jewish and Israeli folk songs and then at get the end of the year we all gathered in New York for a big concert to celebrate together. I got to perform at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center which was incredible.
How did leading the choir influence you?
I was part of it for such a long time and I am a proud alumnus. It really shaped me musically and I think it was something that really connected me to my Jewish roots. I don’t come from a religious background so singing songs from the Torah, really connected me to my Judaism.
I’ve just finished my military service and I still went down the same musical path. I was a singer in the Israeli Air Force military band and that was the best as I got to do something I loved every day for three years. A performance could be on the smallest stage on deserted bases in South Israel or in front of parliament and in concerts for delegates and presidents.
Will you be an all-singing Shaliach for Leeds then?
This is the first experience I had that has not occurred through music. I love music, but I am really interested in science and foreign affairs and diplomacy so I still feel I have time to experience other things that really interest me. This experience will enrich me and I’ll go back a different person. I do hope I can bring some of my music with me to Leeds though, maybe through setting up a youth choir or performing at events coming up soon. I performed the anthem at the UJIA dinner not too long ago. Me and my Shlichim friends around the world are asked to bring part of ourselves and our own experiences to the role.
What do you have lined up so far?
I run the UJIA Jewish Assemblies at Allerton High School and the Grammar School at Leeds. I plan these around interesting topics that connect the children to their Judaism and Israel. I also lead the UJIA Ethiopian Bar and Bat Mitzvah programme for girls and boys in year 7 and I look forward to our sessions over the next 8 months.
I would also like to set up some social youth gatherings for different age groups, including a Countdown to Israel Tour club for students in year 11 who are due to go on tour in the summer. This will be held at The Zone and all students in year 11 are welcome. The sessions will be based on Israeli food, history and culture to get them really prepared and excited for their trip.
In addition, I work with the wider community as well. An example of this work involves Christian Zionists, whom I meet with regularly and maintain good professional and social relations. Together, we work on projects that involve social gatherings, Israeli film screenings, debates and discussions.
I am also working closely with Raina at The Zone and we’re hoping to establish a youth council and for the next few months we have lots planned for Chanukah, including the Maccabi GB torch relay and the newly established IsraFest which will be a monthly event with stalls and games and activities. It is great for UJIA to be able to collaborate with The Zone and have more of an opportunity to engage with our youth and Israel.
To get in touch with Amir with ideas for events or musical projects, email Shaliach.firstname.lastname@example.org.