Reform Olim Making a Difference
By Laura Ben David
Harvey Brooks, a former congregant of Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, Arizona, is accustomed to large crowds cheering for him, but when he landed in Israel as a new Oleh on a Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah flight in August 2009, the welcoming crowd of singing and flag-waving guests touched him in a more profound way.
The well-known bass guitar player, who has played alongside musical legends like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and B.B. King finally made Aliyah from Tucson, Arizona at the age of 65, together with his wife of 21 years, Bonnie. His Zionism emerged through osmosis from Bonnie, who had been visiting Israel for years on backpacking trips with her daughters, and whose eldest daughter made Aliyah 12 years prior to them. Harvey has grown increasingly attached to the homeland of his people since making the move.
It was a long journey for Brooks. Throughout his earlier years, while playing with the likes of Morrison, Joplin and Hendrix, Brooks had been immersed in the debaucheries of a Rock N’ Roll lifestyle – a lifestyle that would kill all three of the icons mentioned at a very young age. For Harvey, this was the only way of life he knew. While his mother Fay was careful about commemorating the Jewish holidays, and lit candles for Shabbat, young Harvey preferred strumming his guitar to attending synagogue. He began playing at 15, and quickly switched to bass guitar. Al Kooper, a close musical friend introduced him to Dylan. “Dylan’s band had trouble with the bass player and Kooper said to me ‘How about playing with Bob Dylan?’ I didn’t know who he was at the time, but it worked out great,” Brooks recalls.
Although he is not observant, Harvey always felt spiritually connected to Judaism, even during the long years where he felt music was his only religion. This feeling was nurtured by Rabbi Shmuel Cohon at Temple Emanu-El. Harvey and Bonnie recall how Rabbi Cohon, himself an accomplished musician, brought musical accompaniment to all of the services. “As a musician, he would include music and stories in everything he did. His passion encouraged people to go to Israel – to visit and to make Aliyah,” Bonnie explains. “Like we did.”
Brooks has been checking in with the local Israeli music scene, and has already gotten in on the action, meeting musicians, and performing. “Israel is the right place for me to spend my remaining years. It is a wonderful land with so much inspiration, just beginning to develop,” he explains. Brooks has played with Ehud Banai, Danny Sanderson, Yossi Piamenta and Roni Peterson, as well as playing in numerous recording sessions.
Brooks grew up in a home where they sang Yiddish songs, and they knew Shlomo Carlebach and Theodore Bikel. Not long before making Aliyah, Bonnie called Ehud Banai and he invited them to his show in ‘Zappa’ on one of their visits. While they couldn’t understand the language, they really enjoyed the concert and liked Banai. “I told him maybe we will do something together when I make Aliyah. I think he’s a genius, I just hope he has time for me,” Brooks said. “There are some Dylan songs that I would like to do something with, I’ll try to get Ehud to record them. I don’t want to put pressure on him, but it would be a great combination. I spoke to Dylan’s manager about it and he agrees.”
Brooks plans to play, teach, write his memoirs, and promote their record label, 17th Street Records. “I would love to get musicians like Bob Dylan and Donald Fagen to play here. Unlike other people, I can talk to them and their managers. Besides being a musician myself, I feel that it is my mission to bring musicians here. That’s what I’m supposed to do.” Do it, Mr. Brooks.
“Life in Israel for my wife Bonnie and I is amazingly energetic and exciting,” Brooks reports. “There is so much interaction with different cultures, languages and customs so that our vocabulary is constantly expanding. Being able to spend time with our daughter Lori and her family also weighed heavily on our decision to make Aliyah.”
Bonnie, who continues to work in film production and had contemplated Aliyah earlier in life, said they embraced the idea of making such a big change together. “Aliyah is everything I expected and more!” Brooks happily declares. “I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
So now that he made Aliyah, has Harvey left his musical creativity behind? Don’t bet on it. According to his Bonnie, “keep an eye out, the best is yet to come.”
Laura Ben-David made Aliyah with her family in 2002 from Boca Raton, Florida. Inspired by the Aliyah experience, Laura began writing and hasn’t stopped. She is the author of numerous articles and the book, Moving Up: An Aliyah Journal. Laura is also the Social Media Coordinator at Nefesh B’Nefesh.