Kurdish-Israeli Singer: ‘I Feel Responsible for Protecting Kurdish Culture’

RUDAW – 22.7.2013 –  Kurdish-Israeli singer Hadassa Yeshurun does not speak Kurdish, but likes to sing in the language of her ancestors for the joy it gives her fans, and because she wants to keep the language and culture alive in Israel. 

Whenever she picks out a song, Yeshurun says she first tries to understand the words and “connect” with the lyrics. She adds that it is her “dream” to visit and perform in the Kurdistan Region, but that she is waiting for an invitation. Here is her interview with Rudaw:

Rudaw: It is said that you are going to visit the Kurdistan Region after the Eid holidays?

Hadassa Yeshurun: I would be very glad to visit the Kurdistan Region. Many people asked me to come to Kurdistan and hold a concert there. In order for me to be able to come, there has to be some kind of official invitation from the government or an organization. So my visit to the region depends on those who are willing to host me. It is my dream to visit the Kurdistan Region.

I visited several countries like Austria, Germany and Turkey for concerts. Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to visit Kurdistan. As a strong follower of Judaism, I once refused to participate in a concert in Germany because it happened to be on Saturday.

Rudaw: Are the Kurdish Israelis connected with the Kurds in the other parts of the Middle East?

Hadassa Yeshurun: The Kurds who live in Israel have relations with the Kurds throughout the world, especially the Kurds in Iraq and Europe.

Rudaw: How do you feel when you sing in Kurdish?

Hadassa Yeshurun: Songs and poems are the most important part of every culture. I am very fond of Kurdish and Aramaic cultures, so when I sing I focus on these two cultures. I also sing in Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and Hebrew. I feel it is my responsibility to protect Kurdish culture from extinction through my songs. It makes me happy when I sing in Kurdish or Aramaic, because it makes my Kurdish fans happy. When I sing in Kurdish I notice tears in their eyes and I realize after many years of hardship something finally makes them happy.

Rudaw: Can you speak Kurdish?

Hadassa Yeshurun: No.

Rudaw: Then how can you sing in Kurdish? Do you understand the words of the songs you sing in Kurdish?

Hadassa Yeshurun: In order for me to connect with the song I have to understand the words. When I pick a song I first study to learn the meaning of the words.

Rudaw: What do you know about Kurdistan?

Hadassa Yeshurun: I know the Kurds are the largest nation without their own country. I also know that the Kurds have been repressed throughout history, especially under the rule of the ousted regime Saddam Hussein.

Rudaw: Are you in touch with any Kurdish singers?

Hadassa Yeshurun: I am not, but I still listen to their songs. There are many talented Kurdish singers. If I decide to sing one of their songs I contact them for help with the words. I am currently working on memorizing the songs of Hassan Zirak, Tahir Tofiq and Zakaria Abdulla. I love to listen to Choppi Ftatah. I follow her style when I sing in Kurdish.

Rudaw: Are there similarities between Jewish and Kurdish cultures? If so, how would these similarities encourage a Jewish singer to sing in Kurdish?

Hadassa Yeshurun: Kurdistan and Israel have many things in common. There are many Kurds currently living in Israel, and there were many Jewish who once lived in Kurdistan. My parents were in Kurdistan. For me, singing in Kurdish is the way to protect the language and culture in Israel. Even though I don’t have a tutor to teach me Kurdish I still try to sing in Kurdish.

Rudaw: What is the Kurdish population in Israel and how are their living conditions?

Hadassa Yeshurun: There are currently over 100,000 Kurds living in Israel. We celebrate Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, together and we go out for picnics. We have Kurdish dance classes. We celebrate the holidays together. We make Kurdish food. We still very much protect and use the Kurdish traditional instruments like flutes and drums. Unfortunately, not all of them speak Kurdish, especially the new generation. We speak Hebrew instead.