Where we've been and where we're going.
The Piyut project is centered on the global music of the Jewish people, particularly from Spain, North Africa, Iran, and Iraq. First composed in Israel in the first centuries CE, Piyut (pronounced p’YOOT) is a living tradition that tells the little-known story of how Jewish culture has been open to the world.
In the last decade, Piyut has become a national movement in Israel, with annual music festivals, recordings by Israel’s rock stars, and new crossover music by some of the most sophisticated Israeli jazz musicians in New York and Jerusalem. Crossing all boundaries, the Piyut movement encompasses young and old, religious and secular Israelis. Piyut North America is focused on bringing the richness of the Piyut renaissance from Israel to the US. The first phase of the project culminated in 2010 with a national US retreat that brought together 80 musicians and leaders from Israel and the most innovative North American synagogues and schools.
Following the success of the retreat, Piyut North America embarked on a second phase of the project to expand the influence of Piyut beyond the framework of traditional prayer to embrace people who are constructing their identities in other meaningful ways. During this three-year phase, we developed 10 pilots in New York, Boston, and San Francisco that link the music of Piyut to the contexts where millions of Jews can be found: culture, crossover music and yoga. Examples include: Shira Yoga, a creative practice that integrates movement, chanting and live Piyut music, and Shishi Israeli, a Friday night gathering run by the Israeli American Council with communal singing of Piyut for Israelis living in New York.
Since the launch of the project, we have engaged over 10,000 participants and spurred 40 spin-off programs in our three pilot cities. In an effort to grow the Piyut movement nationally, we have just launched the Piyut North America Network, a creative team of rabbis, musicians, educators and yoga teachers who are steeped in Piyut and available to lead programs or consult organizations that wish to start a Piyut project.
Who we are.
Rabbi Rolando Matalon, Co-Founder and Co-Director.
Born in Buenos Aires Argentina, and educated in Buenos Aires, Montreal, Canada, Jerusalem and New York City, Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon came to B’nai Jeshurun in 1986 to share the pulpit—and vision—of his mentor and friend Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer. They worked together to revitalize the congregation and turn its focus to education, interfaith cooperation, and social justice. After Rabbi Meyer’s death in 1993, Rabbi Matalon became BJ’s spiritual leader. He and Rabbis Bronstein and Sol now lead a vibrant, diverse community of more than 1,800 households. Rabbi Matalon’s involvement in the New York, Jewish, and Israeli communities is broad and deep; he serves on a number of boards, including the Board of American Friends of Parents Circle, the Advisory Board of Beit Tefillah Israeli-Tel Aviv, and the Leadership Council of Habitat for Humanity, to name just a few. He has received awards from the New York Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, and the New Israel Fund. A member of the New York Arabic Orchestra, he plays the ‘ud (Arabic lute). Rabbi Matalon is married and has two daughters.
Yair Harel, Co-Founder and Co-Director. Yair Harel is the Founder and Director of Invitation to Piyut and a leading figure in the piyut revival movement in Israel. Harel has studied under a number of leading paytanim and musicians including Israeli national award winning musicologist Andre Hajdu, Rabbi Meir Attyah, and zarb (Persian drum) masters Roger Yshay and Daghmeshid Chemirani. Yair brings years of artistic creativity and scholarship to his work with Piyut North America. He serves as the Artistic Director of the Jerusalem Piyut Festival and The New Jerusalem Orchestra (2009, with Co-Director Omer Avital) and is a member of the Tefillat Ensemble (2001) and the Oman Chai Ensemble (2003). Also an experienced lecturer, Yair has led workshops and courses in traditional Jewish vocal music, Middle Eastern percussion and improvisation at such institutions as Hebrew University, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and The Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance, among others.
Eva Heinstein, Co-Director. Eva Heinstein is an American Israeli ethnomusicologist and arts professional based in Boston, MA. In addition to her work with Piyut North America, Eva serves as Assistant Director of the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at the New England Conservatory. Prior to joining the NEC staff, Eva curated and produced public programs for the New Center for Arts and Culture, a Jewish presenter and cultural network in Boston. She holds an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a B.A. from New York University in Musicology and Hebrew Literature. At Hebrew University, Eva was part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the Jewish Music Research Centre that developed the Thesaurus of Jewish Music, an e-resource for students, researchers and performers in the field of Jewish music. Eva has also served as co-chair of the CJP/PresenTense Social Entrepreneur Fellowship, which provides tools and connections to young innovators working to transform the Jewish community in Greater Boston. Contact.
"The Power of Piyyut: An Interview with Yair Harel", Sephardi Ideas Monthly, December 2015
“The New Rhythm Of Israel-Diaspora Relations,” The Jewish Week, May 2015
“Musical Poems from Old World bring Meaning to New,” Jewish Weekly, November 2014
“Finding Your Flow in Hebrew,” Spirituality and Health Magazine, Spring 2014
“Sephardic and Egalitarian,” The Jewish Week, June 2014
“Four Questions with Eva Heinstein, Who Brings Yoga and Judaism Together,” Jewishboston.com, October 2013