The Night a STAV Festival War-Cancelled Event Became a Kumbaya Gathering

by Kaju Roberto

YONI VENDRIGER, Founder of the Israeli Artists Project and STAV Festival at the 14th Street Y. Photo by Kaju Roberto.

Insanely volatile and tragically unstable events throughout the world have sadly led to abrupt and unexpected changes throughout the musical theater and entertainment community in NYC.

On October 12, due to the unspeakable terrorist acts and atrocities of war that have taken place in Israel along the Gaza Strip, musical solo performances by Gal Abballi and Tali Golergant were canceled on short notice at the 14th Street Y in the East Village.

While making my recent trip to the 14th Street Y, intending to cover this joyous dual concert event that was part of this year’s annual STAV Festival by the Israeli Artists Project, I was suddenly confronted with unexpected cancellations. However, such unexpected cancellations were not without their own silver linings.

Upon entering the 14th Street Y, I was greeted by a very friendly staff member and told that all performances were cancelled due to the war. However, when I friendly-inquired further showing them a photo of the artist I was covering in the Village View, they gave me a proverbial “wink” and told me the main theatrical performers and “a few folk singers” had convened in the main theater hall and could be heard playing songs to comfort themselves from the dire situation.

“Take the first right down the hall, and walk up one flight of steps, or take the elevator and make two lefts,” the staff person kindly advised.

Meeting the Founder of the Israeli Artists Project (IAP)

Yoni Vendriger is the Founder, Producing Artistic Director, and Chief Organizer of the Israeli Artists Project and STAV Festival.

On their website, IAP describes itself as “Israeli Artists Project promotes and presents Israeli music, theater and art. IAP (pronounced “yap”) is a community-oriented non-profit organization that provides a stage for local Israeli artists as well as opportunities for Americans and Israelis to experience Israeli culture together beyond the lenses of politics and religion.”

The performances for this year’s annual STAV Festival were scheduled to run from September 28-October 29. Now with this tragic war growing between Hamas and Israel, all bets were off.

Unceremoniously and without expectation, as I reached the 2nd floor and turned into the main theater hall, I could immediately see about a dozen loosely scattered theatrical performers, both men and women near the stage, who were being accompanied by a man playing an electronic piano.

Together, they were all having a much needed kumbaya moment, singing Hey Jude.

Some of the performers were looking at me, a few smiling, while a few more were glancing indifferently. What I noticed most was a young brown-haired woman with an Israeli accent holding a sweet Black Labrador “Service Dog” on a leash. This dog walked over to me to quickly enjoy a gentle pet on the head.

Shortly thereafter, I had the serendipitous pleasure to meet Yoni. He was dressed casually and seated near the back row of the audience. I introduced myself and showed him a copy of the Village View. When I asked if he had seen the key musical performers Gal and Tali that night, he shook his head. He told me they weren’t coming. That’s when we began to chat further.

Tragic facts. As it turned out, Yoni would tell me that several of the performers had loved ones who were being called on duty to serve in the war. Instantly when I heard this, I could not help but be overtaken by a profound sense of melancholy. Crying silently, I felt this wretched helplessness, a deep and thickening abject despair. Suddenly I could feel my heart sinking deep into the abyss.
Together We Explored a Deep and Relaxing Meditation

There was one final kumbaya “La, la, la, la, la, la, la, Hey Jude!” bellow. People all uproariously cheered as if this might be the last “cheer” together for a long time.

Yoni then walked toward the stage, and announced we should end the night partaking in a group meditation. Gathering the troops, he called for several moments of silence. Since I was the stranger,

I remained seated in the audience, but Yoni waved me to join them.

One of the group theater members, a woman whose natural silver hair betrayed her youthful appearance, skillfully led the group through the 20-minute meditation. It felt deep. It was profoundly relaxing. It felt cleansing. What a much-needed therapeutic way to end a series of very sad and tragic days.

God willing, Yoni tells me, plans are to have the STAV Festival go on through October 29, with further cancelled events pending. For now.

Let’s hope and pray for everyone’s safety home and abroad.

Kaju Roberto is an accomplished musician, singer/ songwriter, journalist, and an award-winning producer. He is the artist Rad Jet on Spotify.