Until the fire dies
We’ll be holding hands
We are the bones of this land
Caught in a flame
Nuriel, Caught in a Flame
Here in Auschwitz … We managed to light a menorah without oil, without a wick, and without a flame. I call it the ninth invisible flame. The Chanukah menorah consists of eight candles, but tonight we lit the ninth candle which is so deep and so real it is invisible…the flame that was inextinguishable and the fire that could never die.
Rabbi YY Jacobson
Perhaps it was only coincidence that I first listened to the band Nuriel’s new song during Chanukah. I know people who don’t believe in coincidence. And I’m pretty sure, in this case, that I don’t believe in it either. It seems a stretch that after I listened to the song I just happened to find a story containing the above quote about the ninth candle.
I do know that the only music I consider worth listening to more than once makes me feel… and occasionally see… things.
Sometimes those things are frivolous – light, happy, fun, toe-tapping, bringing a smile… and that’s OK. There is definitely a place, and a need, for that.
But sometimes, and it is only sometimes, music makes me feel, or see, things that are deeper, more complex. Beyond the lyrics and the notes. I feel surrounded by color, emotions, images, even history.
Or by fire. To me, fire is one of the most destructive and terrifying forces in the world. Israel, ancient and modern, seems always to be surrounded by fire. Israel’s fires are in Nuriel’s music.
Ancient Israel: Huge fires. The destruction of the two temples. Small fires, hundreds of them, with a family huddled terrified around each one, as they are marched away into exile.
Modern Israel, still aflame: Battles. Rockets. Terrorists’ bombs. Always fire brings fear and destruction.
But some people, thankfully, see more in the flames.
The name Nuriel, means “Candle of God.”
While interviewing him, I made a comment to Yonatan Attias, lead singer, and writer of Caught in a Flame, about the name of the group, including an image of fire. And how the group’s name, and his song’s lyrics, might relate to the current fires in California as well as the fires in Israel.
Living in Israel and studying daily at yeshiva, he hadn’t heard news reports of the fires in the US until recently. And the band’s name was chosen long before, and quite independently, of the song, which brings us back to a consideration of coincidences, or the lack thereof.
Yonatan personally felt the consequences of the destructive power of fire in 2016. 5000 acres were burning in Israel, and a good friend of his, an artist, watched his entire gallery, complete with 30 years of art, his life’s work and legacy, go up in the flames.
But Yonatan also saw that “️fire [can be] the agent of the deepest healing. Yoram… has taken the remains of his burnt paintings, fragments of canvas material, and turned them into [new] art.”
I watched the video that showed this. It is all in Hebrew, so I can’t understand any of the narration. But you don’t have to understand the words to be amazed, not only by the art this man created out of destruction, but by the fact he had the will and the drive to do so. Fire didn’t destroy him.
We break and mend
Oh fallen friend
Was when we fled the siren sound
Watched you descend to hollow ground
And we were left in sorrow
One of the reasons Caught in a Flame and the story behind it, touched me so deeply, is that my oldest friend lives Southern California. (Fire is currently burning thousands of acres there.) He posts terrifying pictures on Facebook of massive fires burning in the mountains across the street from his home.
My friend is a serious music collector (He still has a gramophone and the cylinders that you play on one. If you don’t know what any of that means, and you care, Google it.)
I sent him a link to the song and he said this: “All I can say is that for years we’ve been hearing from their older brothers and sisters music filled with hate, anger, violence. Where did these very talented youngsters find all their hope and love and compassion? Especially the compassion. Gives me hope…”
But where indeed did they find it?
If I’d thought of the above question about compassion when I interviewed Yonatan, I would have asked him. I didn’t think to ask, but I found some of the answer in Yonatan’s explanation about writing the song.
Yonatan and Nuriel went up to an ancient fortress, Metzuda, at the top of Tzfat mountain, one of the highest places in Israel. When the temple still stood, Metzuda was one of the elevated areas where Jews would light massive bonfires to mark the new month. Again, fire, casually switching its role to useful.
Yonatan: “… at the heart of the fortress there is a round cave, pitch black, with only a small opening in the high domed ceiling… We sat there in the dark and sang for hours.
All the while I had that fire burning in my mind, unable to shake it.”
Yet later “sitting by …beautiful Chanukah candles …watching the small flames… I felt, [fire] represented some sort of innocence, genuine good intention, and everything we are as human beings… And how blessed are we, as a people, that we choose to use that tremendously passionate energy to bring light to the world. To hope and keep on hoping.”
Perhaps he was sensing Chanukah’s ninth invisible candle. The one that is deep and real, the flame that is inextinguishable and the fire that can never die.
In the interview, I did ask Yonatan the horridly unoriginal question “What is the most important thing you want people to know about your music?” (In my defense it was 3 AM my time. To his credit, he didn’t make fun of me for asking.) And what he responded, along with the fact that he didn’t laugh, points to the source of that amazing compassion.
Yonatan: “We want to invite [the people who listen to us] to join with us on the journey … to keep the innate light of our souls burning… so that we never let it burn out. When we are playing, when we are sharing… we want people to know that we are real, that we are honest.”
Besides honesty, what I hear in Caught in a Flame and in Yonatan’s magnificent voice, is his love for Israel. I also hear his heart breaking with compassion for his friend’s loss. And I heard the hope that started mending that same heart. The flame of a Candle of God rising up, even from destruction, like his friend’s art.
Hope and love and compassion.
That’s a lot to hear (or feel) in any song. I’ve listened to it multiple times. And I still shed a few tears every time.
Give it a listen, or likely two or three. I’ll be surprised if you can listen just once.
Yonatan asked that I mention Nuriel will have an EP out early next year. Join the band’s mailing list if you’re interested in being notified when that happens. I joined, and I’m looking forward to it.
(I’d also recommend a song Yonatan didn’t write, but which he sings movingly, One Voice There are several versions of this song/video on YouTube, including one by the song’s writers, the Wailin’ Jennys. I like Yonatan’s the best. Perhaps because it gives me many of the same feelings of love, hope, and compassion that I get from listening to Caught in the Flame.)