It started as something entirely underground — a YouTube video teenagers sent around to one another. The allure, for those musically inclined to Jewish hip hop, was obvious: Miri Ben Ari, the Israeli performer known as the hip-hop violinist and whose recent work with stars like Kanye West and Alicia Keyes catapulted her into the mainstream American musical scene, teamed up with the artist known as Subliminal, generally credited with building an authentic Israeli rap scene. The product, a music video to the new song “Adon Olam, Ad Matai?” (“God Almighty, When Will It End?”) kicks off the duo’s new project: the Gedenk Movement. (“Gedenk” is Yiddish for remember.) Hoping to refashion Holocaust history as something more easily accessible to today’s youth, Ben Ari and Subliminal (whose real name is Kobi Shimoni) have gone where few, if any, have gone before: they’ve created a hip-hop track about the Shoah. As the video has made its way through inboxes and blogs, there has been plenty of controversy, sometimes from unexpected places. Along with educators and institutions that are resistant to using hip-hop as a tool, many in the hip-hop community, including Israeli rapper Sagol 59, have criticized the music for being too slick and too obviously commercial (the song features such lyrics as “freedom vanished, but still there was hope/our spirit stirred deep in our hearts, our eyes looking towards Zion”).
The Gedenk Movement is dedicated to using “commercial outlets” to “make the Jewish Holocaust relevant to today’s youth,” but their website also mentions educating the general public about such atrocities as the Armenian genocide, 1990s Rwandan massacres, and today’s genocide in Darfur.