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BANAI - A Musical Journey from Persia to Jerusalem

Updated: Jul 12, 2020


The new exhibition, BANAI, explores how one family’s life story, over five generations, became – and is now synonymous with the soundtrack of the development of Jerusalem and Israel.

“It sounds like a fairy tale” says Yoav Kutner, music historian and TV and radio personality: “Once upon a time, long, long ago, in the far away and distant land of Persia (today Iran), in a town of poets, wine and flowers called Shiraz, there lived a Jewish family named Bana. One day, this family decided to make aliya – to move to the Holy Land, the Land of Israel. The parents, Rachamim and Rachel, and their three sons, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, began the long and treacherous journey to the land of the Bible. Finally, they reached Jerusalem.”

Any Israeli knows the end of the fairy tale. The story of this family of new immigrants, outsiders to the local culture, built (the translation of the meaning of their family name Bana later changed to Banai) within five generations Israeli culture and became a venerable royal dynasty, a cultural powerhouse unequaled in Israel – perhaps in the whole world.

The Banai family is a phenomenon. The saga goes back to 1881 when Rachamim Bana came to the Holy Land from Shiraz, Persia and settled outside the walls of the Old City. His son, Eliyahu Yaakov Bana, his grandchildren and then his great-grandchildren created a legacy of talent that accompanied the growth of the city and the country. Every Israeli has their own Banai, sometimes even more than one. Their very names – Ya’acov, Yossi, Chaim, Gavri, Yuval, Orna, Meir, Ehud, Eviatar, Uri - evoke every period of Jerusalem's modern history, ever since the city developed from a backwater of the Ottoman Empire into the capital of the State of Israel.

Eilat Lieber, Director of the Tower of David Museum: “The Tower of David Museum is dedicated to revealing and illuminating the rare and unique aspects of this remarkable city. This exhibition focuses, for the first time, on the music of Jerusalem whose musical heritage is vast and all-encompassing. The melodies of Jerusalem are holy as well as secular, ancient as well as trend-setting and, in this exhibition, they accompany the journey of the Banai family through more than a century of tradition, history, development and ultimately, renown and esteem and into the heart of Israeli culture.”

Their personal family story mirrors the development of Jerusalem and the development of Israel and so the exhibition shows the coalescing of the community and Hebrew culture in the land of Israel as a process. It is the story of one family's journey to the Land of Israel and how they settled outside the Old City of Jerusalem, later moving to the huts on the land that is today “Yemin Moshe”, out into the new area of “Nachalot”, builders of the famous Machana Yehuda market and Agas Street and then out further afield. And throughout this time their artistic contributions in theater, song and satire reflect each pivotal point in Israel’s history.

Photo Credit: Banai Family on rooftop of 13 Agas Street. Jerusalem.1949. Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Photographic Archives

Their artistic body of work has built Israeli culture, layer upon layer, generation after generation. The scents, melodies, sights, and lyrics of Jerusalem were woven by the Banai family into a broad, rich tapestry of creative works.

"People think of me as a prince in Israel, but my grandfather sold vegetables in the Machane Yehuda market," Yuval Banai, singer, remarked in an interview with Sagi Ben-Nun, Walla! February 2019).
Uri Banai, actor, is conscious of the uniqueness of the Banai success story across the generations. "It is interesting how a traditional family like this– where the father is a vegetable seller, the mother a housewife with seven kids – a hardscrabble religious family, helped found the Machane Yehuda market and became the topic of some of Israel's best trivia questions? Every crossword puzzle includes at least one of us.” (Interview with Adi Greenberger, Ynet, September 2019)

The Tower of David Museum exhibition, BANAI, shows their personal story while painting a much broader panorama. The exhibition is based on an audio enabled historical and musical soundtrack that takes visitors from the 19th century immigrant experience to the present-day with the traditional melodies, tunes and songs that both influenced and were made famous by the members of the Banai family.

Tens of thousands of Jews from many different backgrounds and countries came to the Land of Israel to build a new Jewish community. These new immigrants produced a diverse Jewish-Israeli culture and the Banai family characterized this melting pot. They preserved their traditions and customs while creating a new language and artistic style which became a symbol of modern Hebrew culture in Israel.

Photo Credit: Bachora and Meir Banai with eldest son Shmuel, Jerusalem 1915. Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Photographic Archives

The flow of the exhibition moves between historical and family stories and is accompanied throughout by the music that they were influenced by and created. Personal stories illustrate the character of the neighborhood of immigrants and the development of cultural life in the city. At the same time, in contrast to other historical exhibits which focus on individual events, the story of this exhibition, which follows the events in one family through the generations, shows the coalescing of the community and Hebrew culture in the land of Israel as a process.

The exhibition moves through the Jerusalem of the past - the melodies, the unique “Jerusalem” lingo, the children’s games, the storytelling, the theater, and the movies that developed in this rich cultural climate. New video and music productions created especially for the exhibition bring the visitor to the present day highlighting the musical compositions of the different artists with their input and participation.

Curator of the BANAI exhibition, Tal Kobo: "The exhibition at the Tower of David Museum, "BANAI - A Musical Journey from Persia to Jerusalem" covers a wide historical epic. The exhibition presents the experiences of a Jerusalem family through music, cinema and theater, and is essentially the story of a remarkable time in the history of the city, and a mirror of the development of Israeli culture. The exhibition is the product of two years of curatorial work and research, work that has focused on the historical-cultural aspect, as well as in-depth contacts with the family members, who opened their homes and their hearts. The exhibition features photographs from family albums along with sentimental items that have passed from one generation to the next, and not only tell the story of the family, but also capture the spirit of an important period in the formation of Israeli society. “This Is Our Song" is a line from a well-known song by Ehud Banai, and is also the Hebrew name of the exhibition. It serves as a metaphor of how the historical story of the Banai family and the Banai opus became the common soundtrack of Israeli culture.”

There will be on-line live webinars with the curator of the Exhibition on Sunday evenings Israel, mid-day USA – July 5 and July 19th. Details will be available on the Tower of David Museum website.

Opening: June 17, 2020 Closing: April 2021

Curator: Tal Kobo

Exhibition Design: Ori Glazer Arch Musical Advisor: Yoav Kutner

Audio Video Content: Estwanat Hai Movie Director and Creator: Amit Hai Cohen

During the summer months, the entrance to the Tower of David Museum will be through the entrance way directly adjacent to the Jaffa Gate, across the way from the Mamilla Alrov Boulevard. The main entrance and panorama are closed.

The Night Spectacular and King David night experiences are wheelchair accessible. While work is being undertaken to make the entire site more accessible, the Banai exhibition is not wheelchair accessible.

Admission price to the Tower of David Museum and the BANAI exhibition:

Adults: 40 NIS Children: 18 NIS Tickets can be purchased online.

The audio guide, available in English and Hebrew, is included in the price.

The Tower of David Museum has a “purple certification” from the Ministry of Health and all health and sanitation procedures are strictly adhered to.

Photo Credit from the Tower of David Museum:

Cover Photo Yossi Banai. Nino Hananiah Herman

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