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Israeli singer-songwriter Victoria Hanna visited Yale’s Slifka Center for Jewish Life on Tuesday, where she performed for an audience of over 40 people and led the group in different singing exercises.

Hanna is from Jerusalem and has lived there all her life. She composes original songs that she publishes through YouTube, which have garnered millions of views. She sings in Hebrew, and in 2015, Forbes listed her as one of Israel’s 50 most influential women. Hanna also sang at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, the third largest sporting competition in the world.

Hanna’s talk focused on the correspondence between saying letters of the Hebrew alphabet and moving one’s body in a space.

“Every letter is a specific action in a space,” she elaborated. “An empty space is like a blank canvas, and the letters coming from your mouth are the paint.”

She began by reciting words from an ancient text in both English and Hebrew, gesticulating with her hands, moving around the space and enunciating each syllable slowly.  She said that “the beginning of everything is from the black substance,” and went on to perform the text as if it were spoken word.

Next, she went through the Hebrew alphabet, saying each letter and matching its sound with motions and gesticulations that she had the audience follow. She then elaborated on how her personal speech struggles made her in tune with the enunciation and meaning of every Hebrew syllable.

“God gave me a gift,” she said. “I was stuttering. I couldn’t breathe even one word out. It was one of the greatest gifts of my life. Because everything I show you comes from that experience.”

Hanna described being raised in an Orthodox Jewish family that revered books, letters, and reading. The University of Washington’s Stroum Center for Jewish Studies commented that she transforms and reimagines tradition, referring to the particular song, “The Aleph-bet Song,” as “The Hebrew Alphabet gets an Orthodox Feminist Makeover.”

Hanna has traveled all over the world for her concerts, lectures and workshops. Her workshop at the Slifka Center particularly focused on “Creating Worlds Through Voice, Tone, and Pitch.” According to the event’s press release, Hanna’s work includes “sacred Hebrew texts, prayers, and practices in a unique context” and emphasizes a “strong connection between Hebrew letters and the human body.” Her genre of music ranges from traditional Hebrew music to rap.

Attendees ranged from members of the New Haven community at large to undergraduate students, including students from several Hebrew language classes at Yale.

“For some reason Facebook’s algorithm has been advertising this event to me for a while,” said Sam Pekats ’22. “ I listened to her song on YouTube and it was a really interesting fusion of styles.”

“I came for my Hebrew class, but the talk was interesting and a fun time,” Zack Rudner ’21 said.  “My brother, who lives in Israel, loves Victoria Hanna.”

The Modern Hebrew Program at Yale — which offers classes in Hebrew language, culture, literature and film — sponsored Hanna’s visit with the Institute of Sacred Music.

Helena Lyng-Olsen | helena.lyng-olsen@yale.edu