By Sharon Rapoport
It was December 18, and Valverde, along with his parents, had finally arrived at Ha-Aretz. Valverde is the Director of Latinos for Israel, a non-Jewish Zionist group that works to unite non-Jewish Latino communities and Jewish communities and celebrate each other’s cultures and traditions through music, arts and education. His father is the remarkable Pastor Efraim Valverde II, who has actively fostered Zionism amongst his Christian congregation.
“If last summer you told me I´d be in Israel in December, with my parents, singing in a concert with David D’Or, on an all-expense-paid trip, I would have laughed! I mean, how could that be possible?” Valverde remarked, with his usual candor.
“It just goes to show, that when Israel is in the picture, the impossible becomes possible and what is called a miracle in any other part of the world is a common occurrence in the Land of Miracles.”
So how did this all come to be?
It all started with an invitation to sing the Hatikvah and the Star Spangled Banner at the Unity Havdalah Service and concert with David D’Or at Shabbat San Diego on October 24.
“I’ve volunteered to perform both anthems at many events before and it’s always been a fulfilling experience, but nothing out of the ordinary happens afterwards. I didn’t expect this time to be any different,” Valverde recalls.
But it would be very different. As Valverde sat in the green room waiting to be called on stage, David D’Or and his band walked in and sat at the table next to him.
“They were just talking and munching on snacks,” Jonathan recalls. “But then someone pointed at me and said, ‘David, this guy is a good guy’ and started telling him about my work with Latinos for Israel. So David and I start talking and he asked to see my videos online. I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is cool!’
“After he saw the videos he said, ‘Wow you need to come to Israel! Are you coming anytime soon?’ and I just said, ‘Well, my mom has been wanting to go, but I don’t think it’s possible.’”
What David said next took Jonathan by surprise: “Well, if you come in December you can be my guest at one of my concerts. So take down my number and let me know when.”
Just then, someone called Valverde to the stage: “The electricity in the room was palpable. I’ve been to many events here in San Diego, but that night something was different. The event really was living up to its name: Unity… and you could feel that power.”
After he performed, Jonathan was invited by Rashel Cohen and Selwin Isakow to sit on the front row and watch David´s performance.
“So I am sitting there enjoying the show,” he recalls. “Suddenly, David looks straight at me from the stage and says, ‘Jonathan do you know Yerushalayim Shel Sahav?’ I went blank for a second but quickly recovered and nodded. So David says, ‘Come up and sing with me!’ I knew the song but I took out my phone frantically looking up the words in case my nerves betrayed me, since this was so unexpected!”
They sang together “and though it was unplanned, it came together like magic. It was like we were brothers singing to our huge united family with everyone holding hands and singing along. It was an incredible moment.”
After Valverde got off the stage, the first person to greet him was his friend, Audrey Jacobs. She congratulated him and said, “This is incredible! Did you talk to him?” referring to David D’or. Valverde gave her a quick summary of the talk and invitation from the green room. When Valverde said that he didn’t think a trip to Israel was going to be possible, Jacobs was determined. She said she would start a campaign to get him to Israel right away, and she meant it.
“My jaw dropped,” Jonathan says, “I didn’t think the night could get any better after being invited onstage with David!”
What followed in the next few weeks was “nothing short of a miracle and an outpouring of love and giving,” as he “just watched as people began donating from my own Latino community, but mainly from the Jewish community in San Diego. It was just overwhelming and very moving.”
The Jewish Federation then took over the campaign, and started raising money to send Jonathan and his parents to Israel. By the end of November, Jonathan had a date for the concert with David D’Or in a town near Haifa, and plane tickets for his parents and himself in hand.
“It was a whirlwind up to the point when we boarded the plane,” Jonathan shares, “and when we finally landed in Tel Aviv we practically danced into the airport terminal!”
“We traveled to Masada, Ein Gedi, Galilee, Haifa and Tzfat,” Jonathan recounts, “I had a rehearsal in Tel Aviv with David the day before the concert and to my surprise his family welcomed me to stay at their home the night before the show.” Jonathan says smiling. “David, his wife and children were so welcoming. It was Israeli hospitality at its best.”
The night of the concert was electrifying. They had decided to sing Hatishma Koli and Inside My Mind, from The Phantom of the Opera.
“David was so gracious and welcomed me onstage like a friend. When we finished our performance people kept clapping and showing their appreciation. It was a beautiful moment.”
The rest of the trip was like a dream for Jonathan. He was able to have an intimate recital at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance with pianist Orian Shukran and later meet up with Israeli Army Chief Cantor, Shai Abramson, whom he had performed with in San Diego for concerts in support of Friends of the IDF in 2013 and 2014.
“One of the last things my parents and I did together was pray at our favorite spot in Jerusalem, the Kotel. It was a great way to end our time in Israel and be thankful for this wonderful gift given to my family on behalf of the Jewish Community,” Jonathan says.
“How can I express the gratitude I feel to everyone who sent us to Israel? The only way I know is by continuing the work I feel called to do in supporting Israel through Latinos for Israel and through singing and sharing my love for Israeli music. So next time you hear me singing, I hope you can hear the love and gratitude. Thanks to my adopted family — the Jewish Community of San Diego — 2015 was the year “Next Year in Jerusalem” became “This Year in Jerusalem!”
Valverde will perform a thank you concert at the end of this month that is free and open to the public, at 7:30 p.m., February 28 at Restoration Church, 960 Fifth Ave., Chula Vista. Ca.