The sweet spirit of Yonina will sweep through the Steel City on Sunday, Nov. 19. Scheduled for one night only, Yonina, an Israeli singing sensation and internet force, is set to deliver a “wonderful, welcoming, happy time,” said Ilana Schwartz, an organizer of Yonina’s Pittsburgh debut.
Comprised of Yoni, 28, and Nina Tokayer, 22, Yonina — a portmanteau of the performers’ first names — has garnered international attention through weekly social media posts. With uploads of songs sung in their car, living room and random spots throughout Israel, the married couple has fetched notoriety from all corners of the globe.
Among their millions of YouTube hits are dedicated fan bases in both Singapore and Tibet, said Schwartz, who has developed a relationship with the Tokayers through Facebook.
“They are a sign of how modern music works, which is that quality music and its message rise to the top,” said Rabbi Jeremy Markiz, director of Derekh and youth tefillah at Congregation Beth Shalom.
Derekh, an approximately 1-year-old program of the Conservative Squirrel Hill synagogue, took a lead role, along with the SteelTree Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, in directing the musical duo to town.
“We are excited to show that Derekh is here and we are doing stuff. We are excited to bring value to the community, to give the community experiences they may not have had otherwise,” said Markiz.
Fashioned as a multipronged pathway for formative Jewish experiences, Derekh offers five “portals”: learning, chesed (kindness), mindfulness, culture and Israel.
The concert falls under the culture portal, said Judy Adelson, a member of the Derekh committee.
“I can’t think of a better first inaugural event than Yonina to showcase the mission of Derekh,” she said. “Their appeal is so wide-ranging. It’s across the whole spectrum of Jewish life.
“That’s exactly why, because of their appeal, we’ve been able to gather support from all corners of Jewish Squirrel Hill, from Rabbi Wasserman to Rabbi Gibson. That’s what Derekh is aiming to do, to gather K’lal Yisrael through culture.”
“We enjoy traveling halfway around the world and meeting people who have seen us in our living room,” she said. “It’s kind of a bizarre experience but also beautiful. We’re really looking forward to coming to Pittsburgh.
“It’s actually a blend of communities, and everybody has been extremely nice and positive, and we think it will be a really special show with really good energy.”
Although the set list has yet to be announced, the Pittsburgh performance will feature music from Yonina’s new album as well as recognizable covers.
“There will probably be a variety of English and Hebrew, original and Israeli, really just a mix of everything,” Nina Tokoyer said.
In the two years since Yonina’s online arrival, the group has gone from virtual unknown to selling out concerts in Israel, said Adelson. “I think it’s a whirlwind ride for them, and Pittsburgh is unbelievably lucky to get in on the ground floor, as the wave of their popularity will sweep the U.S.”
“Yonina reflects so much of our values,” said Markiz. “They live in Israel, we care about Israel. They put out a song every Shabbos that reflects the kind of world that we want to live in. We are excited for them to be here because of that positivity.”
“They are so wonderful and wholesome, you can’t help but be swept up in their feel-good vibe,” echoed Adelson.
Schwartz agreed: “There is something very pure and innocent about them, and they manage to share that through their music.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz