I grew up on a kibbutz. The first color TV I remember seeing was at my grandparents’ house, when I was six years old. I used to run over with my friends after kindergarten, and sit in their little living room with the old corduroy couches - though we would always sit on the rug - and watch the Transformers as if we really were out to save the world.
Soon after that, my family moved to the United States. My dad wanted to study music at UCLA, and my mom was eager to have all three of us at home and not in the kibbutz “children’s houses”. One of my first impressions of America was that they had copied EVERYTHING from the Israelis. They even had the Transformers… I actually felt slightly appalled.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Disney movies were a family event. One of the last movies we saw in the theater - before we moved back to Israel that same summer - was the Lion King: Little baby Simba, being taken up to the edge of that cliff-ish looking rock, and held out in front of the whole world. I remembered seeing that same ritual in the first episode of “Roots”, earlier that year in my history class. And I wondered: If there really was a ritual like that… what would they say to a child who had just been born? What would I say, if it was my child?
I can say that the look on Simba’s face in the movie was pretty understandable: “WTF? I just got here…”
I do wonder if every baby who sees the world for the first time gets the same shell-shocked impression… I once heard that that’s why a lot of them suck their thumbs, or grab onto something as if it’s going to save them from falling. I certainly can’t blame them at all. I’m well out of the eighth grade by now, but I find that I have plenty of reasons to want to suck my thumb or try to hang onto something.
In any case, I do very much believe that we all owe it to ourselves to climb up to a high place - not just once, but many times in our lives - and look around, and ask ourselves those big questions: What am I here for? What is all this? And what would I say to my son or daughter, if I was showing them the world for the first time?
Growing up in Israel, some of those questions could take on a very palpable meaning. Questions like, “What does God mean to you?” might be great for a tea-time conversation, or even a serious argument… but when someone is holding a gun or a Molotov cocktail, that question can really demand to be figured out. I suppose a lot of people don’t feel that way… but I was obsessed. I was born with that obsession. There was always just too much going on that didn’t make sense, or couldn’t be settled with a simple clink of the mugs and a change of the subject.
I devoted myself to finding truth, and I put myself through a lot on that journey - as I'm sure we all have. And in the struggle to figure it all out, I have found three things to be a great source of healing, as well as a frontier to be explored, and a teacher of wisdom. As a matter of fact, in my experience, all three of these things share the same energy.
The first one I happened to find through meditation, though meditation is really just one part of it. I would call this the world of spirituality, of personal meaning, of whatever-you-want-to-call-it but I think we agree by now that a happy life takes more than just getting all the numbers to add up. The way I like to see it, spirituality is the difference between surviving and living. I used to be completely atheistic about it, but it was still spirituality. There was always more to this world than just survival. These days, I have learned to open up to other types of spirituality, other forms, other possibilities.
The second one is - maybe obviously - music. I was born in a musical home, with a composer for a father, who nudged me to try an instrument at least as much as most parents try to encourage their kids to be doctors or lawyers. And just like any child, I rebelled for a while. But it caught up with me in the end. And the only way I can describe the electrical connection I feel with fellow musicians when we play together… is by talking about spirituality. In my experience, many musicians have a mystical side - and I see that as no coincidence.
The third is love - undoubtedly, my least explored kingdom. But every step of the way shows me so much. I believe, certainly, that a lot of what we see in the world begins with ourselves; but we are such fools at seeing who we really are unless there is someone to reflect it back at us. And there are certainly experiences in the realm of “spirit” that can only be encountered alone; but there are other experiences that we can only see with the help of another. This means lovers, this means friends, this means family, this can even mean perfect strangers. I actually think that one of the best teachers we have to figure out this world that we’ve been thrown into - is relationships; and of course, one of the most powerful of these is romantic love. Even when you are busy looking or trying to work out the kinks, you can still see so much about yourself if your are open to. And when you have someone in your life - I think that nothing can entice us better into the realm of honesty, openness, the courage to be ourselves, and all that good stuff - than even just one experience of how amazing it feels to really be and do those things with another human being; not to mention the indescribable pain of screwing that up. And when we get it right - when we brave the spotlight and dare to truly expose ourselves for love - the rewards are worth all the pain and hardships along the way.
In the original “Roots”, the father Omoro holds his baby up to heaven and says, “Behold: The only thing greater than yourself.”
And if I was holding my own baby child up to the world for the first time, I would like to say: “Check it out! Isn’t this AMAZING?? And our job is to love it.”
The son of an Israeli film composer, Asaf Ophir was exposed to many styles of music from an early age: His father’s love for jazz, the Jewish music of his heritage, a classical upbringing, and the Middle Eastern backdrop of his childhood. From the very beginning, he was drawn to many different sources and genres, as well as to different musical instruments.
Ophir began to play woodwinds in Israeli musicals while studying at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, and later at the Jerusalem Acamedy. Arriving in the United States in 2014, he began to perform in musicals around the Bay Area such as the award winning Love Sick in 2017, and The People in the Picture in 2018. Finding a home away from home, Ophir can most often be seen in world music projects on Jewish, Arabic, and Balkan stages.
Ophir has performed on such distinguished stages as Habima, HaCameri, and Jerusalem Theaters in Israel, as well as on many Bay Area stages such as the Palace of Fine Arts and the Paramount Theater. Throughout his career he has shared the stage with artists such as Miri Mesika, Avi Kushnir, David De’or, Rana Farhan, and Barbara Streisand. The San Francisco Chronicle writes: "Asaf Ophir gives the clarinet the timbre of a trumpet, then a violin, then a raspy scream. In one climactic moment, seizing center stage, he scores a climb in pitch and volume so perfectly that the instrument’s wail almost becomes too plaintive and beautiful to bear."