In the Harrari Harp Studio, nestled in a forest near Moshav Raziel on the hills leading to Jerusalem, I shut my eyes to focus better on the sweet notes that Shoshana Harrari is playing on a harp of Israeli rosewood designed and fashioned by her husband Micah. For the past 30 years, the couple has been fashioning harps and lyres that are designed according to a combination of traditional Jewish sources and archeological evidence. This uplifting melody has been missing in the Holy Land for 2,000 years.
Where Harrari Harps Began “I was always asking my husband, who is an instrument maker, to make me a harp,” says Shoshana in her studio. Harps and lyres line the walls, and the pleasantly dusty smell from the adjoining workshop fills the cool room. “But we were moving around a lot so it was hard to set up a work shop. Eventually, we moved into a one-hundred-year-old miner’s logwood cabin in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. One night there was a blizzard. We were snowed in with nothing to do. We began to read a Tanach we had once picked up and kept, figuring that Jews are always supposed to have something like that around. We continued reading even after the snowstorm. Finally we got to the Prophets, where we read: “…and in those days Hashem will call His children from the four corners of the earth, from the north the south the east and the west, and He will bring them back to their own land and He will replant them and never uproot them again.” This personal invitation of sorts was the impetus for the Harraris move to Israel.
A Harp Takes Shape About a year and a half after their arrival, the Harraris came across a book on archaeology that depicted an etching of a harpist found in a cave in Megiddo in Central Israel. That picture and images of harps etched on two coins found from the Bar Kochva period became the starting points for the dream Shoshana had nursed for years. Additional information, such as the number of strings (which varied between 5, 8, 12 and 22), was taken from the Talmud. “Micah’s first harp was good,” says Shoshana with a proud smile, “but it took him 20 harps to learn the dynamics of sound and craft something outstanding.”
Harp history begins with Yuval, the great-great grandson of Adam and Chava, a shepherd who played the kinor (lyre), a light instrument that is easy to transport. In Sefer Shmuel, we learn that David HaMelech played the kinor and the nevel (harp) extensively. Once the Beit Hamikdash was built, 4,000 Leviim used to play these instruments together with shofars, cymbals and silver trumpets.
When journalist Helga Dudman happened to stop off in the Harraris’ garden to pick fruit, she got more than lemons. Through her subsequent research, she discovered that the Harraris were the first harp makers in 2,000 years to fashion the kind of harp that David HaMelech had used. Although other countries, like the British Isles, also have a tradition of harps, those differ slightly from David HaMelech’s harp. Shoshana draws another distinction between David HaMelech’s harp and those used today: “Concert harps are only about 150 years old,” she says. “They’re hard to master, unlike our harps which anyone can learn to play.”
What else makes Harrari harps unique? To start with, customers can choose from a range of woods (Israeli olivewood or rosewood, cherry, mahogany, bubinga, maple, cypress and walnut) and add carvings and designs. “To ensure high quality instruments, we use only wood that has been drying for at least five years. In the end, the customer gets an instrument that should last for one thousand years,” says Shoshana.