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Hip-hop artist Shaanan Streett writes about unity and division in diverse Jerusalem

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Jerusalem is a great city to wander in during Hanukkah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: Tonight is the last night of the holiday. The other night, I watched people light menorahs outside their homes with actual oil and wicks, like the olden days. I was walking around with an Israeli hip-hop artist, Sha'anan Streett.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: This keyboardist is funky, actually.

ESTRIN: As we get closer, it turns out he knows the guy on the piano.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Sha'anan Streett, Hadag Nahash.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He's a fellow musician, a religious Jew. Sha'nan Streett is not a religious Jew, by any means. He doesn't believe in God. But he feels at home with a lot of different crowds in the Holy City.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: I can get you a beer in any part of Jerusalem - Muslim, ultra-Orthodox, whatever. I know where the bad boys hang.

(LAUGHTER)

ESTRIN: So many songs and prayers have been written about this city, but his band, Hadag Nahash, has a painful love song out this month that I can't get out of my head called "City Of God."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF GOD")

HADAG NAHASH: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: In the biblical land of milk and honey, he sings about milk and blood and honey.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: So here we don't cry of spilled milk or blood or honey. Everything has been spilled here, too much, already.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF GOD")

HADAG NAHASH: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: He takes me through the neighborhood he used to live in. He still remembers hearing the booms, followed by the eerie silence of death - Palestinian bombings in the city 20 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF GOD")

HADAG NAHASH: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: And he brings up a recent tragedy in the city.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: I'm thinking of the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh - her death and her funeral.

ESTRIN: The Palestinian American journalist who was killed earlier this year by Israeli troops.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: Her death and her funeral are things that - neither of them would happen to a Jew in the city - not the way she died and not the way she was buried.

ESTRIN: The police interfered in her funeral procession and attacked the pallbearers in the casket.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: Yeah, like, it raised some very, very difficult questions about equality in the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF GOD")

HADAG NAHASH: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: But he's also in love with the mix of cultures in Jerusalem, where you can hear people listening to bach, to Carlebach, the American singing rabbi; Fairuz, the Arab singer from Lebanon; or the blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF GOD")

HADAG NAHASH: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: There's another great line in the song. He calls the city's mosaic of people one big fermented brew of apple cider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF GOD")

HADAG NAHASH: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: A cider of outsiders.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: Like hundreds of thousands of...

ESTRIN: All the little tiny tribes and subtribes.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: All the fractions and factions and fractions, and they're all fermenting together to create a cider of outsiders.

ESTRIN: That's Jerusalem for you.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: Yeah.

ESTRIN: We end up at his favorite bar, where he greets old friends - two Palestinians, a few Israelis, someone from Japan.

SHA'ANAN STREETT: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: A cider of outsiders on one night of Hanukkah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHA'ANAN STREETT: (Non-English language spoken).

I mean, that song of the holiday is our opportunity to better our lives, wherever we are. That's the spirit, that's the holidays greeting - better your life, wherever you are. Better your life and the lives of the ones close to you. Light that candle. You got eight days, go for it.

ESTRIN: (Laughter). Sha'anan Streett of the Israeli hip-hop band Hadag Nahash. Their new single, in Hebrew, is called "City Of God," and on this eighth night of the holiday, wishing you Happy Hanukkah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF GOD")

HADAG NAHASH: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.