A Return To The Greatness of Jewsic

As the school semester is coming to a close, I wanted to take a few minutes to look back on the third post I ever made, entitled “How Great Jewsic Is.” This post was all about the more traditional aspects of Jewsic as well as one of my favorite traditional Jewsic songs, Mikey Pauker’s rendition of “Hinei Mah Tov (Eeoohh!).” This song has come up in many of my blog posts, including a short video of me teaching the song at the camp I worked at from my first post. At the end of “How Great Jewsic Is,” I suggested that I would consider uploading a video of me performing the song in a later video, and I thought that now would be the perfect time to do so.

To me, this song really encompasses the theme of my blog and what Jewsic is really all about. In Mikey’s version of the song, the English lyrics read “How great it is for brothers and sisters to hang out on this day.” These lyrics can be applied to many of my previous posts and have a special place in my heart. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love playing music with friends outside and just having a great time. That is what this song is about. I wrote a post about peace and getting along with everyone, and that is also what this song is about.

This song has so much meaning to me, my way of thinking, and what this blog is really about, so without any further ado, here is my rendition of “Hinei Mah Tov.”

I hope you all enjoy the song, and I hope you get a chance to go hang out with your family and friends as the weather just keeps getting better and better. Shalom for now, and have a great week!

Passover More Jewsic

If you do not already know, we are currently in the middle of the Jewish holiday of Passover. In recent years, there has been an abundance of Jewish musical groups that have made parodies of popular songs to illustrate the Passover story and rituals. These groups are typically a capella, but not all of them are. This week I am going to link you all to some of these songs as a way to help you learn more about the Holiday of Passover.

The first song I am going to share with you is an a capella parody of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” Six13’s 2015 version of the song goes over the basic story of Passover in a fun way.

The next Passover parody I am bringing you is a 2013 video from the Jewish a capella group, The Maccabeats, that is based on a couple songs from Les Misérable. They called their mash-up “The Maccabeats: Les Misérable, A Passover Story.” The video is extremely well done and I recommend checking it out.

I am going to finish my Passover parody recommendations while keeping the same theme of Passover and Les Mis, but moving away from a capella.  The final video I have for you is from Shalom Sesame is the anglicized variation of the Israeli version of Sesame Street.  It was created to introduce Israel and Judaism to children that were not fluent in Hebrew. This is a cute video of the Muppets looking for “Matzah in the House.”

I hope you enjoyed these songs and maybe even learned something new about Passover through these videos. Shalom, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday – Next year in Jerusalem!

The Other Side of Jewsic

One aspect of Jewsic that I have not really touched on yet, is the idea that any Jewish person can make music, regardless of language or topic, and what they make can be considered Jewsic. There are countless Jewish people in the music industry and even entertainment as a whole. Adam Sandler does a fantastic time singing about just a few of these entertainers in his famous song “Chanukah Song” which I have linked to below.

There are so many Jewish people in almost every genre of music, if not all of them. Even some of the most popular musicians, like Drake, P!nk, Adam Levine, all of the Beastie Boys, Billy Joel, Jack Black, and more, are Jewish. One of my favorite bands of all time is an American punk band that started to gain popularity in 90s called NOFX. Their lead singer, Michael Burkett, or more commonly know as Fat Mike, is also Jewish. He identifies as an atheist, but was born Jewish and knows of his heritage. NOFX

One of my favorite bands of all time is an American punk band that started to gain popularity in 90’s called NOFX. Their lead singer, Michael Burkett, or more commonly know as Fat Mike, is also Jewish. He identifies as an atheist, but was born Jewish and knows of his heritage. NOFX does not really have any Judaism in their lyrics aside from maybe one or two songs, but I still love their music. One of the things I love most about Fat Mike is his political activism. He is extremely liberal and in 2004, he started punkvoter.com to try and encourage the punk scene to get out and vote (though the site was shut down in 2008 after Bush’s term ended). He also created the Rock Against Bush campaign to help the cause he felt so strongly about. In 2003, the band also released an album titled “The War on Errorism” which featured George Bush’s face painted as a clown. Part of what drew me to NOFX was their strong political lyrics as well as the humor and fast-paced, punk sound that is included in almost all of their songs. If I had to pick, I would say that my favorite song of theirs is the 18-minute satire of American law, as well as other problems Mike saw in the states titled “The Decline” that was released in 1999. If you have 18 minutes to listen to some awesome music and interesting commentary on the state of America’s decline from the perspective of a punk who grew up in LA’s punk scene in the 80s, I highly recommend checking the following song out. If you don’t have much time, they have a lot of much shorter songs you can easily find them on Youtube or Google. Shalom for now!

Jewsic Outside

I am so grateful that I know how to play music, and the warmer weather just illustrates that more and more. Recently, my campus’ Hillel hosted an educational Shabbat where we held an explanatory sabbath service for one of the religion classes, as well as anyone else who wanted to come learn about Judaism. For this service, I brought one of my guitars and played musical renditions for a couple of prayers. After the service ended, the weather was nice, so a couple of us from the service hung around on campus and sang some songs for a little.

This story, along with other personal experiences makes me think that there’s something about warm weather that is just more musical. When it’s nice outside, there are always people hanging out on and off campus making music. I’ve seen people in parks, in their front yards, and even on roofs, just chilling with some instruments and having a good time. Just this past weekend I was hanging out with some friends and we just decided it would be great to jam out because the weather was so nice and we were on a big porch. We quickly ran to my house and picked up a bunch of my instruments to head back and start playing. We ended up playing for a couple hours and everyone had such a great time. You can see a short video one of my friends took of us playing “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind below.

The weather recently has been amazing, and I highly suggest you grab an instrument, head outside, and enjoy some homemade music along with the sun. Shalom, for now!

Expanding Jewsical Libraries

This week I am going to try and expand your Jewsical knowledge through sharing some of my favorite songs that fall under my definition of Jewsic. My last post was about the band The Angelcy, so I will not include them in this post, but if you are looking for new music, they should definitely be on your list to listen to.  The first song that I am going to show you is a live version of the song”Angel” by a man named Omer Netzer. One of my Israeli friends recently told me about him, and I enjoy his music very much. He has a really great voice, I like his lyrics, and I am always biased towards songs and artists who use acoustic guitars. He is considered a folk musician and I highly recommend looking him up.

 

The next song I will be talking about is by Matisyahu, who you may have heard of. Matisyahu is known for mixing Judaism with reggae and started off his career as a practicing Hassidic Jew, though he has changed his look since then. In 2011 he shaved the beard that he was so recognized for and wrote the following on his website:  “No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias. When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey: to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality—not through books but through real life. At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity…to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth. I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules—lots of them—or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission. Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry… you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.” The song I am going to share with you, though, is one of his earlier songs that actually made it to the top 40 in the US, “King Without a Crown.”

 

This week I am going to share one more song with you all. This song is not necessarily one of my favorites because of how it sounds, but because of the memories I have associated with it. When I was in Israel on my Birthright trip, the song “Tel Aviv” by Omer Adam featuring Arisa was played right as we were heading towards the city of Tel Aviv and the feeling was so special. It is a cool song that I will still listen to sometimes to get the feeling of being in Israel and to bring back the memories of such a beautiful city. I hope you enjoy this song, and my other recommendations as much as I do. Shalom, and have a great week!

The Angelcy

Shalom, friends. This week I am going to take it back a notch from last week’s emotional post and talk about one of my favorite Israeli bands, The Angelcy. This band, in my eyes, is considered Jewsic even though they do not necessarily have anything to do with Judaism aside from being from Israel. This band has such a unique sound and a variety of influences like “old blues (“Roots of the Blues” and “Blues primitive”), reggae, folk-rock, progressive rock, gospel and Westerns music , folk music from Greece and the Middle East, music cabaret and gypsy music and is influenced by a wide range of artists including Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits , Bob Dylan and more” as stated in their biography from Wikipedia.

The Angelcy is made up of multiple musicians, including frontman, singer, writer, guitarist,  and ukulele player Rotem Bar-Or. Maya Lee Roman plays the viola, Uri Marom plays the clarinet and flute, Aner Paker plays the bass,  Udi Noar plays the drums and is the sound engineer.

What makes this band so unique, aside from its sound, is that when they were first starting, they focused more on their live shows and building their audience and fandom than anything else. They were extremely popular and sounded great live, which led to the radio station Galgalatz playing their songs “Dreamer” and “My Baby Boy” even though they did not have any public relations and didn’t try to get them there themselves.

I was first introduced to this band at the Jewish camp I worked as the music specialist at by my friend Shani, who was the Israeli specialist at the time. After listening to them for a little, they sort of dropped off of my musical radar when I went back to school until I went on my Birthright trip to Israel. It was there that I met a different Shani who brought them back into my life and I have kept listening to them ever since.

I would like to leave you guys with two of my favorite songs by The Angelcy, “Giant Heart” and “My Baby Boy,” as well as the suggestion that you take the time to listen to this band and check them out yourselves.

Salaam

This week, I am going to use my blog post to address the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States. For those of you who do not know, since January there have been at least 100 bomb threats towards Jewish Community Centers and schools all across the US. They started on January 9th when 15 different Jewish Community Centers and schools received threats, followed by more on the 18th, the 31st, and February 20th. The most recent set of threats came last Monday, February 27th, where 31 bomb threats were called in to 23 Jewish Community Centers and schools. These threats have been received in 81 different locations across 33 states. 

This is all extremely troubling and upsetting to me, but I know I cannot let it get me down. I am proud of my Jewish heritage and I am not afraid to let the world know. I will also not let it turn me into a violent person. It is imperative that instead of focusing on the hate and retaliating with violence, we need to focus on peace and loving each other more than ever. That is why this week I have recorded a cover of the song “Salaam” to share with you all.

 

“Salaam” is one of my favorite Jewsic songs due to its beautiful message. Just like “Hinie Ma Tov” it only has a few lyrics, but they have so much meaning to me. Originally the song is seen as a call for peace and a call to end the Arab-Israili conflict. In Hebrew, the lyrics are

“.עוד יבוא שלום עלינו ועל כולם סלאם עלינו ועל כל העולם” These lyrics are pronounced, “Od yavo shalom aleinu. Ve’al kulam. Salaam. Aleinu ve’al kol ha olam.” The song has two parts, the verse (from od yavo to ve’al kulam) and the chorus (from salaam to olam). The verse translates to “Peace will come upon us, yet. And upon everyone,” and the chorus translates to “Peace. Upon us and upon the whole world.” What I really love about this song, is that the first verse uses the word “shalom,” which is peace in Hebrew, while the chorus and title of the song use the word “Salaam,” which is the Arabic word for peace. To me, this song symbolizes the unity, peace, and love that can be achieved eventually, and hopefully soon.

 

This has been an emotional few months since January for me when it comes to my Judaism. This song represents how I still believe we can achieve peace and unity, as well as the fact that I will never hide my Judaism. I will continue to be proud of who I am and what I believe. I hope you enjoy the song. Salaam.

 

My Jewsical Journey Part 2

The first time I mixed Judaism and music was my Bar Mitzvah. A Bar Mitzvah is a religious right of passage and ceremony in Judaism that signifies when a boy becomes a man and accepts the Torah and commandments. From the moment a Jewish boy turns thirteen, he is considered a man in his community and has to accept responsibility for all of his actions. Typically, one would study a religious text in the weeks or months leading up to their Bar Mitzvah then teach what they learned to the community as part of the ceremony and right of passage. A lot of the time after the religious ceremony, there is a party celebrating the transition into a man and following obligations of adulthood in the Jewish community. I chose music for the theme of my Bar Mitzvah and party. Though this was more of a side-by-side cooperation than a full on mixture of the two ideas, I was bringing my music and my Judaism together for the first time. To create the theme of music for my Bar Mitzvah, we took pictures with my instruments and created album covers to give out to everyone who came to help celebrate my Bar Mitzvah.

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After my Bar Mitzvah, my Jewsic really started to take a form of its own. When I entered high school, I was able to join the international Jewish youth group (or Jewth group, as I called it), BBYO. Through BBYO I was able to grow my leadership skills and expand my connection with Judaism even further. BBYO has many conventions and summer programs that have different purposes. I went to a summer program called Chapter Leadership Training Conference, or CLTC for short. The purpose of this summer program was to teach the basics of chapter leadership and meet other members of the international order to form friendships and share ideas. This is where I met some of my best friends to this day, as well as Mikey Pauker (the man who wrote the version of “Hinei Mah Tov” I wrote about in my third blog post). He was a song leader for BBYO and taught me the basics of how to become a song leader myself. I was then inspired to bring Judaism and music back to my chapter and incorporate both of them together in my life thereafter. I kept up my song leading throughout high school and would even help bring music into some religious services and events.

My Jewsical journey has continued even in college where I have helped lead educational services with Hillel, an international Jewish organization throughout colleges. The past two summers I have even worked at a Jewish day camp called Camp Hilbert, through the Weinstein Jewish Community Center in Richmond as the music specialist. It is there that I have passed on my knowledge as a song leader, teaching the campers about music and Judaism. My Jewsical journey is nowhere close to being over and this blog is just the next step along my Jewsical path. I am not sure where I will head next, but I do know that Jewsic will be a large part of my life wherever I end up.

My Jewsical Journey Part 1

My Jewsical journey has been shaped by many events and people throughout my lifetime. Both Judaism and music have been prominent aspects of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories include singing songs by the Beach Boys and the Beatles with my parents and going to the Jewish preschool, Aleph Bet Preschool. For those who may not know, Aleph and Bet are the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As I got older, I started to make my own opinions about music. The first band I remember falling in love with and obsessing over was the Backstreet Boys. When I was still very young, I remember we had a VHS of a live show of theirs that I would love to watch and sing along with. It was around this time that I moved up from the Jewish preschool to the Jewish day school, Rudlin Torah Academy, or RTA, to start kindergarten.

Aleph Bet preschool had started exposing me to Judaism, but RTA is where I really started to get into it. There was a point, I think around third or fourth grade, where I was sure I was going to grow up and be a Rabbi. A few years later I would change my mind, but at the time I was really into it. This was also a time where I was starting to expand my music tastes. I had sort of grown out of the Backstreet Boys (though today I will gladly still jam out to their hits) and I was ready for my next big musical influence. The first album that I ever owned myself was “Dookie” by Green Day and it changed everything. I started to get into what I thought then was punk-rock, Green Day became my new musical obsession, and I really wanted to learn how to play the electric guitar.

Not too long after I decided I wanted to learn guitar, I received and acoustic Epiphone starter guitar for Hanukkah. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t just magically know how to already play it, but lessons were started and I was beginning to build my abilities as a musician. I took lessons for about two years but I have kept teaching myself and practicing to this day. While I was starting to really get into my guitar playing and get into the late 90s and early 2000s rock scene, I was also starting to delve deeper into Judaism learning the commentary of the Rabbis and learning how to think. I had not yet started to mix my Judaism and my music, and the first time I did mix them, I didn’t even realize that it, but I will go over that next time. So stay tuned for My Jewsical Journey Part 2.

How Great Jewsic Is

Shalom, friends! This week I am going to focus my post on a specific type of Jewsic. For my first in depth post about Jewsic and its many different types, I decided to start with traditional Jewish music. Judaism is an extremely musical religion on many levels. Even when reading from the Torah, or Old Testament, we sing the words instead of just reading them aloud. In the printed versions of the Torah (rather than the actual scrolls that are read in synagogues each week) there are cantillation marks that represent the different melodies each word is sung with. These marks are known as trop in Yiddish, or ta’amim in Hebrew, from the word ta’am, which means taste. From what I understand, though I need to double check with my local rabbi, they are named “taste” because they are the figurative flavor of the text.

Traditional Jewsic is much more than just the melodic reading of the Torah though. Traditional Jewish music, to me, includes everything from prayers and hymns that are sung to traditional Jewish folk songs. What I really love about traditional Jewsic is that there are so many versions and variations of almost every traditional song out there. Even when singing the prayers (different from when the Torah is being read), every community, sect of Judaism, and sometimes even every person can have their own way of singing the prayers.

One of my favorite traditional Jewsic songs to sing and play is a version of the popular Jewish hymn “Hinie Ma Tov” which is made up of the first verse of Psalm 133. This is also the song I was teaching in the video from my first blog post. There are many versions and variations of this song, but the version that I like to play and teach is one created by Mikey Pauker (his music video is liked below). Mikey Pauker besides being the creator of this version of the song, was also the man who introduced me to Jewish song leading, but that’s a completely different post.

Before you listen to the song, I want to talk about the lyrics and what they mean. In Hebrew, the lyrics are “הִנֵּה מַה טוֹב וּמַה נָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אָחִים גַּם יַחַד.” These lyrics are pronounced “hinie ma tov u’ma-nayim Shevet ach-im gam ya-chad” and translate to “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” In Mikey Pauker’s version, he translates the words a little less literally to “How great it is for brothers and sisters to hang out on this day.”

I love this song for how simple it is, but also because I love the lyrics and meaning. I am all about peace and love, and this song really is just about hanging out and being peaceful. It is a great song and Jewsic staple. I may even consider uploading a video of me preforming this song in one of my future blog posts. Until then, I leave you with Mikey Pauker’s “Hinei Mah Tov (Eeoohh!)”