Shabbat Surfing: We love you, JDub!

Last week we received the sad news that the groundbreaking Jewish record label JDub will be closing.

Golem at WJMF 2010

The Washington Jewish Music Festival has been a huge fan of JDub for many years, and has been proud to present their passionate and innovative musicians on our stage.

Some of our favorite shows–the ones that make us say this is the future of Jewish music, that give us hope that Jewish music has a future–have been with JDub artists.

And so, in fitting tribute, here’s a round-up of listening links to all our WJMF JDub groups.  Enjoy!

2011: Clare Burson
2010 & 2002: Golem
2010: Girls in Trouble
2010: The Maccaroons
2009: The Sway Machinery
2007: SoCalled

All are available for purchase at the JDub store!

Washington Jewish Music Festival Opens with a Rocking Danny Sanderson Concert

Here are some pictures from last night’s Danny Sanderson concert, one of the best I’ve seen in my time here. He played for almost two hours and for that time, the past week of heartache and controversy surrounding things Israeli evaporated in the pure joy of the music. It was a welcome respite and a rocking good time — and we all needed it; perhaps no one more than Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren who was also in the crowd. Here are some pictures:

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“This Too Shall Pass” – badass music videos in the post-video age

Sure, the song title is Jewish…but we’re not really talking about anything Jewish, just a heads-up. Though it is interesting that the name of OK Go’s newest hit song is a popular Jewish phrase (often inscribed on jewelry, such as Yeshiva Girls rings), I could not find any relationship between the song/band and Judaism.

So let’s instead talk about badass music videos, which “This Too Shall Pass” certainly is. We’re gearing up over here for the Washington Jewish Music Festival, and though we certainly listen to some terrific music, we definitely don’t see any music videos! These videos used to be prime advertising opportunities for musicians and  bands – see a cool video, buy the CD, right?

But since CD sales are down, pirated music is so easily accessible, and even legal, purchase of MP3s is also so easy, nobody wants to make the  videos anymore. But we still want to see them, even if MTV disagrees (noted by their official dropping of “Music Televison” from their network description).

Even if musicians don’t have MTV to showcase their awesome videos, thanks to this whole internet evolution, they have YouTube, Vevo, and the ability to go crazy viral. OK Go created the video for “Here It Goes Again” independently of their record label (which they have since left). With little more than four  treadmills, a camera, tripod and killer choreography, they created a web phenomenon – and probably a whole new fan base.

But some artists want to make their videos with some more money, which is fine too, if they have it. Lady Gaga’s new music video for “Telephone,” featuring Beyonce, is completely ridiculous…but I can’t stop watching it! The costumes, the storyline…the song, meh, not so much. But give me a telephone hat and glasses made out of cigarettes, and I’m on board!

So what’s my point? Nothing huge…I just want you to watch these music videos! Explore the internet, and find those videos that speak to you…dig out those old videos that were so fun to watch 15 years ago. I’m sure you’ll discover that music videos are a form of entertainment you have seriously been missing in your life.

And then don’t forget to check out the Washington Jewish Music Festival on June 6-13 (line-up to be announced soon!). Maybe you can talk our bands into creating some viral videos for your viewing pleasure.

Engaging Israel in Our Community: The Arts Programs of the Washington DCJCC

Theater J’s participation in the upcoming J Street Conference is part of a long-established and agency-wide tradition of engaging in conversations about Israeli society through a variety of artistic media, public lectures and policy debates. It is through this legacy of programming that the Washington DCJCC has established itself as a place where conversations about Israel from multiple viewpoints can take place. Because of our expertise in this area, Theater J agreed to participate in the J Street Conference around its discussions of “Culture as a Tool for Change.”

Over the thirteen years we have been at 16th and Q we have tackled almost every hot-button issue in Israeli society either through film, theater, literature, music or visual art. In presenting David Hare’s Via Dolorosa in 2000 we partnered to create the Peace Café in order to create the safe space to discuss many of these highly volatile and deeply felt issues. We have encountered the issue of the West Bank settlements in Motti Lerner’s play, Pangs of the Messiah, and how to confront an Iran with nuclear intentions in Benedictus. We have explored the lives of Israel’s gay and lesbian community through films like Yossi & Jagger, Orthodykes, Trembling Before God and Jerusalem is Proud to Present. We have explored the issue of foreign guest workers in Israel in films like James’ Journey to Jerusalem and plays like The Accident. We have grappled with the on-the-ground reality of relations between Israelis and Palestinians in films like Lemon Tree, The Bubble and Promises. We have shown documentaries that look at the role Palestinian laborers play in the life and economy of Jewish Israel in films like Another Road Home and Nine Star Hotel. On the walls and exhibition floor of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery in the exhibit “L(A)TITUDES” we have grappled with different artists’ interpretations of the map of Israel and Palestine – showing everything from a map comprised of oranges meant to extend the plight of settlers evacuated from Gaza to the whole of Israel, to an abstract representation of what a two-state solution transport system would look like.

In all of these endeavors we have sought partners with which to discuss the real world issues the artwork raises. We have collaborated with everyone from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Embassy of Israel, Taglit Birthright, the American Jewish Committee and the New Israel Fund, Jews United for Justice and Americans for Peace Now. Now we are partnering with J Street in a conference environment to examine what practical effects artwork and discussion of it have in-practice.  

We’re involved in J Street’s conference not because of its political agenda, but because of its spirited commitment to culture as a tool for energizing discussion and transformation in our Jewish community, and in bringing forth meaningful discourse between communities of different faiths.  The conference, entitled “Driving Change, Securing Peace” is presenting a number of highly informed, creative and committed Israeli and American-Jewish artists who represent a cutting edge, new generation of artists who, like J Street, see themselves as both pro-Israel, pro-dialogue, pro-peace, and pro-open cultural interchange.

While we do not endorse any of J Street’s specific policy positions, we do appreciate the opportunity to be included in the broader discussion they have convened.

Theater J, the professional theater of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center is participating only in the cultural track of the upcoming J Street Conference.  Theater J and the Washington DCJCC do not engage in legislative or political advocacy and our participation should not be construed as an  endorsement or sponsorship of other aspects of the conference or of J Street’s  programs and policies.

Here’s a complete list of the programs Theater J is participating in as part of the cultural offerings at the J Street Conference.

  • Sunday, October 25 at 5:15 pm : Pre-Conference Event – Arts and Activism in Troubled Times

A panel made up of artists active in Middle East issues, as well as artists involved in social causes on a local, national, and international stage. Presented by Theater J following the 3 pm matinee of Lost in Yonkers

  • Monday, October 26 at 8:00 pm:  Music – Rocking the Status Quo Party with JDub’s Soulico

Soulico, a DJ crew from Tel Aviv, is literally one of the biggest names there.  The music is a unique mix of hip-hop, Middle Eastern melodies, dancehall, and electro, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.  Their debut album Exotic on the Speaker, is being released in October.  The group appeared at the Washington Jewish Music Festival in 2008, as have many JDub Bands throughout the years.

  • Television – John Marks and Search for Common Ground

Search for Common Ground’s founder John Marks discusses the groundbreaking soap operas that promote tolerance and reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians.  The innovative peace building organization is the second largest producer of soap operas in the world.

  • Storytelling – Noa Baum’s A Land Twice Promised

Storyteller Noa Baum, an Israeli who began a heartfelt dialogue with a Palestinian woman while living in the U.S., weaves together their memories and their mothers’ stories. She creates a moving testimony illuminating the complex and contradictory history that surround Jerusalem for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

  • Short Film – Other Israel Film Festival presents 6.5 Minutes in Tel Aviv, Shnaim, and Roads

Founded in 2007, the Other Israel Film Festival, a program of the JCC in Manhattan, fosters awareness and understanding of Israel’s Arab citizens. Two short films from the festival explore the complex and unexpected connections between Israelis and Palestinians. Join Festival Director Isaac Zablocki for a conversation about the films and the festival.

  • Documentary Film – Just Vision previews Budrus Has a Hammer (working title)

In this upcoming documentary, a Palestinian community organizer unites political factions in a Gandhian struggle to save his village. Just Vision staff Ronit Avni, Julia Bacha, and Irene Nasser present selected scenes from this timely, powerful documentary and lead a discussion with the audience.

Later this season, Theater J will present its annual Voices From A Changing A Middle East Festivalwhich will continue to give voice to a variety of Israeli, American-Jewish, and Arab and Muslim-American writers, involving collaborations between Israeli and American designers, directors and more. In addition to our mainstage production, Hadar Galron’s Mikveh, Theater J will present additional readings by contemporary Israeli playwrights including: Savyon Liebrecht’s Apples from the Desert.  Readings will take place at both Theater J and the Embassy of Israel’s Jerusalem Hall.

And in case you haven’t heard, the 20th Washington Jewish Film Festival will be presenting the best in current Israeli cinema, beginning on its Opening Night on December 3rd, with the DC Premiere of A Matter of Size.

Jewish MusicFest, Family Shabbat with ShirLaLa (aka Shira Kline)

Let’s face it. Most kids’ music sucks. Sure you got your Dan Zanes (former Del Fuegos frontman) and They Might Be Giants (former They Might Be Giants)  making kids’ music that doesn’t make you want to stab your eardrums out with a mechanical pencil. Laurie Berkner’s not my cup of tea, but she has her proponents. And then you have… well, its a pretty short list. Narrow your search results further by affixing “Jewish” to “kids’ music that doesn’t suck the life force from parents” and the list gets even shorter. Which is why ShirLaLa is so awesome and why we’re offering a special Family Shabbat Service & Dinner with her on Friday, June 5 during the 10th Anniversary Washington Jewish Music Festival.

shira kline- web

Its not just the wildly dyed hair and the freak-folk energy she brings with her. Shira Kline is not playing at being cool. She is cool. My kids even like her and I don’t let my kids like kids’ music (they’re not quite five and my daughter can identify a Shins song within 3 bars and my son’s current favorite song is this).  And Shira’s music authentically engages children in a warm, positive celebration of Jewish holidays, rituals and Shabbat. She reinterprets classic liturgy like “L’Cha Dodi,” amps up kids’ classics like “Put the Chicken in the Pot” and puts her own spin on niggunim like “Bim Bam” which she takes through several different musical styles including surfer rock, lounge cool, latin jazz and hard rock. Perhaps its just easier to take a listen:

Plus we’re throwing dinner into the bargain! Happy kids, shabbat, and music that doesn’t make you reconsider your decision to become a parent. It’s a win-win-win.

Jewish MusicFest Opener, Andy Statman- Bluegrass, Jazz and Klezmer

statmanWhat more perfect way could we choose to kick-off the 10th Annual Washington Jewish Music Festival than with Andy Statman, a giant in the alt-neu Klezmer movement. His return to perform at the Festival is more than an opening night, it also serves as a keynote to the other performers that make up this year’s lineup. For Statman is an artist who has never stopped evolving, never stopped exploring new forms of music and meshing them together into deeply personal compositions and performances. He is the rare musician as devoted to his Judaism as he is to the craft of musicianship and brooks no compromise in his simultaneous devotion to each. Even rarer is his authentic aesthetic commitment to tradition and experimentation. His work provides by turns the comforts of the old world followed by sonic explosions and staccato riffs that break down traditional forms and morph into something like jazz before returning full circle to pulse thumping, foot music-festival-cover-for-webstomping jams. For all of the subsequent acts in the Festival that combine forms into a new Jewish medium — a capella, funk, hip hop and classical — Statman provides inspiration at both ends of the spectrum between experimentation and accesibility.

The title track from his recent album East Flatbush Blues is a great example of both Statman’s virtuosity and broad musical vocabulary.

East Flatbush Blues (Andy Statman, Oceana Music, ASCAP)

On Being a Jewish Artist

Posting this piece that was originally published in the Washington DCJCC’s Center in the City June edition. Even though the Music Festival is half-over, I thought it was still apt.

Artists sometimes run away from the label of “Jewish” because it can be seen as limiting in much the same way that other hyphenates can serve the dual purpose of marginalization in the guise of classification. Woman-writer. Gay-poet. African-American painter. All great art aspires to the universal, however frequently it attains that universality through the prism of specific experience. When that experience comes from outside the “mainstream” the culture tends to value it less—for many complex reasons not least of which is the insultingly reductive notion that we already know what a woman-writer, gay-poet or African-American painter has to say. That is a shame really. In the end what sends Jewish writers, musicians and artists fleeing from this identity is the fear that their art will not be read, heard or seen on its own merits.


This brings us to the Washington Jewish Music Festival, which, by design, is meant to confound our presumptions of what Jewish music is and/or should be. The Festival encompasses a patchwork of musical styles from hip-hop to pop, swing to salsa, classical to klezmer, and sacred to sensual. It is like the iPod of a polymath music fiend come to life owing as much to influences from Mix-Master Mike as Felix Mendelssohn (or Moses Mendelssohn for that matter). In other words, it is a complex assemblage of melodies that bow to tradition on the one hand, while embracing exciting new styles on the other. A classic German silent film from 1920 gets a new score from Davka which combines klezmer, jazz, middle eastern melodies and pop. David Buchbinder takes the beloved musical styles of Odessa and fuses them with the exciting tempo of Havana, while David Chevan and Warren Byrd jam off African and Jewish styles. Regina Spektor and Rachael Sage bring their Jewish identity with them as they perform in a modern pop idiom. I could go on and on.


I want to congratulate Festival Director, Tali Chitaiad for her amazing program. I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the generosity of the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation for their support of the Festival through a major challenge grant. We thank them for their faith in us, their belief in the mission of the Festival and their creative partnership in growing the program.

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