We’re approaching Tisha B’Av and I’m having a hard time. One of the things that impacts my approach to Judaism is the struggle with faith and identity that I had before. I always held a belief in Gd but the definition of that relationship was a messy ordeal. I don’t believe one can be “without Gd” but I definitely felt like I kept Gd at arms length for a while.
Through a lot of seeking and discovery, I finally made peace with that struggle and it helps to strengthen my intention when I pray. People tell me that I’ve always been here and not to use the word convert because it’s offensive. I don’t know who it offends but it doesn’t offend me. I’m extremely proud of that choice and the truth is – I haven’t always been here. I can understand it from a spiritual perspective. Judaism was a homecoming, after all. The only difference is that it wasn’t always my home. I spiritually lived somewhere else and I don’t ever want to forget that. That difference between what was and what is, I feel, only strengthens where I stand now. I’m proudly Jewish and shouting it from the mountain tops. However, just like I wasn’t raised Jewish, I also wasn’t raised with the concept of mourning for a Temple.
One of the things that I love about Judaism is that it is so incredibly personal and communal at the same time. It’s about YOUR actions , YOUR intentions, and the effect they have on you and also – everyone around you. These are your choices and your responsibilities. It is about a person and a people. That concept is something that I’ve been able to apply to so many things ever since this Journey has been underway but it seems to fall short when it comes to mourning the Temple.
So as we enter into Tisha B’Av, I’m trying my best to come at it from a perspective that allows me to embrace the time, use it wisely, and honor it properly. I didn’t lose a Temple but my people did. Tragedy didn’t befall me on the 9th of Av but it has landed heavily on my people. While I cannot say that I am in mourning personally, my people are. I know a lot of folks who stand during the mourner’s Kaddish when others have lost someone. I hear a lot about this from all sides but I think it’s beautiful. So on this Tisha B’Av, even though I may struggle to find my place in it, I’ll be beside my people in their mourning. Maybe that, and the struggle that comes with it, is my place in it.
So if you know about Houston’s Underground Club scene, you’ve probably heard of Super Happy Fun Land. And if you’ve ever been there, you probably wouldn’t think it was a hotbed of Jewish Music. Well, it isn’t but it was hot and there were couches you can sleep on and there was Jewish music, so…Welcome to Tour Update #3!
Anytime I can have the band together is a good time and thankfully, we had a serious stretch of gigs come up in a row all around Houston. We kicked it off a Saturday night Jewish Americana concert at Houston’s Shaar Hashalom. This is my home Synagogue and they’ve been the ones to see and hear everything new before most folks. It’s a great group of people to play for and the band was on fire. I don’t know how Greg Sherman does it but that fella can keep up with anything. I must have moved the song order around about nine times and every single time, he just added that Sherman magic to the whole thing. Amazing.
James was staying at our casa and the next morning, we loaded up his van with the candy store (I think that’s what I’ll call his collection of instruments that he brings). We hit the road for Brenham Texas, home of Bluebell Ice Cream and a Festival called Sprang Thang. It’s about what you would hope for in a good Texas get-together. A lake that folks that swim in, plenty of cold beer, and lawn chairs as far as the eye can see. They had a massive stage set up on some beautiful property and we ripped and we left it all up there on that stage. Aside from some minor technical difficulties, it was an awesome show and we had the opportunity to check out other awesome talent.
Finally, a few days later we arrived….at Super Happy Fun Land. I can’t really explain what this place it. It’s just kind of…what it is. And it’s wonderful. The building itself is like a hollowed out warehouse with a huge stage, a wall stacked with dolls, and seats taken right out of a movie theater. I mean that in the most literal sense. They were taken out of a movie theater and placed on the floor at SHFL. In fact, the whole place was so unexpected, we found ourselves completely falling in love with it. It was like being in a foreign country – you didn’t really know what to expect.
The faces on a few folks in the front row lit up when I started my Hine Ma Tov and they talked for a bit with April at our merch booth. I can promise you that they did not expect to hear Hebrew at this show. We made some new fans, new friends, and a good night was had.The band we were opening for was called “The Division Men” and they’re fantastic. You should absolutely check them out. We were all stunned at their show and they are in the midst of a tour right now. While you’re at it, go check out “Painting Bleu Birds” – amazing group and super nice folks as well.
I don’t do nearly as much as I’d like to in Houston. I love being on the road because you have the opportunity to pray and share sacred time with so many different folks but I do love playing in my own backyard when I can.
Speaking of backyards…We’re entering the planning stages of the 2018 tour and somewhere in there, we’ll be laying down tracks for the new album. Be on the look for collaborations, guest stars, duets, and a lot more shows in 2018. Good times ahead. So much is happening so fast. Thanks for being part of it and thank you for all the incredible support.
Questions of the Week:
“Do you do your Jewish music in venues that are not Jewish?”
Answer: Yes. The music I make is the music I make and I do it because it’s what I want to make. If it makes people feel good, then it did what it is meant to do and you don’t have to be Jewish to like good music.
“Do you speak Jewish?”
Answer: I do. I do speak a little Jewish.
Went into a shop one time and the fella behind the counter told me he liked my people. I said thanks and grabbed a pack of M&Ms, because as everyone knows – M&Ms are the greatest candy in human history. “I like your people,” he said again. I nodded, thanked him and said I liked his people, too. I wasn’t sure what it all meant. When I reached the back cooler, he said over the isles, “I’m ok with your people!” I laughed, grabbed my drink and went up the counter. It was weird but I thought I knew what he was talking about this time. I pointed to my kippah.
“You mean this?” I said. He nodded as he rang me up. “Oh thanks. Glad you like my kippah.” He stopped for a moment and it got weird. “I’m Jewish,” I said. His face dropped.
“Oh” he said, in a quieter tone. Then he just rang me up and sent me on my way. Never made a friend and lost one in the span of five minutes before. He seemed like a nice fella.
On the next update – I’ll share some thoughts on the ISJL and more FAQ. Have a fantastic week and remember, we are currently booking house concerts, festivals, and artist in residence weekends for 2018. If you want to do some praying and singing together – email me at email@example.com .
From Passover at Camp Ramah Darom to celebrating Shabbat with a newly formed community, the last few months have been full of lessons and good folks. Here’s a little video about the tour so far!
We took in Shabbat at Camp Ramah Darom with the whole family and spent those days nestled in the North Georgia Mountains. Each night, on a porch full of rocking chairs, there was song and spirit from the folks who gathered. They had invited me to be their artist in residence for all of Passover and in addition to having the opportunity to teach a few classes, I did a concert with my good friends Sammy Rosenbaum and Eliana Light. I don’t know what it is about the mountains but they just make the music sweeter.
During one of the (amazing) Seders, we were asked what our favorite part of the passover story was. The part that really stuck with me is actually a midrash. It’s the story of how Gd admonished the Angels for celebrating the death of the Egyptians and the freedom of the Israelites. The sea collapsed, crushing the approaching army beneath its waters, and the Angels cheered. In that instant, Gd turns and admonishes the Angels. They are told that the Israelites can cheer for their freedom but not the Angels because, as Gd points out, the Egyptians were his children also.
It’s a great reminder that we are all children of Gd, no matter how we choose to live the life that we’ve been blessed with. So treat each other well and meet others where they are.
From The North Georgia Mountains, we rolled over to El Paso Texas for Yom Ha’atzmaut! It was interesting to be brought as an artist to play music for a day celebrating a land I have never been to. More than interesting, it was a huge honor. I have so much respect for the amount of life that has sprung up out of the desert there and the amount of work that it takes to make that life continue to grow. Someday, I hope to bring this music to the land where the roots are planted. The weekend was made even sweeter by a Shabbat joining two communities together. We sang, we prayed, and we rested. I was also joined by the incredible Alison Westermann! She’s made some beautiful Jewish music and you should check it out.
So everytime I go to a community for a weekend, I take in as much as I can. Torah study, services, lunch and learns, anything. If you EVER get the chance to study with the amazing Rabbi Royi Shaffin or Shoshana Schechter-Shaffin – jump on it. They taught me so much and I’ll never look at Havdalah the same way again.
From El Paso, it was off to Orlando to record some background vocals on Sam Trattner’s new album, Listen. Keep an eye out for a release date soon. Abbie Strauss and I did a little singing in preparation for the Cantor’s Assembly concert in Atlantic City, NJ. She’s an absolute joy to sing with and if you haven’t heard her pray on her album, Spark, get thyself online and dig on that. It’s the good stuff. Speaking of the Cantor’s Assembly…
It was an honor to make music for the Conservative movement’s Cantor’s Assembly! We sang our hearts out for Jewish Rock Radio and all those who elevate prayer through song. It was kind of wild because the first Cantor I ever met is the one who MC’d the event. Cantor Joanna Dulkin is a delight to work with. She made us all feel at home, just like she did when I first met her. Amazing to come full circle like this.
Speaking of Jewish Rock Radio – they’re raising funds for their station. If you haven’t listened yet, I highly entourage you to check it out. It’s 24/7 streaming radio and brings incredible content to everyone around the world!
Thank you so much for all of the support! The new Americana Shabbat service has been received better than we ever could have hoped. Have a wonderful week and be sure to follow the Unbroken Tour on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (at Joe Buchanan Music). If you want to book a weekend, concert, Shabbat service, or event for your camp, festival, or community – let me know! We still have a few spots left in 2017 and are officially booking for 2018.
Hi there! The last few weeks have been jam packed with music, prayer, and good times in so many different places. Thanks for checking out this little update and please remember to head over to our “Tour Dates” tab and see if I’ll be in your area. I would love to pray and sing with you. I’ll talk more further down on how to bring me out to your community if you’re interested in having me over!
We kicked everything off with a show on Harmony in Unison, a new Facebook group that brings together folks from all over to hear free, streaming concerts Sunday through Thursday. It’s a great community and some pretty amazing folks have held full shows on there so if you get the chance to check it out, please do! You can follow this link and request an invite: HARMONY IN UNISON . You can find my broadcast along with many, many others.
Next up, the tour bus (my old Nissan Altima) rolled on over to Temple Sinai in Houston to join the AMAZING Beth Hamon for a Havdalah concert. Beth is based out of Portland, OR, and came down to do a full weekend with the good folks there and they were kind enough to let me join in. If you haven’t already gotten a copy of Beth’s Album “Ten Miles”, get yourself a copy at her website HERE. She is hands down one of the best songwriters I’ve met and if you get the chance to catch her live, don’t miss it. Here is some video of “Hear” from that show…
Then it was off to one of my favorite places in the whole world – Songleader Boot Camp! Now that name is pretty misleading because it isn’t just for songleaders! It’s a several day event for anyone who works in the Jewish world and wants to make their fire a little bigger. SLBC taught me so much and continues to fill me up every single time I go. The best part was that this year, I got to bring my family with me! Last year on Facebook, a friend of mine challenged my good buddy, Rob Aronson, and I to co-write a song in time to perform it at SLBC. Who were we to back down from a challenge? Rob has a new baby and my son is 17, so we wrote a song about being a parent and the hopes we have for our children. It’s amazing how similar those hopes are for a child first coming into the world and one about to go out into it. Here’s some video that the amazing Susan Shane Linder captured.
Almost as soon as the plane touched down in Houston, the guitar case was back in the air and headed to Florida for a weekend with the good folks at Ramat Shalom and Limmud Miami! Once those wheels were down, it was off Plantation Florida to meet with the incredible Cantor Debbie Hafetz to go over the service for that night. Well, things got interesting fast. We had no power! Thieves had stolen a whole mess of copper wiring from the Synagogue and there was no juice which meant no AC, lights, etc. Some folks were working hard to get it on in time but it wasn’t looking good. We started setting out led-candles for folks and getting set for a candle-lit Shabbat service when suddenly, just as we were about to start – LIGHT! Right on time. We sang, we prayed, we had a great time together welcoming in the beauty of Shabbat with joyful noise. Also, we could see each other and the AC was wonderful. I really loved every minute with these beautiful folks. They’ve really built a singing community there and the energy was amazing!
Saturday was for the always wonderful, Susan Shane Linder. I added some vocals to a track on her upcoming album at the studio of Latin Grammy winner, Paul Hoyle. So much fun! Plus – it’s a Susan Shane Linder song. Look for “Make a Good Choice” on her next album.
Now my host for this entire weekend was an awesome fella names Jason Wasser. Jason and I met at Limmud Fest at Ramah Darom and have been good buddies ever since. That night, I came back to his apartment and walked in to the sound of guitars and singing. Jason had his door wide open and folks were gathering for Havdalah! We sang away Shabbat together with a room full of folks and had a ton of laughs. There that night was a young singer/songwriter named Etty Black, who was visiting from Brooklyn with her sister Esther. Etty shared a song with us and we were floored! You have got to hear this. It’s a home recording of Etty’s Song “We Had a Good Run”. Watch out for her – She’s a rockstar.
Finally, the Florida leg of the trip wrapped up with a visit to Limmud Miami! I’ve only taught at one other Limmud (Limmud Fest at Ramah Darom) and was so honored to be invited to this one. MANY cities host a day of learning and if you’ve never been – get there! They are amazing and the Limmud communities are fantastic. This was a full day of learning on every topic under the sun. I taught my workshop, Choosing to be Chosen, and also gave a concert for the community there. I can’t thank the good folks at Limmud enough for bringing me down to Florida! While you are checking all these things out – check out my good friend Jason Wasser’s website. That man is a healer and a half – http://thefamilyroomsfl.com/
Coming home is always wonderful and having the opportunity to lead services in your home town is such a joy. I have a special Americana Shabbat service full of original melodies that I lead when I visit communities out of town but it is rare that I have the opportunity to do that in Houston. I’m very thankful for the trust that Rabbi Lobel and the good folks at Beth El in Missouri City placed in me. It was a blast to spend Friday night with them. Also, big thanks to Jeff for this review on our Facebook Page!
“Joe visited our congregation (Congregation Beth El in Missouri City, Texas) recently and comments herein do not do his music and energy justice. His melody and words really resonated, touching the soul and making it a Shabbat to remember. I look forward to hearing Joe perform in the future and encourage others to do so as well.” – Jeff in Missouri City, TX
Then came Austin, TX and one of the largest music festivals in the world – SXSW! Kosha Dillz invited me to join a great duo, Eric and Happie, in leading a Shabbat dinner and service at a bar called Dozen Street. So naturally, I called up my good friend and mighty string-slinger, Shamus Platt, to see if he would join me. Now, I don’t know if you know how far away McAllen, TX is but it’s far. It’s like, really far. Shamus drove all the way here with his amazing family just to rock out at SXSW with me. Let me tell you…this fella is one super holy brother. Just a great human being start to finish and I am so honored to know him and his amazing family.
So we got to the bar and it was jam packed! You couldn’t squeeze in there for nothing, so we went next door to a place called Full Circle Bar. It turns out – the owners are Jewish and one of them invented the games, Spinagogue and Major League Dreidel! Who woulda thunk it?! We chatted for a while and it looks like we’ll be seeing them again for some music in the future. Sounds good to me. What didn’t sound so good was the action next door. Police filled the streets in a flash and folks were pouring out of the bar we were set to be at in 45 minutes!
The streets were blocked off and we walked on over to Dozen Street to talk with the doorman. I wasn’t sure what to say or what to ask, so I went with what was easy. “Everyone ok?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Are you still open?” He nodded. “Can we load in our gear?” He nodded again – so we headed in. Setting up when the place is empty was a snap! By the time the sun was sinking in the sky, folks were filing back into the bar for the start of SXSHabbat Fest. Eric and Happie led the blessings over the challah and the wine – then James and I welcomed in the Angles with Shalom Aleichem. Here is the video.
Talk about a wild night! We ended up playing a five song set that included two brand new tunes, “Texas” and “Float”. We were also the opening act for Happie and Eric, who brought down the house with their incredible songwriting, harmonies, and chemistry. Can’t recommend them enough. You can find their album, “It’s Yours” on iTunes, Spotify, and more. Shabbat…at a bar…in Austin…during SXSW. Awesome.
James and his family stayed with us through the weekend and we finished out with a House Concert in Houston the next night. To my absolute delight, the awesome Greg Sherman was able to join us and brought the beat! Any day I get to play with Greg and James is a good day. So among all the food, cold drinks, and good folks – we made a little music. Here is one of the new tunes, called “Texas”. I wrote it because I always get asked if I’ve ever been to Israel. I haven’t and I would love to go someday. Maybe you know someone looking to bring some of this music to Israel!? Anywho – I hope this video makes you smile. The opening line is, “Well I’ve never been to Israel but I floated the Frio River.”
Here are a few dates coming up and I’m proud to say that I’ll be at the Cantor’s Assembly Conference in May. If you are going, come to the show on the 21st featuring Abbie Strauss, Eliana Light, and myself!
I hope we get the chance to pray and sing together this year. More (and more frequent) tour updates are on the way. Now for a little Q&A!
How can I get my community on the tour?
Great question! If you would like me to come to your community for Shabbat, a Havdalah Concert, Workshop, or even a full weekend of programming – just drop me a line! Let me know who I should send information to and I will happily send over a PR packet that includes all the info. It’s that easy!
How do I book a House Concert? Those look AWESOME!
They are! House concerts are HUGELY popular and your living room was made for live music…trust me. They are easy to organize and are so much fun. Drop me a line and I will send you everything you need to know! Let’s gather up in your (or someone else’s) home for a night of music and good times.
Are you taking bookings for 2018 yet?
YES! We are taking bookings beyond even that. Just drop me a line and let me know what you had in mind!
Do you play secular venues?
Yes. I believe that music is a bridge and who am I to say who can and can’t cross it? If you have a venue and want to talk – let’s talk.
Do you ever play Interfaith Events or share your music with folks who are not Jewish?
Absolutely! I believe that one of the biggest dangers we face is misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and miscommunication. I’m happy to share my music, my thoughts on Judaism, and even my story of conversion (and why) with anyone who is interested. Judaism was a powerful healing force for me and if the music I write can help someone else, I am more than happy to share it. I believe that there is a lot of room at the table and my goal is to add more chairs, not take them away.
What all can you do in a community?
A lot! Drop me a line and I’ll send you all kinds of good information.
Do you have dates left for 2017?
Absolutely! Check out our Tour Dates tab and let’s be in touch!
First of all, thank you so much for all of the support in 2016. It is an incredible honor to have had so many opportunities to pray and share song with folks from all over the US. There is a lot that goes into bringing someone into your community and the biggest among them is trust. Thank you for all the trust you’ve shown me. It means so much.
So what’s new? Well – How about a NEW TOUR? We are getting set to get back on the road and I want to visit you! This year is going to be huge and we are going to bring some Jewish Americana to even more places in 2017. We’re adding dates to the calendar and getting your community, camp, event, or festival on there is as easy as pie. Just head over to our booking page HERE and let us know what you have in mind! From Shabbat services and concerts to speaking engagements and workshops, there are so many ways for us to spend holy time together.
So, what happens on tour? A lot of cool stuff! I’ll be posting updates on our Twitter page (@jbenavraham) , pics on Instagram (joebuchananmusic), all manner of stuff on our Facebook Page (Joe Buchanan Music) and a road diary right here on the website. Awesome moments, videos, wisdom from the road, field recordings and more.
So if you want to get together this year, drop me a line or let me know who I should talk to! I would love to talk, plan, pray, and sing with you. I hope your 2017 is one of connection, strength, peace, and each other. Let’s make a joyful noise this year.
Do you SPOTIFY? Well come on over and give us a follow! you can get to Spotify by following the link HERE.
Happy Chanukah to all my Jewish brothers and sisters! May the lights we light be a reminder of strength, miracles, and choosing to be Chosen. May they shine brighter each night, illuminating all we see. To all those who celebrate Christmas, may the joy of the season bring you smiles, warmth, and connection. Today and everyday, we get to make choices that affect how we view ourselves and the rest of the world. Choices that help or harm, build or destroy, lift up or push down ourselves and others. Be a builder, be a helper, and be a lifter. Be a light.
2016 has been an amazing year and I can’t say thank you enough times for all the support you’ve given to me, this music, and it’s message. So, since I can’t SAY it enough – how about we show it? Right now, everything in the Family Store is 40% off through January 1st, 2017. YEP! Just in time for Chanukah, you can order CDs, get digital downloads, pick up a shirt, etc. All you have to do is enter the code “unbroken” at check out. You can also share that code with anyone you like! I hope the music makes you smile and that it does some good.
As for Chanukah itself, we just released a song called “Shine” on iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere else that awesome music lives. It’s available in the family store and the official music video is below! The song was originally meant to be on “Unbroken” but due to time constraints, we had to leave it off. Thankfully – all that waiting paid off! We were able to bring in the incredible Lior Ben-Hur and release the right song. I hope you enjoy the tune!
New Jewish music is alive and well on Jewish Rock Radio! I just started hosting a brand new show called “The Emerging Artist Showcase” and the focus is on bringing you some of the best new Jewish music around. You can find out more about the show at http://www.jewishrockradio.com
Light your Chanukah Candles this week with Jewish Rock Radio! JRR will light the candles with blessings led by some of your favorite Jewish Rock Radio artists at 5PM in all time zones every night. On Shabbat, candle lighting will be at 4:15PM on Friday night and 5:40PM on Saturday night. Stream it at http://www.jewishrockradio.com or on the smartphone app!
Chanukah on Spotify!
We created a playlist just for YOU! Our team’s picks for some of the best Chanukah music around. Well…Chanukah music and songs perfect for Chanukah! However you spell it, stream it for free on Spotify.
Finally, we are getting ready to get back on the road for a 2017 tour! More info on that coming soon. If you are interested in getting your community, event, camp, or festival on the tour – reach out to us on the Booking or Contact page above!
Wishing you all the very best for all your celebrations during this time of light, joy, and life.
We’ve come through the other side of the High Holy Days and hopefully we’ve done what was needed. We said we’re sorry to those we’ve wronged and we’ve asked forgiveness from the One who forgives. We’ve stood as a people and poured out our hearts as a community. After all that we’ve done and all that we’ve reflected on, here we are at 5777. We’re ready and we’re willing because we’ve said so and our words matter. We’re ready and we’re willing because we told Gd that we were and although we’ve asked for unfulfilled promises to be forgiven, we’d rather see them fulfilled. We’re imperfect, yes. Imperfect but unbroken.
This year, our family had the pleasure of seeing many different sides to the High Holy Days. At Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, I joined with a trio of young folks to lead a standing room only Rosh Hashanah service held inside an Episcopal Church. Storahtelling and joyous singing was alive and well with those youth! The church was excited to play host for the service while the other services were held back at the synagogue. It was wild and fun and wonderful.
For Yom Kippur, I joined Congregation Emanu El in Houston for their Youth Service (held at a Presbyterian Church) and their afternoon service back at their own sanctuary. Aside from a surprise fire alarm (a basketball score-thingy caught fire somehow) and more than a few mic issues, we had a wonderful youth service. Barbara Loeser and I led a musical exodus from the building when the fire alarm rang out, singing and playing folks to the gathering place in the parking lot. Barbara nicknamed the service, “Against All Odds”. I should also note that nothing else caught fire and everyone (including the building) was ok.
The afternoon service was very different from any service I’ve been to. Rabbi Oren Hayon invited players from the renowned Alley Theater to perform a shortened version of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”. If you don’t know the play, I won’t spoil it for you but I will just say that it is very, very heavy. The actors did a beautiful job bringing the play to life and the choice to use it as part of Yom Kippur was brilliant. Barbara Loeser, Dee Dee Dochen, and myself provided the music that separated each act and closed the afternoon with a rendition of “I shall Be Released” by Mr. Bob Dylan.
Finally, we ended the day at our Synagogue in Clear Lake. Going from one side of Houston to the other is no small affair but we made it in time for Neilah and the surprising sound of Sephardic chanting. What a joy it was to see Ms. Nitsana Lazurus, eyes closed, pouring out everything into the prayers. My son was immediately moved and to see the joy in his face sent me smiling into the service that would give us a final moment before the gates together. Shaar Hashalom also brought student Cantor, Jennifer Rolnick, who sent prayers spiraling up with her incredible voice.
People ask me what kind of Jew I am. It’s a question I get a lot. “How do you identify?” It’s a question that I would love to be able to answer but I don’t know how other than to say “Jewish”. I don’t know what branch of Judaism I belong to. I’m finding that there are things I love and connect with everywhere I go. Every single community I visit and spend time with teaches me something different and I’ve made it a goal to heed the words of Ben Zoma and learn from everyone. One person asked if I was Sephardic or Ashkenazi and I told him that I was a convert. He asked me again which I was and when I said I didn’t know, he said that I had an ignorant Rabbi. I told him my Rabbi was anything BUT ignorant and maybe by not forcing me to choose, he did exactly what he knew I needed.
Every day, the Tree that we hold to seems to grow. New flowers bloom and the branches wind and weave. It’s the same tree and the same system of roots feeding a growing and expanding family all searching for constant meaning and connection. I think it’s beautiful and while I would love to say that I am one kind of Jew or another, I still don’t know how to answer that after four years. Each service I helped lead these High Holy Days was completely different with different folks and different intentions. Different sermons and different songs. Similar prayers but different styles. Some with instruments and some without. All were beautiful, all were Jewish, and all of them felt like home.
These High Holy Days have helped me settle into, and be ok with, the idea that I’m still searching for what kind of Jew I am. It’s a question I don’t know if I ever want to answer, maybe I don’t have to, and most likely I won’t. Every community has a different voice and each one has been a blessing to join and pray with.
To every community that welcomed me in this last year – thank you.
To the Rabbis who shared time, trust, and prayer – thank you.
To all the friends who taught me so much – thank you.
To my wife for her endless kindness, love, and warmth – thank you.
To my son for his thoughtfulness, goodness, and wisdom – thank you.
May your 5777 be a year full of connection, sweetness, and all you are seeking.
See that guy up there? That was me in 2013. I had just recently converted to Judaism and had already started writing music about the journey but only really sharing it with my family and my Rabbi, who soon brought up this conference called Songleader Boot Camp. I hadn’t heard of it but at that point, there was a ton of stuff I hadn’t heard about. I remember the first time someone asked if I knew any Debbie Friedman and I said I didn’t know who that was. The look I got said they thought I was out of my mind and a few years later, I completely understand why.
His instructions were very clear, “Go learn everything you can and bring it back”. He said more but that’s the gist of it. I packed an old Blueridge guitar, a notebook of song ideas, and one finished piece called “Hear” that was based on the Sh’ma. I knew the conference was being led by Rick Recht, who I had really connected with musically, and it was for people who wanted to expand their songleading and help drive powerful change in communities. It looked great but I had that fear of being too new, too old, or just not right for it somehow. This was also the first community I was heading to after conversion, which I thought might be a barrier. All my fears were squashed on day one.
Like a lot of folks, I’ve struggled with confidence all my life. Not thinking I was good enough and not feeling like I really belong anywhere. I’m older than I was when this problem started and much wiser now but convincing yourself that you’re not good enough for anything can leave a lot of scars. It’s something you carry around and it’s hard to shake loose. It’s like something that bites you when you try to be more than you’re convinced you are. Thankfully, I married someone amazing who really gave me tremendous amounts of healing and then introduced me to Judaism, which changed everything. Even still, it was easy to feel that pull back into that place of not belonging from time to time.
By the time I got from the airport to the conference, I must have made five new friends and not five minutes after arriving, I was dancing in a huge group and singing at the top of my lungs. All that baggage I brought with me about not fitting in was truly left at the door and I didn’t even notice it happen. I was part of the community and part of something that would change so much about how I viewed my own music, what I could contribute to the Jewish world, and myself. To say that Songleader Boot Camp is an experience doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more like a family.
The most beautiful thing about the first day of SLBC was the immediate validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I belonged there with everyone else and I had something to contribute. The days that followed were full of learning, song, and strength. I came back with a fire and it hasn’t gone out since.
Now I’m going back for my 4th year at SLBC as a professional, touring Jewish artist and I couldn’t be more excited. Since that first conference, so much has changed. Is there more to learn? Absolutely. Is there more growth? Every single time. Songleader Boot Camp is a community that I’m extremely proud to be a part of and I want to give back anything I can to it. The friends I made there are friends today and each year is like a reunion. SLBC helped me find my voice, dial in on what I was searching for, and was a perfect example of a tent that is open at all sides. This incredible community helped me realize that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing and I hope that you have, or make, the opportunity to experience it.
This National Conference is led by Rick Recht, his wife Elisa, and an awesome faculty of Jewish artists, educators, and clergy. The entire team has built something that is so much more than can be described. It’s hugely powerful and continues to grow without losing sight of its purpose. It adds more chairs to the table and does so much for the ones who attend. It’s leadership training, community, laughter, song, friendships, and confidence building. You’ll learn real skills to help facilitate growth and change, you’ll build confidence in your own abilities, and you’ll gain supportive friendships that you’ll learn from. SLBC is that place that you might not have known you were looking for.
The SLBC National Conference is coming up in February and I seriously can’t recommend it enough. Check out their website, talk with your Synagogue leadership team, or if you are in a position to send someone, please do! The website link is below:
I just got back from NewCAJE and while I didn’t think it could get any better than the last one, it completely did. What they’ve built there is an intention driven community full of people who are all bringing their best for each other in an environment for learning, growth, and support. If you are involved in working with others in a Jewish community or wanted to expand your own connection, this was and is a conference for you. When we come together to do more and support each other, we can build amazing things.
This was my second time and I’m already thinking about what next year’s conference will be like, which is in San Francisco (Yesssss!). The lessons learned and the friendships forged at places like this are powerful and if you have the opportunity to go, do it. Even more so, if you have the opportunity to send someone to a place like NewCAJE, do it.
As for the music, I wanted to introduce you to the incredible folks that I had the honor of sharing the stage with. On the opening night, one of the best songwriters I’ve met, Sue Horowitz (http://www.suehorowitz.com/), sang her beautiful “Peace Song” from the album, Notes from the Garrison, available on her website. I actually sang on the album version and it was such an honor to be asked to join her! If you haven’t heard Sue, I recommend you check out her music. It has become like a soundtrack when my wife and I travel.
Monday night, the Incredible Susan Shane Linder (www.singinwithsusan.com) invited me to join her on “You Came Home My Old Friend”. Susan is an award winning children’s music writer but her songwriting doesn’t stop there. “You Came Home My Old Friend” is the song she wrote surrounding the awesome story of her first guitar. It’s a true story and stops the room when she tells it. I am convinced that this song is destined for great things. Susan’s latest album contains one of the catchiest songs around, “Life is Good”.
Tuesday night was the Jewish Rock Radio concert and let me tell you, it was great! To stand in front of the community that welcomed me in last year alongside great friends and mentors was a gift that I’ll keep forever. If you are looking for some incredible Jewish music, do yourself a favor and give these folks a listen.
Rick has carved an incredible path in the Jewish music world not only for himself as an artist, but for others as well. Rick was one of the first artists I listened to when looking for new music for Shabbat. Immediately connective and full of amazing spirit, he has a way of bringing a room together like no one else. He, along with his amazing wife Elisa, built Songleader Boot Camp into a beautiful, not to be missed conference for songleaders and leaders of all types. He is the director of Jewish Rock Radio, connecting Jewish artists to the greater Jewish community with the thread of song. He’s a bridge builder, a good friend, and a mentor. Check out his kmusic online at www.rickrecht.com.
This holy sister has one of the biggest voices in Jewish music and every note is touched with incredible southern soul. I’ve had the opportunity to sing with Abbie on a couple of occasions and everytime, it’s an awesome experience. Her energy and joy is incredible and she has a heart the size of Texas. Always working to bring people together in new ways, Abbie is making great things happen in her community and in the Jewish music world. One of my favorite albums, Spark, is available on her website (www.abbiestrauss.com) along with iTunes, etc. Check out her music and you will be so glad you did.
The word “Pioneer” doesn’t begin to describe Naomi Less. She’s a pathfinder for so many and is always looking to see not just what can we do better, but how she can help. Her music is contagious as is her spirit and those that have seen her live know exactly what I mean. She and I did a mini-house concert at NewCAJE for the Emerging Educators group and I had a blast watching her do what she does. Her song on Tuesday night was “Gibor” and I’m still singing “Ya la lei ya la lei”! Check out what she’s about at www.naomiless.com.
Jay Rapoport is an award winning songwriter, composer, and touring artist. He was also the glue for us at NewCAJE by bringing artists together and keeping us laughing the whole time. Jay is such a great guy and I was honored to be on the same stage as this awesome human being. He brings life to stories in Torah through music that is engaging for families and his song “Renew the Old” was brilliant. I hope we get to work together again soon. Check out Jay and get his music at www.jayrapoport.com.
Jewish music is a constantly moving score and each change brings new intention. Check out the artists above on their websites, iTunes, Spotify, etc. You can also listen on Jewish Rock Radio!
I’ll be doing quite a bit of travel over the next few weeks and I’d love to sing and pray with you! Check out our Booking Page for more information and enjoy the video below of a new song called “The World Needs You” from NewCAJE.
I recently had the opportunity to bring in Shabbat with the good people of the Kerrville Folk Festival and let me tell you and it was awesome.
Rabbi-Cantor Robbi Sherwin of Sababa was scheduled to co-lead the service with Rabbi Kerry Baker (of www.everybodyneedsarabbi.com). Unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it and I had the opportunity to fill in for her, which was incredibly kind. We jumped at the chance to bring in Shabbat at the folk festival so April and I decided to turn it into a family trip! We all headed off for Kerrville and hit another incredible opportunity when holy brother and incredi-mensch, J. Platt Dutremaine, told me he was up in Austin. One thing led to another and his family joined ours for a Shabbat in the Texas Hill Country.
When we got to the festival, we gathered at Chapel Hill and celebrated Shabbat with those who walked up from the various camps around the festival grounds. People from all over gathered for prayer, song, community, and Torah. Any opportunity to pray with people you haven’t met before is one you should not pass up. When we gathered around the Torah, most of us were strangers to each other. We sang a new niggun together and then, through Torah and song, we had much in common. We listened to each other’s voices and despite where we were headed afterwards, we were together then. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been there with so many.
Later that night, around a huge fire pit, we all ate some crazy-good Oreo cheesecake and talked Torah under the stars. On Sunday morning before heading back home, James joined me on a new version of Mah Tovu. Now, for those who may not know, “Mah Tovu” comes from a figure named Balaam who was sent to curse the Isrealites by King Balak of Moab. Balaam goes to the where they are camped and when he opens his mouth to curse them, only praise comes out. I wanted to find a melody that sounded like praise just tumbling out. This was the result. Hope y’all like it!
If you haven’t gotten a copy of the album yet, you can check it out on iTunes, Spotify, and just about anywhere else – including our store. Have a great week and be well. More to come!