‘Bulletproof Stockings’: Chasidic women rock

They keep kosher. They’re Chasidic. And they rock. 

Perl Wolfe and Dalia Shusterman, two observant women from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, formed the alternative rock band Bulletproof Stockings in 2011 and are being featured Jan. 20 as part of a 9 p.m. episode from the Oxygen Network’s four-part TV series “Living Different.” 

The group — which only performs live before female audiences and whose name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the opaque stockings worn by some Chasidic sects — takes some inspiration from the Torah, while combining, according to some, the folk-pop sound of Aimee Mann with the mature, edgy vocals of Fiona Apple.

Wolfe (lead vocals, piano) comes from a Chabad-Lubavitch family in Chicago and was classically trained in piano from the time she was 6. She said she has loved music in general all her life, including rock, even though most Chasidic families don’t allow secular music in their homes.

“In my home, it was a little different,” Wolfe said. “My parents both grew up secular, and my mother is a convert. My dad is a ba’al teshuvah — he became religious much later in life. And they’re both musical. Everyone in my family is musical, so I definitely was exposed to a lot more secular music than average.” 

Wolfe, 28, started writing songs after her second divorce. 

“I guess HaShem was just revealing to me through the songs that I have a mission here, and I have to figure out what it is,” she said. “It was a really awesome, cathartic and deep experience for me, because it helped me simultaneously get through a lot of the struggle I was going through with the divorce. And it also helped me figure out that I did want to be a Chasid, because at the time I was struggling religiously as well. 

“When I stopped to look at the music that I had written, it was clear through the lyrics that my heart and soul are absolutely right here in Torah and in Judaism, and that, ultimately, even though it was hard for me to do the action of it, to keep Shabbos and to keep kosher at the time, I knew that that’s where I would end up.”

She relocated to Crown Heights and told someone she met that she wanted to start a band and was looking for musicians. She was put in touch with Shusterman, a drummer with a much more secular background.

Shusterman, 41, was raised in a Modern Orthodox family, left home at 16, went hitchhiking, attended college, spent several years playing all kinds of music — from Brazilian to Afro-Cuban — and toured the world with the rock group Hopewell. Once back in New York, she was introduced to a Chasidic man, whom she married in 2003. They moved to L.A., where she had four boys, became steeped in Chasidic tradition, and had nothing to do with music for years.

“But my husband was amazing. He bought me a drum set for my birthday, because I had left everything on the East Coast,” Shusterman recalled. “[He said], ‘You need to be playing. You are a drummer — you need to be playing.’ And he was a musician also, so we started playing a little bit with his songs, and we were playing at Chabad houses here and there.

“People were always suggesting that I should start a women’s band,” she added, “but there were no women around who were playing the same kind of music, who were speaking anything close to the language I was speaking, musically. So it never really happened.”

After the death of Shusterman’s husband in 2011, she moved to Crown Heights, where she was brought together with Wolfe, and they started their band. Although they perform exclusively for women, Wolfe said it is not because of the law of kol isha, which holds that Jewish men should not listen to a woman singing.

“The reason that we’re performing for women only is because we realized that having a space for women is a really empowering and exciting thing for women,” she explained. “And it’s something that’s not done, not in the secular world, not in the society at large. In the Chasidic community that’s very much commonplace.”

She continued: “Whether you’re religious or secular, or totally unaffiliated, wouldn’t it be cool to have a party together where we just rock out as women? And it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is or what your background is if we’re just a bunch of women hanging out and connecting on our soul level through song. I think that’s something that’s really powerful.” 

Shusterman said their venues are places where women can be women in whatever way is meaningful to them. “There are no men putting them in a box. 

“It’s inspiring in a different way. You really get to access parts of you that we don’t necessarily tap into when we’re trying to put on whatever face we do out there in the world.”

The name of the band, Bulletproof Stockings, reflects a number of aspects at play, according to Wolfe.

“There’s the juxtaposition of the hard and the soft, and the dark and the light,” she said. “Bulletproof is super-strong and invincible, and stockings are sheer and feminine, but they’re also vulnerable. They tear very easily. And I think living as a Chasid is all about balance and trying to live a balanced life, and reveal the light and the joy and positivity within everything, even if it’s covered by darkness.”

Shusterman, the band’s drummer, helps write some of the lyrics for the songs they perform and helps with the arrangements, but said most of the melodies and lyrics are provided by Wolfe, who described them as being inspired by Torah and Chasidic teaching.

“I feel that’s a message that comes through in every song,” Wolf said. “Even if some of the music sounds like hard-core and edgy rock, in reality, if you listen to the lyrics or read the lyrics, there’s a positive message of hope or looking toward a brighter future in every song.” 

Matisyahu on music, religion and life in L.A.

Less than 24 hours after performing with the Moshav Band at the Jewlicious Festival in Long Beach late on March 1, musical artist Matisyahu (aka Matthew Miller) was sitting in the bleachers of the frigid L.A. Kings Valley Ice Center in Panorama City, watching two of his sons, Laivy and Shalom, skate around the rink with 10 other young children as members of a new Los Angeles Jewish youth hockey league.

This spring, the reggae/hip-hop/dub musician will release his new album, “Akedah,” on the independent label Caroline Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group. After being dropped by Epic Records, a Sony-owned label, not long after the release of his 2009 album, “Light,” he established his own label, Fallen Sparks.

Since his emergence in 2004, three of Matisyahu’s studio albums have hit the Billboard charts, and all three reached the top of the reggae chart — many of his singles, extended plays and live albums have made it big, as well.

Just before his sons hit the ice, Matisyahu spoke briefly with the Journal about his work and his ever-evolving Jewish identity. 


Jewish Journal: You moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles more than two years ago. Are you enjoying life here?

Matisyahu: It’s more laid back. The weather is better. I wouldn’t say I like it more — it’s just different.

JJ: You’re no longer on a major label, instead working under your own label, Fallen Sparks, and releasing “Akedah” on Caroline Records. What’s it like going the independent route?

M: Being on an indie label, your bank isn’t as big, and your marketing powers aren’t as big, but you have more control over what you do and what amount of money is spent. When you’re on a major label, they could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on things that you might not feel are important.

JJ: Why did you pick “Akedah,” the title of the story of the binding of Isaac, for your upcoming album?

M: It’s a concept that I started becoming interested in several years ago. I went to the grave of the Baal Shem Tov [founder of Chasidic Judaism] in Ukraine. I sat and studied for a while, and the story of the akedah was one of the major themes that we started discussing. There’s a lot of depth in that story.

JJ: And will that depth come out in the album?

M: The theme of akedah runs through the record and it’s a narrative. … It has obvious themes and it has deeper themes. The difference is that it all comes back and is very personal. No longer is it just abstract ideas. Any idea that I take, whether it be akedah or it be any biblical reference I have in the Torah, I bring it back to me personally — how it represents me in a very personal way.

JJ: Is your music today as religiously themed as it was when you identified as Chasidic?

M: This record is filled with Jewish themes. My last record [“Spark Seeker”] was, as well. I was trying to understand when people would say, “Oh it’s not Jewish anymore”; I realized what it is. What people want is blatant, obvious Jewish references so that they don’t have to think, versus a record filled with all kinds of the depths of Judaism, Chassidus and kaballah but requires someone to go just a little bit beyond the surface. 

JJ: Do you feel comfortable today labeling your Jewish identity in any way?

M: All the terms and labels and things like religious or Chasidic or Orthodox don’t really apply to me. … Being Chasidic, to me, is not about the way you look. It’s not about necessarily the rules you follow, but it’s more about a certain main idea. 

JJ: Can you elaborate?

M: [A Chasid] could be anybody. It could be someone who’s not even Jewish. Sometimes I see someone, I’ll be, like, “That’s a Chasid — that guy.” To me what a Chasid means is very different than what it means to the rest of the world. That’s why it becomes very difficult for me to say I’m this or I’m that.

Matisyahu talks about his new religious outlook and appearance [Q & A]

Cigarette in one hand and cup of tea in the other, Matisyahu sat down with JTA in his closet-sized dressing room during his European tour to talk about his life, his music, how he's raising his kids, and the recent changes in his religious outlook and physical appearance.

The beatboxing reggae star once known for his signature beard and hasidic garb has left his yarmulke by the wayside, dyed his hair blond and moved to Los Angeles from the hasidic stronghold of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Matisyahu (aka Matthew Miller) says he felt locked in by the hasidic life and at some point thought his look no longer represented who he was. Orthodox Judaism does not have a monopoly on the truth in life, Matisyahu says; each person must discover his own truth. The 33-year-old singer, now dressed in a blue zip-up hoodie, says he still looks to the Torah and Judaism for inspiration, but his view of Jewish law — halachah — has changed.

Matisyahu talked about his ongoing evolution with JTA shortly before a performance at Le Bataclan in Paris.

JTA: A year ago you released the single “Sunshine,” probably one of your happiest songs. In what context did you write it?

Matisyahu: I was in California with my son, who has blond hair. It was “golden sunshine.” There was a really good feeling. Part of that is because of the connection between me and the producer and the way we approached the music — dealing with real topics, but in a positive light. I made certain changes in my life. I feel more open, more free. It’s like springtime coming out of a hibernation.

JTA: Let’s talk about these changes. A lot of your fans were shocked when you decided in December 2011 to shave your beard. Not long afterward, you posted pictures of yourself online without a yarmulke. Now you have dyed your hair blond. Can you explain the different steps leading to these changes?

Matisyahu: When I was in my early 20s, I became interested in Jewish identity and history. I went to Israel and had a strong feeling about being Jewish. I started to think about how to incorporate my spiritual search into reggae music. And I decided to make the leap to express myself as a Jew. I started to wear a yarmulke, grew a beard and changed my clothes. It was very much like the blending of the old mystical tradition and spirituality with who I am in America as a 21-year-old musician. Then I decided that I would go the next level with it all and that I would take on the ideology of Orthodox Judaism, even though I didn’t necessarily understand it logically. I figured that I was going to submit myself to it. And I accepted it. It became a part of my worldview. At the same time, I was traveling a lot, meeting different hasidim, and I really got a good understanding of what it means to be Jewish. But at some point I felt locked in to that vision of the world. I needed to go back to my choices and make decisions about my life. I still believe there is a lot of truth in Orthodox Judaism, but not the whole truth. Each person has his truth that he has to discover. You don’t necessarily have to mold yourself to another idea of who you are.

JTA: So you feel more authentic now that you have shaved your beard?

Matisyahu: When I had my beard and my suit, that was very true for me. In that moment that’s what I wanted. But I did feel that it no longer was representing who I was.

JTA: Were you affected by some of the negative reactions among your fans after you changed your look?

Matisyahu: Obviously it made me a little sad because I’m not really interested in making people upset. But at the same time, I’m not representative for anyone. Some Orthodox Jews felt that I betrayed them. There’s no betrayal; every person has to do what is right for him in his life. Then, separate from religion, there is the image issue. Some artists are bound to an image: Bob Marley has dreadlocks, Matisyahu has a beard. But that’s a reminder that the whole thing is not about style. It’s about music.

JTA: Still, you were, maybe unintentionally, a symbol for many Jews around the world that it was possible to reconcile tradition and modernity.

Matisyahu: I think I’m still doing that! I’m looking very much towards the Torah and Judaism as a source of inspiration. Maybe it’s not as obvious for people on the surface, but anyone who really listens to my record will find depth. And that’s a good way to weed out who is a real fan and who cannot go with you. When you are in a relationship with an artist, if his music is a part of your life, you have to choose whether or not to follow him through his transformation and evolution. You know, it’s like the story of the golden calf. When Moses comes down from the mountain, the first thing he does is burn it and it goes back to its original form. Sometimes a calf comes to us like an idol and we become stuck in an image. But to go back to the truth, we need to get rid of the image and get back to the base core. That’s kind of what I did.

JTA: Has your observance of Judaism evolved, too?

Matisyahu: I’m taking every day as it comes. For example, if I’m on the road with my chef or if I’m home, it’s very easy to keep kosher. But what is it to keep kosher? Is it eating kosher potato chips? Kosher is a bigger idea. I think it’s about being healthy. But according to some people, it’s about not eating this food because it’s forbidden by the Jewish law. My view of the halachah changed a little bit. The laws are there hopefully to be a tool. When they’re acting in that way, I’m following them. But if not, I’m not just doing random things because that’s what you are supposed to do.

JTA: How did the people around you react to your changes?

Matisyahu: The people that I’m around are my band. That’s who I’m spending most of my time with on the road. They’re not religious, they’re not Jewish and they’re very understanding. Also, I don’t live anymore in the neighborhood where I used to live. As for my family, they are very accepting of my changes. My kids are learning very different perspectives. I felt that was something very important to teach them all along: bringing them out, getting them out of the shtetl, seeing the whole world, meeting people from different cultures, stressing the humanity of mankind. They’re also growing up with a strong Jewish identity because it’s a big part of our lives — with Shabbat, holidays and even school. I’m teaching them real Jewish values: not to judge people, believe in unity and oneness, and also to know who they are.

JTA: Will we see a new Matisyahu a couple of years from now?

Matisyahu: In life, you’re never going to escape yourself, you’re never going to become something else. Hopefully, if you’re having this interview in two or three years, you will meet a more evolved Matisyahu. It’s important to keep growing.

JTA: Your latest album, “Spark Seeker,” has just been released in Europe. Critics describe it as more pop and less reggae than the previous albums. Do you agree?

Matisyahu: I don’t really consider it less reggae because reggae means a lot of different things to different people. There’s no such objective definition of the term when you’re talking about genres and styles in music. In the pure sense, it’s not so much reggae, but in some ways, this is more my delivery of vocals, a lot of them in a strong reggae patois. … The record was a sort of nice breath of fresh air: having a good time, writing feel-good songs. It’s more of a digitally produced record, more hip hop in the sense that drums and synthesizers are at the forefront of the music. But when my team and I went to Israel, we recorded a lot of live instruments, mostly Middle Eastern style. So in the end, we combined this Middle Eastern organic flavor with more modern fresh pop.

Apres le beard: Matisyahu takes the stage in Boulder

When Matisyahu, the 32-year-old Chasidic reggae superstar, appeared onstage for the first time since shaving his trademark beard, no one in the audience at the Boulder Theater seemed surprised.

The news of his shaving had been widely discussed since the star tweeted a photo of himself, along with a brief explanation for his cosmetic and philosophical changes. Though he was now missing the aesthetic hallmarks of Chasidic Jewry, he still wore a yarmulke—a large, black-knitted version—and his tzitzit hung out from under his plain white T-shirt. He also wore baggy khaki pants that sagged off of his slim, vegan-fed frame, a long black jacket and dark sunglasses.

Without the camouflage of his beard and peyes, his face was noticeably angular, gaunt even. His features looked delicate and feminine under the multicolor stage lighting. 

The sold-out crowd didn’t seem to care, roaring with approval as he stood in front of the mike.

Yet some concert-goers expressed concern before the start of the show as to the viability of Matisyahu’s career without his signature look.

“I think it’s the beginning of the end of Matisyahu,” said Donny Basch, who was attending the Dec. 15 show with his wife. “If you’re going to see KISS and Gene Simmons comes out without makeup, I’d be really pissed.”

Others were more interested to see if any changes would result from his altered appearance.

“I’m curious to see how his concert today compares to the show in Philly,” said one woman, referring to a show she had attended several years prior that had a mix of Modern Orthodox and secular folks in the audience. “I thought it was a fun show, but mostly due to the mystique of a Chasid rapping and doing reggae.”

“I’m very interested in him and what his shift is philosophically,” Deborah Skovrom, a middle-aged woman, said of the singer’s new look and the deeper changes it might signify. “It’s a major shift in how he wants to be perceived.”

Yet she expected no changes in what perhaps matters most to fans—his music.

“His music and message is still right on,” Skovrom said.

Story continues after the jump.

Calvin Carter spoke even more emphatically in defense of Matisyahu’s choice to shave off his beard.

“He’s got the right to do that without people saying he gave up his faith,” Carter said. To him, the music is the point—“as long as the brother is spreading good cheer and good music.”

Carter was one of several stereotypical reggae fans in attendance—guys with long dreads and colorful knit Rasta hats. Most of the crowd, however, ranged in age from high schoolers to baby boomers and were white. Many seemed to have stepped off the pages of a J. Crew catalog.

Newly shorn and wearing his Gap-esque clothing, Matisyahu looked more like his fans than he ever has before. He danced jerkily across the stage. Many in the audience followed suit, yet few reached down to pick up their fallen yarmulkes as the singer did several times throughout the night.

Addressing the audience briefly after a few songs, Matisyahu spoke in unaccented American English without any hint of the patois he adopts when he busts into reggae and dancehall, and none of the “oys” and Ashkenazi pronunciations he sprinkles throughout his songs—especially those that are extra heavy on Jewish and messianic themes. In those brief moments he was simply Matt Miller.

And some people seem to like it that way.

“I think it’s kind of sexy,” said one Jewish woman of Matisyahu’s new look. “With the beard he looks like every other Chasidic Jew.”

It’s an interesting observation—to Jews, looking like a Chasid makes you look like every other Orthodox Jew. It makes you seem like you’re part of a black-and-white-clad monolith. But on the stage of popular music, the beard—not the neatly shorn scruff favored by Brooklynites but a long, full beard—makes one stand out. Some may even argue that it helped launched Matisyahu’s career.

He covered many of his most popular songs—“Jerusalem” and the seasonally appropriate “Miracle”—yet the evening’s highlight was the final song (before the encore set), “One Day.” The song had been used as the official anthem of the 2010 Winter Olympics due to its utopian message.

During his performance, Matisyahu was joined on stage by more than two dozen teens from the audience. A couple of the girls embraced him, clearly unaware of—or undeterred by—Orthodox Judaism’s prohibition against touching between the sexes. Though he did not brush them off, he seemed to momentarily stiffen. His beard may be gone but his fidelity toward Jewish law remains.

“I’ve seen him several times and this is the best I’ve ever seen him,” said Jonathan Lev, the executive director of the Boulder JCC.

Whether his performance quality had anything to do with his new look is hard to say (especially since this reporter had never seen him live). In the blog post he had penned to accompany the photos, he said, “Sorry folks, all you get is me … no alias.”

For the fans who lined up outside the theater, crowded around the stage and sang along with him, that seemed to be more than enough.

Bigger than the beard, Matisyahu move marks ongoing spiritual journey

The world’s most famous Chasidic Jew has shaved his beard.

With a declaration Tuesday morning that he was “reclaiming” himself, Jewish music star Matisyahu—a.k.a. Matthew Miller—shaved his signature beard and wrote, “No more Chassidic reggae superstar.”

The musician posted two photos of his newly beardless face to the social networking site Twitter and added an explanation on his website a few hours later.

“When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process,” he wrote. “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.”
Matisyahu’s religious journey has long been an object of speculation and media fascination. Raised in a Reconstructionist family in White Plains, N.Y., he became affiliated with the Chabad movement only in 2000, after studying at one of its institutions in Israel.

Four years later, after his debut album “Shake Off the Dust… Arise” was released by JDub Records, Matisyahu began a rise that ultimately would find him performing on national television as well as at Jewish events.

Here was a beat-boxing Chasid borrowing lyrics from Jewish liturgy on television while wearing the black fedora and long black coat typical of members of the Chabad sect. Matisyahu represented a major step forward in the visibility of traditional Judaism in the mainstream media.

Chasidic Judaism was always central his public persona. While on tour, promoters made special arrangements to accommodate Matisyahu’s Sabbath observance.

As recently as last weekend, Matisyahu’s status as a Chasidic cultural icon was on full display. An episode of the Bravo channel’s “Chef Roble & Co.” focused on a kosher Thai Vegan party held at the musician’s home. The episode explored the intricacies of rules governing the preparation of kosher meals.

But Matisyahu’s spiritual exploration didn’t end with his rise to public attention. In 2007, he distanced himself the Chabad movement, a move that sparked another round of news stories.

“My initial ties were through the Lubavitch sect… At this point, I don’t necessarily identify with it any more,” Matisyahu told the Miami New Times in 2007. “I’m really religious, but the more I’m learning about other types of Jews, I don’t want to exclude myself.”

“Matisyahu was never a part of the movement’s conventional line,” a senior Chabad official told Haaretz later that year. “It’s possible that he felt that his membership in Chabad caused him to be scrutinized.”

Matisyahu went on to explore other schools of Chasidism—including Karlin-Stoliners, a Chasidic group known for praying at full volume. It wasn’t a matter of rejecting Chabad, the singer told JTA in 2008, but rather “not feeling bound to one way or one path, but open to many paths within Judaism.”

The singer’s latest statement isn’t definitive. It doesn’t rule out belonging to Judaism or even a Chasidic movement. At most, the statement seems to indicate another stage of spiritual exploration.

“Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth,” Matisyahu says in his statement. “And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry … you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.”

David’s the singer, he’s the rapper

Oded Turgeman, director of the new short film “Song of David,” doesn’t do things the easy way.

As a burgeoning film director, he applied to Jerusalem’s most prestigious film school, with a commander in a combat unit as his only prior life experience. Then he moved to America to attend the American Film Institute — the first Orthodox Jew ever to enroll there — and, because of his Sabbath observance, had to shoot and produce each of his four thesis films in two days, not the usual three.

And when the deadline for AFI’s short-film contest was two weeks away — this was the night before Passover 2006 — and most applicants had worked on their proposals for months, Turgeman was struck with inspiration for the film that would, nearly two years later, become “Song of David.”

“It was accepted by the committee,” Turgeman said, laughing. “It was an impossible thing, but they accepted it.”

He secured a shooting location in Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon near Hancock Park and a star in the rapper Niz (real name: Nosson Zand), who flew to Los Angeles to meet Turgeman. Despite his lack of experience (truly: Zand had never acted before), Turgeman was immediately convinced he was the right Chasid for the part. For Niz, a ba’al teshuvah who had been Orthodox for only a few years, landing the role of David was a coup.

“I tell people that David is a yeshiva bocher who wants to be a rapper, whereas I am a rapper who wants to be a yeshiva bocher,” he said.

As for the film itself, it would be tempting to describe “Song of David” as a straight-up Orthodox hip-hop movie, if such a thing existed. The truth is, it’s much more complicated. The film is a study of its titular character’s struggle: the struggle to be a good Jew and a good artist.

From the start, the movie dwells firmly in iconic imagery. The opening credits fade from black into the striking blue water of a ritual bath, with a man in his early 20s dunking himself beneath the water. From there, the film places Niz in terse, bleak scenes, light on words and heavy with intended meaning, of David being scorned by other yeshiva students, of him standing on the yeshiva rooftop and writing verses.

The paradigm of David’s character — a Chasidic Jew who can find solace only in hip-hop music — is hardly a unique occurrence in today’s real-life Chasidic world, where professional masters of ceremonies like Y-Love and Matisyahu use music as a way of both self-expression and proselytization, and bands that sound like MTV clones play to packed auditoriums of single-sex audiences.

But the clash of hip-hop and Chasidic cultures is still such a striking study in oppositions, especially to non-Orthodox audiences, that the film is almost forced to traffic in these stark, hard-hitting images in order to get through to the audience: the black-and-white clothes, the bearded face nodding in time to rhymes, the traditional wordless niggun hummed over vocal beatboxing. (The film’s soundtrack features Ta-Shma, a hip-hop duo based in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights who contribute both original songs and music from their 2006 album, “Come Listen.”)

To shoot the film, Turgeman had to wait nearly a full year, until Passover 2007 — the only time that the yeshiva was out of session.

“The catering alone was a nightmare,” Turgeman recalled. “Even though 95 percent of the crew was not Jewish, all the food had to be Kehila kosher. And it was a week before Passover. It was really tough. But we withstood it.”

In order to meet with the yeshiva’s demands, all the women on the set had to wear skirts, and married women, even non-Jewish ones, were asked to cover their hair. But those restrictions were easy compared with the ones imposed by the film’s star. After becoming Orthodox and going through the yeshiva system himself, Niz was wary of getting involved in any sort of film, especially one in which he’s first seen underwater and shirtless inside a ritual bath. To film that scene, all female crewmembers were asked to leave the room, including the cinematographer.

“The [bath] shot was one of the more questionable moments that I encountered,” Niz said, although “eventually, the scene gained the approval of a local rabbi whom I both trust and respect.”

With production completed, Turgeman is now taking the film on a festival tour. In March, “David” had its L.A. premiere, as well as a screening at the prestigious AFI Dallas International Film Festival, one of the preliminary screenings that leads to Oscar qualification. Turgeman and his screenwriter are working on a full-length adaptation.

In the meantime, though, Niz is back to his first love, hip-hop. “I don’t know if I’d act in another film,” he said. “I believe as a Jew that many things in this world can be used for both good and bad. I viewed this movie as an opportunity to spiritually elevate the film industry.”

This article originally appeared in The Forward (www.forward.com) and is reprinted with permission.