October 17, 2018

GA ‘17, Limmud After Dark, Matisyahu and More

Mayim Bialik


Stand-up comedian and best-selling author Rita Rudner often alludes to her Jewish upbringing in her act. She’ll give away free tickets to two tapings of her latest stand-up special at the historic Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Don’t miss an evening with the funny lady who claims to have the longest-running solo comedy show in Las Vegas’ history. 5:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Free. Palace Theatre, 630 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. (213) 488-2010. ritafunny.com.


The New York Times’ conservative columnist serves as Sinai Temple’s 2017 Abner & Roslyn Goldstine Scholar-in-Residence this weekend, beginning with a Friday night dinner, followed by a lecture titled “What Is U.S. Foreign Policy For?” During a Saturday luncheon, Stephens discusses “Will Israel Live Till 2048?” On Sunday he participates in a light breakfast, lecture and discussion with Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe on “Writing While Jewish.” Stephens’ previous positions include writing for The Wall Street Journal and serving as editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. His focus is domestic politics and foreign policy. Through Nov. 12. 7 p.m. Friday (community Shabbat dinner). 8:30 p.m. (lecture). $70 (Shabbat dinner; lecture is free). Noon Saturday, $45 (includes lunch). 9:30-11 a.m. Sunday, $35. RSVP required. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.


Celebrate Shabbat with “Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik; Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum; and stand-up comedian Benji Lovitt. This evening of music, learning and community marks the official launch of Limmud North America. On the eve of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, Bialik discusses “Standards of Beauty and Ugliness in Hollywood and Beyond”; Berenbaum examines “21st Century Anti-Semitism: Not Your Father’s Anti-Semitism”; and Lovitt presents “What War Zone? Stand-up Comedy From Israel.” Spirituality expert Sherre Hirsch; Rabba Yaffa Epstein; and Doreen and Chaim Seidler-Feller also participate. Ikar music director Hillel Tigay performs a musical Havdalah. 7 p.m. $30. At-door tickets subject to availability. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. limmud.org/afterdarkla.


Ken Feinberg, an attorney who has been key to resolving many of this nation’s most challenging and widely known disputes, including administering funds to families affected by 9/11, discusses “Unconventional Responses to Unique Catastrophes: What Is Life Worth?” Feinberg served as the special master of the U.S. government’s Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, an experience he wrote about in his 2005 book, “What Is Life Worth? The Inside Story of the 9/11 Fund and Its Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11.” 9:30 a.m. (Shabbat service), 11:30 a.m. (lecture). Free. Reservations recommended at info@beverlyhillsjc.org. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9466 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246. beverlyhillsjc.org.


In 1970 in Leningrad, a group of young Jewish dissidents who were denied exit visas plotted to hijack an empty plane and escape from the Soviet Union. Forty-five years later, filmmaker Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov revisits that incident in the documentary film “Operation Wedding.” The film tells the story of her parents, leaders of the group, who were “heroes” in the West but “terrorists” in the USSR, and even in today’s Russia. Zalmanson-Kuznetsov participates in a Q-and-A following this L.A. premiere screening, organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Russian-speaking Jewish young professionals network RuJuLA and the Museum of Tolerance. 7 p.m. (doors). 7:30 p.m. (screening). $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2505. museumoftolerance.com.

His focus is domestic politics and foreign policy. Through Nov. 12. 7 p.m. Friday (community Shabbat dinner). 8:30 p.m. (lecture). $70 (Shabbat dinner; lecture is free). Noon Saturday, $45 (includes lunch). 9:30-11 a.m. Sunday, $35. RSVP required. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

GA 2017

Julie Platt

Reuven Rivlin

The Jewish Federations of North America’s annual three-day gathering will draw Jewish communal professionals, volunteers and philanthropists. Israeli figures, including President Reuven Rivlin and the Jewish Agency’s Natan Sharansky, are scheduled to appear. Local leaders participating include L.A. Federation CEO Jay Sanderson and Chair Julie Platt, who is co-chairing the GA with her husband, Hollywood producer Marc Platt; Rabbis Naomi Levy, Ed Feinstein, David Wolpe and Nicole Guzik; the Jewish Journal’s Danielle Berrin and Shmuel Rosner; Tablet Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alana Newhouse; Tinder founder Sean Rad; and Joint Distribution Committee Global Leader Ashton Rosin. Through Nov. 14. $499 (general admission), $399 (Jewish communal professional), $189 (single-day admission). JW Marriott, downtown Los Angeles, 900 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 208-2144. generalassembly.org.


Food, storytelling and a screening of Temple Beth Am member Daniel Goldberg’s 1995 documentary film, “Un Beso a Esta Tierra” (“A Kiss to the Land”) highlight this community gathering. 6:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.


Milana Vayntrub, a comedian, actress and activist known to many for her AT&T commercials and for her role in the television show “This is Us,” discusses “Dreams of a Hollywood Refugee.” Vayntrub is a refugee from the former Soviet Union and, after a visit to Greece, became involved in assisting Syrian refugees. Her organization, Can’t Do Nothing, which she co-founded with entrepreneur Eron Zehavi, focuses on empowering people to affect change in the world on the global refugee crisis and other issues. Proceeds from the event benefit Hadadit, formerly the Israel Free Loan Association. 7 p.m. $36. Bel Air private residence (address provided upon RSVP). milana.eventbrite.com.


The Jewish comedienne is a winner of the 2008 “Last Comic Standing” and a regular at the Improv and The Comedy Store. She’ll headline “Girls Night In,” an evening of comedy with special guests. Expect social commentary, politics and pop culture. A portion of ticket proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood. 7 p.m. (doors), 8 p.m. (show). $30. Largo, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 855-0350. largo-la.com.


The Jewish-American reggae artist performs as part of his “Broken Crowns” tour, accompanied by Dub Trio’s Joe Tomino (drums) and Stu Brooks (bass) and his original guitarist Aaron Dugan. Expect to hear material from Matisyahu’s latest album, “Undercurrent,” as well as fan-favorites including “One Day,” “King Without a Crown” and “Jerusalem.” Also scheduled to appear are Orange County reggae-rockers Common Kings and Orphan, a Matisyahu-produced project featuring a trio of sons of Lubavitch rabbis. 6:30 p.m. $15-$120. The Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-1400. matisyahuworld.com.


The Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Women’s Leadership Network’s annual conference explores “Unstoppable: The Power of Women.” Participants in the program include Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour; acclaimed singer and recording artist Barbara Morrison; fashion editor and meditation entrepreneur Suze Yalof Schwartz; Kathy Suto, vice president and general manager at Bloomingdale’s in Century City; and actress Nikki Crawford, who hosts the event. Proceeds benefit the WoMentoring Program and all JVS programs serving women in need. 8 a.m. (networking breakfast), 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (conference and luncheon). $200. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8888. jvsla.org.


Ronda Spinak, artistic director of Jewish Women’s Theatre, delivers a spirited presentation about her experience of interviewing 18 of Los Angeles’ most prominent female rabbis for a video catalog about a once-marginalized group that fought for representation in their religion. 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. $20. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.


Inspired by NPR’s “The Moth,” this NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change storytelling event features Jews and Muslims sharing personal accounts of solidarity and standing up for one another. NewGround is a nonprofit focused on bringing together Muslims and Jews for change. Previous iterations of this event have explored “Transformation,” “Digging Deeper” and “The Space Between.” 7 p.m. (reception), 7:30 p.m. (show). Iman Cultural Center, 3376 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. newground.nationbuilder.com/spotlight17.


Marking the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration, a letter declaring British government support for the creation of a Jewish state, a panel of scholars, including Georgia Tech British historian Jonathan Schneer; University of Pennsylvania political science professor Ian Lustick; and University of Cincinnati modern Jewish history professor Mark Raider discusses the history of the Balfour Declaration and its significance for today. 4 p.m. Free. UCLA Faculty Center, California Room, 480 Charles E. Young Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646. international.ucla.edu.


A yearlong break between the end of high of school and the start of college, the gap year is becoming an increasingly popular alternative for high school graduates. This fair, the largest Israel gap-year fair on the West Coast, offers more than 50 Israel programs appealing to students of all backgrounds. Organized by the American Israel Gap Year Association, the annual event draws representatives of gap-year programs and gap year-friendly colleges as well as parents, students and educators. 7-10 p.m. Free ($10 suggested donation). YULA Girls School, 1619 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 702-0644. israelgapyear.org.

Matisyahu shown pushing teen fans offstage at JCC Maccabi Games opening

Matisyahu speaking at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City on Jan. 8, 2016. Photo by Amir Norman

Jewish reggae star Matisyahu is seen in a video pushing two teenage athletes off the stage at a concert in Alabama during the opening ceremony of the JCC Maccabi Games.

The incident took place Sunday night at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Bartow Arena, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Some two dozen Maccabi athletes joined the singer onstage during his concert and were not stopped by security. But when one of the teens knocked off Matisyahu’s hat he became angry, the Post reported, citing an attendee. The video shows the singer shoving two people off the stage into the front row, and pushing a third teen toward the back of the stage.

Several attendees tweeted about the incident. Matisyahu has not responded.

In a statement to the New York Post’s Page Six, the JCC Association of North America wrote: “We are disappointed and dismayed that our opening concert performer, Matisyahu, forcibly removed some of our teen participants from the stage, and we will cooperate with any police investigation. Violence is never acceptable … This is contrary to what we instill in our participants and in what we believe. We are relieved that the participants involved were not seriously injured.”

Hundreds of Jewish athletes aged 13 to 16 from JCCs throughout the United States, along with delegations from Israel and Ukraine, gathered this week for the games.

Hawaiian coffee shop singer to perform with Matisyahu in concert

After some legal maneuvering, the Hawaiian musician who was seen in a video performing the Matisyahu song “One Day” in a Maui coffee shop unknowingly with the ex-Orthodox reggae star can perform an encore in California.

Matisyahu in a video posted Friday to his Facebook page invited Kekoa Alama to perform with him on Aug. 12 at the Hollywood Palladium in California. Alama responds to the call that he has violated his probation and is “on the run” from police, which would prevent him from leaving Hawaii.

Matisyahu says he will help Alama, a ukulele player and singer, to perform in the show since Alama is “trying to create love and light for the world.”

In a video posted Monday on the Facebook page of Matisyahu's manager, Stu Brooks, and the singer's Twitter feed, Matisyahu announced that following a conference call with the judge in the case, Alama's probation officer, the public defender and district prosecutor, Alama has permission to sing “One Day” at the concert.

In a video from late July that went viral, Alama did not know he was singing with Matisyahu, who was sporting a red and black checkered shirt and long blonde locks.

At the end of the song, Matisyahu asked Alama, “You know who wrote this song?” and pointed to himself, leading to expressions of disbelief from Alama. The singer put Alama and his wife on the guest list for the Maui concert that evening.

Moving and shaking: FIDF YL Gala; Persian New Year; Matisyahu; and more

The Friends of Israel Defense Forces Young Leadership’s (FIDF YL) ninth annual gala on March 12 at Hotel Alexandria raised approximately $500,000, according to FIDF YL president and gala vice chairman Zach Zalben.

Emceed by comedian Dan Ahdoot, the evening drew more than 1,100 attendees to the downtown hotel, which was decked out to celebrate the theme of the night, “Roaring ’20s Old Hollywood.”

In an interview following his performance, Ahdoot said the evening marked the sixth year he has emceed the event. He called the gala the “only one he will do for free.”

Throughout the night, the crowd kept busy at blackjack tables raising additional funds for the organization, at the open bars and on the two dance floors occupying different levels of the venue.

Ari Ryan, co-chairman of the organization, was among the speakers.

The event honored the legacy of late FIDF supporter Zev Karkomi.

Additional attendees included gala committee members Leeor Alpern, president emeritus of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles; Camila Seta, director of public relations at the Israel Ministry of Tourism; and Jessica Shaouli, an interior designer and 2004 Milken Community Schools graduate.

FIDF YL is the young-professionals arm of FIDF and aims to forge “everlasting bonds between FIDF young leaders across the country and the incredible IDF soldiers,” according to the FIDF website.

The party went on, thanks to daylight savings, until 3 a.m. At the end of the night, the weary attendees formed a line outside the hotel at Spring and Fifth streets, waiting for their Uber rides.

Panelists preparing before the standing-room-only “Out of Iran and Out of the Closet” panel, from left: Arya Marvazy, Roya Kianmahd, Mastaneh Moghadam, Sepideh Tehrani, Shervin Khorramian and Roxana Soltanzadeh. Photo courtesy Arya Marvazy

Two hundred people attended a celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, hosted by Jewish LGBTQ group JQ International on March 16. The event at The Spice Affair featured many parents and siblings joining family members in celebrating Persian and LGBTQ identity in the same space. 

“After a year of JQ placing Persian engagement and support at the top of its priority list, culminating in March’s Persian Pride month, we have seen the efforts pay off,” Asher Gellis, JQ’s founder and executive director, said. 

He said that the organization has been aided in these efforts by support from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Such support for LGBTQ individuals wasn’t always the case in the Persian-Jewish community, L.A. native and JQ member Arya Marvazy said. 

“For so many years, the concept of living our authentic lives amidst friends, family, and the larger community alike was a distant dream,” he said. “We couldn’t ever have imagined celebrating a cultural event like Nowruz in this way. Yet here we were, celebrating our new year with close friends, allies, and even some of our mothers … this reality far surpassed any dream we could ever have imagined.”

The Nowruz event came on the heels of “Out of Iran and Out of the Closet,” the previous week’s standing-room-only panel of seven gay, lesbian and transgender activists at the City of West Hollywood’s council chambers, which, Gellis said, “addressed real and heart-wrenching realities of what it means to be LGBTQ and Persian.” 

“A year ago, it would have been hard to have found two speakers willing to be this vulnerable and visible,” Gellis said. “But after a year of dedicated focus, we had seven strong and proud speakers and a room busting at the seams with families and community members ready to take the steps to bring about a revolution of thinking about sexual orientation and gender identity in the largest community of Iranians outside of Iran.” 

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Anti-Defamation League Deborah Awards dinner host and civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, honoree Mónica Gil, honoree Carol Cheng-Mayer, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind and honoree Jill Black Zalben. Photo courtesy of ADL.

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 21st annual Deborah Awards Dinner was held March 3 at SLS Beverly Hills hotel. 

The event raised $300,000 for ADL programming, which combats anti-Semitism and bigotry.

Honorees were Carol Cheng-Mayer, senior vice president of Bel Air Investment Advisors; Monica Gil, senior vice president and general manager, multicultural growth and strategy at Nielsen; and Jill Black Zalben, partner at Black Equities Group and director of the Joyce and Stanley Black Family Foundation. 

The event’s co-chairs were Faith Cookler and Sharyn Nichols

Civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom emceed. 

The approximately 300 attendees included former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; businessman, philanthropist and father of honoree Black Zalben, Stanley Black; and ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind

The ADL Deborah Awards recognize “extraordinary women of achievement,” according to ADL.

Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa board of directors president Mark Howorth. Photo courtesy of Liz Bar-El

Historic Labor Zionist youth camp Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa has undergone a leadership transition, with Mark Howorth being named president of the camp’s board of directors.

The change became effective Jan. 10, according to Liz Bar-El, Howorth’s predecessor, who led the organization since 2009.

Bar-El, for her part, is currently serving as president of Adat Shalom synagogue.

Under Bar-El’s leadership, Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa purchased a new campsite in Big Bear, Calif.

Howorth, whose two sons attended the camp and have since become camp leaders, is current chief operating officer at Panavision, a provider of motion picture cameras and lenses. He is a former board member of Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach.

“Howorth … is excited about the challenge of growing Camp Gilboa over the next few years,” Bar-El said in a statement, “and is already working hard toward increasing registration for the 2016 sessions that run between June 26 and Aug. 7.”

Matisyahu performs at The Wiltern alongside fans he invited onto the stage for the evening’s encore. Photo by Ryan Torok

Matisyahu’s Chasidic days are over, but his music remains spiritual and his fan base Jewish as evidenced on March 2 at the Wiltern, where the musician headlined a concert billed as “An Evening with Matisyahu.”

Clean-shaven, his grayed hair tied into a ponytail, dressed in a baggy plaid shirt and skin-tight jeans, Matisyahu began the well-received performance with a song off his latest studio album, “Akeda,” with lyrics that, much like the artist himself, blurs the biblical and the contemporary.

“Moses is on his way downtown,” Matisyahu sang at the Koreatown venue during a performance that blended reggae, rock and hip-hop with ambient sound textures.

The two-set concert included memorable tunes such as “Jerusalem,” “King Without a Crown” and “One Day,” but for the most part featured more obscure numbers from the artist’s now decade-long career.

The communal vibe was underscored by Matisyahu inviting Los Angeles rapper Kosha Dillz and Pico-Robertson singer Yehuda Solomon of the band Moshav onstage late in the evening, the two joining Matisyahu and his four-piece touring band, composed of guitarist Aaron Dugan, drummer Tim Keiper, keyboardist Rob Marscher and bassist Stu Brooks

Spotted in the pit was actor Kevin Weisman (“Alias,” “Hello Ladies”). Those seen in line outside the venue and inside the lobby just before the concert began included Friends of ELNET California director Jonathan Boyer, educator Batsheva Frankel and L.A. Russian Jewish Young Adult Network leader Eric Fihman.

About 100 Sephardic Jewish community members, leaders and others attended the March 6 installation of Rabbi Raif Melhado at Kahal Joseph Congregation.

“It is a very special community. It’s my honor and pleasure to be able to be working with them,” the 33-year-old Modern Orthodox rabbi, who began last August, said in a phone interview. 

Melhado was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) in 2015. Prior to coming to Kahal Joseph Congregation, he served as a rabbinic intern at Hebrew Institute of White Plains in New York. 

The evening program featured remarks by Melhado; Kahal Joseph Rebbetzin Jessica Melhado; de Toledo High School Jewish studies department chair Rabbi Devin Villarreal; Hebrew Institute of White Plains Rabbi Chaim Marder; YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin; and Kahal President Ronald Einy.

A dinner reception followed the installation, featuring a concert by Sephardic band Bazaar Ensemble’s Asher Levy (vocals, oud), Yoni Arbel (guitar) and Sean Thump (saxophone).

Among attendees were Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center, and Kahal Joseph Congregation Senior Chazzan Sassoon Ezra.

Kahal Joseph Congregation is a Sephardic Orthodox community with Iraqi and Syrian founders serving approximately 300 member families. The synagogue is located in Century City.

Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America Bay City manager Rabbi Joshua Ladon. Photo courtesy of Shalom Hartman Institute

Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) North America has hired Rabbi Philip Graubart as West Coast vice president and Rabbi Joshua Ladon as Bay City manager, according to a March 10 announcement.

The hirings mark the continued expansion of the organization’s West Coast operations. The two join Michelle Stone, SHI North America’s Los Angeles city manager, and Rachel Allen, SHI West Coast program coordinator, to complete the SHI West Coast presence, according to a press release.

Launched in 2010, SHI North America is a self-described “leader in sophisticated dialogue and study on major Jewish questions,” according to a press release. 

“With the addition of these two professionals, the broad expansion of SHI programs and initiatives on the West Coast will continue to flourish,” the release said. 

“Moving and Shaking” highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

How Matisyahu became a Hasidic humanist — in his own words

Matisyahu’s personal and religious journey — from non-religious stoner teen to Hasidic reggae rocker to non-Orthodox Jewish symbol — has been tracked closely in the media.

On Friday night, the Jewish reggae star sat down to tell his story in his own words, no holds barred. He spoke with Brooklyn Rabbi Dan Ain and Relix magazine editor Mike Greenhaus at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village for the second installment of their Friday Night Jam series — which features Jewish musicians willing to talk about their art and their spirituality.

The first speaker last month was Ryan Miller, the lead singer of Guster; the next musician lined up is Lenny Kaye, the longtime guitarist of Patti Smith’s band.

After a Shabbat candle blessing and a short meditation session, Matisyahu began drinking red wine and opening up. He answered questions about what many of his fans are most interested in: how he entered the music world as a Hasidic Jew and how he eventually left the Chabad Hasidic community.

Here are five poignant and funny stories from his reprisal of the past decade of his life.

1. His late teenage years were full of drugs and jam bands

When he was 16, Matisyahu (then Matthew Miller) went to a Phish concert in Worcester, Massachusetts, and dropped acid for the first time with some friends.

“It changed my life,” he said.

He quickly became obsessed with the jam band scene and dropped out of high school to follow Phish on a tour across the country. After trying and failing to reenroll in high school, he ended up at a rehab center in Oregon, where he first began playing open mic sets.

“I wasn’t religious but I remember drinking mushroom tea and coming out wrapped in an Israeli flag with sage burning,” he said. “I decided: I love music, I love drugs, but I sort of need to make that next step. And being who I am, I did that in a drastic way and decided okay, I need to become something.”

2. He lived with New York University’s Chabad rabbi

After moving back to New York and attending The New School, Matisyahu started going to the Carlebach Shul on the city’s Upper West Side — which, as he put it, blew his mind. He gradually started wearing tzitzit and growing out his beard. One night he got so drunk that he collapsed in a bar’s stairwell and had an epiphany that he had to change his ways.

“The next day I was in Washington Square Park and [NYU Chabad] Rabbi [Dave] Korn was there,” Matisyahu said. “He poured me a glass of vodka … and the next thing I knew I was married with three kids in Crown Heights.”

What he really did next was move in with Korn’s family and begin studying Torah all day, every day.

“There was a beauty to it, it was like a purification in some sense. And there was also a complete psychosis to it, where I completely lost touch with myself and was trying to be this other thing,” he said.

3. His first hip-hop audience was a group of Hasidic Jews in the Catskills

The entire staff and student body of the yeshiva Matisyahu had enrolled in vacationed in New York’s Catskill Mountains. At a celebration one summer night, at the urging of someone, Matisyahu stood up on a table and rapped in front of the yeshiva’s staff members and their families.

“They kind of flipped out,” he said. “And they were into it.”

He would soon be performing for larger audiences. Back in his Torah-consumed life in the city, he had a teacher — “a maniac from Russia” — who tried to “crush” any dreams he had of being a musician. He let go of his ambitions, but quietly worked on his first album, which came out in 2004.

“I let go of [the dream] and said, Whatever God wants for me. And I think that in that internal moment of letting go, I was afforded the humility for God to come and give it to me. Because when it happened, it just happened almost in a supernatural way … It was just like, OK, this is now what you’re doing. You’re going to be on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, you’re going to be at Bonnaroo … everything happened very quickly,” Matisyahu said.

4. He got his beard shaved at Supercuts

Fast-forward several years and hundreds of thousands of records sold. In the Upper West Side one day in 2011, after a session with his therapist, he decided to walk into a Supercuts salon. The only employee inside was a Hispanic woman. He told her that he hadn’t shaved his beard for 10 years. After the deed was done, the two of them cried together.

“Honestly, I really didn’t think about anybody else when I shaved. I didn’t think about what it would mean for my career or what people would think about it. I just got to the place I wanted to,” he said.

5. Now, he’s most comfortable praying with Hasidim who scream

After shaving his beard, Matisyahu began to attend a Hasidic shul in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, associated with the Karlin sect.

“The place I feel most comfortable davening is by the Hasidim who scream,” he said. “I stepped into a Karlin shul, where they’re literally pissed off and screaming at God and everybody is singing their own melody. And it’s very beautiful.”

These days, Matisyahu is still religious — and he’s looking for a new synagogue to pray at near his home in Monsey, a town in New York’s Rockland County.

“I love Hasidim, I love certain aspects of it. But when you put an idea at the top of the list and everything else falls under that, you lose track of what’s real, of humanity,” he said.

Moving and shaking: JWW Global Soul Award, Matisyahu, Netiya and more

Jewish World Watch (JWW) awarded its 2015 Global Soul Award to the Katzburg Gabriel family on Nov. 18 during its annual gala event, held at UCLA Royce Hall.

“We look forward to working with you for the furtherance of this humanitarian mission,” Stuart Gabriel said upon receiving the award. The Katzburg Gabriel family includes Gabriel and wife Judith Katzburg as well as their adult sons, Jesse and Oren Gabriel. According to JWW materials provided to the Journal, Stuart is a longstanding member of the JWW board of directors; Judith is a nurse and health services researcher; Jesse is involved with the organization’s annual Walk to End Genocide; and Oren serves on the board of JWW.

Established by the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis in 2004, JWW aims to prevent mass atrocities in regions including Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere around the world. Recent initiatives include raising funds on behalf of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. 

The evening raised approximately $400,000, according to Janice Kamenir-Reznick, JWW co-founder and president, and drew approximately 400 community members, including Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein and his wife, Nina

The event’s honorary co-chairs included the Feinsteins, Ada and Jim Horwich, Alisa and Kevin Ratner, and May and Richard Ziman.

The evening featured a concert by avant-garde foursome Kronos Quartet and wrapped with a performance by Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron

Reggae artist Matisyahu reaffirmed support for Israel at a Friends of ELNET: European Leadership Network gala Nov. 17 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

A Nov. 17 Friends of ELNET: European Leadership Network fundraiser at the Skirball Cultural Center drew (from left) performer Matisyahu; Aaron Dugan, Matisyahu’s guitarist; and Larry Hochberg, co-founder and chairman at ELNET, a European Israel advocacy organization. Photo by Ryan Torok  

“Hopefully we can do more to show our support for Israel and our love for Israel,” Matisyahu said, addressing approximately 150 attendees at the evening of cocktails, dinner, live music by Matisyahu, guitarist Aaron Dugan and more.   

The event raised approximately $500,000 for ELNET, according to Jonathan Boyer, director of the California office of Friends of ELNET. 

Matisyahu performed “One Day,” “Jerusalem” and more at the stripped-down concert. Joined by longtime collaborator Dugan, Matisyahu fielded requests from the crowd and told stories between songs. Following his set, he lingered and posed for photographs with audience members, including businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black, Occidental College history professor Maryanne Horowitz and others.

Prior to the performance, Eran Etzion, executive director of the Forum of Strategic Dialogue, delivered a keynote lecture. Spotlighting the European financial crisis, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Syrian refugee crisis and the recent terrorist attack in Paris, he said upheaval in Europe makes the work of ELNET, a European Israel advocacy organization, more necessary than ever.

The organization had a victory this past summer when a music festival in Spain featuring Matisyahu sought a statement of support of the Palestinians from Matisyahu and made his appearance contingent on him doing so. With the help of ELNET, Matisyahu performed as planned without acquiescing to the demands of the festival organizers.

Event committee members were Black; Larry Hochberg and his wife, Sue; Tricia and Tom Corby; Yvette and Eric Edidin; Rhonda and Joseph Feinberg; Ada and Jim Horwich; Eve Kurtin; and Wendy and Ken Ruby.

“We empower pro-Israel Europeans to be effective,”
Hochberg, co-founder and chairman at ELNET, said. “The Matisyahu experience shows what can be done if things are coordinated and focused.” 

A Netiya gardening and education event on Nov. 15 at New Horizon School Pasadena drew 65 attendees from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist communities who together planted 14 fruit trees in an urban orchard, according to Devorah Brous, executive director of Netiya. 

An interfaith gardening event organized by agriculture group Netiya drew (from left) Barbara Williams, Stacey Inal, Cindy Roy, Leigh Adams, Karen Young, Yonathan Levenbach, Devorah Brous, Amira Al-Sarraf, Tahereh Sheerazie, Jane El Farra, Nahid Ansari and Lisa Friedman. Photo courtesy of Netiya  

It was the 15th urban orchard planted by Netiya, according to the Netiya Facebook page. 

Attendees included Amira Al-Sarraf, head of school at New Horizon School, a day school serving the American-Muslim community; the Rev. Jeff Utter of All Paths Divinity School; and others. The two were among those who discussed “mystical traditions around tree planting” prior to the gardening in the orchard, according to the Facebook page. 

Netiya, founded in 2010, is a Jewish network dedicated to advancing urban agriculture in religious institutions, nonprofits and schools across Los Angeles.

A slew of diverse religious leaders, including Temple Ramat Zion Rabbi Ahud Sela, Los Angeles Police Department Chaplain Ken Crawford and others, turned out at a Nov. 23 Thanksgiving-inspired interfaith service at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge.

From left: Temple Ramat Zion Cantor Daniel Friedman, the Rev. Ramon Valera of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Rev. Joseph Choi of Northridge United Methodist Church, Mufti Ibrahim Qureshi of Islamic Center of Northridge, Temple Ramat Zion Rabbi Ahud Sela, the Rev. Karen Murata of Northridge United Methodist Church and Father David Loftus of Our Lady of Lourdes. Photo by Joe Morchy

In total, the event attracted “over 600 people from all faiths,” according to Michele Nachum, a spokeswoman for Temple Ramat Zion.

Additional participants at the evening gathering included Temple Ramat Zion Cantor Daniel Friedman; Northridge United Methodist Church Senior Pastor the Rev. Joseph Choi and Associate Pastor the Rev. Karen Murata; Islamic Center of Northridge Mufti Ibrahim Qureshi; and Father David Loftus of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish School.

Described as an “interfaith service in Northridge to build community and understanding,” the event also featured an interfaith choir composed of members of Temple Ramat Zion, United Methodist Church and Our Lady of Lourdes. Conservative synagogue Temple Ramat Zion participates in an interfaith Thanksgiving event every year.

Article updated Jan. 21, 2016: The Journal mistakenly reported the Friends of ELNET event raised approximately $50,000, not $500,000.

ADL honors Matisyahu for standing up to anti-Israel boycott

The Anti-Defamation League honored the American Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu for standing up against an anti-Israel boycott.

Matisyahu performed his anthem “Jerusalem” on Thursday at the ADL annual meeting in Denver.

In August, he was slotted to play at the Rototom SunSplash reggae music festival before BDS activists pressured the event’s organizers to disinvite him because of his support for Israel. Matisyahu, refusing to comply with the demand of organizers that he issue a statement in support of the Palestinian national movement and against Israel, was dropped from the program.

After a backlash from Jewish organizations and the Spanish government, the festival organizers apologized and reinvited Matisyahu. He performed before a crowd that included people waving Palestinian flags, including “Jerusalem,” which stresses the Jewish biblical connection to the land of Israel.

“It is my honor to stand here today as head of ADL to recognize you for having the courage to stand up against those forces of ignorance and intolerance,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, who presented the performer with a paper cut made in Israel and inscribed with the words “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” in Hebrew and in English.

“Thank you for standing with us here today, and thank you for standing up against the forces of bigotry, hatred and intolerance.”

“As someone who has made a commitment to performing as a proudly identified religious Jew, and as someone whose music is imbued with the words of the prophets, you have inspired a generation of young Jews to take pride in their heritage and to connect to it,” Greenblatt said.

In accepting the honor, Matisyahu said of ADL, “When everything was happening in Spain, you guys were the first to speak out, so thank you.”

Matisyahu performs outside Auschwitz following Spain appearance

Three days after a performing at a reggae festival in Spain that had previously disinvited him, Matisyahu brought his music to a synagogue near the gates of Auschwitz.

The Jewish-American singer gave an intimate acoustic concert Tuesday night in the tiny Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue in Oswiecim, the town in southern Poland where Auschwitz was built.

“Played in the last remaining Synagogue outside of Auschwitz in the city Oświęcim. Peace and blessings,” Matisyahu wrote on his Facebook page. He also quoted a line from his song, “Jerusalem:” “The gas tried to choke but it couldn’t choke me.”

On Saturday night, he sang “Jerusalem” in front of thousands at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Spain. Its organizers had initially cancelled his appearance due to pressure from the local branch of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, which aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel. The festival reinvited him following widespread condemnation, including from the Spanish government.

The only one of Oswiecim’s synagogues to survive today, the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue forms part of the Auschwitz Jewish Center, a prayer and study center and museum founded in 2000. The concert marked the center’s 15th anniversary.

Matisyahu has performed a number of times in Poland and has appeared before in Oswiecim. In 2011, he was a headliner at the Oswiecim Life Festival, a summer festival aimed at using art and music to promote tolerance. Matisyahu is performing several concerts in Poland during his current tour, including in Gdansk, Wroclaw and Warsaw, where he is appearing in a free outdoor concert on August 30as part of the Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival.

Recent actions of BDS groups expose discriminatory, anti-Semitic underpinnings

Last week, the world was exposed to some of the fundamental flaws of the “Boycott Israel” faction known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Sadly, in this case, the victims were artists.

The first incident occurred when Israeli director Roy Zafrani, whose recent films include the internationally award-winning documentary about disabled children, “The Other Dreamers,” was told by organizers of the Norwegian Human Rights Human Wrongs Festival that his work could not be shown unless the film was about “the illegal occupation, the blockade of Gaza or the discrimination of Palestinians.”

“I’m sorry,” wrote founder of the festival’s parent organization, the Oslo Documentary Cinema. “Please let me know if you have documentary films that are dealing directly with the occupation.”

Zifrani, whose film received no Israeli government funding, called the decision “absurd,” saying, “I'm not a political man. I am not responsible for my government’s actions.”

In the second incident – one that was met with worldwide outrage, followed by a public apology and ultimately a victorious performance – the American Jewish musician Matisyahu was asked to provide to the organizers of the Rototom Reggae Festival in Spain a statement or video that expressed “in a very clear way” his positions on Zionism and a Palestinian State after the BDS movement lobbied the festival that the performer was a “Zionist” who justified the Israeli practices of apartheid and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.

Calling the request “appalling and offensive,” Matisyahu said, “I support peace and compassion for all people. My music speaks for itself and I do not insert politics into my music.” Stating that “no artists deserve to be put in that situation,” Matisyahu, the only Jewish American singer on the bill, wondered if “any of the other scheduled artists were asked to make political statements in order to perform.” Thousands of Matisyahu fans worldwide were equally shocked and disappointed that he was disinvited from performing. The festival later issued a statement, admitting “that it made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS País Valencià because it was perceived that the normal functioning of the festival could be threatened. All of which prevented the organization from reasoning clearly as to how to deal with the situation properly.”

We at the Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), an organization comprised of prominent members of the entertainment industry that promotes the arts as a means of building bridges, join the many voices of condemnation of these discriminatory and racist actions that are tantamount to censorship of an artist’s freedom of expression. They expose the extremist views and actions that accompany the BDS movement, from spreading the falsehood of accusations of “apartheid” in Israel, to only supporting the Palestinian right of self-determination while refusing to recognize the same right for Israel.

Rather than recognizing the power of the arts to bring people together, the BDS movement's radical agenda unfortunately promotes the further separating of peoples whose chances for a peaceful future could only be enhanced by culture and the arts functioning as a bridge of societies.

Further, in an environment of rising global anti-Semitism, these acts cross the line of acceptable behavior.

While the organizers of the Reggae Festival recognized their bias and discrimination, perhaps it is time for the Human Rights Human Wrongs festival in Oslo — as well as future targets of BDS threats – to do the same.

Steve Schnur is Worldwide Executive and President of Electronic Arts (EA)Music Group and Co-Founder of Creative Community for Peace.

David Renzer is Chair of Spirit Music Group and Co-Founder of Creative Community for Peace. Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) is an entertainment industry organization that represents a cross-section of the creative world dedicated to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel.

Matisyahu performs ‘Jerusalem’ in Spain amid Palestinian protests

American Jewish reggae star Matisyahu sang his famous song “Jerusalem” as protesters waved Palestinian flags at a music festival in Spain.

Matisyahu performed a 45-minute set early Sunday morning at the Rototom SunSplash Festival, two days after the festival apologized for canceling his performance in the face of pressure from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Some in the audience expressed disapproval when the artist took the stage, including chanting “out, out,” but many others applauded the singer, whose given name is Matthew Miller.

“Whoever you are and wherever you come from raise a flag and wave it in the air,” Matisyahu said before his closing song. “Let music be your flag.”

Later he posted on his Facebook page: “Tonight was difficult but special. Thank you to everyone who made it possible! Every chance to make music is a blessing.”

Matisyahu is not Israeli, but was apparently singled out by BDS activists because he was the only Jewish performer on the festival’s roster. Last week, after he ignored requests that he issue a statement declaring his support for Palestinian statehood, the festival cancelled his act. That sparked condemnation from Jewish organizations, the government of Spain and Matisyahu himself, who wrote on his Facebook page Monday that the festival organizers’ behavior had been “appalling and offensive.”

In a lengthy apology posted on Facebook Wednesday, festival organizers wrote, “Rototom Sunsplash rejects anti-Semitism and any form of discrimination towards the Jewish community.”

The festival said it had cancelled Matisyahu’s performance under pressure from the BDS movement, citing a “campaign of pressure, coercion and threats” against it that stoked fears the festival would be disrupted and “prevented the organization from reasoning clearly.”

Following apology from Spanish festival, Matisyahu confirms he will perform after all

After being re-invited, American Jewish reggae star Matisyahu confirmed he will perform at a Spanish music festival.

On Friday, two days after the Rototom SunSplash Festival apologized for canceling his performance in the face of pressure from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Matisyahu announced on Facebook that he will perform there Saturday.

In his Facebook post, the singer wrote, “Today music wins. Freedom of expression wins.” Describing his feeling that he “was being used as a pawn for political convenience,” Matisyahu explained that, “It is my deep conviction however that acceptance and the ability for rebirth allow us to move forward.”

He added that the “incredible outpouring of worldwide support from fans and organizations who rose up as one to protest the intrusion of politics into a borderless celebration of music has been humbling.”

Matisyahu is not Israeli, but was apparently singled out by BDS activists because he was the only Jewish performer on the festival roster. Last week, after he ignored requests that he issue a statement declaring his support for Palestinian statehood, the festival cancelled his act. That sparked condemnation from Jewish organizations, the government of Spain and Matisyahu himself, who wrote on his Facebook page Monday that the festival organizers’ behavior had been “appalling and offensive.”

In a lengthy apology posted on Facebook Wednesday, festival organizers wrote, “Rototom Sunsplash rejects anti-Semitism and any form of discrimination towards the Jewish community.“
The statement said that the cancellation came due to pressure from the BDS movement, citing a “campaign of pressure, coercion and threats” against it that stoked fears the festival would be disrupted and “prevented the organization from reasoning clearly.”

Spanish reggae festival changes tack, reinvites Matisyahu

A Spanish reggae festival, bowing to an international outcry, on Wednesday reversed its decision to cancel an invitation to American Jewish musician Matisyahu because he had failed to spell out his views on Palestinian statehood.

The organizers of the Rototom Sunsplash festival were forced into a U-turn after the Spanish government and Jewish organisations condemned their decision last weekend to bar Matisyahu from playing.

“Rototom Sunsplash apologizes publicly to Matisyahu for cancelling his concert and announces that it has invited him to perform next Saturday, Aug. 22, at the festival as initially planned,” they said in a statement.

The organizers said they had made a mistake under pressure from activists who call for a boycott and sanctions on Israel over its policies towards Palestinians.

Organizers of the week-long festival at Benicassim in eastern Spain said there had been no response yet from Matisyahu, who is on a European tour, to the new invitation.

The festival had asked the musician, who fuses reggae, hip-hop and rock with Jewish influences, to make a public statement about his views on Palestinians' right to their own state and withdrew the invitation when he did not respond.

Matisyahu, whose real name is Matthew Miller, said on Facebook on Monday that politics played no part in his music and that it was “appalling and offensive that as the one … Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements.”

The campaign to eject Matisyahu was led by the Valencia branch of the BDS group, which objects to Israel's “occupation” of Palestinian territories and campaigns against groups and individuals over their links to Israel.

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain had condemned the organisers' decision to withdraw the invitation as cowardly and discriminatory and worldwide Jewish groups and the Spanish government joined the condemnation.

The president of the World Jewish Congress wrote to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Tuesday urging him to intervene.

Ronald Lauder urged Spanish authorities to investigate the organisers' conduct and to demand the repayment of public money if they were found to have broken Spanish laws against discrimination.

The World Jewish Congress and the Spanish federation welcomed the organizers' reversal on Wednesday.

Matisyahu calls festival cancellation ‘Appalling and offensive’

Jewish-American reggae singer and rapper Matisyahu spoke out against the organizers of a Spanish festival that canceled his performance because he refused to endorse Palestinian statehood.

On his Facebook page on Aug. 17, a day after festival organizers announced that he was no longer invited to perform there, Matisyahu said the festival organizers had asked him “to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people.” However, he wrote, “My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music.”

Matisyahu, who for many years was a Chasidic Jew, added that he felt “pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda.”

“Honestly, it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements,” he added. “Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform? No artist deserves to be put in such a situation simply to perform his or her art. Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc., my goal is to play music for all people.”

Matisyahu was scheduled to perform Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain called the cancellation a case of “anti-Semitic cowardice.” The organizers had been pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by activists promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel, the federation said.

“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” the Spanish federation’s statement said. “In this case, the BDS Movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller,” using Matisyahu’s full name.

According to the El Pais newspaper, other musicians threatened to cancel their performances in the festival unless Matisyahu made a declaration.

In a Facebook post Aug. 15 about the decision, Rototom mentioned its “sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel.”

Spain condemns of Matisyahu cancellation at reggae festival

The Spanish government condemned on Tuesday a Spanish reggae festival's decision to cancel a concert by an American Jewish musician after he failed to reply to a demand to clarify his position on Palestinian statehood.

[MORE: Matisyahu's comments on the concert controversy]

The cancellation of Matisyahu at the week-long Rototom Sunsplash festival in eastern Spain – following pressure from supporters of sanctions against Israel over its policies toward Palestinians – prompted protests by Jewish groups.

Spain said it rejected boycott campaigns and any sign of anti-Semitism, while reiterating its support for an independent Palestinian state through bilateral negotiations.

“Imposing a public declaration (from Matisyahu), puts into question the principle of non-discrimination on which all plural and diverse societies are based,” the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Matisyahu, who fuses reggae, hip-hop and rock with Jewish influences in his songs, had been due to perform at Rototom in Benicassim, Valencia, next Saturday.

Jewish groups protest cancellation of Matisyahu’s Spanish concert

Jewish groups protested on Monday after a Spanish reggae festival cancelled a concert by an American Jewish musician when he failed to reply to a demand to clarify his position on Palestinian statehood.

Matisyahu, who fuses reggae, hip-hop and rock with Jewish influences in his songs, had been due to perform next Saturday at the week-long Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival at Benicassim near Valencia in eastern Spain.

But after pressure from the local supporters of the movement to boycott and back sanctions against Israel over its policies towards Palestinians, the organisers announced over the weekend that they were cancelling his appearance.

“Rototom Sunsplash, after having repeatedly sought dialogue in the face of the artist's unavailability to give a clear statement against war and on the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, has decided to cancel the concert,” they said in a statement.

The Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities condemned the decision as cowardly, unjust and discriminatory, saying that Matisyahu had been asked to take a political position because he was Jewish when this was not required of other performers.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder expressed outrage at the decision, urging Spanish authorities “to take appropriate action against those responsible for it.”

Matisyahu, whose real name is Matthew Miller, made no comment on the controversy on his Twitter or Facebook sites and the organisers said there had been no reaction from the musician, who had a concert scheduled in Brussels on Monday.

The Valencia section of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign had launched a public campaign for Matisyahu's performance to be cancelled, saying he was a “lover of Israel” and demanding he make a public statement on his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The BDS movement, which objects to Israel's 48-year-old “occupation” of territories where Palestinians seek an independent state, has campaigned against groups and individuals over their links to Israel.

The moves against Matisyahu had led some other participants to cancel their appearances at the festival, according to press reports.

[UPDATED] Matisyahu performs at music festival that had dropped him from its lineup [VIDEO]

[UPDATE: Aug. 24, 10:30 a.m.]  Matisyahu performed on Aug. 22 at a Spanish music festival that had cancelled his performance due to apparent pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement before inviting him back to perform.

“Tonight was difficult but special,” the Jewish-American reggae artist wrote on his Facebook page following the Saturday concert, which was held at Rototom Sunsplash, a reggae festival in Spain that describes itself as committed to social justice. “Thank you to everyone who made it possible! Every chance to make music is a blessing.”

In what one can only hope was a direct expression of solidarity with Israel, Matisyahu’s concert this past weekend included a performance of his famous song, “Jerusalem.” And some video captured at the performance shows audience members waving Palestinian flags.

“Whoever you are and wherever you come from raise a flag and wave it in the air,” Matisyahu said, according to a JTA report. “Let music be your flag.”

The festival organizers canceled Matisyahu's performance after he did not reply to their request for him to give his opinion about the issue of the Palestinian people. The cancellation drew condemnation from many, including Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, who penned an op-ed about it in Time magazine.

Ultimately, the festival's representatives apologized to Matisyahu before inviting him back to perform.

Watch the “Jerusalem” performance below.


[UPDATE: Aug. 21, 2 p.m.] Matisyahu has announced on his Facebook page that he intends to perform at the Spanish music festival, Rototom Sunsplash, which had dropped Matisyahu from its lineup and reinvited him after public outctry over the festival's decision to cancel his performance. 

“Today music wins,” Matisyahu wrote on his Facebook page on Monday about his decision to play at the festival, following a back-and-forth that was related to the festival apparently succumbing to pressure of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  “Freedom of expression wins. Spain, this Saturday Aug 22nd.”

The BDS movement targeted Matisyahu, the Jewish-American reggae artist who is known for hits “One Day” and “King Without a Crown,” for his alleged Israel ties.

Matisyahu's performance at the festival is part of a European tour. He begins a tour of the United States on Oct. 15 in Telluride, Colorado. The tour includes several dates in California, between Nov. 4-11. He also has a new album on the horizon, titled “Live at Stubb's Vol. III,” which is set for a Oct. 2 release.

Musician Matisyahu has commented on the controversy surrounding a European music festival dropping him from its lineup in the wake of him declining to make a statement of support for the Palestinian state.

“My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music…The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] political agenda…Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements,” Matisyahu said on his Facebook page on Monday.

The festival, for its part, denies that it was the BDS movement that led to it dropping Matisyahu from the lineup. 

An Aug. 15 statement released by the festival, entitled, “Statement by Rototom Sunsplash regarding the performance of Matisyahu,” adds: “Rototom Sunsplash, after having repeatedly sought dialogue given the unavailability of the artist for comment in order to clearly declare himself regarding the war and in particular the right of the Palestinian people to have their own state, has decided to cancel the performance of Matisyahu scheduled for August 22 and will soon announce who will substitute him,” the statement said.

In its statement, the festival describes Matisyahu as an “American Hebrew artist.”

Los Angeles-based Rabbi Yonah Bookstein was among those who denounced the festival, describing its decision as “racist” in a comment on the festival’s Facebook page. He is encouraging other people to speak out against the festival.

“Please tell the organizers what you think of their decision to cancel Matisyahu because of BDS activists,” he said on Sunday. “In Spanish and English. Please [use] polite language to denounce their racism, hypocrisy, and censorship.”

[UPDATE: Aug. 18, 9:30 a.m.] “Matisyahu's music should not be held hostage by these radical activists who care more for scoring political points than helping peace,” Bookstein, in an email to the Journal, added.

Matisyahu ousted from Spanish festival for not endorsing Palestinian state

Matisyahu was disinvited from a Spanish music festival because he would not publicly endorse Palestinian statehood.

The Jewish-American reggae singer was scheduled to perform Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona. But his show was canceled after he refused to release a public statement backing a Palestinian state, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, which called the disinvitation a case of “anti-Semitic cowardice.”

The organizers had been pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by activists promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel, the report said.

“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” the Spanish federation’s statement said. “In this case, the BDS Movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller,” using Matisyahu’s full name.

Matisyahu, a former Hasid, was the only festival performer asked to endorse a Palestinian state because he is Jewish, the federation said.

“Such acts violate fundamental human rights guaranteed by our constitution,” the statement said. According to the El Pais newspaper, other musicians threatened to cancel their performances unless Matisyahu made the declaration.

Matisyahu is not an Israeli citizen.

In a Facebook post Saturday about the decision, Rototom mentioned its “sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel.”

Calendar June 1 – August 30



You’ve seen the banners around the city and we’re here to confirm it: Israel’s favorite son is coming to Los Angeles. Following the triumphs and tribulations of Joseph (son of Jacob and Rachel), the musical is the collaborative effort of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, the production combines pop, country and rock with a good old-fashioned Torah tale. Starring Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo. Tue. 8 p.m. Through June 22. $32.25-$140.70. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 468-1770. ” target=”_blank”>geffenplayhouse.com



Ameoba Music sponsors an intimate performance by one of our favorite Reggae Jews. Matisyahu’s most recent artistic exploration — his fifth studio album, “Akeda” — deals with love, humility, humanity, struggle and sacrifice. The musician, whose hits include “Jerusalem,” “One Day” and “King Without a Crown,” always brings a moving sound to moving topics. The program also includes a moderated discussion with vice president of the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares, Scott Goldman. Wed. 8 p.m. $20. The Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 765-6800. FRI | JUN 6


Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is an aspiring comedian in New York, and if that doesn’t sound tricky enough, she’s newly pregnant after a one-night-stand with a surprising suitor. Caught up in the ruckus of her mid-20s, Donna must grow up without growing old. In the film, written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, Slate delivers a sweet, sassy, totally funny performance. Also starring Richard Kind and Gaby Hoffman, the ensemble is  as impressive as a cast as the characters are supportive of Donna. Fri. Various theaters and times. Check local listings. 

THU | JUN 12


Check out Israeli documentary film director Shaul Schwarz’s first feature. Schwarz, who is also a cinematographer, award-winning photographer, and contributor to Time magazine and National Geographic, follows a specific story that can’t help but be universal. Contemporary Mexican folk saints, or “Narco Saints,” are virtually patrons of illegal acts. Responsible for drug ballads that glorify and celebrate narcotics, money and violence, these Narco Saints contribute to the mainstreaming and romanticizing of bein’ bad — a cultural instinct that never seems to go away. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Fowler Museum, North Campus of UCLA, Los Angeles. (310) 825-4361. FRI | JUN 13


Good news for those who have been waiting for Mike Myers’ directorial debut. It’s here! Documenting the stellar career of music manager Shep Gordon, Myers leads audience members through a life where Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix are your friends, and Alice Cooper, Emeril Lagasse and Pink Floyd are your clients. If you miss the ’70s, or just love them from afar, you’ll enjoy the great archival footage and even better stories. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (seniors, ages 11 and under, bargain matinee). Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd, Encino. (310) 478-3836. SAT | JUN 14


There’s really no one way to capture what life in Israel is like. This exhibit, which debuted in New York, features artists who use photography, video, sculpture and work on paper as a way to tap into the complexities and multiplicities of Israeli identity. Artists Inbal Abergil, Anisa Ashkar, Luciana Kaplun, Aim Luski, Ido Michaeli and Rosee Rosen will be represented at the gallery — as will their takes on Israeli culture, politics and nationalities. Sat. 7 p.m. (opening ceremony). Through Aug. 2. Free. Shulamit Gallery, 17 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 281-0961. ” target=”_blank”>kindredspirits.org.

MON | JUN 16


Happy 90th birthday, Theodore Bikel! Touting a career that includes the roles of Tevye and Captain von Trapp on Broadway, an Oscar-nominated performance in “The Defiant Ones” and co-founding the Newport Folk Festival, Bikel reminds us that life should be filled to the brim. Ed Asner will serve as master of ceremonies for this musical tribute featuring Arlo Guthrie, Cantor Alberto Mizrachi, Craig Taubman and many others. Mon. 7:30 p.m. $29.45-$203.85. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 655-0111.

SUN | JUN 22


A little summer piano never hurt anyone, especially when there’s talent like Schlosberg’s. With favorable reviews from both the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, the former soloist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will play Bach, Debussy and a West Coast premiere of Augusta Read Thomas. In 2000 he was the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Fellowship in piano at Tanglewood, and today, you can hear why. Sun. 6 p.m. Free. Bing Theater, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6234. FRI | JUN 27


In the world of new, fresh-faced artistic renovators, Schrag does not disappoint. Already established as an autobiographical cartoonist and writer for shows such as “The L Word” and “How To Make It In America,” the California native has a debut novel that is not only insightfully funny but hugely relevant. “Adam” tells the story of a young man caught up in frank and progressive New York City, where gay marriage demonstrations and transgender rights leave plenty of room for an awkward teenager to learn about love and lies, and the stuff in between. Fri. 7:30 p.m. Free. Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 660-1175. SAT | JUN 28


Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” took his radio show to television, and is now bringing it to the stage. At the core is storytelling: mostly true stories of real people, centered around one theme. Joining Glass’ aural contributions are dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, bringing audiences a sort of radio narrative cabaret. Whether you feel your radio-listening needs more movement or your dance-viewing could use more spoken word, this performance will inspire a new appreciation for what can happen on a stage. Sat. 10 p.m. $38.15-$78.10. Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310)450-5183. THU | JUL 10


Joan Rivers is at it again, thank goodness. Following her New York Times best-seller, “I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me,” this book found its footing when Rivers’ daughter Melissa gave her a diary for a gift. Feeling the pressure — many famous people have published diaries — Rivers has certainly pulled out all the stops. Sometimes it’s insights on everyday life, and other times it’s an anecdote only a diva could dish. Regardless, it’s Joan. Thu. 6:30 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble at The Grove, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0270. ” target=”_blank”>hollywoodbowl.com.

WED | JUL 16


In her new memoir, “I Said Yes to Everything,” the Academy Award winner chronicles a life filled with just as much drama onscreen as off. Starring in such films as “Valley of the Dolls” and “Shampoo,” Grant refused to testify against her husband Arnold Manoff before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, which then  put her on the Hollywood blacklist for 12 years. But Grant didn’t let a little politics get her down. After success as an actress, she made a name for herself as a director of both stage and screen, eventually becoming the first woman to win the Director’s Guild of America Award. Channel your inner Grant and say yes to this book. Wed. 7 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble at The Grove, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0270. SAT | JUL 26


Put on your Hora shoes and grab a partner! The Music Center and Grand Park partner up with the Dizzy Feet Foundation, an organization co-founded by renowned artist and dancer Adam Shankman, for the West Coast’s flagship celebration of National Dance Day. Experts and amateurs alike are invited to join in the hoopla — learning from esteemed dance companies and viewing a dance film screening after sunset. Maybe you’ll choose to hip hop, maybe you’ll choose to tap; but definitely choose to dance. Sat. 10 a.m. Free. Grand Park, 227 N. Spring St., Los Angeles. (213) 972-8080. TUE | AUG 12


If you didn’t make it to Sochi this past winter, don’t panic. Conductor Leonard Slatkin is bringing an all-Russian musical program to Hollywood. Slatkin, the music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and a tenured music director of the Orchestre National de Lyon, will lead the L.A. Philharmonic in Glinka, Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov. Violinist Gil Shaham, recipient of the 2008 Avery Fisher Award, will be featured. It will be an evening of colorful, rich drama — Russian to the core. Tue. 8 p.m. $11.10-$118.10. The Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. SUN | AUG 17


Front-man Adam Duritz and the rest of the gang are flying in for a little song and nostalgia. Whether you experienced their hits in real time during the ’90s or are fans after the fact, the upbeat rock band can guarantee a funky rhythm and clever lyrics. Hits include “Mr. Jones,” “Accidentally in Love” from the movie “Shrek” and that fun cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Sun. 7 p.m. $35-$75. The Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 665-5857.


Aboard the S.S. Jewlicious

Slave hunters, reggae stars, cabaret, slam poetry — it was just another weekend at Jewlicious Festival, the eclectic, diverse Jewish festival put on by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

Jewlicious is a grass-roots organization based in Los Angeles whose aim is to unite Jews of every background in a “dynamic, judgment free, intellectually, spiritually, and communally stimulating environment,” Rachel Bookstein, the festival’s co-director — and Yonah’s wife — wrote to the Journal in an e-mail.


Held from Feb. 28 to March 2 on the permanently docked Queen Mary hotel and ocean liner in Long Beach, about 400 people, most in their 20s, attended the 10th annual event that was part Jewish spring break party and part Shabbat learning marathon.

Photo credit: Yitz Epstein Photography

There were dozens of performers and speakers. Aaron Cohen, an author and human rights activist, discussed his travels around the world to help free people who are being trafficked as slaves. Also aboard was Rabbi Shmuel Skaist, a rock star, Phish-loving Chasidic rabbi, who lectured on overcoming personal and spiritual challenges.

There were prayer services for the Shlomo Carlebach-inclined and for those who wanted to relive summer camp songs. There were classes taught by Hollywood veterans, seasoned rabbis and experienced social activists. And of course, there was food — lots of it.

Returning from last year’s festival were Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, who in 2013, made their first public appearance at Jewlicious after leaving their family’s infamous Westboro Baptist Church, which is widely known for blaming America’s ills on, among other things, its acceptance of homosexuals.

The two sisters spoke to nearly 100 people about how far they’ve come in the past year. Grace, for example, said she regularly attends Friday night Shabbat services at Temple Beth Sholom, a Reform synagogue in Topeka, Kansas that she used to picket — and which her family still pickets. 

On the second night of the festival, after 24 hours of food, learning, partying and some sleep mixed in, the Queen Mary filled up even more as people drove down from Los Angeles — some on a Jewlicious party bus — for the weekend’s main attraction: a concert with Moshav Band and Jewish reggae/dub star Matisyahu, who spent the weekend aboard the ship.

Photo credit: Yitz Epstein Photography

Cindy Kaplan, a 27-year-old Angeleno who was attending her first Jewlicious Festival, reflected on the boat party as she cooled off after Matisyahu’s performance.

“It’s amazing to experience Shabbat with people from all across California,” she said. “From people who are already connected — doing Shabbat every week — to people who it’s their first time.”

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.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: April 6-13, 2013 [YOM HASHOAH CALENDAR]



This Arab-Jewish ensemble, composed of three members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and four musicians from Israel’s Arab community, performs a concert for peace in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s 65th birthday. Sun. 4-6 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (424) 208-8932. wbtla.org


Pepperdine University’s Judaic Cultural Awareness Club presents an evening of music, discussion and nosherei with Matisyahu. The singer participates in a pre-concert “Convosation,” where he explores his Judaism and its connection to his work, answers questions from the audience and performs a one-hour acoustic show. Kosher-style food trucks. Sun. 5-8 p.m. $5. Pepperdine University, Firestone Fieldhouse, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 506-4164. matisyahupepperdine.eventbrite.com.



The annual community-wide Holocaust commemoration at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Pan Pacific Park features an inter-generational walk with survivors, a musical performance by Theodore Bikel and a keynote lecture by UCI’s Ruth Kluger. Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; 11 a.m. (walk), 2 p.m. (Ceremony of Commemoration). 100 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries leads a memorial service, collects tzedakah for the Six Million Coins project and holds a panel discussion on Raoul Wallenberg. 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley. Sun. 10 a.m. 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley. (800) 600-0076. mountsinaiparks.org

Temple Ramat Zion’s “Remembering the Past, Securing the Future” interfaith program features local religious leaders, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, and City Councilman Mitch Englander. Sun. 4 p.m. 17655 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 360-1881. trz.org.

“Tomorrow Never Came,” a family-oriented program, remembers the children of Terezin. Co-sponsored by Sinai Akiba Academy, MATI, the Israeli Leadership Council and the Sinai Temple Israel Center. Sun. 4 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 456-8527. tinyurl.com/c96695o.

A memorial march starts at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and ends at Beth Jacob Congregation, where a program features guest speaker Peninnah Schram. Simon Wiesenthal Center March: Sun. 6:45 p.m. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Program: Sun. 7:30 p.m. 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911. bethjacob.org.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance hold a commemoration that includes David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles; Bernd Fischer, consul general of Germany; Cantor Natan Baram and the Jewish Community Children’s Choir. Mon. 10:30 a.m. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP required. (310) 772-2505. museumoftolerance.com.



Relive the singing, dancing and more as the beloved musical returns. The Grammy-winning Broadway revival includes Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s score, featuring such classics as “I Feel Pretty,” “America” and “Tonight.” Tue. 8 p.m. Through April 14. 8 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), 2 and 8 p.m. (Saturday), 1 and 6:30 p.m. (Sunday). Tickets start at $25. The Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 468-1770. broadwayla.org.



Mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel square off over the local economy, jobs and transportation during a televised debate at American Jewish University (AJU). American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and AJU co-sponsor with KABC 7. Thu. 6:40-8 p.m. Free (reservations required). American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 446-4243. lamayoraldebate.eventbrite.com.


Israeli writer Meir Shalev discusses technique, craft and other facets of his art during “Concerning the Process of Writing” for the USC Initiative for Israeli Art and Humanities. Thu. 7-8:30 p.m. Free. University of Southern California, Doheny Library Lecture Hall, Room 240, USC Campus, Los Angeles. (213) 740-2787. roski.usc.edu


Valley Beth Shalom’s second annual Short Play Festival, sponsored by the shul’s Jewish Writers Roundtable, features six stories from Jewish writers across the nation: “Plastic Flowers” by Kennedy Center honoree Deanna Alisa Ableser; “Worst Fear” by playwright and screenwriter Barbara Beery; “Holiday Tree” by Dan Berkowitz, co-chair of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights; “The Flier” by KPCC correspondent Kitty Felde; “Chestnut Trees” by Universal Television story editor Michael Halperin; and “Audition for a Reality Show” by playwright Michael Solomon. Rabbi Ed Feinstein hosts. Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. vbs.org



In 1942, five Jewish families fled to a cave in southwest Ukraine, where they hid from the Nazis for nearly a year. Documentarian Janet Tobias follows cave explorer Chris Nicola, who, in 1993, discovered unusual objects — buttons, shoes, a grindstone and a rusty key — while mapping cave systems in Ukraine. Over the next nine years, Nicola pieced together the story of the 38 survivors who lived in the cave despite a lack of gear or training. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (children under 12, seniors). Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com

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.

For Matisyahu, no beard, no entry

Since Matisyahu shaved his beard last year, the former Chasidic reggae musician has been suffering all sorts of blowback. Along with losing his facial hair, sidelocks and the love of some Jewish fans, apparently he’s lost his VIP status in the eyes of club bouncers, too.

At the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, over the weekend, Matisyahu stood outside the TAO nightclub for some 10 minutes unable to get in because the door managers had no idea who he was, according to the New York Post. He finally gained access to the club from a friend who recognized him. Had he shown up in the black hat and coat, and straggly white beard he once wore, the bouncers surely would have dug his outfit and ushered him in.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Sep. 15-21, 2012


“With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story”
The feature-length documentary explores the life of the 89-year-old, comic-book legend, co-creator of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk. Directed by Terry Douglas, Nikki Frakes and William Lawrence Hess, “With Great Power” highlights Lee’s Depression-era upbringing, his early years at Timely Comics, his military service during World War II, the dawn of Marvel Comics and more. Narrated by Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber), the doc features interviews with Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes. A Q-and-A with the filmmakers follows the screening. Sat. 7-9 p.m. $10. Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., downtown. (213) 617-1033. downtownindependent.com.


High Holiday Food Drive 2012
SOVA needs your help. This Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles program, which provides free groceries and an array of support services to more than 12,000 individuals each month, is collecting canned beans, meat, tuna, dry milk, pasta, noodles, rice, dry soup, peanut butter, toiletries and other items. Drop-off locations include the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as participating synagogues and day schools. Sun. Through Sept. 26. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (818) 988-7682, Ext. 116, to find drop-off locations in your area. jewishla.org, jfsla.org/sova.


The Grammy nominee appears live in support of his latest record, “Spark Seeker.” Like its predecessors, the new album — Matisyahu’s fourth — features a blend of reggae, hip-hop, beat boxing and spiritual lyrics, but also showcases traditional ancient sounds and electro beats. Expect to hear lead single “Sunshine” as well as other new tracks, and older material off of albums “Light” and “Youth,” during tonight’s performance. Opening bands include reggae-rock ensembles Dirty Heads and Pacific Dub. Tue. 6:30 p.m. $27.50. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 745-3000. livenation.com.


“Sarin Zakan & Eshel Ben-Jacob: Bacteria Art and Eco-Fashion”
Israeli fashion designer Sarin Zakan, who creates eco-couture clothing that blends science and art, makes her U.S. debut at the Pacific Design Center. Zakan’s work — including collars and dresses — features patterns formed by bacteria. Her pieces will be displayed alongside the work of her mentor, Tel Aviv University physics professor Eshel Ben-Jacob, who is called the godfather of bacterial art patterns. Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free. Through Nov. 9, Mon.-Fri. Pacific Design Center, 8867 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 657-0800. pacificdesigncenter.com.


Mitch Albom 
The best-selling author of “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” sits down with Rabbi David Wolpe to discuss his new book, “The Time Keeper.” Albom’s novel follows the inventor of the world’s first clock, Father Time, who, after being punished for trying to measure God’s greatest gift, is given a chance to redeem himself by teaching two people — a teenage girl about to give up on life and a wealthy old businessman who wants to live forever — the true meaning of time. Admission includes a copy of the book. Thu. 8 p.m. $20 (Sinai members), $25 (general). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3243. sinaitemple.org


Martin Amis and Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner, the marvel behind “Mad Men,” appears in conversation with Martin Amis, a master of ironic prose (“Money: A Suicide Note”). A postwar British writer of fiction, nonfiction, short stories, essays and reviews, his new novel, “Lionel Asbo: State of England,” follows the problematic relationship between a thuggish and lottery-winning English uncle and his nephew. Though experts in different mediums, Weiner and Amis share a fascination with the lives of the privileged in their respective works. Fri. 7:30 p.m. $20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 855-0005. writersblocpresents.com.

French singer-songwriter and actor Michel Jonasz embodies Abraham, his cantor grandfather, in this one-man show. Set before his death, the play follows Abraham as he recalls his deepest memories — his childhood, escaping from Poland, meeting his wife, his deportation to concentration camps, and the joys and sorrows of existence. In French with projected English translations. Fri. 7:45 p.m. Through Sept. 22. $50 (general seating), $75 (premium). Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, 10361 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 286-0553. theatreraymond-kabbaz.com.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: July 14-19, 2012

Matisyahu opens the 13th annual Jewish Community Day at Dodger Stadium with a pre-game concert on the field. After, enjoy a kosher nosh as you watch the boys in blue (and white) take on the San Diego Padres. Each ticket includes an exclusive Dodgers yarmulke. Sun. noon. $13-$30. Dodgers Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 224-4287. dodgers.com/jewish.


Matisyahu performs tracks from his new album, “Spark Seeker,” at Amoeba Music. Produced by Kool Kojak and recorded in Los Angeles, New York and Israel, the new songs focus on spirit and body, including “I Believe in Love,” which mixes ancient traditional sounds with futuristic beats, and the soulful lead single, “Sunshine.” A signing is limited to the first 300 purchasers of “Spark Seeker” (one album per person), which is being made available one day early for this in-store event. Mon. 6 p.m. Free. Amoeba Music, 6400 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 245-6400. amoeba.com.

Grab your clarinet, trombone, trumpet, guitar or accordion and channel the folk rhythms of Eastern Europe. Part of “J.A.M. (Jazz and Motivated) Sessions” at the Ford, today’s event features professional klezmer musicians teaching participants how to play klezmer songs on their own instruments. Afterward, everyone comes together to jam. Mon. 7 p.m. Free. Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood. (323) 461-3673. fordtheatres.org.

Hoffs, lead singer of the Bangles, discusses and signs her new solo album, “Someday,” a song cycle that doubles as a musical love letter to the 1960s. Hoffs discusses her career and new album with Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli and performs songs with “Someday” producer Mitchell Froom. Mon. 8 p.m. $20. Grammy Museum, Clive Davis Theater, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown. (213) 765-6803. grammymuseum.org.


To protect his Jewish community from pogroms, a 16th century Prague rabbi uses Hebrew incantations to bring life to a monster made from clay in the kabbalistic 1920 silent horror classic, “The Golem: How He Came Into the World.” The film screens today at Cinefamily, and acclaimed guitarist Gary Lucas appears live to perform his original score. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $18. Silent Movie Theatre/Cinefamily, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-2510. cinefamily.org.

The stand-up comedian and podcaster (“WTF With Marc Maron”) brings his thought-provoking, honest and frequently laugh-out-loud act to Trepany House, a new multidisciplinary arts nonprofit at the Steve Allen Theater. Part of the summer series “Tuesdays With Maron,” the performance includes an hour of stand-up comedy. Tue. 8 p.m. $10. Trepany House, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 666-4268. trepanyhouse.org.


Before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, there were 15,000 Jews and five synagogues in Havana alone. Today, only about 1,500 Jews live in Cuba. Highlighting the connection between Jews and Cuba, the Skirball hosts a discussion with Havana historian Maritza Corrales Capestany, the foremost authority on the Jewish community of Cuba. On Thursday, the Skirball hosts a screening of “The Chosen Island,” a documentary scripted by Capestany and directed by Yassel Iglesias, which follows the rediscovery and revival of Jewish life in Cuba and explores questions about faith, resilience, strength and survival. A Q-and-A with the director follows. Lecture: Wed. 8 p.m. $6 (general), $5 (Skirball members, students). Film screening: Thu. 8 p.m. $6 (general), $5 (Skirball members, students). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.


This witty “big gay show” features comics, actors and screenwriters sharing stories they’d never want their moms to know. Performers include David Dean Bottrell (“Boston Legal”), Gary and Larry Lane (“Hollywood to Dollywood”), Jen Kober (“American Reunion,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Jimmy Ray Bennett (“Sleeping Beauty”) and Nikki Levy, a Fox film executive and creator of the show. Reflecting Levy’s queer, anything-goes sensibility, the stories examine sex, family dysfunction, therapy and more. Thu. 8 p.m. $15. Bang Comedy Theatre, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. donttellmymother.com.

Dear Matisyahu

Dear Matisyahu,

Tonight you performed at the WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, 70 miles from my Dallas home. The distance may seem far, but in Texas proportion, it is right around the corner. I did not attend your concert. I could not. Frankly, I do not plan to see you again. You have disappointed me greatly. I will play your CD’s from time to time and hum your songs when the mood sets in. But you have let me down. All my life I’ve been waiting for and praying for a Charedi Jew to offer a message that resonates with America — a blessed country built on Judeo-Christian values but now listing toward secularism — and helps right it. How appropriate it would be for a member of one of the proudest, most observant Jewish groups to water the spiritual roots of American culture and give nourishment to its base. When your song “One Day” was chosen to be the theme melody of the 2010 Winter Olympics on NBC, my heart fluttered with pride.

Charedi, to me, means a Jew to whom Judaism — Torah values, Torah practice and Torah study — is numero uno and everything else is numero dos. It means someone to whom Judaism is not an identity but a life, not an ethnicity but a purpose. It would have to be someone who could capture the God-centeredness of the Charedi lifestyle and express it in lyrics that America could sing.  With your flowing beard, passionate vigor and refreshing creativity, I thought you were the one.

When your beard came off and your large black yarmulke remained, I took pause, but your reassuring tweets kept my hopes high. The pictures you recently tweeted of you and Wiz Khalifa — you with dyed blond hair sans yarmulke and Wiz smoking a joint — made me realized that you are no longer singing Z’miros in reggae. You are singing a different song. 

I drive by the Windstar World Casino often. It is just across the Texas state line, in Oklahoma, built on an Indian reservation where the Judeo-Christian values of the heartland don’t have jurisdiction, but close enough to tempt the millions in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to turn gelt into glitter, savings into flashing lights. The dreamy theme of the building is a concrete version of the joint Wiz was smoking. It is not the place to offer even the most watered-down Jewish values.

Your transition followed a path that has been traveled before. A creative Orthodox message becomes a broader universal message, and a broader universal message becomes a self-centered message. What was “Look at God” becomes “Look at me.” 

“Me” is the currency of our pagan-light pop culture.

I grew up in New York, where God is glorified in the religious community but chided and derided in the surrounding culture. Twelve years ago, my wife and I left the Northeast to move to Dallas, where we joined the Dallas kollel and subsequently started a meat business. It is a land like I have never seen growing up; God is revered, and Jews are respected. 

Over the years, I came to the conclusion that we need not be as insular as we were in New York and can speak values to the world around us, as our patriarch Avraham did. The culture is utterly receptive; if it is listening, should we not speak? You, Matisyahu, were an example of what could be done if only we would speak.

But now I am discouraged. You recently tweeted: “I felt it was time to walk a new path. What that exactly means or looks like I am still figuring out, and will be for the rest of my life, I hope.” Saying those words at this point in your life says, to me, that you have been sucked into the culture you were trying to influence. You have become connected to the hedonism that abhors rules and undermines values. And it says that I will, too, if I go it alone as you did. 

Sometimes I lie under the moon and think each observant Jew should reach out and touch the world. Now I see that community is the protector of God-centeredness and that discipline is the precursor of kiddush ha-Shem — sanctification of the Name.

I still believe that the American ship is listing precariously and the inspired Charedi community has a lead role to play in righting it. I still believe that if we speak, the world will listen. But I now appreciate, more than before, that it needs to be within a framework of community. And I pray that God helps us create and sustain a community that rallies behind the banner of kiddush ha-Shem, living passionate Charedi Judaism in a way that the world can observe, understand and appreciate.

The author of two books, Yaakov Rosenblatt “tends the flock” literally and figuratively, as the CEO of A.D. Rosenblatt Kosher Meats, LLC, and as a rabbi at NCSY — Dallas.

Catching up with Matisyahu (and his beard)

Like many artists, Matisyahu resists personal praise. Instead, the 32-year-old singer saves it for others — and his music. He described Youssoupha Sidibe, a musician he performs with, as “a very spiritual being … a very incredible musician,” and said their music was “next level” in a Tweet that linked to a recording of their recent jam.

In his shows, the musicians’ improvisational collaboration often features impromptu chanting over loose electric guitar. But Matisyahu’s forthcoming studio album, “Spark Seeker,” which will come out this summer, will be a slick effort, emphasizing studio wizardry over live spontaneity. 

“The music I’m going to be releasing, the record that is coming up, is a totally different feel,” Matisyahu said during an interview last week in advance of his appearance at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus on March 10. The new album follows “Light,” his 2009 release that featured what may be his best-known track, “One Day.”

Fans criticized “Light” for relying too much on hip-hop beats. Asked if he thought the critiques were fair, Matisyahu gave an unexpected reply.

“To me, ‘beat-heavy’ is a compliment,” he said. So while he wasn’t specific about the sound of the next album, one assumes it will continue the departure from the reggae sound of “Shake Off the Dust … Arise” (2004) and “Youth” (2006), his first two albums.

Despite talk about the novelty of Matisyahu in the mainstream music scene — and how different he is from the typical Jew — he’s extremely personable, even normal, in conversation. At times, he’s confident. Other times, he’s insecure. His album “Live at Stubbs” is beloved, but, he said, “I cringe when I listen to a lot of that record.”

Like any other celebrity whose actions and statements are scrutinized, Matisyahu doesn’t hide his frustration with the media. Raised as a Reconstructionist Jew on the East Coast, he dropped out of high school and got involved with drugs before learning about Orthodox Judaism on a trip to Israel. In his mid-20s, he exploded on the music scene as a Chasidic beat-boxing, reggae-singing superhero. He performed wearing a long beard and peyos, then shed the Orthodox garb for street clothes. While the change of wardrobe led people to question the sincerity of his observance, nothing came close to his decision last December to shave off both his beard and peyos. The move brought on a firestorm of anger, admiration and also confusion from fans, journalists and bloggers. And it caused him to be portrayed in the media in off-putting ways, he said.

“It’s so ridiculous to me, the whole thing,” Matisyahu said on the phone from Lake Tahoe, where he performed on Feb. 22. In interviews after he shaved, he explained that he’d been afraid to shave. Some had told him that a beard attracts God’s blessings and that by cutting his beard, he would be cutting off those blessings. If the fear sounds strange, consider that Orthodox Judaism gave the singer his identity and sense of self.

Once he built up the courage to shave, he came to believe that it would be his worthy behavior, not his beard, that will bring him God’s blessings.

“I went through a lot of changes and a lot of growth,” he said. “A lot of that has been … internal;  it’s been very much kind of like an inner thing.”

The beard, the evolving sound of his music — if nothing else, the last decade with Matisyahu has been interesting. No one denies that he’s a powerhouse live act.

“King Without a Crown” and “Jerusalem” are now eight years old, but the songs still enrapture audiences at his shows.

Visit ajula.edu/matisyahu for more information on the March 10 performance.

Our Annual Purim Spoof Cover 2012: Angry Beards, Donald Trump, Berman v. Sherman, Proxy Baptism


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On Matisyahu’s beard

On Tuesday, December 13, Chassidic reggae-star Matisyahu Tweeted:

This morning I posted a photo of myself on Twitter. 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.…. 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…. Matisyahu.

In a subsequent interview with WNYC radio, the Grammy-nominated singer explained that he remains observant but underwent a transformation.  He kept the long beard, he said, out of fear that removing it would result in being denied God’s mercy.  He overcame that fear and no longer needs facial hair.

As one who appreciated his music and loved his message, the tweet gave me pause.  It brought me back to the day that I, too, shaved my beard.

I grew a beard when I was 21 years old.  A fledgling rabbinical student with a pronounced speech impediment, I had just finished the most depressing year of my life.  The intensive speech therapy program I had engaged in was failing, and the yeshiva I attended beheld a culture I could not embrace. It was time for a new beginning.  I was going to Israel to attend the renowned and revered Mir Yeshiva.  Throughout my darkest moments, I craved – and felt – a special relationship with God.  But within that relationship it was time for renewal, time for a new tempo to the song of my life.   

My flight to Israel was scheduled for late summer.  “The Three Weeks,” a time when Orthodox Jewish men don’t shave to express mourning for the destruction of the Temples, fell a few weeks before my departure.  Already adorned by red stubble, I chose to not shave and let it grow into a red beard.

Life is replete with symbols.  The clothes we wear, the company we keep and the haircut we sport, express the person we are and the person we want to be.  Teenage boys wearing hair combed towards their forehead appreciate this, as do scientists sporting unkempt hair and shaggy sweaters.  I did, too.  The beard – the male expression of maturity – defined my commitment, devotion and determination to connect with God anew.  It was a new look and a new beginning. 

I kept the beard for two years, throughout my stay in Israel.  By then I felt much better inside and outside.  I met people who were both good and Godly, my studies were progressing, and I found friends who understood me and rabbis whom I understood.  Just before I came home to the States, the Remington came out and the beard came off. 

I kept the beard off for three years.  Then I met my soul-mate, married and chose a career in the field of Jewish education and outreach.  One month after our wedding was sefira, when Jewish men don’t shave to commemorate the loss of the academy of Rabbi Akiva to plague, in 150 CE.  The beard grew, again.  And it has been on ever since.

I feel comfortable with it because it was added as an expression of Jewish pride, not as a response to weakness.  Judaism is my life.  And I don’t intend to remove it.

Matisyahu remains an observant Jew and, even more, a keeper of the beard does not make one a keeper of the faith.  But it would be remiss to ignore that it was the beard which made Matisyahu a sensation.  The removal of the beard occurred because Matisyahu no longer saw in it the symbolism that the media and his fans saw in it.  A clean shaven white guy doing reggae, no matter how clever and talented, would not have made it to the Jimmy Kimmel Show.

The world knows that the Orthodox Jew speaks to mankind.  The wise, sagacious rabbi envisioned by our greatest admirers is bearded, as is the evil world-dominating caricature concocted by Anti-Semites.

What does the Orthodox Jew say to the world?  He says that God is infinitely engaged in creation.  He says that God calls mankind to self regulation, to commit to absolute values, to break the idol worship of self and to build and dignify the institution of other.  He speaks of the deep richness of the Godly and the fleeting pleasures of the worldly, imploring mankind to choose spiritual fine wine over material candy. He says that the battle between good and evil exists and persists at all times, in the world and within our lives.  And he proclaims that ultimately our good deeds will usher in a Messianic era when all mankind will recognize God as Creator and loving Father. 

Orthodox Jews know the message, yet, it was the medium of Matisyahu that brought it to the masses.  I will miss Matisyahu’s beard.  And pray that others – with beards – learn to express, as Matisyahu did, a craving for the Divine, absolute values that are sublime, to help turn the tide for a great nation in moral decline.

The author of two books, Yaakov Rosenblatt “tends the flock,” literally and figuratively, as CEO of A.D. Rosenblatt Kosher Meats, LLC and a rabbi at NCSY – Southwest region

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.