Tour Puts Kosher Boy Scout in Limelight


As a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Edward Schwarzschild did a stint as a Kosher Boy Scout and hated it.

“Carrying two sets of dishes into the wilderness was a real turn-off for me,” he said.

Now 40, Schwarzschild hails from a venerable tradition of writers who have mined their formative Jewish experiences for literary purposes. This makes sense, considering that his first novel, “Responsible Men” (Algonquin) due out April 8, revolves around a Jewish family in Philadelphia faced with the challenge of understanding their past and improving their present.

“I never intended to write a book about my father,” Schwarzschild said. “But it’s clear to me that I wrote this book as a way to understand him.”

Schwarzschild will read from his book at the Café Club Fais Do Do in Mid-City on April 12, along with three other debut novelists selected for the 2005 spring First Fiction Tour. Founded last year by Cindy Dach, a manager of Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., the tour promotes like rock stars first-time authors by arranging a cross-country itinerary of readings in bars and clubs.

In addition, Schwarzschild has received his fair share of advance praise from a number of writers. Ha Jin, the award-winning author of “Waiting,” calls it a “marvelous novel and moving, impressive debut.”

“Responsible Men” revolves around Max Wolinsky, a salesman turned con man, who returns from his escapist life in Florida to attend his son’s bar mitzvah in Philadelphia. Back in his hometown, he must face his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, reconnect with his son and attend to the needs of his aging father and ailing uncle.

Although the novel begins with Max performing one of his real estate scams on a nice elderly couple, Schwarzschild has made him likeable, along with a supporting cast of flawed-yet-endearing characters. And yes, while the main characters in the novel grow into more evolved individuals (Max gives up conning and meets a good woman. Nathan, his son, forgives his parents and winds up loving the Kosher Boy Scouts), Schwarzschild does not tie up every loose end and consequently creates a story that resonates as truer to life.

Antonia Fusco, Schwarzschild’s editor at Alongquin, says she “was drawn to Ed’s work because of the honest and gentle way in which he writes about the lives of men. It’s unusual to come across a domestic story written from the male point of view,” she said. “Ed’s wry sense of humor and the joy he brings to his writing made me care for his characters, even when they’re not responsible.”

Schwarzschild, an assistant professor of American literature and creative writing at University at Albany, SUNY, describes his upbringing as classic Jewish American. While his grandmother grew up in a kosher home, he didn’t. Raised Reform, he said his “transformative” Jewish experiences of his youth included his bar mitzvah and Boy Scout troop. Not until college did he discover that he could passionately engage his heritage through literature.

“It was such an awakening to read writers like Phillip Roth and Grace Paley,” he said. “These writers spoke to me in a voice that was true to my world, my experiences and hinted at what I had yet to experience.”

As the eldest son and the child of a salesman, Schwarzschild grew up with the deeply ingrained notion that he would become a doctor, majoring in pre-med and cramming for classes at Cornell University.

“I was convinced I could be a writer on the side, that I could just fax over my stories to The New Yorker,” he said.

Schwarzschild eventually struck a compromise with the familial expectations. He would become a writer but earn a doctorate in the process.

“I took the responsible track,” he said. “Sometimes I wonder what if I was that person who just went to live in New York City and write a novel. But in the end, I can see that I chose the right path.”

After receiving his doctorate from Washington University, Schwarzschild continued on to Boston University’s MFA creative writing program, a fellowship at Stanford and the pursuit of publishing short stories in literary journals. One of these stories won a prize in the journal StoryQuarterly, and agents began to call. Schwarzschild said that “was the one time in the publishing process when being the son of a salesman helped. I chose the agent who struck me as the best salesman.”

After traveling with the First Fiction Tour, Schwarzschild hopes to finish up a collection of short stories and start work on a new novel. “That’s the healthiest thing for me to do, as opposed to becoming obsessed over what reviews I might get,” he said.

Above all, Schwarzschild hopes that readers of his book “will come away with a sense of recognition about their relationships with their parents or children. Whatever I’ve learned about writing a book, I know that it’s not about instruction but about sharing experiences.”

Schwarzschild reads with Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Matthew Carnahan and Marya Hornbacher on April 12, 7:30 p.m. at Café Club Fais Do Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. The event is sponsored by Book Soup in conjunction with the First Fiction Tour. For more information, call (310) 659-3110 or visit


Secular Fans Hip to Religious Rapper


He’s into rap, hip-hop, reggae — and religion. He’s not a Christian rocker; he’s a Chasidic reggae/hip-hop musician.

Matisyahu is the artist formerly known as Mathew Miller — until he found God, Lubavitch-style, almost five years ago.

The 25-year-old certainly beats to his own drummer. Over the last several years he’s played packed houses, garnering a following with Jews and non-Jews. He’s a regular on the New York club circuit, and always takes to the stage in the requisite black suit and white shirt. And he gets his groove on with a kippah on his head and his tzitzit flying.

On April 10, Matisyahu will work his magic in Los Angeles at a sold-out concert at the University of Judaism.

There are a handful of Orthodox musicians who use their Judaism in their lyrics, but Matisyahu seems to be one of the few who has managed to appeal to both Jewish and secular audiences. After Matisyahu performed at a secular nightclub in Iowa in January, an online magazine review said, “The crowd responded equally to his religious and secular utterances. Matisyahu certainly made converts of a few from the crowd, but whether it was to reggae or to Judaism is impossible to say.”

Matisyahu doesn’t appear to find anything incongruous about his hip-hop Chasidism. The soft-spoken young artist said it’s what has made him so successful.

“There’s never really been a religious Jewish voice that modern-day Jews and non-Jews alike can relate to,” he said.

The Lubavitch-style tradition, he said, is something others who have taken the same path can connect with: the heritage, the religion. “While this is the focal point of my life, at the same time I’m still a person that grew up with American culture and listening to American music, and I combine the two.”

The lyrics used in traditional reggae music, he says, originate from the same place as his own work: the Torah. “The Rastafarians base a lot of their on the Psalms and King David.”

In “King Without A Crown” Matisyahu sings:

What’s this feeling?
My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
Givin’ myself to you from the essence of my being
Sing to my God all these songs of love and healing
Want moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing

Many of his other songs speak of the yearning to connect with God and change the world. “Having one God is not just a Jewish concept,” he said. “Everyone can connect with that.”

While growing up, Matisyahu was heavily into all forms of alternative music, particularly reggae.

“A person’s life is in phases,” he said. “When you go through a new phase, you don’t kill the old you or forget who you were or where you came from.”

Mathew Miller came from White Plains, N.Y., where he grew up in a traditional Jewish household. His main Jewish education was twice-weekly Hebrew school classes, for which he came close to being expelled because of his disruptive influence.

A restless teenager with little interest in his studies, he turned to music, finding solace in beat-box rhythms, hip-hop and reggae.

Like many youth searching for something, Miller’s journey from Matthew to Matisyahu was an evolution and included a life-altering 11th-grade trip to Colorado, where the vast landscape made him realize there was a God.

Nonetheless, he dropped out of high school, turned to drugs and alcohol, and drifted aimlessly. But a trip to Jerusalem, and a chance Shabbat evening service at the Carlebach Shul on New York’s Upper West Side, eventually put Matisyahu onto the path he now treads today. He calls Crown Heights home.

The Chasidic melodies, raucous singing and the flower-power vibe of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s legacy, helped Matisyahu delve deeper into both his musical and Jewish soul, ultimately finding peace, solace and meaning in his life in the Lubavitch world.

Today he focuses on spreading the message of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe — with his music. “He said we’re supposed to take the things that we do and tell the world about the moshiach, and about God.”

At his concerts, he uses psalms, quotes from the Torah and anything else to fulfill the commandment to be “a light unto the nations” — albeit with a heavy Jamaican tone.

How does he reconcile Orthodox Judaism with performing on stage — particularly when he himself has said he has to avert his eyes at some clubs because the women are not dressed modestly enough?

“Those who know me know that as an artist this is my way of fulfilling my role and doing tikkun olam,” he said, referring to the Hebrew for “healing the world.”

One of his greatest supporters is his wife. A little-publicized fact, Matisyahu was married last August to an NYU film student. The couple is expecting their first child later this year.

In the meantime, Matisyahu is busy touring the country.

“I hope that people will enjoy my concerts and come away with a sense of truth and pride in who they are and where they come from,” he said. “And everybody can hopefully learn and discover what their mission is here.”

The 8 p.m. show has sold out. A 10:30 p.m. show has been added on Sunday,
April 10 at the UJ. Tickets are $25 each.


Jewish Groups Join Quake Relief Efforts

For thousands of young Israelis, the sun-drenched archipelagos of Southeast Asia were the perfect destination to forget the rigors of military service.

But this week, that post-Zionist nirvana became a nightmare. The tsunami that swept India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands on Sunday plunged hundreds of Israeli families into a frenzy of worry over relatives feared lost while touring.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that witness testimony suggested that at nearly 70 of the approximately 500 Israeli tourists still unaccounted for in hard-hit Southeast Asian nations may have been swept out to sea and drowned. At least 33 Israelis are receiving treatment in hospitals in the region, the Foreign Ministry said.

For thousands of families living in or visiting the Indian Ocean region, Sunday’s catastrophe confirmed their worst fears: At least 45,000 people were killed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, mostly in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

A Belgian Jewish couple reportedly lost their 11-month-old son in the disaster. According to Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, Matan Nassima’s body was found Tuesday near the Thai resort where his family had been vacationing.

Details were not immediately known, but it also was believed that members of the South African, Australian and New Zealand Jewish communities were missing.

Immediately after the tragedy, Israel and Jewish groups swung into action. Israel’s Foreign Ministry set aside $100,000 in aid for each of the countries hit by the tsunami. Four top doctors from Israel’s Hadassah Hospital were dispatched to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the ministry’s request, Hadassah said. Among them were the hospital’s head of general surgery and trauma, its chief of pediatrics and two anesthesiologists.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka turned down an Israeli offer to send military personnel to help with search-and-rescue efforts but said it would accept a smaller team.

North American Jewish groups also were participating in the relief efforts. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) was expecting to send its first shipment of medicine Tuesday to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. It has been coordinating with 23 partner organizations in the region to assess needs on the ground. The group is hoping to receive donations to cover the cost of emergency supplies.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working with its office in Bombay and elsewhere to coordinate relief efforts. The organization is hoping to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Chabad of Thailand responded to the crisis by dispatching a rabbi to Phuket to aid rescue efforts and turned the three Chabad Houses of Thailand into crisis centers where survivors can call home, get a free meal or receive funds for new clothing and medical help.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a Southeast Asia Relief Fund. To contribute, call (323) 761-8200, or send a check payable to The Jewish Federation at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 and write Southeast Asia Relief Fund on the memo line.

For families of potential victims, the waiting for news was excruciating.

At Erez Katran’s home in Haifa, a 24-hour vigil was set up next to the telephone in hopes that he would call. His family hoped Katran’s silence was due to the fact that he was incommunicado while sailing in the Bay of Bengal. Katran was among the Israelis who remained unaccounted for Tuesday, despite urgent Foreign Ministry efforts to track them down.

In addition to delivering bad news, the Israeli communications industry pitched in with the search efforts. Every major Web site set up a page where pictures of missing tourists could be posted in hope that someone would report their location, and one cellphone company offered its Israeli customers in Southeast Asia 10 minutes of free air time to call home.

JTA staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

Relief Donations Sought

The following Jewish organizations are seeking funds to assist in the relief effort:

• American Jewish World Service, ” target=”_blank”>, (212) 687-6200, ext. 889.

• B’nai B’rith, or by mail to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, 2020 K St., NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

• Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200; For U.S. tax deductibility, checks should be made out to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand.)

Evan and Jaron

“Hey, Mr. Lowenstein, welcome to life.”

That’s the wakeup call that Jaron Lowenstein, half of the pop duo “Evan and Jaron,” says that he got this last year as he and his brother plan their comeback — without a major studio backing.

“We lived a charmed life, I felt like I’ve had everything fall in my lap till I was 29 years old,” says Jaron, who just celebrated his 30th birthday with his twin brother Evan in March. “The last six months, I’ve had to work for stuff. I mean, I’ve always worked hard, and I love doing what I do, but it’s having to feel like I’m doing almost the same stuff again to start the second time around.”

The second time around isn’t easy for any act, and a couple of years out of the limelight is like an eternity in the entertainment world.

But here we are on this sweltering Monday morning, Jaron looking scruffily handsome, diamond eyes sparkling over killer cheekbones as he animatedly talks about their new album “Half Dozen” on sale this week.

Since The Journal wrote about E&J nearly three years ago, their looks haven’t changed much, but it seems like everything else has for them. For one, Evan’s had a daughter and is trying to balance stardom with family-man-dom. Secondly, the world has seen an Orthodox presidential candidate, rendering E&J’s Sabbath-observant clause no big deal. And most importantly, E&J have left their last label, Sony/Columbia in order to release their new album on their own.

“We’re the luckiest guys alive, we got offered five different record deals and we chose not to go with them, because we felt we’d merely be trading seats in the Titanic,” Jaron says. If they didn’t make so much money with the label when things were going well, “why would I jump in with them [now] when it’s not working? Maybe they’ll figure it out, but maybe I will too.”

The Lowenstein’s risk-taking comes at a time when the music industry is hemorrhaging revenue from illegal downloading. And as music fans rebel at the high price of albums they can virtually get for free, E&J are hoping to tap into the anger and the indie current by selling their album at a fraction of the normal $20 cost.

The album — actually, it’s half an album, with six
original songs and three bonus tracks — will sell for $5.98 for the first 60
days (“What Jew wouldn’t like that?” Jaron jokes), and afterward for $9.98,
available on their self-mocking Web site, .

In the last three years, the Lowensteins have learned not to take themselves too seriously. Fame and its fleeting nature is the premise of the sitcom they’re pitching to Fox, based on their lives. “We were in Lawrence, Kan. playing a car dealership for 13 people and a Bozo the Clown look-alike. And we locked ourselves in the car and we’re like, ‘We’re not gettin’ out, we are not gettin’ out,’ and we’re like, ‘You know what? We are getting out,” Jaron says, punctuating his story with high-pitched melodic giggles. “And that’s the reality. It’s like a microcosm of the real roller coaster life.”

Plans for the show are on hold while they go on tour next week, and they’re hoping that their music — not the marketing — is what will help them reach their goal of selling 100,000 records. Like their last album, “Half-Dozen” offers a number of catchy tunes that you won’t be able to get out of your head as soon as you hear them on the radio, and especially after you’ll hear them on the radio a zillion more times. Take “What She Likes”:

“She likes the romance/to slow dance/staying out all night./She lights the Christmas lights all year round/why put ’em up take ’em down?/She watches baseball/hates the mall/but hangs out with the guys./That’s what I know about what she likes.”

With simple guitar and harmony in their similar overlapping twin voices, songs like “Stuck in the Middle” tell more mature stories than “Crazy,” about a couple who fight but can’t split up. “Now we’re stuck here/standing in the middle/of a mess we made./It’s all too little too late./You call your mother I write a song/We’ve come to agree that we can’t get along./Why can’t I say goodbye?”

Saying goodbye to their record label might bring one small advantage: perhaps this time around, E&J won’t have to contend with being typecast as a boy band or as singers for a teeny-bopper audience.

“Most of our fan base now is who it was — 18-40, 25-35, 18-34,” Jaron says. The brothers — who see themselves more in the mold of Simon and Garfunkel or a “male Indigo Girls” — got pigeonholed after they appeared in 2000 on MTV’s “Total Request Live” and Columbia decided to exploit their looks, with Chanel stepping in a year later with a merchandising tie-in.

“There is a reason we’ve toured with Sting, with Jimmy Buffet…and none of those other bands did,” Jaron says, referring to boy bands. “Because we’re in that genre. That’s our core, that’s where we come from.”

Speaking about where they came from, making a comeback is doubly hard when you come from the Orthodox community. There’s a reputation to uphold.

“Having established ourselves as the ‘Orthodox guys,’ we’re Modern Orthodox,” Jaron says, although Evan is more religious than he is. Single and about to start touring next week, Jaron says he thinks twice about his behavior because he’s become a role model to the Jewish community. In the last four years, Jaron says they’ve received tens of thousands of letters from Jews across the denominational spectrum. “And that’s great. But it also comes with a lot of responsibilities to maintain.”

But keeping kosher and Shabbat — which has cost them dearly in the past, making them miss out on summer tours — is important to the brothers. Jaron lovingly discusses what it’s like to be from such a tight-knit community.

“It’s so funny, every time we perform in front of Jewish people there’s that Jewish mother syndrome. You know, no matter what you do, there’s something wrong.” Jaron puts on an old Jewish man voice: “They’re not that good/They are that good/I heard they were better. Which one of them’s this? Are they really religious? Can they be….? If they’re really this, where’s their yarmulke? How do they do that?”

In his regular sweet voice Jaron says, “Jews are the quickest to claim people” — and he puts on his old man’s voice again and says, “Billy Joel’s Jewish/no he’s not Jewish.” Now back to Jaron again: “But as soon as they claim that ‘yeah we got one,’ then they just rip ’em apart. It’s like, let’s prove that he’s not really a Jew.”

Prez by Day, Punk by Night

Lawyer, lecturer, punk rocker –and executive president of an Orthodox synagogue.

Welcome to the world of Bram Presser, 26, the Melbourne, Australia-based lead singer of Yidcore, a Jewish punk rock group that specializes in Jewish and Hebrew songs.

As executive president of Melbourne’s North Eastern Jewish War Memorial Centre, Presser is responsible for fiscal affairs at the synagogue, which serves 260 families.

“Not all the shul members approve of me, but they do say they like me when I am quiet,” Presser said.

At the age of 19 and already into punk, Presser established the Theatre Club at the Northern Suburbs Memorial Centre. At 23 he was involved with Israeli affairs through his position on Victoria’s State Zionist Council. The synagogue was a separate entity within the community center until 2001, when the two merged and Presser became executive president of the combined organization.

Yidcore recently completed its second U.S. tour, playing a month of concerts to enthusiastic audiences in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The band’s latest CD “Chicken Soup Caper E.P.” and its first CD, “Yidcore” feature familiar Jewish songs such as “Dayenu,” “Bashana Haba’ah”and “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” together with originals “Minyan Man” and “Why Won’t Adam Sandler Let Us Do His Song?”

The band’s third U.S. tour, which Presser hopes will be coast-to-coast, is on the drawing board.

“We formed the band as part of an Australian Union of Jewish Students show and it was a tearaway success,” Presser said.

Yidcore features three other members who also came out of Melbourne’s Jewish day schools: advertising man Mikie Slonim, marketer Paul Glezer and architect Dave Orlanski.

For a punk rocker, Presser lives a clean life: He is strongly anti-drug and is a nonsmoking vegetarian. He has played in bands since he was 14, and attributes his punk skill to his Jewish background.

He also is a lecturer in law at Melbourne University, where he is preparing his criminology doctoral thesis. In the future, he hopes to arrange a concert tour of Israel for Yidcore — even performing, if allowed, at the Kotel.

“At the end of the day, it’s our way of expressing our Jewishness, and the message is getting through to a generation who would otherwise never hear it,” he said.

Yidcore’s music can be heard on its Web site,

Campus Envy

I am not a big fan of Jewish unity when it’s ideological. A room full of informed

and opinionated Jews, arguing their ideas back and forth, is a sign of a healthy people.

But I do support Jewish physical unity. Life is with people, and Jewish life flourishes when we learn, play, pray and — of course — argue together.

That’s why I stood on a hill in Irvine last Sunday, suffering — as an L.A. Jew — from a case of campus envy.

The occasion was the dedication of the Tarbut v’Torah Jewish Community Upper School and a tour of the building site of the Samueli Jewish Campus. The school itself is state-of-the-art, spacious, with a professional-quality performance and lecture hall, and even a rock climbing wall in the playground.

We do have good Jewish high schools here, with nice buildings, and I’m certain there will be more of them as the years go by. But that Samueli Campus beside the school, that’s another story.

Last Sunday, a crowd of about 1,000 Orange County Jews came for a "virtual tour" of what will be a $63 million, 120,000-square-foot Jewish community campus. On that breezy hilltop overlooking Orange County, tantalizing, full-color renderings of the future laid propped up beside what is now a dusty building pad. The new campus will house the Orange County Jewish Federation and its affiliated agencies, as well as a full-service Jewish Community Center (JCC). The new JCC will include two massive swimming pools, a 50,000-square-foot fitness center, a 500-seat theater, classrooms and facilities for children from infancy through the teen years, kosher kitchens and space for weddings and celebrations for more than 300 people.

Construction on the site is expected to begin once a $20 million capital campaign is completed. Already, 72 families have pledged $11 million. "This is the catalyst for the center of Jewish life in Orange County," said Henry Samueli, the Broadcom Corp. co-founder who, along with his wife, Susan, donated the land for the campus. "So, 20 years from now, you could open a travel book and look up ‘Jewish center’ and you will find this. This is a place for everybody in the Jewish community to come."

The Samueli Jewish Campus will serve an estimated 2,500 people per day, according to Orange County JCC president Mary Ann Malkoff. "This is our future and it’s all about to happen," she said.

What, I wondered, about L.A.’s future? When is that going to happen? Orange County is a much smaller Jewish community — 100,000 souls at most — more homogenous than ours. But it is also spread out across 700 square miles, and filled with its share of the disinterested and marginally involved. Now all these Jews will have a true central address, a place for all denominations, all political persuasions, all ages. As our JCCs either remain closed or struggle to exist, as we cast about for both leadership and togetherness, we can look south for some valuable lessons:

One person with the right vision can make a huge difference.

There were numerous people involved in the Orange County campus, but one crucial element revolved around one family’s vision, and pocketbook. Henry Samueli is a resident of Orange County who, along with an anonymous donor, funded most of Tarbut v’Torah. ("We are very selfish in doing this," joked Susan Samueli during the dedication ceremony. "We have daughters who will be graduating from this school.") When school officials informed the Samuelis that the school might lose its option to buy valuable adjoining acreage, the couple helped envision the kind of Jewish center of life and learning that Henry Samueli had experienced first-hand as a child growing up — in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district.

Big visions generate big excitement.

In the beginning, as Susan Samueli said, all her transplanted family was looking for was a Jewish school. They could have written a building fund check and called it a day. Instead, they and other Orange County leaders stepped back and imagined the best possible scenario for their community’s Jewish future. That not only inspired large donors to give even more, it galvanized a community that many had written off as dispersed and apathetic.

Real leadership builds real community.

Perhaps most striking thing about the Sunday event was the cooperation and excitement shared by staff and lay leaders of all the Orange County Jewish agencies and organizations. Of course they have had their conflicts, and they will have more, but the project only worked because people worked together. "What makes this special is the relationship between the JCC and Tarbut, between JCC and Federation and between Tarbut and Federation," said Malkoff, echoing the day’s spirit. "Having a campus where we can all work together is extremely meaningful."

No one needs reminding that these are uncertain, perilous times, and we certainly have enough life-and-death causes — terror, Iraq, Israel, the economy, Argentina, anti-Semitism — that demand our money and attention.

Coming together to deal with these crises, as we have in Los Angeles, is an important achievement. This community has always responded to emergencies well. But how much better off would we be if along with our ability to demonstrate unity with Jews in crisis abroad, we brought ourselves together as well, in a big, bold way, as they’ve done in Orange County.

‘Ferris’ Singer’s Day Off

When Spectator caught up with Monique Powell, lead singer of the pop sensation Save Ferris, she was wandering around Anaheim, tired, displaced and searching for food.

But this was no VH1 special in the making. After two years of nonstop global touring in support of her band’s two albums, a weary Powell found herself in a state of flux earlier this week — without a permanent place to call home — just days away from recording the follow up to Save Ferris’ 1997 major label debut, “This Means Everything.”

A confection of new wave and lounge, the Epic-released “Everything” rattled off several alternative radio hits — the up-tempo “The World is New,” the self-explanatory “Spam,” and “Goodbye,” a manic-depressive ska romp articulating the ultimate kiss-off from a jilted ex-lover.

Anticipating her pending studio reunion with the other six members of Save Ferris, a restless Powell spent Memorial Day afternoon driving around in search of an Albertson’s. Back at the hotel, Powell feasted on dessert for dinner (angel food cake). But that’s out of choice, not necessity, for she’s past the days of living off low-rent foodstuffs such as…well, Spam.

Powell is no stranger to fending for herself in unlikely environments. After all, she just returned from touring the world in the company of her all-male band (“A 24-hour job,” she calls it). And she was also raised Jewish in Orange County.

“Garden Grove at the time was a pretty Waspy environment when I was growing up there,” the 23-year-old says, “And I was…very observant till the age of 12 or 14.

“My mom’s family, they’re all Moroccan Jews, and they all live in Los Angeles, so every holiday I was surrounded by a large quantity of family…love and tradition.”

Powell still maintains “great pride” for her culture: “I was lighting the Shabbat candles every Friday when I had a place to live, but now I’m hotel bound.”

When Save Ferris decided to cover the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” for DJs Kevin and Bean’s charity compilation, Powell converted the KROQ Christmas staple to Judaism, rewriting the lyrics as Chanukah-centric. While her Fairfax district residency at the time had some influence on her Jewish take on the brassy Yuletide number, Powell says with a laugh, “I couldn’t write about Christmas, because I never had one.”

With influences ranging from 1980s pop to Aretha and Ella, Powell is content with her band’s current low-key fame: “We’re not rock stars yet…everything that happened went exactly the way we wanted it to…. It’s the perfect place to be before releasing your second major label release.” Save Ferris even had enough confidence to record a high-profile cover — Dexy Midnight Runners’ 1983 chart-topper “Come On Eileen” — which might have ushered doom for any other young band.

Slated for later this year, the next album, Powell promises, will be “more mature, more complex.” In the meantime, she is looking forward to playing this weekend’s Valley Jewish Festival, where she’ll break in new songs off the upcoming disc.

As for any do-or-die expectations riding on its follow-up, Save Ferris won’t concern itself with anything beyond cutting a good record.

Even if the album bombs, Powell says that she and her band have what it takes to pick themselves up and move forward. Or, to say it another way, this is a case where it doesn’t mean everything.

Save Ferris will perform at the Valley Jewish Festival at CSUN, Sunday, June 6, at 3:00 p.m. For more information, see the cover story.