December 13, 2018

Jewlicious opts for music and art over religion and politics [VIDEO]

“If you want to make something where everybody will come together, focus on things that people have in common, [like] love of music,” said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, organizer of the Jewlicious Festival. Indeed, music, art and family took center stage last weekend for the three-day, sixth annual Jewlicious, which brought nearly 1,000 people— including Jews of all denominations—from 22 states to Long Beach’s Alpert Jewish Community Center.

The weekend saw strong musical performances from Matisyahu, Moshav and Rav Shmuel. It also highlighted boxer Yuri Foreman, the current welterweight champion of the world, conducting a lighthearted boxing workshop.

Sharp observational comedy was also in the mix, thanks to Joel Chasnoff, who performed in the comedy café and served as master of ceremonies for Saturday night’s main concert event.

Many attending slept in the converted gymnasium, which was divided to separate the sexes. A hotel across the street also served as home for many. And while there were panel discussions or events happening at every moment, it wasn’t unusual to find people opting instead to just make their own fun, playing ping-pong, basketball or cards.

Matisyahu headlined on a candlelit acoustic stage on Sunday afternoon. His 45-minute set included his hits “Jerusalem” and “One Day,” the latter of which is the official anthem for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Dressed in street clothes, Matisyahu, who comes every year to the festival, kept the mood improvisational and casual, extending his songs with skillful beat boxing. He also fielded questions from the audience and joked that if anybody asked about his musical influences, they would have to leave. Most of the questions were about his marijuana use.

“[You] just have to be smart about the way you do it,” said Matisyahu. “Which is the way I feel about most things.”

His 45-minute set was the final performance of the festival, though he had made surprise appearances over the weekend. On Saturday, he joined comedian Smooth-E for a parody of “King Without a Crown.” He could also be seen walking with his family in the main hallway, gym, auditorium and the several event rooms of the JCC.

During the concert, one of Matisyahu’s children, dressed in a Superman costume, went up to the stage and said, “Hi, Daddy.” To which his famous father replied:  “Hi, Superman,” a simple, normal exchange that captured the spirit of the weekend.

Adam Weinberg, music director for the festival, reinforced that there should be no preaching at the festival—that attention, instead, should be on the music. “I think music should speak for music’s sake,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg, also a musician, accompanied Matisyahu on acoustic guitar, as did Dave Holmes, a member of Matisyahu’s band.

Matisyahu spoke afterward about how strongly the performance resonated with him. “When you have an audience listening, taking the journey with you, it’s pretty special,” he said. “For some reason, we seem to be having these kinds of performances at Jewlicious shows.”