The Boston Jewish Music Festival will be held March 1-10 at venues and synagogues around Metro Boston. Last year we talked to the fest’s founder Joey Baron; this year we’re speaking to two of the headlining performers. First up is Jewish rocker and Boston-area native Josh Nelson. I asked Josh about his eponymous band, the Josh Nelson Project, and his new “alternative Shabbat” for young people.
Who are you looking forward to hearing at the festival this year?
I think this year’s festival offers an incredibly diverse roster of artists. I’m particularly thrilled to hear Itzhak Perlman and Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. I was classically trained, and have a special love for Perlman’s unparalleled musicality. It pours off him as soon as he raises his bow. Also, the opportunity to see Dan Nichols in an intimate performance setting is an incredible treat. His songs are deep and truthful, always crafted with great care and delivered with an extraordinary voice. He’s not to be missed.
Tell me about the Warehouse.
The Warehouse is an alternative Shabbat prayer experience that’s designed to provide a point of reentry for underserved and unaffiliated young Jews in major American cities. In a general sense, the organized Jewish community did not leave a great taste in the mouth of my generation. We grew up in the midst of a broken educational system and a divided Jewish world. As a result, many of my friends don’t see the synagogue as a place to go, regardless of how connected or disconnected they may feel in a spiritual sense. For them, the prototypical American temple comes with a great deal of baggage. It’s likely that many of them won’t walk back into a shul until they start a family and begin to look for a community where they can raise their children.
The Warehouse aims to create a different point of access. It’s a Shabbat service that’s held in an unconventional physical space (usually a bar or nightclub) and utilizes innovative music, spoken word, and creative multimedia. By creating a worship event that meets the aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual needs of the 20s/30s demographic, The Warehouse offers an opportunity for reengagement that feels organic, inspired and relevant.
The results have been extraordinary. People often tell us that it’s the first time they’ve felt spiritually connected in a very long time.
The Warehouse has turned out to be the most fulfilling piece of my professional work. I was born and raised in the Boston area, and I’m thrilled to be sharing Warehouse with the Boston Jewish community.
My husband, who is Catholic, tells me that your music and events remind him of Christian youth ministry. Do you see that similarity?
For sure. The Jewish community has a lot to learn from the Christian world. Spiritual outreach is all about creating a safe, relevant space where people can find a place of connection. I see hundreds of thousands of young people being moved by contemporary Christian music and worship; it’s well-crafted, solidly thought out and beautifully delivered. For me, it’s a jumping-off point in terms of the lessons it teaches us. We may all find different paths to God, but people in general really do want the same things: to feel connected, to feel safe, and to feel part of a community.
Who’s your all-time favorite Jewish musical artist?
That’s a tough question. Almost impossible to answer, in fact. If I had to pick, though, I’d have to say Debbie Friedman. She was a mentor and a dear friend, and the way she made prayer and the spiritual experience accessible through music really did change the Jewish world.
The Boston Jewish Music Festival runs March 1-10. See the entire schedule.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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