Category Archives: Guest Blog

Why I Help Bring Jewish Music to the South

“So how long have you been a singer?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked from time to time, and one that I can’t seem to answer without sounding sarcastic.

“Um… forever?”

The Red Heifers Quartet will be performing at AJMF 2015

The Red Heifers Quartet will be performing at AJMF 2015

Singing is unique, in that if pose the “how long have you been…” question to a pianist, violinist, or some other instrumentalist, they can usually give you an exact age when they remember the first feel of the instrument in their hands. Technically, I’ve always had my instrument. And I’m using my instrument all the time, which is both a gift and a curse.

My earliest memories of actual singing are from Sunday School at my synagogue in Chevy Chase, Maryland. It was fun to see how much singing was involved in Jewish life and learning. We learned prayer chants as well as folk songs about our traditions and culture. Even now I’m amazed how many songs I remember from decades ago.

But you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate music. As you learn to develop your own taste in music, it’s your family that ultimately influences your early tastes that eventually evolve. I would steal my brother’s Green Day and A Tribe Called Quest CDs, which explains my affinity for pop-rock and hip hop, and my mother would insist on us listening to the “oldies” channel on the radio which explains my love of Motown and classic rock.

Now, thanks to social media outlets and music sharing apps like Spotify which allow you to share playlists with your friends, I couldn’t even tell you what “types” of music I’m into. I just listen to a song/artist/band and think “yes, I like this” or “no, not for me.” The way I see it, there is less need for labeling. It’s actually comical to me how far some people are willing to go to assign genres to music these days, saying “Yeah, it’s kind of like indie trip-hop with a soul pop vibe.”

Hannah Zale will be performing at AJMF 2015

Hannah Zale will be performing at AJMF 2015

Is that going to help me enjoy it more? Probably not. But hey, if it works for you, great.

Ultimately it’s up to the listener to decide how their musical roadmap is paved and in what direction it’s going. Do you want to listen to nothing but one type of music the rest of your life? Be my guest. Am I going to feel sorry for you? Absolutely.

Music is constantly evolving, and we’re lucky enough to be able to see and hear it with our eyes and ears. It’s true in the secular music world—and it’s true in the Jewish music world. One of the current trends is multi-platform music festivals. It supports the idea that you can have something for everyone, educates your audience on new music they might not have heard before, and allows music lovers to interact socially, in real life and through hashtags and Instagram and more.

It’s something I’m passionate about. And it’s something I feel I can help contribute to the Southern Jewish scene.

Being a co-chair of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (AJMF) means being on the forefront of musical trends, from artists to festival fun to amazing social interaction and emerging music-interaction opportunities. As the Southeastern Jewish community changes, AJMF seeks to represent that change with our festival offerings. The festival aims to transcend what can often be blurry lines between religion and culture and provide a space for people to appreciate and learn about not just the music itself, but also how it relates to the world around them.

We don’t know what the future of music looks and sounds like. But to me, that makes the whole thing more exciting—and I’m also proud that right here in Georgia, we’ll be a part of that future, whatever it may bring.

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Posted on February 17, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Southern Jewish Voices: “Faithful Journey”

Douglas Smith of Columbus, Georgia

Douglas Smith of Columbus, Georgia

Today’s blog post is from Doug Smith, a member of one of the ISJL’s partner congregations, Temple Israel in Columbus, Georgia. He shares a poem inspired by the themes found in this week’s Torah readings and throughout the Exodus narrative.

“Faithful Journey”

Long Ago,

Through Fierce and Flickering Flames,

G-d Told Moses,

“Bring Them Out of Egypt and Lead Them to The Holy Land”.

 

So,

We Followed Him,

Into Stormy Seas and Through the Raging Waters,

All Marched Together as He Led Us to The Holy Land.

 

Then,

We Followed Him,

Into Desolate Wilderness and Through the Scorching Desert,

All Survived Together as He Led Us to The Holy Land.

 

Now,

We Continue to Follow Him.

Into Modern History and Through the Relentless Sands of Time,

He Still Leads Us to The Holy Land.

 

Thank You G-d,

Thank You Moses,

Thank You Mom and Dad,

Harriet (1937 – 2008) and Louis (1921 – 2001)

For this Faithful Journey,

Here Today I Stand,

With My Only Son,

Jonathan

A Jew.

Copyright DL Smith (2015)

Referencing / inspired by JPS Tanakh 2008

           Exodus 3, 14, 17

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Posted on February 6, 2015

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When Helping A Community, Follow Their Lead

Today’s post is from Caitlin Brooking, who recently attended a “Service in Mississippi” summit hosted by the ISJL, and then graciously offered to share her thoughts on community engagement.

Photo courtesy Caitlin Brooking

Photo courtesy Caitlin Brooking

When we view ourselves as a global community, it is impossible for us to stand by while our neighbors are hurting. Here in Mississippi, we seem to often be the ones in the spotlight as “hurting” – afflicted by persistent poverty, health disparities, and occasional natural disasters.

When Hurricane Katrina struck the coast of Mississippi almost 10 years ago, the images of decimated neighborhoods and people in pain lingered in the minds of many, and over the next few years, thousands headed South to assist with relief efforts, for days, months, even years.

For communities already dizzy with the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding individual lives as well as public institutions, the influx came with conflicting emotions. As the recovery dragged on, many long-term volunteer groups began struggling with the question, “How can we authentically include and respect the community in efforts that alter the appearance and composition of their community?”

The overwhelming majority of those who came from elsewhere to rebuild the Gulf Coast came out of compassion, with good intentions to use their own skills and resources to help residents get back on their feet. Many were socially conscious recent college graduates; many had been involved with community service efforts for years, were familiar with social justice tactics and were sensitive to and protective of residents’ privacy and self-agency. They made efforts to include community members in choices about housing design and community projects. Most were passionate and dedicated to their work, and wanted to leave the Gulf Coast “better than they found it.”

But for residents, long-held ideas about their community – what it looked like, who lived there, where their daily lives took place— gradually began to slip away. Some despaired they would never be able to truly return home, but felt unable to express these feelings without seeming ungrateful. Of course the efforts of volunteers were desperately needed, and many would be without homes at all without it. But while they were housed, they still remained “home”-less.

How can volunteers bring their best resources to address disparities in underserved communities, while respecting the community’s own vision? The answer seems simple: ask residents, listen to their responses, and engage them actively in project planning. However, projects can be complicated. Volunteers bring donor-specified outcomes, resource limitations, and specific skills that can’t always be well harnessed due to timing and context. Within communities, there can be political and ideological divides, competing visions for improvement, and in a disaster, there is often a sense of urgency as well as a heightened sense of vulnerability and loss of control that can fuel reluctance to let outside visions steer the projects. All communities want to feel empowered to create a place they can see themselves thriving in, not only a place to live but a platform for improving their own lives. Aligning volunteer group goals with community-led efforts from the project’s inception is crucial in managing expectations, ensuring sustainability for projects, and funneling volunteer energies and resources toward creating lasting change in the community.

Caitlin Brooking

Caitlin Brooking

Volunteer groups can work to embed themselves within the communities they serve, recognizing their role as outsiders and seeking out community-defined leaders to inform projects and guide planning processes. Planning processes should also include crafting a sustainability plan for projects, identifying specific local groups or residents who will steward projects after volunteer groups leave. Whether it is a one-day mural project or community garden, or a summer-long summer camp, projects should reflect the community’s priorities and values, and engage local residents in planning and implementation as leaders, volunteers and donors.

When volunteers travel to a community, the possibilities for idea exchange, innovation, and life-changing travel experiences are abundant. Intentional incorporation of community members in every stage of the project, from planning, investment, implementation and future preservation and usage of project results, can transform a project from a one-time experience for volunteers to a meaningful turning point in the ongoing development of a strong, vibrant community.

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Posted on February 4, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy