Jewish Journal


February 25, 2009

Jewlicious Festival 5.0 Celebrates Diverse Talent, Unity


When the first Jewlicious festival, Jewlicious @ The Beach, launched in April 2005, co-founder Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his team rented out a few rooms at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach to host about 100 participants. Four years later, they are booking the entire facility to hold Jewlicious Festival 5.0, which is expected to attract 800 Jewish students and young professionals. 

“We’ve put to bed the myth that young Jews don’t want to be involved,” Bookstein said. “Young Jews do want to be involved. Young Jews are thirsty for involvement and for being connected.”

From Feb. 27 to March 1, college-aged Jews will crowd the Long Beach JCC for Shabbat dinner and services, discussions, lectures and a giant Saturday night concert. 

The Jewlicious movement started as a blog and the first Jewlicious festival reflected these origins with discussions that focused on virtual communities and the relationship between blogging and Judaism. Presenters at Jewlicious 5.0, on the other hand, will discuss such diverse topics as filmmaking, writing, philanthropy, pop culture and wine — all with a Jewish twist, of course.

“The breadth of what we discuss ... it’s grown and grown exponentially,” Bookstein said.

New events this year include a group bike ride to the beach, a Jewish art expo and screenings of the films made by winners and nominees of the Jewlicious-run Jewish Film Competition.

The musical acts, which have been an important element of the Jewlicious festivals from the beginning, have become more eclectic as well. Hip Hop Hoodios played the first year, and Matisyahu has been a Jewlicious regular in recent years. At Jewlicious Festival 5.0, 14 musical acts from around the world, including Israeli reggae-rock band Aharit Hayamim and Jewdyssee, a German band that pairs Old World Jewish music with club rhythms, will perform in concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

“You can call it a happy accident ... that [the performers] also happen to represent the goal of Jewlicious in that Jews of all backgrounds are there for a common purpose in the form of common community,” said Adam Weinberg, Jewlicious Festival 5.0’s music director.

At the Saturday night concert, Y-Love, a black Orthodox rapper, will be spitting rhymes on the same stage as Moshav, a Los Angeles-based alternative folk-rock band, and Rav Shmuel, a 6-foot-5 Chasidic rabbi who is popular in New York City’s anti-folk scene. On Sunday afternoon, Inbar Bakal, a secular but traditional Sephardic Jew, will sing her own versions of biblical texts set to old Yemenite melodies. The fact that the bands have very different backgrounds, but all perform over the same weekend, speaks to the festival’s goals of promoting Jewish unity and celebrating Jewish diversity.

Baltimore-born rapper Y-Love started rhyming when he was attending a yeshiva in Jerusalem. He and his study partner used hip-hop to memorize passages from Gamarah. 

“It wasn’t who had the best bling or who could beat whose ass,” he said, “It was about who knew more Torah.” 

Y-Love said he likes the Jewlicious Festival because of the diversity of Jews it brings together.

“Orthodox Jews, secular Israelis ... people from drastically different parts of the Jewish world are all coming together for one purpose: to further Jewish unity. That’s enough of a reason to celebrate. The festival is the icing on the cake,” he said.

Moshav headlined Jewlicious Festival 4.0, and, according to music director Weinberg, the band kept people dancing until 2 a.m.

Yehuda Solomon, Moshav’s singer and percussionist, was born and reared in Israel, at Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Moshav Mevo Modi’im. Since his band moved to Los Angeles in 2000, they have played clubs, Purim parties, weddings and funerals.

“We want our music to apply to everyone. Not just Jews. We appreciate being in any room filled with people enjoying music,” Solomon said.

Matisyahu, best known for mixing Jewish themes with reggae, rock and hip-hop, will also make an appearance at the festival this year.

Rav Shmuel, a rabbi/singer/songwriter, has performed at the last three Jewlicious festivals and will emcee the concert on Saturday night.

“He’s definitely outside the box when it comes to your typical religious, Orthodox person,” Weinberg said, describing Shmuel. “He’s as comfortable and as well known in the cool, funky folk clubs in parts of New York City as he is in the yeshiva world.”

Shmuel, who will also lead a late-night Torah study at Jewlicious 5.0, said that his songs, mostly about relationship issues, are only subtly Jewish. 

Bakal, who will perform at the more intimate Sunday afternoon concert, served in the Israeli air force for four years before moving to Southern California in 2003.

Her band consists of Dimitris Machlis from Greece on the oud, Satnam Singh Ramgotra from India on the tables and Lebanese American Loren Khulusi playing the keyboard and coordinating the computer animation.

Bakal describes her music as “traditional but with total kick.”

“You have a woman on stage that’s shaking her ass and singing holy stuff and singing prayers. So, it’s not something you see everyday,” Bakal said.

For more information about Jewlicious Festival 5.0, visit jewliciousfestival.com.

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