June 19, 2003
Sunday ‘Nights’ Alright for Outreach
Craig Taubman has a knack for inventing Jewish pop culture.
In 1998, he co-created "Friday Night Live" (FNL), the ebullient, musically driven young adult Shabbat service that's been snatched up by synagogues around the country. Since then, "FNL" has become part of the vernacular and was written up in Richard Flory's book, "Gen X Religion" (Routledge, 2000).
But Taubman, an intensely upbeat singer-songwriter-producer, wasn't content to stop there. This Sunday, he's unveiling his new program to draw the young and unaffiliated: "Mulholland Nights," a summer concert series at the University of Judaism (UJ), featuring hip, young Jewish artists. The June 22 lineup includes Lisa Loeb, guitarist-chanteuse; Gabriel Mann, a singer-songwriter-pianist reminiscent of Peter Gabriel; and Billy Jonas, an iconoclastic folk artist who performs on found objects.
The goal is to draw 22- to 39-year-olds who are so removed from the community they may not even have heard of "FNL."
"'Mulholland Nights' is intrinsically Jewish on the inside, but not overtly Jewish on the outside, because otherwise this demographic won't come," Taubman, 45, said. "It's not because they're anti-Jewish; it's because Judaism isn't even on their radar. And since it's not part of their vocabulary, we're using a language and personalities they can relate to."
In three concerts this summer, each "personality" will banter about his or her religious background between songs.
During a recent phone interview, Loeb -- whose perky, retro-'60s look contrasts with her wistful folk-pop -- said she'd recount how the culturally Jewish emphasis her parents placed on the arts encouraged her to become a performer. Loeb, 35, will also explain that Judaism continues to affect her songwriting in her tendency "to be very analytical, to ask questions and overquestion."
Mann, 30, descended from three generations of Orthodox cantors, said he'd discuss how chazzanut influences his moody, intense work.
"When my father sings, it's filled with passion, like he means every word, and the same thing happens when I'm on stage with my 'congregation,' the audience," said Mann, a San Antonio native. The same fervor infuses his edgy lyrics: "I have a strong, internal 'cheese' monitor," he said.
If "Mulholland Nights" proves successful, it's because Taubman has something of a track record. Five years after he and Rabbi David Wolpe launched "FNL" to connect Generation X Jews to their faith (and to Jewish mates), the monthly Sinai service has become the largest Jewish singles event on the West Coast. In October, Taubman produced Hallelu, a Jewish concert at Universal Amphitheatre that sold nearly 5,000 tickets.
When observers noted that far more 40-somethings than 20-somethings had attended, Taubman decided to create a concert series especially for the elusive young adult set. The result is "Mulholland Nights," designed to draw people who feel more comfortable in a nightclub than a synagogue.
His efforts reflect a national trend: "Years ago, people began doing 'Jewish things' earlier because they married and had kids younger which was the primary attraction for joining a synagogue," Taubman said. "Because organizations no longer have that to fall back on, everyone is trying to find new and creative ways to reach out to this group."
One such person is Gady Levy, dean of the department of continuing education at the UJ, who's been working to increase the young adult turnout at UJ programs. Thus he was receptive when Taubman asked him to host "Mulholland Nights" and to put up a portion of its estimated $80,000 budget, along with other sponsors.
"Our goal is not to make money, but to bring new young people into the UJ and hopefully to see what else we are doing," Levy said.
To draw a wide cross-section of Jewish Angelenos, Taubman hired a club-savvy 26-year-old to blanket L.A. hotspots with flyers. He's also booked Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi artists -- including legendary Israeli folk-rocker David Broza and the Middle Eastern quartet Divahn, voted 2001 best new band by the Austin Chronicle
Reggae artist Elan, an observant Jew who once fronted Bob Marley's former band, The Wailers, will perform at the July 20 concert.
"I don't blatantly talk about Hashem in my lyrics; it's more cryptic," Elan, 27, said. "Sometimes you think I'm talking about my wife, but it's really about Hashem."
Taubman will also take the subtle approach to introduce "Nights" patrons to the Jewish community. Rather than making speeches, he'll prominently place pamphlets advertising "FNL": "I want Mulholland Nights to be another Jewish point of entry for young people," he said. "If we hit them once, twice, three times, there's a better chance they'll view this as not just another pickup event they do on the side, but that they do Jewish things."
For more information about the concert series, call (310) 440-1246 or visit www.dce.uj.org .