Matisyahu performs every year at Jewlicious, the three-day Jewish learning and music weekend that takes place at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach and this year drew some 900 college students and young professionals.
A friend to JConnect, which organizes the event with Beach Hillel, the Chassidic reggae star has a habit of drawing his audience into his feverish musical frenzy. He did so again this year, but this time, due to snow, he was stuck in a hotel in Canada, while his guitarist was on stage at the Long Beach JCC. Didn’t matter — he Skyped in his performance.
Although the Internet connection cut off several times, the audience was patient and enjoyed the tangential conversations Matisyahu had with friends in the crowd. In what was perhaps the most exhilarating moment of the show, Matisyahu beat-boxed while hip-hop artist Kosha Dillz rapped on stage at the JCC, the two somehow keeping in time with one another.
“Make noise for Skype!” festival director Rabbi Yonah Bookstein said afterward, and the audience actually did.
There was a lot to cheer about all weekend. Now in its seventh year, Jewlicious uses the Coachella Music and Arts Festival as inspiration, offering an extensive lineup of talent and places for attendees to sleep overnight. Organizers keep the recession economy in mind, offering reasonable ticket prices for students — $40 to $50 for full-time undergraduates, which covers all three days as well as meals — and they aim for inclusivity for Jews of all denominations.
“Always, our goal was to be able to draw all parts of the Jewish world,” Bookstein said. “We want it to be a weekend where your political, religious or ethnic background is not a barrier for participation.”
Matisyahu’s wife, Tahlia Miller, a speaker at this year’s festival — she has been involved with Jewlicious the past six years — noted that this year’s festival drew a greater number of less-observant Jews than in previous years.
“I think it’s great because it means that the festival … appeal[s] to a wider audience of college students,” she said.
Live comedy is always an component of Jewlicious, and this year, Randy and Jason Sklar, the sibling performing duo known as the Sklar Brothers, headlined on Saturday night.
“Every time we tell a joke, a tree is planted in Israel,” was among their lines in a 30-minute set. Fools Gold, Soulfarm, Aharit Hayamim and Kosha Dillz were among the musical acts performing between 9:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Saturday night. Fools Gold, a five-piece band from Los Angeles, combined lengthy guitar and percussion jams with Hebrew and English lyrics, rousing the crowd into a dance circle, with couples taking turns venturing into the middle.
“That movement is just what we’re looking for,” said lead singer Luke Top. “In other words, you guys have good taste.”
Attendees came from as far away as Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Louisville, Kentucky.
Larry Forman, 23, a law student at the University of Louisville, had his trip paid for by the Jewish Federation chapter in Kentucky.
“This is like a mini Israel community,” Forman, who lived in Israel for 10 years, said.
Other colleges represented at the festival were Occidental College and University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
“A lot of my experiences going to other big Jewish events when I was in BBYO … made me look forward to this,” said Jessica Grenader, a sophomore at Occidental. “It has paid off. I’m so glad I came.”
The folk rock band Moshav played an acoustic set on Sunday afternoon, as UNLV students and members of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi hung out in the sun by the JCC pool and scarfed barbecued hot dogs. David Bayley, 24, who is studying hotel management and enjoyed playing basketball much of the weekend in the JCC gym, had driven in from Las Vegas.
The festival wasn’t all hot dogs in the sun, though. On Saturday, Matthew Mausner, editor-in-chief of the New Jerusalem Talmud, an online Wiki-type site for controversial social and political topics, such as assimilation, or what to do in Afghanistan, led a discussion about the recent revolution in Egypt and the unrest in Libya.
Activism and politics were in the mix elsewhere, as well. In the JCC’s long main hallway, pro-Israel organization Stand With Us and Livnot U’Lehibanot, which offers one-week volunteer-oriented trips and four- to six-week fellowships in Israel, were just two of the several organizations with information tables. Even Jewish Free Loan Association was there, trying to get the word out about its student loan programs.
At the booth for Repair the World, which promotes Jewish volunteer service and social action, Max Patera, 23, an information technology student at California State University, Channel Islands, asked about overseas volunteer opportunities.
It was Patera’s fifth Jewlicious. “It’s different every year,” he said. “This year, I came with someone who isn’t Jewish. It’s been interesting introducing him to all these Jewish concepts.”
No Jewlicious is complete without a Shabbat celebration, and though the weather was cold and drizzly on Saturday night, that didn’t stop a crowd from dancing and singing outside for a musical Havdalah jam.
Still, whatever the performers and programming, many said they came to Jewlicious for one reason — to meet other people and reconnect with old friends.
I’ve “run into people I haven’t seen forever,” said Evan Fordon, 24, who lives in Los Angeles and works with the autistic. “That’s what’s cool about [being here].”