“You’re from Toronto? Do you know my friend Jared?”
“ I know you from Boston University’s Hillel!”
“Don’t I remember you getting bat mitzvahed with my baby cousin?”
Jewish geography is an amazing game. As I have moved through my life, Jewish geography has been a common theme. I was brought up in an involved Jewish home, then I chose Jewish extra-curricular activities and now I work at a non-profit Jewish organization. How do I continue to be surprised when familiar faces pop up?
Lucky for me, one of those familiar faces is Josh Nelson. Heading up the Josh Nelson Project, he is a singer, song-writer musician who is leading the charge of making beautiful, creative music that defies how Jewish music fits into the modern landscape. He will be performing as our “opening act” at this year’s Yachdav Gathering. I was excited to hear that he was chosen to kick off our wonderful day of communal learning. Yachdav is our annual day of learning with member congregations from the Coalition of Innovating Congregations. We welcome education directors, lay leaders, clergy, and teachers to come together to network, learn, celebrate, and grow in a cumulative experience that shares our accomplishments from the year and builds connections to each other. Some people may know Josh from his recent turn as Shlomo Carlebach in the Broadway musical Soul Doctor. Others may recognize him from his shock of jet black, curly hair.
Good news, fans. I don’t think the hair is going anywhere. In fact, I remember that hair in two distinct performances from my adolescence (as a curly girl myself, I’m always on the lookout for others in the curl club). The first was at camp. One Sunday at Camp Ramah in New England, we were told there was going to be an evening performance of a band called Yom Hadash. This band featured two brothers who were not trying to make Jewish music cool – they were actually doing it! The rock infused beats got hundreds of campers off their tuchases and had us dancing until what felt like the wee hours (probably 9pm). A fan was born!
The next time I saw Josh with Yom Hadash, it was at a USY event in Weston, Florida. There was a critical mass of us high school aged, Floridian Ramahniks who piled onto the yellow school bus to get a dose of the excitement that Yom Hadash had brought to camp. We danced in the social hall with other audience members, hearing a mix of original Yom Hadash songs and some fabulous covers. “Mustang Sally” stands out in my mind – it was the first time I had heard it. At the end of the night, I bought a black t-shirt with a glowing red sun, the design from their album over. I’m pretty sure I still have it somewhere.
Now as a professional and mother, it’s so exciting to be able to relive these memories for the first time watching him perform as his solo act. I’m especially excited to hear his piece L’Dor Vador live, which rings especially true now with two infants at home. Thanks to the good fortune of Jewish Geography I doubt this will be my last run in with the performer.
Hope to see you at Yachdav!