“The people gave the music life, and the music in turn pulsated in the people, passing from parent to child, and from land to land. The joys and triumphs, the tenderness and warmth, the agony and sorrows, the prayer and protest… made them one, were poured into music; and where they are still felt, that process continues today. When we live for a moment with that music, we are touching the pulse itself, and our own is quickened in turn.”
These words by Judith Kaplan Eisenstein in her book Heritage of Music: The Music of the Jewish People encapsulate the power of music in Jewish culture. Throughout our history, music has captured the feelings of given moments in Jewish time and reflected the culture we lived in. Whether it was found in synagogue liturgical music, chassidic niggunim, the shtetl klezmer wedding celebration or the kirtan chanting from India, Judaism has brought music in to every generation as a way of embracing G-d and our religious lives as Jews. Today though, when culture is often the most meaningful expression for many Jews of their lives rather than religious practice, Jewish music is evolving to be a real medium of that expression. This has been underway for some time now and people who were already engaged in Jewish life enjoyed artists in this genre like Craig Taubman, Debbie Friedman z"l, or Jewish accapella groups on campuses across the country to mention just a few. However, with artists like Matisyahu and Balkan Beat Box crossing over in to mainstream music success, there has been a real flowering of Jewish music creativity. This includes a thriving Israeli music scene that is producing incredible Hebrew-language music across the musical spectrum. Now there is a great source bringing contemporary Israeli and Jewish music from all genres together in one easily accessible place.
I recently was introduced to Jewish Rock Radio and have become a big fan. It is the brainchild of musician Rick Recht and is supported by private donations so it has minimal commercials and maximum music. The selection of artists are across the board, and the website is highly interactive to submit requests, download new songs and listen to artist interviews. There also smartphone apps to make it a portable music option too. I play it on my computer at work most every day and even at home while cooking dinner. That second part is probably the more important of the two because I'm already a follower of Jewish culture, but my kids are not downloading Jewish music on to their iPods. They are too enamored of the latest mainstream artists to seek it out on their own when making purchases. So playing it at home in the kitchen exposes them to the selection and quality of these artists and gives me a chance to expose them to Jewish culture in a way they won't get at day school or synagogue. I'll know it has sunk in when they ask me to remember the name of a song so they can download it later like they do with mainstream artists they hear on the car radio. Until then though, I will keep enjoying it for myself as it really is a wonderful musical source for contemporary Jewish life! If you are trying to bring something Jewish in to your own or your children's lives that is enjoyable, accessible and as good on the beach as in the car, give Jewish Rock Radio a try!