Punk Judaism?

Posted on June 18, 2009 by

So, when I’m not managing the LSS’s ren/rev project, I try to keep up with pop culture. Try being the operative word. Luckily, my friends are generally far cooler than I am, and they keep me abreast of what’s going on in the world outside academia. Punk Judaism, for example. I’m sure a lot of you have heard of Matisyahu (admittedly, he’s not punk, but bear with me a sec, I’m building up to a point). But did you know that he got his start on JDub, a non-profit, totally awesome Jewish record label? Did you know that JDub has an incredible variety of artists, from Girls in Trouble, who sing about Biblical women, to Socalled, whose first full-length album was a hip-hop seder, to Golem (my personal favorite), who blend Eastern European folk with punk, to Deleon, who sings Sephardic love songs?

So, what is all this punk Judaism about, anyway? Empowerment through subversion? That’s the take of Patrick A, the lead singer of CAN!!CAN, a Jewish punk band from Atlanta. Although the word subvert may have negative connotations, Patrick certainly doesn’t mean it in that way. He wants to subvert the standard operating procedures of today’s young, Jewish adults. “To me, Judaism is about being countercultural. It’s about embracing who you are, what you’re capable of doing, and leading a life that’s greater than anything that anyone’s ever had. You have an amazing amount of diversity and faith and beliefs, and we believe that all good people […] are going to share a piece in the world to come. You compare that to our modern lives, where we’re taught to be good little consumers, racing to the next hollow, emotionless trend like these psychological Happy Meals […]. Human beings aren’t meant to live like cogs in a corporate system or slaves to materialism. We’re bright, shining images of God, with the power of the universe at our fingertips. There’s so much about the Jewish faith that we lose from the time that we’re Bar Mitzvahed to the time that we go into college, and it gets lost in this sea of boring Friday night services and dorky summer camps and JDate profiles. The Judaism that I’m embracing is the Judaism of the prophets, who had angelic and nightmarish visions of alternate universes […].” (Hear the rest of this episode of Punk Torah here.) He wants you to get excited about Judaism. He wants you to embrace who you really are. And he wants you to have fun doing it.

Want more information? Check out my friend’s blog entry on Jewish punk here. He’s done far more extensive research than I have. (Sidenote: I met Michael at a Golem show. Golem has been described as “[…] not your father’s klezmer band. Unless, of course, your father was Sid Vicious.” You can find Golem on JDub (linked above) or here.) You can also check out a recent NY Times article here.

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