From LA’s Jewish Journal – two guys went native and spent the weekend at Jewlicious! Rock On JJ!
By Ryan Torok
“If you want to make something where everybody will come together, focus on things that people have in common, [like] love of music,” said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, organizer of the Jewlicious Festival. Indeed, music, art and family took center stage last weekend for the three-day, sixth annual Jewlicious, which brought nearly 1,000 people— including Jews of all denominations—from 22 states to Long Beach’s Alpert Jewish Community Center.
The weekend saw strong musical performances from Matisyahu, Moshav and Rav Shmuel. It also highlighted boxer Yuri Foreman, the current welterweight champion of the world, conducting a lighthearted boxing workshop.
Sharp observational comedy was also in the mix, thanks to Joel Chasnoff, who performed in the comedy café and served as master of ceremonies for Saturday night’s main concert event.
Many attending slept in the converted gymnasium, which was divided to separate the sexes. A hotel across the street also served as home for many. And while there were panel discussions or events happening at every moment, it wasn’t unusual to find people opting instead to just make their own fun, playing ping-pong, basketball or cards.
Matisyahu headlined on a candlelit acoustic stage on Sunday afternoon. His 45-minute set included his hits “Jerusalem” and “One Day,” the latter of which is the official anthem for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Dressed in street clothes, Matisyahu, who comes every year to the festival, kept the mood improvisational and casual, extending his songs with skillful beat boxing. He also fielded questions from the audience and joked that if anybody asked about his musical influences, they would have to leave.
His 45-minute set was the final performance of the festival, though he had made surprise appearances over the weekend. On Saturday, he joined comedian Smooth-E for a parody of “King Without a Crown.” He could also be seen walking with his family in the main hallway, gym, auditorium and the several event rooms of the JCC.
During the concert, one of Matisyahu’s children, dressed in a Superman costume, went up to the stage and said, “Hi, Daddy.” To which his famous father replied: “Hi, Superman,” a simple, normal exchange that captured the spirit of the weekend.
Adam Weinberg, music director for the festival, reinforced that there should be no preaching at the festival—that attention, instead, should be on the music. “I think music should speak for music’s sake,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg, also a musician, accompanied Matisyahu on acoustic guitar, as did Dave Holmes, a member of Matisyahu’s band.
Matisyahu spoke afterward about how strongly the performance resonated with him. “When you have an audience listening, taking the journey with you, it’s pretty special,” he said. “For some reason, we seem to be having these kinds of performances at Jewlicious shows.”
On Saturday, Matisyahu stopped by Foreman’s boxing workshop, offering his services as a human punching bag. Foreman, who was born in Russia and raised in Israel, won the welterweight title last November, and he is also studying to become a rabbi. For their “fight,” Matisyahu insisted on wearing pink boxing gloves. Foreman demonstrated jabs on the much taller singer, whose height gave him the advantage, Foreman said.
Afterward, Foreman lined up his audience and led what he called a “numbers” exercise, in which you punch the air as many times as you can in three minutes. Most people did 50 to 100 punches. Foreman said he could do 825.
On the comedy stage, Chasnoff, whose day job is doing the warm-up act for “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart, cracked up the audience with a joke about the difficulty Jews have explaining why they keep kosher. “Just say you like animals,” he said.
“I had 200 people in the room and they were all laughing,” the comedian said later that night. “It means they got it. It means they were aware of being Jewish while they were in there. What more do you want?”
Chasnoff is the author of the recently released “The 188th Crying Brigade” (Simon & Schuster), about his year in the Israel Defense Forces.
Sunday morning’s highlight was a panel on medical marijuana, led by Dr. Dean Hillel Weiss—who is nicknamed “Dr. Ganja” and gives medical evaluations in Venice, Calif.—and Harry Nelson, a lawyer from the Medical Marijuana Law Group. Despite the “all-night” DJ’ing that had ended only hours earlier, 30 festival-goers showed up to discuss and ask questions, including some red-eyed guys who came in with plates of bagels and lox that were being sold nearby.
Bookstein said that while the Torah does not address the use of pot, if it can medically improve someone’s life, Jewish law would permit it. But it would be unethical for someone to lie to his or her doctor to get a prescription. He also noted that people abuse marijuana recreationally, citing various people he went to college with. “They were all potheads,” said Bookstein, and though five years older than he, they were still trying to graduate.
“Judaism’s a religion of action,” Rabbi Bookstein continued. “I’m concerned that people will not get a job, not get married, not have families because they’ll just be so stoned out of their minds that they won’t get around to doing all the things that Judaism wants them to do.”
Later that day, a film competition showed six short films that explored Jewish identity and culture. “Barely Bar Mitzvahed,” a comedy by Oren Peleg about an awkward, metal-mouthed bar mitzvah boy and his crush on the cutest girl in school, won first prize. More than 20 directors had submitted films for the contest, which was organized by Ezra Bookstein—Rabbi Bookstein’s brother—and his New York production company, Telling Image Films.
Kaley Zeitouni, a student at Pepperdine University who has come to Jewlicious for four years, summed up the experience: “I’m observant, but I don’t consider myself Orthodox. That’s why it’s even more comfortable to be in this environment, where there is every type of Jew. Nothing is pushed. No one here is going to judge anyone else. That’s what’s the beautiful thing.”