The problem I have with Matisyahu, the Lubavitch reggae superstar whose album recently went to number one on the reggae charts, is that his success means that Jewish kids everywhere are going to think that they themselves can reggae-rap their way to superstardom. It’s what, back in high school, I used to call the Beastie Boys Effect: as word spread that the three Boys had gone to yeshiva, the boys I went to high school with began to have delusions of rapping grandeur, if such a thing there be…and my concern is that the Effect will re-emerge, with a beat that’s distinctly reggae. And copycat yeshiva reggae artists? We’ll end up with rabbi/rap/reggae hybrids like RambEminem, Fat Joe-sephus and Jew-Z. The world does not need that.

That said, Matisyahu totally rocked the Chabad-sponsored Jewish Life Festival last Sunday afternoon in Washington Square Park. I was one of the few in attendance who had never heard any of his music; I had heard that he attracted a diverse group of people to his concerts. Half of the people I was there with weren’t even Jewish; they were just fans.

But the event had more than just Matisyahu. For $10 (for you, a bargain), you could make your own shofar. I didn’t, because the rumor was that ram’s horns actually are quite malodorous when you first remove them from the animal…who knew? But if shofar odors are your problem, then here’s the solution: a combination wash of baking soda and vinegar apparently obliterates that “fresh-from-the-dead-ram” smell. You see? You can learn something new every day…

Of course, this being a Jew event, I couldn’t help but run into various Jews of note. First of all, there was Tamara, in from California due to a cheap ticket and a few days to kill. And then, I got recognized by Mobius , a split second before I recognized him. (That’s what putting your picture all over the internet gets you…the loss of your anonymity.) He was there with Jake Marmer and Lillit Sofer, both of Jewschool and Mima’amakim, and we had to commemorate the meeting with a picture. Wanna see?

esther and the geeks

Expanding the circles of Jewish geography offline to the rhythms and words of a pro-Zionist, pro-Judaism Lubavitch reggae singer, under crystal blue skies in New York City…a priceless and promising way to begin a new year.

(Re-posted from My Urban Kvetch)

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

12 Comments

  • Not that this is in any way related, but it sure would be great if ck were to, like, magically appear and explain to me how I will be avoiding sleeping on the concrete outside the bus station (again) when I leave for Israel tomorrow.

  • My cousin to Randy at the fair: So, anyone I should know here?
    Randy: Only Jewish mega-bloggers Esther Kustanowitz and Mobius.
    My cousin: uh…what?

    Too bad Randy didn’t meet you. He saw you, but then you were gone before he could say hi.

  • Not that this is in any way related either but within the next three hours you, Michael, will get an email from Laya. You have a place to stay, instructions to follow in your email. Or you can call me now at 213 276 2870 – weeee! Oh and Happy Birthday. Jewlicious is now Teen Free. Hope we can stay relevant to the youth and stuff.

  • Dina, I’m very flattered. Next time, tell your people to introduce themselves…

    And I’m very relieved that our former teenager has indeed graduated from that age bracket and seems to have a place to stay in the Holy Land, Blessed Be It. Looks like it’s going to be a happy new year, after all!!

  • Trotsky, while Muffti agrees with the sentiment, perhaps you could stop taking such cheap shots. It’s a new year! Let’s try to be nicer to Mobius from now on. He hasn’t threatened any Jewlicious staffers in like a week and a half.

  • What you refer to as your problem, is off the mark. By this logic, you would have a problem w/ any profession where only a very few attain recognition and commercial success. It is a quandry, but many people go through a fantasy like that. My son for example, thinks he will be a baseball player. I have no reason to disuade him because the passion will simply have to be ignited into other playing fields.

    The same thing here. Some will become good at Rock or Raegae, or they will be good enough to make some spending money playing for wedding bands and the like.

    I do not think that one gets seriously into Raegae w/ out the requisite marijuana usage, primarily w/ many pilgrames to Jamaica to the Sunsplash and general knowing the scene, so that would probably limit the batch.

    I could be wrong here but it sounds as though you are not familiar w/ this music, of Bob Marley. If this is the case, I would highly reccomend that you aquaint yourself.

  • I would have to say my biggest issue with Mattisyahu is his giving a completely false impression of Lubavitch; specifically the communities flexiblity when it comes to exposure to the outside world and willingness to connect with non-jews and even jewish non-lubavitchers.

    I was raised in the Lubavitch community, and from a young age, I could never understand the frighteningly rigid race-based elitism that the jewish and specifically hassidic culture was based on. My hipster friends have mentioned how nice it is that my community is supporting an artist who is breaking bounderies and opening up to other cultures and musical styles. Nothing can be further from the truth – In my religious friends minds, Lubavitch is still at the top of the totem pole, misnagdim are still second, conservative third, then goyim, goats and then the reform. Matisyahu singing dub with niggunim overlaid is nothing more than a clever marketing scheme, and it shouldn’t be mistaken for anything but that.

  • a marketing scheme? that’s too cynical even for me to swallow. maybe he’s actually passionate about the music?

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