Jewish life shouldn’t only be about what you “must” do; it should also be about what you want to do, according to Rabbi Yitzchok Moully.
An artist himself — in addition to being the program director and youth rabbi at the Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge — he wants people to come and “have a great time” at the center’s Jewish Music and Art Festival later this summer.
The event, scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 15, is an outgrowth of the outdoor concert the center staged last summer. About 300 people came to hear the band SoulFarm and, Moully said, many were totally amazed to find that a decidedly rollicking rock, bluegrass, and blues band could also be so unmistakably Jewish.
Emboldened by that enthusiasm, the folks at the Chabad center decided to broaden the concept. With the help of sponsorship from local businesses, they are bringing in four bands this time, plus a children’s entertainer. They are inviting artists of all kinds to show their works. Moully is hoping to have painters, potters, photographers, and jewelers — “with Jewish or general themes, as long as they’re tasteful and in keeping with Torah values.”
“We want to dispel the perception that Jewish culture is all about ‘oy, oy, oy’ and Fiddler on the Roof,” he said. “We want to show that you can have a really good time in a Jewish context.” Back in Melbourne, Australia, where he grew up, Hanukka celebrations filled a city park each year. That’s the kind of celebratory coming together that he has in mind.
The festival will be held on the center’s seven-acre campus, from noon to 8:30 p.m. There will be lots of food available — all kosher, of course — a barbecue with all the trimmings featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, falafel, and knishes.
The main musical performers will be four bands: popular ska artist King Django’s klezmer band, Roots and Culture; New York-based roots, rock, and reggae group Pey Dalid; California natives and rocking hasidic rabbis 8th Day; and Moroccan-born, Israeli-raised LevYatan, with his Moroccan trance/rock fusion.
Moully said, “It will be an event for families, and there’ll be lots for children to do, but it will also have a certain sophistication, for the adults.” They might even have beer available, if they connect with a kosher brewery.
To draw in lots of people, the center is reaching out on Facebook and through newspapers and radio, inviting people to get involved with the organizing and as sponsors and art exhibitors. Moully said they are hoping for a turnout three times larger than last year’s — not just to get across the pleasure of being Jewish, but because it creates an energy and excitement of its own. “Nothing attracts a big crowd like a crowd itself,” he said.