At 30, rocker Sheldon Low represents a new generation of Jewish musicians.
Low, who will perform at a Rock Shabbat program at Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro, on Sunday afternoon, March 10, told NJJN in a phone interview that a chance interaction with entertainer Rick Recht during high school changed the trajectory of his life.
“Here comes this really cool rocker in a ponytail who completely blends rock and pop rock with a Jewish message,” said Low. “It was totally eye-opening for me.” That encounter took place during a USY retreat, where Recht led a Havdala ceremony in the woods. Until then, Low said, he had always compartmentalized his Jewish and secular identities.
In short order, he signed up for guitar classes Recht was giving at the local Hebrew high school, and Recht, who, like Low, is from St. Louis, became his mentor. And when Recht started his own Jewish label, Jewish Rock Records, less than a decade later, he asked Low to be the first artist signed. (Today, Recht and Low are the label’s sole artists.)
The pair have also launched Song Leader Boot Camp. With regional and national conferences, SLBC is a kind of how-to guide for charismatic and dynamic Jewish leadership through song.
By the time Recht tapped Low for the music label in 2006, Low had finished college and was working as a mechanical engineer with Draper Technologies, a defense company in the Boston area. Although “the benefits and salary were amazing,” he said, he probably wouldn’t have lasted in the job much longer than the nine months he’d already been there — he didn’t love working in defense, he said.
He also realized that Jewish music was, perhaps, his “inevitable” career; it was, after all, in his “gene pool,” he said.
That family line included his paternal grandmother, who was a song leader who used puppets in a synagogue setting. His father was not only a song leader but also director of Camp Ben Frankel in Carbondale, Ill., as well as president of their synagogue in Kansas City, where Low lived until he was eight.
This is just part of Low’s extensive Jewish background. He attended Jewish day schools, was active in the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, and his home life growing up was rich in Jewish tradition. “My earliest memories are walking down the hallway of the church we had rented for our tiny Reform congregation in Kansas City,” said Low, who lives in Manhattan. “My dad was president and he was walking down the hall too on a Friday, with his guitar already out and heading for the preschool.
“And I also remember sitting on the porch at our home in Kansas City under an apple tree, my dad playing guitar through Havdala,” Low said. As he got older, he expanded his musical menu to include artists like Spyro Gyra, Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, and Bare Naked Ladies, as well as singers-songwriters like James Taylor and Tracy Chapman. But in those earlier days, he said, he had a steady diet of Debbie Friedman, Craig Taubman, and Jeff Klepper, all Jewish singers/songwriters.
As a teenager, he said, he was not sure where Judaism fit in his life. “Despite all that reinforcement, even though I was fully within the fold, I still felt like I was not all that interested in Jewish life at 14, 15, 16,” he said.
When he at last made “Judaism a significant part of my life,” he said, it was “Jewish music that really did it for me.”
Now, Low is all about offering positive Jewish experiences. “If someone walks out of a concert with a positive Jewish experience, I’ve at least met my primary target.”