On Wednesday, I gave a presentation about Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk at South Huntington Jewish Center (SHJC) in Melville, New York. That’s where I attended Hebrew school and had my bar mitzvah, and my mom is still a member.
It was an honor to be introduced by Rabbi Ian Jacknis, who was the rabbi at my bar mitzvah over 20 years ago. It was fitting to present a book that touched on so many facets of my Jewish identity (and research into Jewish topics) at the place that was the foundation of my Jewish education.
During the presentation, I played a clip of Di Nigunim‘s “L’cha Dodi.” Traditionally, the prayer is part of the Friday night service and welcomes in the Sabbath bride. Upon hearing the song, the event organizer turned to the rabbi and pointed out that it was the same melody sung at SHJC. Picking up on a term I had just used, another SHJC member agreed it was the same melody, just “turbo-charged.”
That recognition is exactly the point. What Jewish punk bands like Di Nigunim do is take familiar entry points to Jewish music, culture, and religion and put their own punk spin on it. That’s why it resonates with Jewish audiences. Affirming that this was a punked-up version of the melody, in the synagogue where I learned it, drove home that point. It was reminiscent of what I wrote in Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk:
The most resonant songs on Di Nigunim’s EP were the punk rock renditions of the traditional Jewish songs “Havenu Shalom” and “L’cha Dodi.” The latter is a key prayer in the Friday evening service and welcomes in Shabbat. In Ben’s explanation, he took the “beautiful” melody, “switched it up a bit,” and “made it more punk.” The song featured fast drumming, raspy vocals, and sheer punk rock energy. …
For Jews in the punk scene, the song had the potential to strike a nerve. Marta (who preferred to give her first name only) once organized a punk rock show featuring Di Nigunim in St. Louis and was particularly moved by “L’cha Dodi.” She recalled that she sang it from the audience because she “knew all the words” and it was “fun to sing along.”
After a year of presentations for Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, it was great coming home.
Bottom photos by Eileen Croland