M is for Matisyahu … Maccabeats … and Music

Matisyahu’s spark seeks return to Dallas

By Rachel Kaufman

“Return to the land of the rainbow where the sun hang low and the wind doth blow,” sings Jewish-reggae superstar Matisyahu on a track off of his most recent album, “Spark Seeker.”

Matisyahu, a Jewish-reggae superstar, will perform Monday, Nov. 19 at the House of Blues. He shares a special bond with the Metroplex. | Photo: JTA

And returning is just what he will do, as he makes his way back to the Metroplex for a Monday, Nov. 19 concert at the House of Blues. Matisyahu is no stranger to Dallas, and noted, “Any place where people come to see me play I will keep going and keep performing.”
However, Matisyahu has a special connection to Dallas — and to the Texas Jewish Post — through his longtime friendship with Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, dean of DATA.
“I met Rabbi Fried in Dallas many years ago after one of my shows,” he said. “I had been in Dallas over Shabbat and was staying in the Jewish community. We stayed in touch and studied halachah, the specific laws of Judaism as well as detailed laws of prayer, over the phone.”
Matisyahu and Fried lost touch after a few years, but they were able to reconnect at a show in Dallas about a year ago.
“I was opening up for Sublime, and Rabbi Fried contacted me and mentioned that he wanted to come to the show,” Matisyahu said. “I invited him and he came on my tour bus after I performed and we started talking. Somehow a question came up and he told me about the column he writes for the Texas Jewish Post.”
Matisyahu and his son had been pondering over a question for some time and decided to ask Fried for his insight. “My son and I say the brachot every morning, and there is one that thanks God for giving the rooster the understanding to know the difference between night and day,” he said.
While he noted that other morning brachot are very obvious to understand, this one was less straightforward.
“Rabbi Fried said he’d get back to us [regarding an answer] and that’s how our dialogue in the TJP all started,” he said of his reoccurring role in the rabbi’s weekly column.
“I told him I’m not always looking for answers. Answers lie in the questions themselves,” added the singer. “But I like Rabbi Fried, so I let him take a stab at answering these questions. I think it’s important in Judaism to ask questions because they force us to think about the things we do and why we do them.”
One question that’s a bit easier to answer is what to expect from his upcoming show. According to the singer, it will include old favorites, as well as music from “Spark Seeker.”
“It’s a rock show, so that’s the vibe,” he said. “There’s also improvisation. I’m an artist inspired by Phish and the Grateful Dead, and I try to emulate their styles. In each show, I have moments of improvisation and exploration through the music.”
When asked what inspired his new album, he simply said an album three years in the works is not inspired by just one thing.
“The spark seeker digs for truth and meaning and is willing to let go of everything to find it,” he said. “He’s honest and authentic with himself and lives life from the inside out. He creates music from the depths and doesn’t worry about what category it or he fits into.
“We live in a world where people tend to think in extremes and categorize with ultimate statements. While it’s true that at one point it would’ve been pretty accurate to describe me as Chassidic reggae, for most of my career my music has been a blend, a mixture.”
A performer who has been on the international scene since 2005, Matisyahu has been a prominent figure for Chassidic Jews worldwide. Even after his recent decision several months ago to shave off his iconic beard, Matisyahu still draws inspiration for his songs from Judaism, as well as the secular world.
“I don’t have a favorite song,” he said. “Every song can be different. Music is organic. There’s no science to it. It depends on the feelings and the emotions. One night one song could be great and the next night it might not do anything for you.”
To purchase tickets for the Nov. 19 show at the House of Blues, visit www.livenation.com.

Maccabeats return to Dallas on Nov. 18

By Rachel Gross Weinstein

The Maccabeats aren’t your average choir — by using only their voices, this male a cappella group from Yeshiva University is strongly committed to the philosophy of Torah u-Madda, the integration of traditional and secular wisdom when performing an array of Jewish, American and Israeli songs.

The Maccabeats, pictured are, front row from left, Michael Greenberg, David Block, Meir Shapiro, Yonatan Shefa, Noey Jacobson and Chanina Abramowitz. Back row, Josh Jay, Buri Rosenberg, Imu Shalev, Nachum Joel, Jeffrey Ritholtz, Chaim Horowitz, Mordy Prus and Ari Lewis. | Photo: Courtesy of the Maccabeats

The group will hold its second Dallas concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 at Congregation Shearith Israel, 9401 Douglas Ave. The Maccabeats performed in Dallas for the first time on Jan. 29 at Shearith.
The Maccabeats comprise 14 current and graduated Yeshiva students who were interested in starting a Jewish male a cappella group, ensemble member Meir Shapiro said. Although their primary goal is to have fun, they also want to perform songs that will teach life lessons.
“The songs we choose to cover, or the lyrics we write for certain songs, combine both Jewish and secular ideals,” Shapiro said. “We permeate our ideology of Judaism and what it’s like to be Jewish in an ever-growing, changing world. We also want to be educational role models and show our listeners and fans that people should be proud of who they are.”
The Maccabeats were formed in 2007 and released their first album in 2010, followed by their newest one, “Out of the Box,” earlier this year. Their songs include everything from their renditions of “Lecha Dodi,” “Oseh Shalom” and “Hatikvah,” to “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter and “Never Say Never” by Justin Bieber.
They also made a video for Chanukah called “Candlelight,” a parody of the Taio Cruz song “Dynamite,” that went viral on You Tube.
Everything they do has a specific meaning, Shapiro said. For example, “Never Say Never” is an anthem for hope and persevering through tough times.
“We try and use music as a vehicle to convey messages,” group member Josh Jay said. “We have a real mix with what we do, but the heart of it is bringing to people what we find to be meaningful in life and doing that through song. We want to relate to people, while also lifting them up and bringing something positive to their lives.”
Although people may think it is easy to perform a song by another singer or group, the Maccabeats put thought into every song they perform, while also adding their own twist, Jay added.
And that is what Shearith Israel’s Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker, who runs the music programs at the synagogue, believes makes the Maccabeats successful. He decided to bring them back for another concert, he said, because of the positive impact they made on the Dallas Jewish community last time.
“During the last concert, we had people range in age from 1 to 85 and that’s what I love about them,” Zhrebker said. “Their music is particularly inspiring because of the combination of their interpretations of various songs, along with the harmony, beat and energy the put into what they do.”
The Maccabeats most enjoy connecting with their fans, Jay and Shapiro agreed. The men have always been proud of being Jewish and hope to continue infusing their love of Judaism to everyone.
“We ultimately want to show people that Judaism and Jewish music can be fun and enjoyable,” Shapiro said.
Added Jay: “It’s humbling that we have been able to affect people with our music. After our song ‘Candlelight’ came out, we got comments from so many people saying they didn’t feel any connection to Chanukah until then and that they were proud to be Jewish. Providing that inspiration is the most rewarding part of this whole thing.”
Tickets are still available for the concert. Cost is $25 for adults, and $20 for seniors, students and children younger than 18.
For information or to purchase tickets, call 214-361-6606 or visit www.shearith.org.

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