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A Most Unlikely Hardcore Punk Rock Concert

Ellen Levitt

Posted on March 4, 2019 20:55

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It may seem strange, but I attended a hardcore punk rock show given by an Orthodox Jewish quartet, in an urban synagogue. It was an intense musical performance.

I have attended many concerts since the mid 1980s that featured hardcore punk rock groups. I have seen such shows all throughout New York City, in the suburbs of New York, and a few elsewhere. Many of the bands I saw performed at installments of the Warped Tour; others played at nightclubs, public parks, someone's house, and at colleges. Some of these shows were at legendary (and long-gone) clubs such as CBGB in the East Village of Manhattan, and Zappa's in Marine Park, Brooklyn. 

But until this past weekend I'd never been to a punk rock show in a synagogue. 

In the mid-2000s there was a synagogue in southern Brooklyn that did feature occasional Saturday evening rock 'n roll shows, and I wanted to go to these shows but my schedule never worked out; then the temple closed down and the building was razed. I have since seen several musical performances in synagogues, but they've tended to be Jewish ethnic musical styles, classical music, folk rock or jazz. 

Finally I got to see a hardcore punk rock band at a synagogue, and the performance was pretty intense even though no one was gutsy enough to form a mosh pit. (Maybe the presence of heavy wooden pews impeded that.) 

The show at Congregation Kol Israel, with an outdoor subway train occasionally rattling by (the Franklin Avenue Shuttle)  featured the band Moshiach Oi, an Orthodox Jewish quartet that performs songs with Jewish themes and messages. And there was even a brief acapella performance by another Jewish hardcore group (albeit non-Orthodox) called Damn Dirty Commies, who performed a most unusual version (chanted and with additional English words) of the Hebrew musical chestnut "Hava Nagila."

And not only that but there was a book launch and talk by author Michael Croland, whose new book Punk Rock Hora covers the genre of Jews in punk rock bands. This is actually his second book on the topic, the first being Oy Oy Oy Gevalt: Jews and Punk.

Punk rock is a genre and hardcore is a sub-genre; Jewish hardcore punk rock is a micro-genre. But it most certainly exists.

Moshiach Oi raced through a blistering set of songs that were very loud, with frenetic, spat out lyrics and galloping guitars, bass and drums. Yishai, the lead singer, prowled the "stage" (actually the floor in front of the synagogue sanctuary dais) with the manic energy displayed by many hardcore band leaders.

It was not your typical punk rock show. To some people it would seem very strange, or even heretical. to see such a band in such a typically religious setting. Other people might think it was a joke, or at least an "only in New York" kind of situation. Perhaps this is true. But the dozens of music fans in attendance, some of whom had come from outside of New York City, bopped their heads and made cellphone camera videos. It was Not Your Typical Rock 'n Roll Concert. Amen.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on March 4, 2019 20:55

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