MUSIC • BY SARAH KRAUT
In celebration of its Bar Mitzvah year, the Washington Jewish Music Festival is throwing the ultimate party. It’s going to ramp up the celebration this year with 13 events, starting with a concert at the Fillmore Silver Spring, featuring world-renowned Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nahash on Thursday, May 10.
The Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center (DCJCC) puts on the annual festival in an effort to celebrate and bring together the local Jewish community.
“The DCJCC and the city of Washington also has really come to life,” said Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the DCJCC. “This festival is much bigger than it ever has been in the past, and the opening night with Hadag Nahash is a huge event.”
Hadag Nahash (literally translated to mean “The Fish Snake) brings a funky flavor to their politically infused hip hop tunes. The band has been steadily on the rise since it got its start in 2000, and it had its songs featured on the soundtrack of the Adam Sandler movie “Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”
Though the music has Hebrew lyrics, the band still feels an American audience can appreciate some of the messages its songs are trying to send. Hadag Nahash’s lead singer Shaanan Streett said they put more emphasis on the musical aspect, and just go along with the feel they get of the audience.
“When I’m listening to music, even if I don’t fully understand the context, I try to understand the meaning and the feeling, and that’s what I relate to,” said Streett. “But it is different because most of the American audience doesn’t understand Hebrew,” he said, adding that the band puts all of its lyrics’ English translations on the Internet.
Zawatsky said she thinks Hadag Nahash’s music has an appeal well beyond the Jewish community and Hebrew speakers.
“I believe very strongly that arts and culture have the capacity to connect people in a deep an significant way,” she said. “It’s a way to help people find the connection that most of us are looking for in our lives, and music has an amazing way of piercing your soul, of really moving us.”
Hadag Nahash’s music touches on hard-hitting topics, including racism, politics, and human rights, among others. According to Streett, the band is considered one of the most political acts in Israel. Its number one hit, The Sticker Song, has lyrics that are slogans from different Israeli bumper stickers. The song uses controversial lines to paint an angry and ironic portrait of politics and religious life in Israel.
“It’s not about choosing an agenda, it’s more about painting the picture the way it is,” said Streett. “It’s not our job to achieve goals; it’s only up to us to go out there and do a good job.”
Zawatsky really views this year’s festival as an opportunity to give back to the community for all the support it’s shown them over the years.
“As a Bar Mitzvah, we say ‘Now that you’re becoming an adult, what are you going to do to give back? What act of social justice are going to engage in?’ “said Zawatsky. “And as this festival becomes an adult, it’s an exciting things for us to give back to the community.”
The Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation, which makes the festival possible, is a local Washington family with a deep connection to the city, music and the nexis of arts, culture and Jewish, according to Zawatsky. They have been working with the DCJCC since the festival’s inception. In honor of its Bar Mitzvah year, the Polinger’s decided to double this year’s gift to make the festival bigger and better.
“It was a magical connection,” said Zawatsky.
“It is a thrill for our foundation to recognize the quality and stature of the music festival in 2012 and to celebrate this important milestone,” said Lorre Polinger, president of the foundation. “Music and culture have been true sources of joy and love for our family and it has been important to the Foundation to share the beauty, inspiration and diversity of Jewish music with the DC community.”
The festival, which goes May 3 through 21, this year will feature a lot of hip hop, some funk, Klezmer Jazz, folk music, rock and everything in between.
“It’s not necessarily what comes to mind when you think of a Jewish music festival,” said Brianne Nadeau, press contact for the festival. “There’s really something for everyone. We’re calling it an eclectic mix.”
For more information about the Washington Jewish Music Festival, visit washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/music/wjmf/