Sunday, September 16, 2007

Punk Rocker’s Holy Debut


Punk is one of the most Jewish of all music forms--always has been, always will be. From its infancy with 'Television' and 'The Ramones' playing at the CBGB, right up until today.

I laugh at those skinheads who think Punk is anti-Jewish. Even 'The Dictators'--one of the most controversial of Punk bands--was Jewish! Those who don't know this are the butt of the joke.

Punks are social commentators, comics, if you will, of the music world. They put to music what activist Jewish comedians from Lenny Bruce and Borat put in prose--they bring to the forefront the reality of Jewish experience, identity, and the hatred of Jews--and expose it for all to see.

A Punk Rock choir master--why not? He has experience expressing the angst and complexity of Jewish identity probably better than most Jews out there--and he knows the music.

In a time when Jewish identity is being narrowed into a thin black-and-white line of uniformed Hassidim, it is nice to see that Jewish Tradition can be expressed publicly under the florescent dreds of a punker Jew.

Who said the praise of Hashm can't be cool?

Dan Goldberg | Wed. Sep 12, 2007

His face is peppered with multiple piercings, his neck is normally padlocked with a thick metal chain, and his dreadlocks are dyed bright orange and blood red. Bram Presser cuts an archetypal punk rock figure — but he does not blend into your average Sabbath-morning crowd.
Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped an Orthodox synagogue in Australia from recently appointing the 31-year-old punk prankster as its choirmaster.

The frontman of the Jewish punk rock band Yidcore, which he founded in 2001 with three mates from a Jewish school, Presser has managed to straddle the seemingly incongruous worlds of traditional Judaism and punk rock.
The band toured Israel and the United States last year, and now Presser is gearing up for his next big gig: High Holy Day services.

Presser is no stranger to the spotlight in the Jewish world, having served as president of the community center adjacent to his suburban synagogue in Melbourne.
On Yidcore’s Web site, the band members are described as “wacky Aussie punk rockers who perform punked up versions of Jewish classics,” but Presser is less charitable with his description of them. “Jews generally disown us,” he said, deadpan. “But punks are into us.”

Now, however, the largely conservative, middle-class congregants of the North Eastern Jewish Centre will be forced to face a Jewish choirmaster whose latest album — titled “They Tried To Kill Us. They Failed. Let’s Eat” — pokes Mel Brooks-style fun at every antisemite who has tried to wage genocide against Jews in the past 2,000 years.
“I look funny, but a lot of [the congregants] have known me since I was a little kid,” Presser said.

“I think it’s hilarious. To me it’s challenging, interesting and colorful, and inviting for congregants.”
While Yidcore has done curious cover versions of several Jewish and Israeli songs, including “Hava Nagila,” “Mah Nishtana,” “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Dayenu,” Presser doubts that any of those interpretations will make its way into the festival services.

“Choirs are about getting the congregation to sing along, so I can’t stray too far,” he said.
But he concedes that his promotion — he has been a choir member at the synagogue for years — is as far as he can go: “I’m sure if I tried to be the hazan or rabbi, there would be issues.”

Dan Goldberg is the head of development at North One TV in Sydney, Australia.

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