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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


 

January 25, 2019  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Band blends bluegrass with Jewish spirit


The Nefesh Mountain band will perform Feb. 23 in Tampa and Feb. 24 in St. Petersburg. The Nefesh Mountain band will perform Feb. 23 in Tampa and Feb. 24 in St. Petersburg. Nefesh Mountain is an eclectic band that weaves old-time Appalachian mountain music and blue grass with their Jewish heritage, infusing Jewish liturgy and Hebrew phrases from the Torah and psalms into their music.

No less a publication than Rolling Stone wrote glowingly about the group: “Like a blanket passed down as a family heirloom, the results are warm and comfortable, and their 21st century approach never overshadows those old-world traditions.”

And a writer in Tablet noted how she was won over by the band. “… As a Jew, the deep, church-based spirituality of bluegrass music wasn’t my spirituality. I could relate with the message in many ways, but in others, I remained one step removed. That is, until I heard Nefesh Mountain … Not only was their music sublime; these people were singing to me.”

Nefesh Mountain will make two appearances in the Tampa Bay area: a full concert at Tampa’s Congregation Kol Ami on Saturday evening, Feb. 23 and a shorter set on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 24, at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg in conjunction with the installation weekend for Rabbi Philip Weintraub.

The principal musicians involved in Nefesh Mountain are the husband and wife team of Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff. Both grew up in New York, but have bluegrass roots. (Zasloff played at the 2011 Tampa Israel Independence Day celebration under her children’s genre persona, Mama Doni.)

Along with Zasloff on vocals and guitar, Lindberg on multi-instruments including guitar and banjo, the group includes fiddle player Alan Grubner and bassist Tim Kiah.

Zasloff and Lindberg call their blend of styles, “Jewish spirit.”

The group uses the Hebrew language, sometimes alternately to English, within a song – as in “Esa Enai,” taken from the 121st Psalm – and sometimes for a full song as in the Jewish prayer “Mi Chamoca” and using Jewish and Old Testament themes for subjects, such as in “River Song” in which the Garden of Eden, Noah, and Moses are the focus.

“Throughout these songs, you can hear the foundational similarities between bluegrass and Jewish traditions, notably the lure of ‘home,’ the love of nature and the comforts of a like-minded community. Jerusalem Ridge, Rocky Top, Flint Hill and Nefesh Mountain are clearly parts of the same eternal chain,” the group’s website explains.

“When we sing in Hebrew,” Lindberg says, “it’s us celebrating our heritage and history.”

“There is this word ‘Americana’ that we all know well and is used a lot these days, bridging the gaps somewhere between old-time, bluegrass, folk, blues, and jazz, which all have deep roots in this country. For me, the beauty of all of these forms of music is that at their core they are about people, they are about this amazing world, and they are about life. That is where we are coming from with Nefesh Mountain,” says Zasloff. “Somewhere in the long chain of music and ideology that gives us the opportunity to open people’s minds and hearts to our culture and heritage.”

While describing Nefesh Mountain’s musical genre, the band’s website makes clear what it is not: their music is not a gimmick, parody or klezmer.

Even the Times of Israel has taken note of the band, stating, “Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg’s rustic Jewish-American hybrid of spiritual music makes swords into plowshares.”

After experiencing an evening with Nefesh Mountain in Washington, D.C. Barry Dvorchik, president of the Brotherhood of Kol Ami, said, “Bringing Nefesh Mountain to Tampa Bay would be exactly what the Brotherhood was looking to do. They had the audience up out of their seats, singing and dancing to their music, bluegrass with Jewish spirit and soul. After a 90 minute concert and three encores, all were still there basking in the ruach (spirit) created.”

* * *

The performance in St. Petersburg will come at the conclusion of a ceremony to formally install Rabbi Philip Weintraub as the new rabbi at the synagogue, 300 58th St. N. The ceremony begins at 3 p.m. and a dessert reception will be held after the concert. Anyone attending the concert is expected to attend the installation ceremony, and the concert will be a shortened set, not as full-length as the performance at Kol Ami. There is no charge to attend.

The event in Tampa is sponsored by the Brotherhood of Kol Ami to raise funds for children to have a summer Jewish experience. The concert starts at 8 p.m. and is followed by a dessert reception at the synagogue, 3919 Moran Road. Admission is $36 for adults and $10 for students. Sponsorships are available at $175, $155 and $135 and include 2 tickets.

Individual tickets and sponsorships can be obtained by contacting Kol Ami at (813) 962-6338 or https://www.kolami.org/donatepayments.


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