I pour myself a cup of coffee and turn up Rock Rabeinu by Moshiach Oi!, the New York based Chassidic punk rockers. Oi? “You mean, oy gevalt,” my Zaidie would have said. My Zaidie would have been shocked by this music. But I love it. Yet, Moshiach Oi! is not music for the timid. (I made a mental note to switch to decaf for my next cup o’ coffee.)
Moshiach Oi! is best enjoyed at full volume. First, my 15-year-old daughter yells at me to “turn that music down.” I immediately flash back 35 years to my mother screaming the very same thing to me as I’d locked myself in my room listening to a bootleg tape of a concert at CBGBs. Then my husband comes in, curious as to what I’m listening to. I explain to him the little I know of Jewish punk, and smiling unsurely, he also asks me – a bit more politely – to turn it down. I make myself another cup of coffee – remember, decaf this time – and set about listening. This time I turn the volume down just a bit. Shalom beit and all.
Jewish punk? I had no idea. This is a niche I’ve never considered before. Punk is fine. I’m old, by some definitions, but there are remnants of punk still kicking around my playlists. The Clash, pre-“London Calling.” For sure. The Ramones’ three-chord thrash. I love it now as much now as I did when I was a kid on Long Island. But Jewish punk? “Vas ist das?” my grandmother would have asked.
But then I listen. Really listen. First, the music. Old school punk rhythms. Familiar. Close your eyes. Feel the beat. The raw energy. Wanna dance? Where’s the mosh pit? C’mon. Remember when Manhattan was dangerous. Edgy. The Lower East Side was not yet gentrified. I remember. Moshiach Oi! remembers too. I hear it in the slash of each bar chord.
Each song is raw, with rhythms that never slow down and lyrics at once straightforward, yet profound. Opening with “Na Nachman Freedom Song.” Pounding. Singing, “Whoever wants to be free, come along/Dance to the beat of a brand new song/Only faith and joy can make us strong.” The music. The lyrics. That combination is all that the listener needs to accept the invitation to follow along into the next song, “Rabbeinu Rebbe Nachman.” The invitation to join is there again when they sing, “So everybody come along, because we have the new song/And everybody sing along.” Again, the pounding. That raw energy. And again, you’re invited. By the second song, I am hooked.
That’s the thing about punk. And Jewish punk is no exception. You’re invited. You’re included. You belong. You’re a part of the movement just by listening. By the time you hear “My Chevra,” Moshiach Oi! is singing, “My chevra’s loud, my chevra’s proud/My chevra stands out in a crowd/We scream and shout and clap our hands/We shake your world as much as we can,” you know you too are part of the chevra. They are singing about you. About all of us.
So, go listen to Moshiach Oi!’s Rock Rabeinu. Pay attention to what they have to say. In your room. In your car. Any chance you get. With the volume turned up.