Each summer, Americans far and wide pack into the family car and head to one of hundreds of festivals highlighting everything from garlic – Gilroy, Calif., is the unofficial garlic capital of the United States – to virtually every flavor of pie imaginable. Jewish-themed festivals, in particular, have witnessed an increasing popularity in recent years with rosters featuring the best of Jewish musicians.

In Guilford, Conn., last weekend, more than 1,800 people crammed the town green for the third-annual Shoreline Jewish Festival. The day-long celebration featured the hip-hop lyrics of rapper Nosson Zand, the traditional sounds of the East Rock Klezmer band, and the free-form blend of Jewish notes and ethnic rhythms performed by David Chevan and the Afro-Semitic Experience. A puppet theater captured the attention of the younger attendees.

The festival enjoyed its greatest turnout yet, said Rabbi Yossi Yaffe, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Shoreline, which sponsored the event. Attendance was nearly double that of the festival’s inaugural year.

“Jewish music has the ability to open people up,” said Yaffe. “It speaks right to the soul.”

Zand, a native of Brookline, Mass., who embraced his Jewish identity as a young man, agreed. His “Kosher Hip-Hop” performance combined Jewish messages with the familiar cadence and style of rap.

The artist’s approach is to take such topics as the soul’s thirst for G‑d, and apply a back beat. He strives, he said, to make sure that in doing so, the message isn’t muddled.

“This is a good way of [incorporating] Judaism into something that [younger audiences] love,” said Zand. “But you have to infuse [the two] in a cool way: If you’re not authentic, people know and it doesn’t work.”

Authenticity is what Yaffe and his wife Rochel were striving for when they established the festival in 2005.

Residents of a region where towns’ signature festivals have a history dating back decades, they aimed to put a Jewish focus on a traditional summer pastime. They also wanted an activity that would bring the area’s Jewish residents – who live across a wide swath of land along Long Island Sound – together.

“This event creates an incredible sense of community and Jewish pride,” asserted Yaffe.

Good Food, Good Music

Dancing on Guilford, Conn.’s town green during the Shoreline Jewish Festival (Photo: Mike Michaels)
Dancing on Guilford, Conn.’s town green during the Shoreline Jewish Festival (Photo: Mike Michaels)

Although their festival didn’t take place outdoors, Rabbi Levi and Sara Volovik’s Challapalooza: The Berkshire Jewish Music Festival in western Massachusetts was strikingly similar to the Shoreline festival. Also occurring on July 13, the event provided a medium for Jewish residents and tourists to get acquainted with one another and Chabad-Lubavitch of Berkshire County.

“There are two things that people are attracted to in festivals,” said Levi Volovik, “good food and good music.”

Last year, Klezmer performer Andy Statman headlined the Berkshires festival. This year, the event, which was held in Lenox, Mass.’s Duffin Theater, featured Brian Bender and the Yiddishkeit Klezman Ensemble, as well as the instrumental duet of Sruli and Lisa.

Some 350 people attended the concert.

Back in Connecticut, Yaffe said that music provided a link between audiences and their heritage. The traditional food they ate also helped.

“The smell of knishes and the sounds of Jewish music tend to rejuvenate people,” he said. “Music is a universal language that evokes positive memories.”