Believe it or not, it’s become a tradition for Jews around the world to celebrate the High Holidays with punk rock.
In 2008, for example, in Tel Aviv, the band Friday Night Sissy Fight promoted a “Rosh Hashana Mayhem” show and encouraged people to “Celebrate the Hebrew New Year with Some Punk.” That same year in Australia, Yidcore played a “Happy Jew Year” show they said would “be sweeter than apple dipped in honey!” Yidcore added, “Well it’s Jew Year next week so we thought we’d give y’all one last chance to rack up a bunch of sins before you wipe your slates clean!” And last year, Jewcy shared Schmekel songs for four Tishrei holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah.
From “Mosh Hashanah” to Yom Kippur intensity, here’s a Jewish punk playlist for the High Holidays, with a Christmas tune thrown in for good measure.
Free Radicals: Mosh Hashanah
As a lover of punk and puns, I give this song title an A+. Houston-based Free Radicals are known for their fusion of jazz, funk, ska, reggae, Afrobeat, and more, and “Mosh Hashanah” combines klezmer and punk rock. “Free Radicals doesn’t play klezmer exclusively, but when we do, it often tends to be our heaviest music,” the band said in a statement. “Maybe this is because our band members have several Jewish ancestors [and] because when we play one-two beats we get confused as to whether we are doing polka, klezmer, or punk rock ….”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes: Hava Nagila (Christmas Arrangement)
When Me First and the Gimme Gimmes recorded a live album at a bar mitzvah, they of course played “Hava Nagila.” Afterward bassist Fat Mike (better known as the front man of NOFX) explained that he didn’t like the “traditional” song, so they “rewrote” it and came up with a “better version.” The group then played “Hava Nagila” to the tune of “Feliz Navidad,” with a chorus of “I wanna wish you a Rosh Hashanah from the bottom of my heart.” The line doesn’t make sense without an adjective in front of “Rosh Hashanah,” taking the absurdity of the situation to even greater heights.
Yidcore: Avinu Malkeinu
Yidcore followed in the path of Barbra Streisand and Phish by covering “Avinu Malkeinu.” This liturgical staple of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur beseeches “Our Father, Our King” to have mercy. In Yidcore’s version, the verses and the coda have punk rock frenzy. Arguably, though, the slower introduction and bridge invite inner reflection. Yidcore deserves extra credit for playing a shofar in songs that had nothing to do with the High Holidays and for saying “Shana tovah” in a song about the secular New Year.
Pitom: An Epic Encounter
On Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes, Pitom addressed the themes and liturgy of the High Holidays. “An Epic Encounter” is the song with the fastest tempo, and it rocked out with intensity toward the end of the album. Guitarist Yoshie Fruchter explained that the song is “supposed to echo as the day is winding down … as things are speeding up” and “echo the movement of” Yom Kippur. He added, “As the day is winding down, the day is getting more intense. … That was the reason for putting that where it is on the record and the feel that it is.” Pitom used intense music to express the intensity of Yom Kippur.
To learn more about Yidcore, Pitom, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and other Jewish punk bands, check out Michael Croland’s book, Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk (Praeger, an imprint of ABC-CLIO).
Flyer courtesy of Yidcore.