THE BOOK OF LIFE - Craig Taubman & Mostly Kosher 5.31.19
2:47AM May 31, 2019
COLD OPEN: CLIP OF CONCERT
THEME MUSIC, INTRO Heidi Rabinowitz: This is the Book of Life. I'm Heidi Rabinowitz. Craig Taubman is a longtime star in the world of American Jewish rock and roll. Mostly Kosher is an up and coming gypsy rock klezmer band whose tagline is "word to your bubbe." In spring 2019, Craig Taubman brought along Mostly Kosher and together they put on a foot stomping concert at Congregation B'nai Israel, the home of the Book of Life podcast. That gave me the chance to grab this interview, and even to include the voice of our Cantor's daughter Aria. Here's your chance to be a fly on the wall in the green room before the show.
Heidi Rabinowitz: So I'm here with Craig Taubman before the wonderful concert that we're very excited about here at B'nai Israel, having a little bit of lunch, and I wanted to ask you: on your website you have this great tagline. It says Craig Taubman and Craig and Co ...or do you say Craig and Co or Craig and company? Craig: Craig and Co or Craig and Company. Heidi: Okay. It says Craig Taubman and Craig and Company are about impacting the world one event, song, inspiration and ripple at a time. So tell us how one song can change the world.
Craig Taubman: Here's what I say about music. I don't know who told me this, but the voice is right in the middle between your head and your heart. And your heart doesn't speak and your mind doesn't speak, but your voice speaks. So I think music is just a centering force. (From the Russian judges and Romanian judge on that one that was pretty good).
Heidi Rabinowitz: So we've got band members sitting here with us. Do you guys want to add anything to that about how one song can change the world?
Band member: I think that music is the greatest equalizer. Another thing that Craig does is does a lot of outreach work, it brings so many different cultures together, so many religions together. The beautiful thing is that you take someone from the most impoverished background and someone from the wealthiest background and you stand them shoulder to shoulder, you have them sing the same note, create a beautiful unison together. So I think that it's about the songs that may be spread around the world that everybody learns or just the sounds that everyone's familiar with. And then when they get to sing together, that alone is miraculous. That's powerful.
Craig Taubman: I played with many, many musicians for many, many years. But when I was asked to come and do a couple of shows on the road, I haven't traveled in a very long time and I wanted to give their band which is called Mostly Kosher, the opportunity to sing in front of an audience. And the other joy for me is that James Fuchs and I have been friends for probably going on, what do you say 12-13 years? pretty darn close. And James hasn't toured with me because I haven't been touring. So just to be back with James and the Mostly Kosher band... this is...
Leeav Sofer: Leeav Sofer. I play piano, accordion and clarinet, but I'm also the singer for Mostly Kosher.
Janice: I'm Janice Mautner Markham and I play violin in Mostly Kosher.
Eric Hagstrom: I'm Eric Hagstrom, I play drums in Mostly Kosher.
James Fuchs: James Fuchs, I'm playing bass.
Heidi Rabinowitz: What is your most popular song and why do you think that is?
Craig Taubman: Why don't you guys, what's my most popular song?
Janice: I mean, my kids know Hashkiveinu. They grew up in temples singing all of Craig's tunes. So I would say for them, that's one of their favorites and one they're most familiar with, or they would say that's what his most famous song is, but you ask different people, there's so many songs that become popular, that Craig wrote.
Craig Taubman: I also did a lot of kids music. I was with Disney for many years.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that.
Craig Taubman: So I wrote all the music for Toontown and most people probably don't leave humming it, but that's my music. I wrote The Haircut S ong that was very popular. Why I don't know. You know what? It's actually an interesting thing, because if I knew then I'd just keep on writing those songs. It's not a science, right, right. It's art. I've always wondered that, you know, if you could like, put a stethoscope on a song or X ray a song and say, Oh, well what you do is you put this here and you do that there and this. Can't do it.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Right. What is your own favorite of your own songs?
Craig Taubman: I would have to say right now Yedid Nefesh. It's just, I don't know. Even now as I say it, I just get emotional. It just there's something that I just, I don't know. I didn't write it for... Yedid Nefesh is a love song from Shir ha-Shirim. I didn't write it for my wife. I didn't write it for my kids. It just came out. And it just resonates with me.
Heidi Rabinowtiz: And what does it mean?
Craig Taubman: I don't have a clue.
Heidi Rabinowitz: No, I mean, translated.
Craig Taubman: Okay. Yedid Nefesh: my soulmate [Hebrew]. Compassionate One. [Hebrew] I am drawn to you. I am attracted to you. I will do your bidding. You are... You are my... You just do it for me, when I'm with you, you send me. So much so, there's actually a line in there, when I see you I want to jump, leap towards you like a gazelle. I mean, come on. There is a tradition that says it was written, symbolizing God's love for the people of Israel. It's like, all right, maybe, but I'm just hearing a few other things in there.
What's your favorite song of mine, out of curiosity?
Janice: We love Yedid Nefesh too. I mean, I like Romemu a lot.
Band member: I have all of them stuck in my head. [LAUGHTER]
Craig Taubman: So you asked the question earlier. Yeah. What's your favorite song and why can you guys break it down? Like if you have favorite songs of mine or anybody? Like you know why a song is your favorite?
Band member: I feel like it just it depends on you know, maybe the time in your life and how it hits you emotionally. Yeah, there's some great songs that you know, you just hear a certain period of your life and your emotional state and wherever it just sticks with you and you don't know why it's kind of hard, but if you feel it, then you just go with it, you know?
PROMO Hey, Book of Life listeners, Heidi here, I interrupt this podcast with an important announcement. I'll be hosting a Book of Life live show in Woodland Hills, California near Los Angeles on June 17 2019 at 5:30pm as part of the Association of Jewish Libraries 54th annual conference. Guests include Joni Sussman of KarBen Publishing, and author/ illustrator/ musician Barney Saltzberg, famous for his book, Beautiful Oops. The live show is free. Conference goers get in automatically. All others must RSVP by June 10 to be admitted. Email me at email@example.com for details. Now back to your regularly scheduled podcast. END PROMO
Heidi Rabinowitz: Tell us about the Pico Union Project.
Craig Taubman: The Pico Union Project is housed in the oldest synagogue building in Los Angeles. It's the second oldest synagogue west of the Mississippi. It's old. It was the first home of Sinai Temple and Sinai Temple is where I had my bar mitzvah. I got married there. I started something called Friday Night Live, which was an alternative Shabbat service with Rabbi David Wolpe and about five, six years ago, somebody approached me who I grew up with and he said you know, Sinai Temple's for sale you should buy it. It wasn't on my, you know, my to do list and it took me a while to go there. But when I went into the building, immediately, I knew it was a calling. It's stunning. It has stained glass to die for, either side of the building these huge stained glass with stars of David. It's just it's stunning, beautiful wood, an organ, a pipe organ that was built in 1909. Okay? before there was electricity in the building. When I bought it, I wanted to make it into a performing arts space, make it a space for my friends with great food, great music, great bar. And I asked my daughter who was at Pitzer School of Community Organizing. I said, What would you do? And she told me it was a wrong question. You have to ask the community what they want to do if you really want to be part of the community. And so it took us about six months for the community feel safe with us. We asked some questions and it wasn't a bar. It wasn't a another venue. They wanted a safe place to gather. And so now we followed their lead, followed their suggestions. We're home to six different faith communities. There are two Latino churches. There is a Korean church, there is an African American church, a mosque meets there and a Jewish community meets there. So today, there are four services that are taking place. And there's a program later tonight. The services start at eight o'clock and end at like five o'clock.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Today because it's a Sunday...
Craig Taubman: It's a Sunday, but they also meet midweek. They pay us rent, which helps us to keep our doors open, helps us to meet our mission statement, which is to love your neighbor as you wish to be loved and to create opportunities for people to get to know their neighbors. The other way we get to know our neighbors is we distribute 10 pallets worth of food. The way we show the community love is by distributing free, fresh produce. We do cooking classes, because nutrition is a huge challenge in that community. Diabetes is rampant. We do yoga classes, art classes, that's all part of a program called Vida Sana, which means healthy living, which is really challenging when you don't have the means to live healthy. We're in a food desert. There is no grocery store within three miles. There's the Ritz Carlton two blocks away, but there's no grocery store. Where I live in Studio City, which is about 10 miles away, there are probably five or six, seven grocery stores. Something's wrong. Yeah, you know, there's a disparity. And then the other thing we do is something called Keep it Clean and Keep it Green. We've planted hundreds and hundreds of trees in the neighborhood. The line that we use is, the best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago. No shade covering that area, by the way. That's another problem. There have been studies that say that the demise of civilizations has been when the tree canopy in that place was destroyed. You've heard of scorched earth policy. That's essentially what that is. Take away somebody's trees, it's their future. It's their roots. It's their whatever... but you should ask these guys questions.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Well, actually, I would like to know about Mostly Kosher if you can give me sort of an overview.
Leeav Sofer: Mostly Kosher. We're based in Los Angeles area. When I was in university I went to play piano for a wedding gig. I always say to people, without Yiddish words musicians wouldn't have a gig because we schmooze after the gig. I met people and someone met me and I was a clarinet major. And she said, You play clarinet and you're Jewish. And I said, Yeah, she says, You must play klezmer. And I've never played klezmer in my life. But I said, of course, I play klezmer. And she's like, Oh, you must have a klezmer band. And I said, of course, I have a klezmer band. And she says That's perfect. I'm the president of the sisterhood here at the synagogue we're going to have a huge gala. We want your band to play. And so I said great. [LAUGHTER] And then I'm basically on my way home, called Janice who had played violin in the Shabbat services in my shul and then she called her basist and I called my university colleagues and put together Mostly Kosher, didn't know what we were doing. But just like any recital in university, you just study it, you study the language. You study the translations, you put on the recital, and it was very successful. And from then we just got more work and mentors and Craig was one of them who always gave us opportunities and still does as you can see, in LA to help us grow. Now we're at a place where we're proud to say we were the first Jewish cultural band to do klezmer and Yiddish music in the Disneyland parks and we had a residency for Hanukkah there three years ago, and then we franchised that same Mostly Kosher show to Epcot. So we were here in Florida. And this year, we hope it to be the fourth year that we get to bring the music of Mostly Kosher to the Disneyland parks. We also hope to, more than anything, just lay the drawbridge down to Jewish cultural music. We don't do a lot of Shabbat music per se but we focus on the love songs, the party songs, and try our best not to not just deliver it to the Jewish community but instead invite those that are just interested in culture diversifying themselves in different cultures and, and world music and just bringing our sound into the world music diaspora a little bit higher on everybody's playlist.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Great!
MUSICAL INTERLUDE FROM CONCERT
Heidi Rabinowitz: So this brings me to a question that actually I'll open up to all of you. What action would you like to invite listeners to take to help heal the world?
Janice: Take a risk and go into neighborhoods you don't normally go into, find out where people need help, find out what the culture is, go to a museum in an area of the city that you wouldn't normally go to. I think taking artistic risks, and life risks, are something that people don't normally do. I've been trying to do that with my own family. And I think it can really help bridge understanding between people that might be coming from different cultures, different religions, different socio economic backgrounds. And that's what I would suggest.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Good. Does anybody else have a thought on that?
Band member: To support self expression? I'd like to see that more in my own life and the world.
Craig Taubman: Our board chair at the Pico Union is an Episcopal priest and two years ago at high holiday services, I invite him up because I see him in the back I said, Hey, Nat, you want to do the closing blessing? And he said, really, you know, it's a High Holidays, it's Yom Kippur. And he said the following six words, Let go. Let be. Let come. And I don't practice that at all. But I think I would be much, much happier. I think the world be a much happier place. And I have one more this from my aunt Ruth, my great aunt Ruth, who died many, many years ago. She said, God gave us two ears and one mouth so we'd listen twice as much as we talk. Which is great, because I'm in the middle of talking.
Heidi Rabinowitz: [LAUGHTER] But people are listening to this.
Craig Taubman: That's true.
Band member: I have a music twist on that same thought from the great Roger Williams who said the line: listen louder than you sing. I love that one. Good. Heidi: Good.
Craig Taubman to Aria (Cantor's daughter): Is there anything you'd like to add to the interview? Heidi: What do you think people should do to make the world a better place? Craig: And tell us your name.
Aria: My name is Aria and I think that people should stop littering to make the world a better place.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Good. I like it.
Craig Taubman: God, that's like a low hanging fruit. That's really easy.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Yeah, people can definitely take action on that one right away. So good advice. Can you talk about the difference between creating music for children versus adults, if there is a difference and also is there a difference in performing for children versus adult audiences?
Craig Taubman: The way I perform there is absolutely no difference and I learned to be a performer at camp, you know, as a kid. Kids tolerate very little that's inauthentic. Just write with authenticity, perform with authenticity, be present, authentically present, like really present. Because I think everybody, when they hear music goes, come on, that's baloney. Or they'll say, Oh, my God, he doesn't have the best voice, but that felt good.
Heidi Rabinowitz: What is your fondest musical memory?
Craig Taubman: Okay, here you go. I've sung at the White House three times. I've sung on major major shows on television and done some amazing things. I would have to say what I'm channeling right now was singing for my friend, Alan, when he was dying. Probably one of the last things he heard was my voice and his family was around. My family was around. And it was a beautiful thing.
Heidi Rabinowitz: That is beautiful.
Craig Taubman: Yeah.
Heidi Rabinowitz: All right. Is there anything that you'd like to talk about that I haven't thought to ask you?
Craig Taubman: I'm just grateful Heidi, that you asked us to do this. And hope you enjoy the show. And I hope the people who listen to your podcast enjoy your show.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Thank you. And Mostly Kosher, is there anything that you would like the listening audience to hear?
Band member: Just gratefulness, gratefulness to Craig for... Craig: Mr.Taubman! Band member: The Mr. Taubman Scholarship for bringing, you know, young and upcoming Jewish music both in Shabbat culture and cultural music world ... and those who aren't so young... the point is, is that what a man to give his platform to see the next generation of music come through, and we're really eternally grateful to him and the example is right here in inviting us to speak with you as well. So thank you to both of you. Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity.
Heidi Rabinowitz: Yeah, thank you for participating!
Craig Taubman: I wasn't actually being that altruistic. I just knew that if it was just my interview I wouldn't be able to eat. When you guys were talking I was like nom nom nom... [LAUGHTER]
CLIP OF END OF CONCERT
TEASER: Hi, I'm Natalie Silverstein. I'm the author of Simple Acts, the Busy Family's Guide to Giving Back and I'd like to dedicate this episode of the Book of Life podcast to all the graduating high school seniors. I have one in my home. I hope that you all go off to college and an open heart that you serve others and you figure out a way to repair the world.
THEME MUSIC, OUTRO: Don't be a stranger. Say hi to Heidi 561-206-2473, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our Facebook page or our Facebook discussion group Jewish Kidlit Mavens. We are occasionally on Twitter too. There are lots of ways to support the show through Patreon and through donations to our home library, the Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida. You can find links for all of that and more at BookofLife podcast.com. Our background music is provided by the Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band. Thanks for listening and happy reading!