For her new record, D.C.-born Shira Kobren looked for what was missing from Jewish music

Shira Kobren
Photo courtesy of Shira Kobren

In her years as chief music maker at New York’s Central Synagogue, Shira Kobren began to notice that while there is a multitude of Jewish-themed music for children, there were still gaps.

“As I’ve found these gaps over the years, I decided that I needed to write songs to fill them in,” says Kobren, a graduate of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville.

She wrote “Tell the Story,” not a song about the Passover story, but about the importance of passing down the story.  “The Maccabees” isn’t so much the story of Chanukah as it is about enlisting the listener into the army of Judah Maccabee.

They’re among the songs on “B’yachad,”a pop-rock album written by Shira Kobren, 36, to be released on Dec. 1.

Kobren, whose title at Central Synagogue is manager of family engagement music, has been working on the songs for several years, with the goal of creating an album about Judaism with enough style and catchiness that adults can listen to it along with their children.

“I don’t like to do things where the kids are going to enjoy it and the adults are going to say, ‘Do we really have to hear this again,” says Kobren, who has two children. “If adults don’t want to hear it, it’s not going to be something that people can share with their children, which is one of the most important things about Judaism.”

Since January, when she finished the album, Kobren has released several songs and made a video for one called “Todah Rabah.” The video featured kids holding up signs saying what they were thankful for. It garnered more than 10,000 views on Facebook, Kobren says.

Courtesy of Shira Kobren

Kobren grew up surrounded by music. Her mother and grandmother formed the Jewish folk singing duo Dvora and Carm, and her father played guitar. Kobren got her start at age 5, playing Gretl in a school production of “The Sound of Music.”

“The bug bit me right then,” Kobren says.

She went on to take dance lessons, perform in musicals and travel with a Rockville singing group during her childhood.

She says her years at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School had a resounding impact on her. “Going to JDS made Judaism part of every aspect of my life,” Kobren says. “The music and Judaism came naturally because of all my time at JDS.”

An important influence was her music teacher and head of the music program, the late Bruce Reisman, who fought through bouts of cancer during Kobren’s senior year.

“He was extremely inspiring to me,” Kobren says. “The excitement he had about the music made me love it so much.”

At New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she majored in drama, and minored in Jewish history and civilization from NYU, as well.

“I moved to New York City when I was 18 years old, and within two weeks I had fallen in love with the city and knew that I was going to stay.”

When it came time to record “B’yachad,” Kobren turned to film composer Julian Cassia to produce the album. Cassia also played every instrument on the record, including guitar, cello, bass and drums, and got creative by playing toy pianos and clicking his tongue.

As somebody who usually performs at live concerts, Kobren has been forced to adjust since the coronavirus pandemic began. She says she has learned to make videos with her bandmates in Shira & Friends, and plays virtual concerts.

“One of the big challenges is to figure out how big, live celebrations and concerts can translate when people are at home,” she says. “I’m constantly trying to improve upon and innovate to make it as live and as special as possible when kids are sitting in their living room.”

B’yachad,” which is being released on Dec. 1, is available on streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and BandCamp.

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