Jewish music festival returns to D.C. metro area


by Emily Jacobs
Staff Writer

The 14th annual Washington Jewish Music Festival is back and ready to bring a diverse mix of Jewish musical styles to the D.C. metro area. Sponsored by the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation and put together by the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, this year’s festival runs from April 28-May 11 with performances at multiple venues in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Featuring a wide variety of artists including Israeli superstar Noa who will kick off the festival on April 28 at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center in Rockville with songs from her most recent album, The Israeli Songbook, the festival also will present the music of the a capella group The Maccabeats and the klezmer tunes of Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All Stars’ Klezmer-Bhangra Extravaganza.

“This festival is just a bounty of music in multiple formats in multiple places,” said Carole Zawatsky, DCJCC chief executive officer. “We celebrated our big bar mitzvah year last year, and we’ve really continued on that path of expansion with this year’s festival.”

That expansion includes the creation of WJMF in the Park, a day of free outdoor concerts on May 5 in Stead Park in the District, complete with games for children and performances by Robbie Schaefer, Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys and Stereo Sinai.

“The day in the park really represents a step ahead in reaching the broadest audience possible,” said Lili Kalish Gersch, WJMF director. “We’re really proud of this because the mission of the festival is to connect to the D.C. community through music, and this day really couldn’t come at a better time.” This is Gersch’s fifth time directing the festival whose planning begins about five months in advance.

“Every year, I’m looking to put together something that’s fresh and exciting that represents the breadth of Jewish culture and the richness of our tradition, but also showcases the amazing contemporary work that’s being done,” she said.

At this year’s festival, “you can see concerts that are surprising and make you look twice and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was Jewish music.’ It’s important to me that every festival expands our audience’s understanding of what it means to be a Jewish artist and what Jewish music means.”

Performing this year is Alicia Jo Rabins, a Towson native who made her debut at the WJMF a couple years ago with the groups Golem and Girls in Trouble. Rabins will perform her piece, “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff,” which has only been shown once before in New York City, on May 4 at the DCJCC. The 36-year-old mother of one described her performance as “a meditation on the intersection of finance and spirituality. I use the figure of Bernie Madoff to explore those ideas and what it means to be an American right now in this financial moment. It’s an exploration of the ways that we’re all connected both economically and spiritually.”

She added that the WJMF is unique in that it displays a wide range of Jewish musical styles every year.

“I feel like this festival is innovative and creative in its programming, so it doesn’t narrow the definition of what Jewish music is, but really broadens the definition. It’s really wonderful when you can have a diverse sampling of Jewish music in one place, and you can only do it at something like the Washington Jewish Music festival that is so innovative.”

“It’s a regional celebration of Jewish music,” said Gersch. “Years ago it was just a concert series and now it’s a multiday event at multiple venues, it’s really expanded and we’re so excited.”

For complete schedule information, visit

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