Rabbi Noah Diamondstein, musician and assistant rabbi of Temple Sinai, recently recorded and released a collection of 17 original compositions.
The artistic feat would have been difficult, he said, were it not for the generosity and support of his D.C. Reform congregation.
“I’ve been working on some of these songs for years,” said Diamondstein, 29. “It was getting to a point where I really felt the need to get some of this stuff out there. The temple and ritual leadership team believed in my vision as an artist, and in the music, as a teaching tool, a resource for spiritual exploration for people.”
Diamondstein released his first album, “Ashira L’Adonai,” in 2018 with $13,000 that he crowdfunded online. It was a direction he was about to take for the production of his latest Jewish music composition, titled “My Whole Heart.”
“There was only so much I could do on my own. I’ve got some knowledge of the knobs and dials for engineering sounds, but I’m not a pro. I got to the point where I could almost feel the ceiling over my head as I was working on the music. I decided I needed some help.”
Over coffee, he asked Temple Sinai’s senior rabbi, Jonathan Roos, if he could promote his second crowd-funding campaign at temple events.
Roos had a better idea.
The synagogue had a budget that was largely untouched during the pandemic for bringing in artists to perform.
“Fast forward, a couple of weeks later, I had thousands of dollars of Temple Sinai funds from various sources and certain families,” Diamondstein said. “The music committee also earmarked several thousand dollars for a free concert event.”
On Friday, Nov. 4, Diamondstein performed the songs with professional musicians at a concert attended by 300 Temple Sinai members. “It was really a culmination of a project that had been going on for the past couple of years, only known to me working on music in my home. But eventually it was something the temple took on with me.”
Diamondstein worked with Grammy-nominated engineer/producer Mark Niemiec of Nashville. “My Whole Heart” was released gradually in four parts, “like the four chambers of a heart,” Diamondstein said.
The music in the collection is eclectic, jumping genres from folk, country, bluegrass to jazz, pop and rock. Diamondstein plays almost every instrument on the album and sings. His signature is rich harmonies, he said.
The collaborators are known in the Jewish music world, he said. Dan Nichols is a Jewish rock musician, teacher and Diamondstein’s mentor. He produced the first album and co-wrote a song.
Another collaborating artist is Chava Mirel, a cantorial soloist in Seattle who tours nationally and records jazz. Diamondstein wrote a song with Jacob “Spike” Kraus, a well-known Jewish artist who performs pop and liturgical music. He also worked with Lucy Greenbaum, who is a Jewish performer based at a St. Louis synagogue, and Eric Hunker, a lead musician for BBYO who performs and writes songs. Coleen Dieker, who is an accomplished writer, contributed violin and arranged strings on “My Whole Heart.”
Dieker, Baum and Kraus joined Diamondstein for the performance at Temple Sinai. Diamondstein writes both English and Hebrew songs, some purely liturgical. “’Ray of Light’ is a poem that I wrote while I was watching my then 1-year-old son play on the floor of my friends’ Vermont home in the middle of winter.”
“The Sun Will Rise Again” is a modern interpretation of a classic midrash about Adam and Eve, “the existential crisis that they experienced when they see the first sun go down and aren’t sure it will rise again.”
Diamondstein said that as a typical pulpit rabbi, “it’s been so incredibly fulfilling that space has been carved out for me to share music like we did at the concert. But other times, just having my guitar in my hands as we lead Friday night services and singing harmony with our cantor, it’s really been a wonderful balance.”
Rabbi Diamondstein’s “My Whole Heart” is available on music streaming services. Stream for free and download free sheet music at noahdiamondstein.com.