Josh NelsonJosh freaking Nelson is coming to town. And not just anywhere – he’s coming to MY SYNAGOGUE! I keep hearing people describe him as dreamy (he’s not bad looking), and talented (1000% true – the man is musically gifted) – but for me, his arrival is like coming home to my Jewish happy place.
When I converted five years ago, I was living in Boston – an epicenter of young, involved Jews. My now-husband, Eric, and I attended Riverway Project at Temple Israel in Boston, where it was common to have 100+ 20-/30-somethings attend Soul Food Friday Kabbalat Shabbat services. The draw? Well, the rabbinical staff was fantastic (I refer to them as rock stars, too), and the free nosh afterward didn’t hurt, but what hooked us was the house band: The Josh Nelson Project.
One Shabbat a month, The Josh Nelson Project invaded our service, turning on our head our understanding of what praying could sound like. Hearing 200 of your peers singing “Halle-lu” together to a four-piece rock band under a perfect Boston summer night sky? Yeah, that’ll convince you there’s something to this Judaism thing that’s worth coming back for. It felt exciting and special and moving and It. Was. Awesome.
Eventually Eric graduated law school and got a job back here in Minnesota. I was glad to be coming home to Mount Zion, where he grew up and we got married, but looking around the Twin Cities, I felt a loss: where were all the Jewish young adults? I knew it was no Boston, but who was I going to have a raucous Purim party with? Did anyone even know that you could play the electric guitar at services? Necessity is the mother of invention, but also motivation and inspiration: I’d have to start my own 20s/30s group if I wanted to have in Minnesota what I had in Boston.
And so I did, along with my partner-in-crime, Amy Ariel. Smart people borrow ideas; successful ones outright steal – and we did our best to copy-paste the best of Riverway Project into Mount Zion’s community. Amy named us “Noazim,” which means, “the courageous ones.” So, we courageously lobbied to get a separate service that was more progressive. We convinced the temple leadership to assign us a clergyperson. We served Shabbat dinner beforehand. We bought a songbook and put Eric to work as our guitarist/stand-in for the full Josh Nelson Project band. We even called it “Soul Food Friday” – because why bother coming up with a better name than that? “Come fill your spiritual bucket!” we said.
We’re coming up on Noazim’s fifth anniversary. We haven’t managed to get 200+ young adult Jews together for Kabbalat Shabbat services like in Boston, but we have created a group where Jewish 20- and 30-somethings do Jewish stuff together. Where many come to explore if Judaism is right for them. Where we can learn, study text, make Havdallah, say kaddish, celebrate Jewish holidays, and yes, sing some Josh Nelson tunes as part of our more intimate Friday night Shabbat services. AND HE’S COMING TO LEAD US NEXT MONTH!
I might be a little starry-eyed. And when he gets here – after I get done singing with him – I hope I get the chance to thank him for bringing excitement to Jewish life, which had such a profound effect on me, and in turn (I hope), my friends and the Twin Cities Jewish community.
Josh Nelson!
Concert Wednesday, October 30 @ 4:30 and 6 pm
Shabbat Service Friday, November 1 @ 6:30pm
Soul Food Friday with Noazim (20s/30s at Mount Zion) Friday, November 1; dinner @ 7:15pm, Josh Nelson + service @ 8pm
Check out his music at