Abbie Strauss is a singer-songwriter and serves as a Cantor in Memphis. She is the founder of Judaism: Inside Out, a musical philosophy that engages the mind, the body, and the soul. Abbie holds a Master of Education degree and has studied Hebrew and Jewish texts in Jerusalem – a background that lends itself to much of her music. TC Jewfolk caught up with Abbie before she entertains at the Twin Cities’ Israel at 70 celebration.
What makes your music Jewish?
Most of my music is based on Jewish texts and are in Hebrew. I started writing music while living in Israel. The melodies flowed as I studied Hebrew, walked around the streets of Jerusalem and experienced prayer through a different lens. Most of my music is based on prayers as that is how I connect to Judaism. I hope through my melodies others are able to connect with G-d and Judaism as well.
How did you end up becoming a Jewish musician? Was it always your goal to be a musician?
I have studied music all my life. I attended Indiana University to study music and had difficulty connecting to the training as it was mainly classical and opera focused. After college I lived in St. Louis and started studying with a local Jewish musician, Rick Recht. I finally could pray and enjoy great music that shared my voice. The mix of pop, folk, and modern music to Jewish texts and teachings clicked for me and began a journey to make it my profession. After years of touring summer camps, communities and working in the U.S. sharing Jewish music, I moved to Israel to find a voice of my own. In Israel I played on the street and immersed myself in performance and writing. At that point I recorded my first album, “Inside Out” and have been doing music professionally ever since. I connect to the world through music and cannot imagine my life without sharing my connection with others. I hope that my music and connection to prayer can continue to transcend and lead others to find their connection. I feel that is what I am doing today.
What has been the most challenging experience in your musical career?
Not being able to find my voice. It is easy to compare yourself to others. To assume checking off boxes will equal an easy career. I do believe in slow and steady but there were many closed doors and difficult jobs where I could not use my voice or had to stifle my gift. The struggle was hard but led to an even brighter light of success and fulfillment that without the struggle, I would not be able to step up and take my place.
Beyond music, what do you enjoy doing or experiencing?
I enjoy Krav Maga. Although I am always worried about hurting my wrists as a musician, the power and strength it provides empowers me throughout my week and into my performing. It brings out a passion that is hard to explain. I also love listening to live music. The way all of the instruments, performers create memory and experiences are so intriguing to me. I am always eager to try new ideas in my work serving as the Cantor at my synagogue and I learn most of my ideas from watching others.
What does Israel@70 mean to you?
Israel at 70 means we are a strong people. We are a people that will never give up, that can celebrate an Israel that has changed and adapted over the years because we know there are hundreds of more years ahead. Israel is a place that will always have my heart. I met my husband there, he is Israeli, and this anniversary to me is knowing that through our strength – my children and their children will always fight to see a long and bright future for our country. A country of Hope that I know in my heart will never die.
Do you have favorite Israeli music/musicians?
While in Israel I was fortunate to see a lot of performers. I was blown away by Idan Raichel. I loved how he incorporated so many musicians on stage to create a revolutionary sound. I was blown away how he was the “star” but yet shared the stage beautifully to bring up the musical experience. I also ran into him on the streets in Tel Aviv and loved how down-to-earth he was! There are so many other musicians including Cafe Shahor Hazak, which is one of my husband’s favorite bands, that I am excited to experience live. I am always impressed when Israeli musicians add their own sound. Unlike some pop music in American, you truly feel the Middle-Eastern sound in all music-whether the lead singer’s trills or the instruments added.