What's rocking your world? And, before I read about this challenge on my friend Karen's Square Peg People blog, I already had planned this blog entry; an interview with a favorite musician that would be posted on... yep, 12/10/09. So this is totally Beshert-meant to be! Introducing (unless of course you already know her) a dear friend of mine (yes, another one of my soul-sisters, I've told you often, I am blessed with a BIG FAMILY that includes some very special friends)...please welcome this spiritual pioneer and creative soul from the Jewish education/music scene, Naomi Less. Her latest album (I don't even know if that's the right term anymore) is “Meshuga’at” (Crazy). Naomi has been my friend for 6 years now. She emails me, calls me, texts me regularly to make sure all is well with my family and me. A kinder neshama (soul) would be hard find. We studied with a community of educators at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in an extraordinary program designed to teach teachers of Jewish teens how to deepen our own spirituality in order to pass on what we learned to the next generation. Naomi was my chevruta for the final part of the training (chevruta means spiritual friend/learning partner in Hebrew). We hit it off from the beginning of the 18-month program, but in the last six months our hearts began to beat together in a unique bond of sisterhood. We both love to sing (and harmonize), to laugh, to teach, to connect deeply with teens, with adults and of course with the Divine in meaningful ways. Naomi is a founding member of Storahtelling, a ritual artist, singer/songwriter, an inspirational speaker and facilitator for teens and adults throughout the US and Israel. Her most recent entrepreneurial endeavor is “Jewish Chicks Rock”, an educational music initiative for Jewish girls focused on raising self- esteem, self-awareness and sending out the message that our choices have an impact not only on ourselves, but on our fellow humans. Her song “Responsibility” (one of both my daughters' favorites) was the first release on her soulful/rockin’ cd “Meshuga’at”.
Me: Naomi can you tell us the kind of experiences you had as a young teen that influenced the lyrics of this song?
Naomi: Oh, do I have to go there? Well, I’ve been on both sides of the “mean girl” simplex. I’ve both teased and been teased. When the teaser, I didn’t feel good about it and wondered why I was doing it. And when I was picked on, I looked at all the girls just standing there, saying nothing, but could see in their eyes that they wanted to. This song is for those girls – the ones on the side who have power, but don’t realize it – who know it’s so hard and such a risk to step up, but it’s the right thing to do.
Me: I think growing up I was often one of those girls on the side, secretly cheering for the kid being picked on; afraid to speak up. This awareness of personal empowerment and responsibility is something I have tried to incorporate into my own daughters’ upbringing as well as in the classroom when I was teaching Hebrew High and leading Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! groups. You know me well and you know my passion for prayers, songs, art and spiritual practices that expand our hearts and express our deep connection to the Divine. So far, of all the songs you have written to date, my absolute favorite is still “Elohai”, because it does just that. How would you describe the significance of this song/prayer to you in regard to your personal sacred experiences?
Naomi: “Elohai” comes from the place within me that’s tapped when I’m deeply connected to my sense of groundedness. It doesn’t happen all that often given what the verses are about. We run around (well, let me speak for myself) – I run around worried, anxious that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not good enough, or have gone far enough with my life, that people will think this and that about me. It’s a lot of “noise” that can make you/me “forget what it’s all about”. (Is it cheesy to quote yourself?) But that’s really it…this prayer – which is about breath and soul is about stopping and saying – hey, God – (however you understand that word) – the soul or the breath that you placed in my when I took my first breath – it’s pure – it doesn’t have to be anything more than free. And when you can bring yourself back to that place, then you will find all that “noise” seems to dissipate. Fancy that, huh?
Me: Good enough, kind enough, generous enough…I hear you…and I hear those noisy little voices in my head too sometimes. A mutual friend of ours (Becca Sykes) sent this poem to me in response to a blog entry I wrote a few months back:
“If you only let a few people look into your eyes,
If after looking into your eyes, You allowed people a place to learn and be loved, dayenu.
If after learning and feeling so well loved, You inspired others to do the same, dayenu.
Your kindness is enough.”
And I'd like to add a few of my own words to Becca's and yours,
This breath, this moment is enough,
*(dayenu means “enough” in Hebrew)
When you think back to your youth, who were the influential heroes who guided you to this path you have chosen; a life infused with creativity and spirituality…a life -path in which you have a personal dedication to education, justice and assisting others in discovering their own connection to Shekhinah? (the Divine Presence within)
Naomi: Wow – there are so many, musical and otherwise. Well, the first that come to mind are certainly the Indigo Girls – melding music, spirituality, faith, bible…boy, that really opened my eyes to others that did that. Then of course there are my fellow "conspirers" (oooh, I like this fusion of conspiritor and inspirer!) in Storahtelling, the ritual theater company I helped to found. They are all such talented and inspired artists and spiritual, good, socially conscious human beings – and they all inspire me to do something good for this world.
Me: The company we keep has the power to bring us down or raise us up, another valuable lesson to be shared with our children and students, young and old. The work you do is serious and important, and yet you are a playful person by nature. This of course comes through in a song like “Mishuga’at” and your work through Storahtelling. Can you talk about how you weave that playful attitude into your work and how you think it assists you in getting your message across?
Naomi: I have to say, I am an extremely playful person, but I tend to write pretty heavy stuff. (Maybe that’s the Indigo Girls influence?) I have my husband, Glenn Grossman, to thank for the playful music and lyrics we’ve been writing. I’ll write something and he’ll say – Naomi, say it lighter – don’t be so heavy. And “Meshuga’at” is a perfect example of that. We were literally jumping up and down in our apartment writing it.
Me: I can totally visualize that! It’s great to have a partner to hold up a mirror from time to time, so we can find that balance. Naomi, if you could sum up your mission in life at this time, in just 3 words, what words would you choose?
Naomi: Grow, Ignite, Make-a-big-difference
Me: If I changed the word mission to passion, would that alter the words you just shared? If so what would the new words be?
Naomi: hmmm, great question. No, I think it would remain the same!
Me: Fair enough. Living in the present moment is something I talk about and have taught about often. It is a skill I work hard to cultivate in my own life, so I’m feeling a moment of pause in asking this question…but my curiosity has gotten the better of me. What is next (project wise) for Naomi Less?
Naomi: Well, I know I have more to do with this Jewish Chicks Rock thing, but I’d like to expand out and do more work with girls in general – maybe around preventative strategies around dating abuse or violence; anything around resiliency development in girls.
Me: “Resiliency development” I like that phrase a lot. That leads me to my next question. I know you will be a guest on the World Café in Philadelphia in a special "Lights Ignite Change" performance, sharing the studio with Chana Rothman and Sarah Aroeste Band on Dec 13 2009 at 8:00 PM . So there’s that word from your three-word mission/passion statement: Ignite. Part of what celebrating the Festival of Lights means to me includes a kind of resilience, and I’m not just talking about the Maccabees. Every year as we ignite other candles from the Chanukah,shamash (helper/guardian candle) I think about how this one little flame continues to burn brightly and is not in the least bit diminished by sharing it’s light with the other candles. It remains lit until it has served it’s purpose for the evening, gently flickering and gradually returning to darkness, making space for a new flame to begin the process again the next night. It is the same with people. We each have a unique light to shine out into the world and share with others during our lifetime; light touching light, illuminating others with compassion, love, wisdom, sparking all kinds of possibilities, and never diminishing our own shining souls. If anything, I like to imagine that our connections to others, increases our own inner light’s radiance (I’m not sure if that’s scientifically sound, but you know what I mean). As adults and Jewish educators, we know Chanukah is not simply about latkes, dreydls, gelt and gifts. Naomi, would you please share with us the soulful wisdom Chanukah awakens for you?
Naomi: Chanukah is probably one of the most misunderstood holidays of all time. I like to see the universality of Chanukah through its ancient roots and connections to other traditions…it’s how we’re different and yet the same. We are all celebrating (and slightly fearing) the solstice – there are pagan holidays, Christian Holidays, African Holidays, Muslim and Jewish holidays to mark this moment in our calendar – the shortest days of the year – where light is truly hard to find. I think that this Chanukah, the miracle (as in all Chanukiot – Hanukkahs?) will be to find that light in the darkness…that you’re never at the darkest point – and I feel very much that this country is in a place of darkness now, but if you really search for it, and help grow it, you can illuminate much – with helping hands, with a blessing to a friend, with a positive outlook, with living less fear-based and anxiously. That’s really what my song “What You Give” is about. The miracle of Chanukah is helping to grow that light.
Me: I’m so pleased you brought up the universal aspects of this holiday. My readers are from many faith traditions and our ONENESS is something I like to reflect upon too. For many, not just in the US, but all around the world these are indeed dark times; wars, famine, disease, an aching environment, unemployment, and inequality in it’s varied forms, have spread a darkness that never seems to leave our planet. You’re so right. It’s up to us to reach out hand to hand, even blog to blog to connect and bring the light of compassion and loving action into each others' lives. This is the perfect moment to add another plug for your Chanukah extravaganza “Lights Ignite Change” at the World Café, any comments to get us revved up for your upcoming performance there?
Naomi: This is going to be such an amazing event because you have three powerful, outspoken, talented women who are all working so hard to make the world a little better through their music and their hands. Sarah Aroeste is bringing music to disadvantaged Cuban communities, Chana Rothman travels around the world igniting people about social responsibility and I am trying to bring out the inner voice of girls to rock – and teach them resiliency and self-expression skills through music! So we have three different styles of music and three female change-agents performing on the same stage. It should be a Light-filled event!
Me: Ok, my final query. When do you estimate your “Meshuga’at” CD will be complete and ready for purchase?
Naomi: It’s ready! You can buy from me, you can buy individual tracks on oysongs.com and I think you can buy on the www.jewishchicksrock.org site. (We’re still working on three new tracks, but the way albums are being done now, I’m just putting out the tunes, as they’re ready.)
Me: Cool, I guess my age is showing! Thank you my chevruta for sharing your “voice” with my readers today.
Naomi: Thank YOU so much for inspiring all of us to reach higher than we thought we could.
...Umm, ok, sorry N...
I know how Diva's generally hate to share the spot light...
but just one more of my Mini Birthday Rock Star!
Naomi: Rosie - a rock star is a state of mind and a state of being. One can't try to be one. One just is. And YOU are the embodiment of a Jewish Chick Rocker! Thanks for inspiring me! Happy Birthday! ~Love Naomi!!!!
Click on the song title to listen to Naomi sing a sample of my favorite song Elohai Neshama plus a few more, including Mishuga'at and Responsibility. It will take you to OySongs...then just click the "play sample arrow"-not as complicated as it sounds!
Words by Naomi Less and from Jewish liturgy
Music by Naomi Less & Glenn Grossman
©2007 Glomi Productions
Lyrics to Elohai Neshama
Sh’natat Bi (Sh’natat Bi)
Tehorah hi (Tehorah hi)
Let it in- Let it out
You can’t keep the breath inside you
Or go without
You can’t fake what you see
‘Cause you know it isn’t different
What’s inside of me
I can breathe - - free
Sh’natat Bi (Sh’natat Bi)
Tehorah hi (Tehorah hi)
Breathe it in – Breathe it out
All the noise can make me forget
What I’m all about
Breathe it in – Breathe it deep inside
And I’m grateful for this moment that I am alive
I can breathe - - free
Sh’natat Bi (Sh’natat Bi)
Tehorah hi (Tehorah hi)
My breath that you placed in me
My breath is pure and free