(JTA) — Since the birth of hip-hop 50 years ago, plenty of Jewish rappers have picked up a microphone and rocked a crowd. They’ve spit rhymes in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, even Aramaic. Collectively, they’ve shattered stereotypes about what Jews look and sound like.
But hip-hop is hypercompetitive, so the question must be asked: Who are the Jewish artists who have made the biggest impact on the culture?
To try to answer that question, I solicited the help of some serious hip-hop heads: brothers Eric and Jeff Rosenthal, together known as ItsTheReal. They are New York City-based writers, sketch comedians and podcasters; their latest podcast, “The Blog Era,” tells the story of how anonymous kids on the internet helped obscure rappers become global superstars.
The rappers they chose for this list, which is organized alphabetically and actually includes 12 people (since the Beastie Boys were a trio), span generations and geographical regions. All of them have Jewish heritage, but they do not necessarily make use of it in their art. The only other traits they share, in the words of the Rosenthal brothers, are that “everyone loves hip-hop and everybody is authentically themselves.”
Background: Born Alan Daniel Maman in Beverly Hills, CA; age 45; 3 solo studio albums, 15 albums as producer
Best known for: Producing songs for Nas, Eminem, Fat Joe, Mobb Deep, Jadakiss, The Lox, Action Bronson, among others
Most Jewish moment: In 2015, he released “Israeli Salad,” an instrumental album built around samples of Israeli songs that includes a track titled “Bone Thugs N’ Haifa.”
ItsTheReal says: “Alchemist is the guy who everybody looks up to like, ‘Oh, s—, that’s an actual cool Jew in this space.’ From his dress to his attitude to the music he makes, he exudes hip-hop. He lives in an apartment with his wife and kids on the westside of L.A., making beats for fun. He’s independent and lives in that persona. His journey from teenage rapper in Beverly Hills to essential production partner in the seminal Queens group Mobb Deep is genuine and way more impactful than being put in a box of ‘Jewish rapper who makes it big and sells out in some way or another.’”
Background: Core members were Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, all born in New York City; active from 1981 to 2012 (Yauch’s death); 8 studio albums, 3 Grammys
Most Jewish moment: In “Shadrach,” a song on their 1989 album “Paul’s Boutique,” the Beastie Boys compare themselves to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three Jewish men who defied Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, in the Book of Daniel.
ItsTheReal says: “The Beastie Boys are the blueprint. They came from a punk background. They were hanging out with Rick Rubin, and shifted their love of punk and anti-authoritarianism across cultural lines. They’re notable for being early, obviously, and being part of that blueprint, but also for taking hip-hop into such weird and crazy places, fusing it with skate life and being progressive heroes.”
Background: Born Benjamin Landy Pavlon in Broward County, Florida; age 23; begins a national tour (“The Dreidel That Never Stopped Spinning Tour”) in September
Most Jewish moment: Every part of his rap persona references Jewish culture, from his MC name, to his nickname (“Dreidel Man”), to the Star of David necklaces he’s always wearing, to the title of his new album, “Bars Mitzvah.”
ItsTheReal says: “BLP Kosher is the future. He doesn’t have a huge catalog. I don’t know who his music is for, or who the joke is supposed to be on, if there is a joke. Honestly, he seems sincere, so give him the benefit of the doubt. But his existence flies in the face of every other trend. We live in a time now where there are a lot of stereotypes, antisemitism, and violence, and for him to be proudly and outwardly Jewish, to be accepted by the rougher edges of Florida and to be out there on a stage calling yourself that, I respect that.”
Background: Born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini in Los Angeles; age 27; Ashkenazi Jewish and South African heritage; 3 studio albums; in the top 50 most streamed artists in the world on Spotify
Most Jewish moment: In an episode of season 2 of the FX series “Dave,” the character played by Jewish rapper Lil Dicky matches with a character played by Doja Cat on a dating app. His father asks if she’s Jewish, and he confirms that she is after consulting her Wikipedia entry.
ItsTheReal says: “There’s a small number of Jewish rappers who have broken through, and there’s an even smaller number of Jewish women who rap. There’s a Jewish stereotype where you get painted as not tough, but Doja is extremely tough, brazen, confident. She is somebody who has built up this massive audience and isn’t afraid to lose them if they don’t follow her lead. That’s brave. That’s exciting. That’s very punk. Two spaces she occupies, L.A. and pop music, can be so soulless, but she is bringing a realness to both.”
Background: Born Aubrey Drake Graham in Toronto; age 36; Ashkenazi Jewish and African American heritage; former child actor on “Degrassi: The Next Generation”; 8 studio albums, 5 Grammys; Spotify’s most streamed rapper, with more than 72 million monthly listeners
ItsTheReal says: “He’s from Toronto, Canada, he’s half singing, half rapping, and he’s Jewish. Those are all these things that are traditionally outsider-ish. And for him to come on the scene, for him to be accepted the way that he has, and for his music to cross over and become as dominant as it has — that’s a testament to who he is. He weaves his Jewish identity and his sense of humor into his videos and his output in a very smart way. Today, Drake is still the goofy, fun-loving, boastful half singer, half rapper that he was at the very beginning.”
Background: Born Jaime Meline in New York City; age 48; 3 solo studio albums, 2 albums with rap trio Company Flow, 4 albums with duo Run The Jewels
ItsTheReal says: “His whole movement is about independence: independent record label, not going along with the mainstream, really concerned with staying true to who he is. That influence is so much greater than any of his solo albums or any of his work in Run The Jewels, which by the way has been super successful. Today, with so many people doing it on their own, because now technology has caught up — you can record music on your own, you can distribute it on your own, you can publicize it on your own — there’s a lot more stuff that El-P was early on that you see the influence of today.”
Most Jewish moment: In a 2010 interview with his hometown Jewish newspaper, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, he talked about his “chai” tattoo and said the best Hanukkah present he ever received was a keyboard. “But the worst, and every Jew can relate to this, was being all excited to open up the present, thinking it’s going to be something big, and it’s socks,” he said.
ItsTheReal says: “He was a generational talent, and there’s a reason why he’s been lionized, and it’s not only because of his death. At the beginning of his career he was looked at with skepticism because he’s a white rapper, a frat rapper, and he lived in that world. But he didn’t want to. Much like the Beastie Boys — whom Mac studied, just like he did Biggie and DJ Premier — he evolved. He decamped to L.A. and forged a tight and genuine community. His home became the hub for an emerging sound: Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy, Odd Future. Everybody wanted to work with him because he was talented and true. He used his powers for good.”
Background: Born Michael Berrin in New York City; age 56; 1 solo studio album, 2 studio albums with rap trio 3rd Bass (with Pete Nice and DJ Richie Rich)
Most Jewish moment: In a 2018 VLADTV interview, he talked about growing up in a Conservative family in the heavily Jewish Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens. He recalled how he was asked to perform the duties of a Shabbos goy for his Orthodox neighbors. “To ask another Jew to break Sabbath because you don’t see them as being Jewish enough, it’s crazy foul,” he said. “I didn’t know until later that’s lashon hara, that’s crazy.”
ItsTheReal says: “White groups were so rare back then [in the late 1980s]. The Beastie Boys were the white crew, and then 3rd Bass showed up and they became the cool, white Jewish guys. Even more than the Beastie Boys, MC Serch lived all the early elements of hip-hop culture. He could battle somebody in a cypher and get busy on a dance floor. He’s gone on to have this career in lots of different lanes, including television and radio and as an executive, helping put Nas on.”
Background: Born Michael Robert Henrion Posner in Detroit; age 35; 4 studio albums
Best known for: “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” (a remix of which has been streamed 1.7 billion times on Spotify); “Cooler Than Me”; writing songs for Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, and Big Sean, among others; walking solo across the continental United States “to remind people your life is now”
Most Jewish moment: During his Walk Across America in 2019, he told the Detroit Jewish News that his bar mitzvah speech was about the role Jews played during the civil rights movement.
ItsTheReal says: “Mike’s path was as unique as his sound — one that grew out of freestyling with his childhood friend Big Sean and turned into a rap/singing hybrid — and it hit at the right time. He was booked at college after college and earned such a loyal fan base. Unsurprisingly, Mike Posner copycats turned up by the dozens not long after. He wrote songs for a lot of people that he didn’t get recognized for, and his musical influence can still be heard today.”
Background: Born Jamaal Barrow in Belize, he legally changed his name to Moses Michael Levi Barrow after converting to Orthodox Judaism in 2010; age 44; 2 studio albums; currently serves in the Belize House of Representatives
Best known for: “Bad Boyz,” his gravelly voice, his involvement in a 1999 nightclub shooting that resulted in his serving 9 years in prison
Most Jewish moment: Telling The New York Times in a 2010 interview in Jerusalem, where he was living at the time, “My entire life screams that I have a Jewish neshama [soul]” and “There’s nothing in the Chumash [text of the Torah] that says I can’t drive a Lamborghini.”
ItsTheReal says: “What a voice, what an attitude, what a swagger. He was sent to jail at the height of his superstardom. It’s hard to know how anyone could bounce back from that, evolve, reset. For Shyne, at life’s most trying intersection, he found Judaism. After he converted, there were lots of jokes — we made a lot of them — because it was so unlikely. But jokes aside, there’s no question that Shyne is the best Jewish rapper of all time.”
The post The 10 most influential Jewish rappers of the past 50 years appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
A Jewish cemetery in Belarus was destroyed by Nazis. Now its headstones are being made into a memorial.
(JTA) — Earlier this year, a British Jewish nonprofit received a call from a young couple in the city of Brest, Belarus, who had just purchased a fixer-upper house and needed some help with a difficult situation: Their basement was built from old Jewish gravestones.
Jewish groups — including the nonprofit The Together Plan and its American arm, the Jewish Tapestry Project, founded to aid Belarusian Jewry — have been receiving such calls for nearly two decades from residents of Brest who have collectively discovered thousands of Jewish headstones in their city’s construction. All of the headstones come from a historic cemetery that was destroyed during and after the Holocaust.
Today, an athletic complex sits on the site of the cemetery, which once contained tens of thousands of graves. But by the end of next year, The Together Plan expects to complete a memorial to the cemetery. It is also in the process of organizing and cataloging more than 3,200 remnants of the cemetery’s headstones, which were used after World War II in construction projects throughout the city.
“Currently there’s nothing there to say it’s a cemetery,” Debra Brunner, CEO and co-founder of The Together Plan, the group leading the project, told CNN.
Before World War II, Brest — also known as Brest-Litovsk, or Brisk to the Jewish community that lived there — was home to more than 20,000 Jews and was a center of Jewish culture and study. But when the city was liberated after the Holocaust, only about 10 Jews remained there. Today, it has a total population of more than 300,000.
The Nazis also destroyed the city’s Jewish cemetery in part by selling half of its headstones. In the decades following the war, when Belarus was part of the Soviet Union and construction materials were hard to find, the gravestones became the foundations of homes, supermarkets, garden walks and cellars. In some cases, the Hebrew lettering on the stones was chiseled away.
The memorial will be erected on what was once a corner of the cemetery, some distance away from the sports complex. It will be made from broken pieces of the headstones that have been recovered over the past two decades and will feature a black granite plaque with text in Russian, Hebrew and English. The area surrounding the memorial will be covered with trees, grass and wildflowers.
Jewish cemetery preservation has been at times a contentious issue in Belarus. As recently as 2017, a Belarusian court approved a plan to construct a luxury apartment building on top of a Jewish cemetery in the city of Gomel, near the country’s borders with Ukraine and Russia. The Brest municipality has pledged to maintain the upkeep of its city’s memorial but did not provide any funds directly to the project. It is being led by the Together Plan and the Jewish Tapestry Project and supported by the Religious Jewish Union of Belarus, the Illuminate Foundation and the charitable Belarus-based organization Dialog.
“Jews have always honored the memory of their ancestors,” Boris Bruk, chairman of the Orthodox Jewish community of Brest, said in a campaign video for the project. “And as there is no cemetery, we wanted to have a memorial sign, or a memorial place which would tell our descendants that their ancestors lie at this place, the people who lived, worked and prayed in this city.”
In 2004, residents, construction companies and homeowners with properties paved with headstones began making phone calls to Regina Simonenko, the head of the Brest Holocaust Foundation and museum, wanting to return them. In 2011, the municipality of Brest approved the construction of a memorial using the headstones. The Together Plan joined the project in 2014 and has been fielding the calls since then.
Apart from 1,287 remnants with writing, another 2,000 to 2,500 headstone fragments without any writing have been collected and stored in a warehouse, where they have been photographed, cataloged and added to a searchable database.
The memorial is being designed by Dallas-based artist Brad Goldberg, who plans to build two arcs opposite each other that each feature some of the headstones. According to his website, Goldberg “sees his work as a fusion between sculpture, landscape, and the built environment.”
“It isn’t a cemetery,” he told CNN. “They are all facing in different directions as if they are having a conversation with each other.”
He added, “One rabbi that we have consulted has described it as being about life rather than about death.”
Goldberg has a connection to Brest, too, which led to his work on the memorial. His family had taken in a Holocaust survivor, the late Jack Grynberg, when Grynberg came to the United States following the war. Somewhere between 70 and 100 of Grynberg’s relatives were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Grynberg was one of only a few Jewish residents of Brest to survive.
In 1997, Grynberg and his son Stephen traveled to Brest together. Stephen Grynberg is a filmmaker who has done work for the Shoah Foundation and was the one who recommended Goldberg as the memorial’s designer. The younger Grynberg is also donating a third of the memorial’s estimated $325,000 cost.
“In 1997 there were no signs of the cemetery,” Stephen Grynberg told CNN. “We were taken there and our guide said, ‘This is where the cemetery was.’ Like so many things with the Holocaust, you can’t really understand them, you just have these complicated visceral feelings.”
He added, “I was just trying to compute the idea of them bulldozing a cemetery and building on it. That was the empty feeling I had.”
Man in Peru charged with making recent bomb threats to US synagogues, FBI says
(JTA) — Authorities in Peru have arrested a 33-year-old man who the FBI has charged with making a string of bomb threats targeting U.S. Jewish institutions, including synagogues on Rosh Hashanah.
Eddie Manuel Nunez Santos made more than 150 threats, mostly by email, against synagogues, hospitals, school districts and other institutions in five states between Sept. 15 and Sept. 21, according to the FBI’s complaint against him, which was unsealed Thursday. Nunez Santos was arrested in Lima on Tuesday, according to the FBI.
The FBI says Nunez Santos, who is Peruvian, embarked on the bomb threat spree after asking teen girls to send him pornographic pictures of themselves and being rejected. He is also being charged with crimes related to those requests, the FBI said.
Some of the emailed threats included phone numbers to contact. Those phone numbers, the FBI said, belonged to the teen girls who had rejected or cut off contact with him.
The tally of threats in the complaint reflect only some of those that have been reported by synagogues or their local police departments in the last few months. None of the threats have been credible.
After Rosh Hashanah, which began on the evening of Sept. 15, the Anti-Defamation League said it had counted a total of 71 threats against Jewish institutions in 14 states since July 21. But the ADL, an antisemitism watchdog, cautioned that the real number may be even higher: Some communities, it said, had chosen not to disclose the threats they received, in part to avoid gratifying whoever was issuing them.
The bomb threats targeting synagogues have, in many cases, led to congregations being evacuated in the middle of prayer services so that police can conduct a sweep of the building. In addition, the threats included in the complaint resulted in thousands of schoolchildren evacuating their schools; a lockdown of a hospital; and flight delays, according to the FBI.
The FBI and antisemitism watchdogs did not immediately respond to questions about whether additional people might have been responsible for the recent wave of bomb threats. The threats in the complaint were made to institutions in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Arizona, and Alaska, according to the FBI, but evacuations were reported in several other states including several in New Jersey on Rosh Hashanah.
The complaint includes an example of a complaint received by a synagogue in Westchester County, New York, on Sept. 17, the second day of the holiday. “I placed multiple bombs inside the Jewish Center,” the threat said. “The bombs I placed in the building will blow up in a few hours. Many people will lay in a pool of blood.”
At the time, the Westchester Jewish Council’s security committee emailed synagogues in the county saying that local police and the council’s own security official had investigated the email and others received in the area that day and deemed them non-credible. The committee emphasized that all threats needed to be investigated, a warning that came after months of recurring fake threats.
Using data tied to the emails, and by investigating the included phone numbers, law enforcement agents were able to trace the emailed threats to Nunez Santos, who works as a web developer.
The five charges that Nunez Santos faces, if he is convicted, carry the potential of significant prison time. The charges of conveying hoaxes and communicating threats across state lines carry maximum sentences of five years in prison. The charges related to child pornography and exploitation carry much harsher penalties.
“Not only did Santos allegedly email hundreds of hoax bomb threats terrorizing schools, hospitals, and houses of worship, he also perversely tried to sextort innocent teenage girls. His actions wasted limited law enforcement resources, put first responders in unnecessary danger, and victimized children,” the FBI’s assistant director in charge, James Smith, said in a statement. “The FBI will not tolerate anyone who seeks to induce fear in our communities, and we will do whatever it takes to put the perpetrators of such actions behind bars, regardless of their location.”
This is not the first time false bomb threats have been called into a series of Jewish institutions. More than 100 such threats were called into Jewish community centers in the early months of 2017 — most of which, it was later discovered, came from a teen in Israel. In 2020, dozens of JCCs received a separate series of emailed bomb threats.
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Biden expands Civil Rights Act protections at 8 cabinet departments to include antisemitism
WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden administration is aiming to counter antisemitic discrimination in federally-funded transit systems, housing, food programs and other areas — one of the most major actions the White House has taken since it unveiled a far-reaching strategy to combat antisemitism in May.
On Thursday, the administration announced that it is instructing eight cabinet departments to extend civil rights protections to victims of antisemitism and other forms of religious bigotry. The decision marks a broad expansion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In addition, the administration is launching a listening tour of schools and colleges this fall to hear from Jewish students about hostility on campus, which Jewish groups say often comes from the anti-Israel left. Last week, an LGBTQ student group at Rice University cut ties with Hillel over its support for Israel, and in a separate incident, the Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania was vandalized.
Thursday’s launch of the listening tour in San Francisco will include a meeting between the deputy secretary of education and representatives of the city’s Hillel chapter.
“The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to lead a robust, whole-of-society effort to combat antisemitism and discrimination in all its insidious forms,” a White House official said in an e-mailed statement. The four-page release was the most comprehensive accounting to date of how the antisemitism strategy has been implemented since May. Biden set a deadline of May 2024 for the strategy to be implemented across the executive branch.
The announcement includes a comprehensive list of initiatives already taken under the antisemitism strategy. It also comes the same day as President Joe Biden is set to deliver a speech in Phoenix at the McCain Institute, named for the late Republican senator, that will warn of threats of democracy from the far-right and former President Donald Trump.
Under the 1964 act’s Title VI, which the White House release cites, any program or activity receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The White House statement said that staff at the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Treasury, and Transportation will be told the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of religious bias.
The initiative is a substantial expansion of initiatives by the Obama and Trump administrations to extend the Civil Rights Act’s protections to Jews through the Education Department. An executive order signed by Trump led to a series of federal complaints alleging that Jewish and Zionist students faced hostile campus environments.
Staff will be trained “to respond to this kind of discrimination, engage with entities that are prohibited from discriminating in these ways to explain their legal responsibilities, and inform communities of their rights to be free from such discrimination and how to file complaints,” said the release. Fact sheets on the topic will be available in Yiddish, Hebrew, Arabic, Punjabi, and other languages.
Examples of how the expansion would work, the release said, include “shielding people from harassment or discrimination on transit systems funded by the Department of Transportation; in housing funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development; or in U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded food programs.”
In recent years, Jewish watchdog groups have recorded a spike in antisemitic attacks in public places, targeting people who wear outwardly Jewish symbols or clothing. Muslim and Jewish groups have also long advocated — with some success — for making kosher and halal food available through relief programs.
Jewish groups have, for decades, sought the act’s protections, but have been frustrated by the difficulty of resolving constitutional guardrails around the separation of church and state. The Obama and Trump Education Department directives worked around that issue by defining Jews not simply as a faith but as a group defined in part through ancestry, and also as a group perceived by bigots as being a race — cateogires that fall under Title VI’s purview.
As part of the launch of the listening tour of Jewish students, Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten will meet with Jewish students, teachers and community leaders at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, followed by a closed session with Hillel-affiliated students from the Bay Area about campus antisemitism.
The emphasis on allegations of campus antisemitism may address concerns by some Jewish organizations that the Biden administration was not as focused on combating antisemitism from the left as it was on antisemitism from the right, and that it is not addressing antisemitism in the context of anti-Israel activism.
In addition to the expansion of Title VI and the listening tour, the White House statement mentioned a list of actions the administration has taken as part of the strategy on antisemitism. Those include delivering information and training to Jewish and other communities on securing their buildings and their computer systems in the face of threats, and bringing together law enforcement agencies and religious communities targeted by violence. Federal officials are also training National Park Service staff on stopping and preventing antisemitic harassment.
The White House is providing information to religious communities on their rights to build houses of worship, an issue that continues to dog Muslim and Orthodox Jewish communities thwarted by local authorities. Alongside those measures, the administration is informing members of religious minorities of their rights to religious accommodation in the workplace and is educating medical students, professionals and chaplains on religious discrimination in health care settings. In addition, an exhibit on how the United States reacted to the Holocaust is touring libraries across the country.
In November, a planned Agriculture Department summit of religious leaders in Omaha will “assess the state of antisemitism, highlight effective strategies to counter antisemitism, and build solidarity across faiths.”
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