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It’s A Small World After All

Craig TaubmanFilmed at Limmud Conference 2014

Three reasons to listen to my talk. 1. It would make my mom really happy. 2. My desire to inspire and nudge people to think ought, not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew be. 3. My JDOV talk contains songs. That's something to sing about.

Craig Taubman began his career at the tender of age of 15, when he picked up a guitar and began to lead music at Camp Ramah in California. He studied at UCLA, Northridge University and the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He also spent two years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, performing for Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Craig’s top-selling releases include Friday Night Live, composed for a special Shabbat service held at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. His extensive musical catalog consists of over 50 recordings, featuring everything from the new Celebrate Jewish Lullabies, to Rock n Toontown, featuring backup vocals with Minnie and Mickey! Craig has also enjoyed a successful career in television and film.

Craig’s songs bridge traditional Jewish themes and ancient teachings with passages and experiences of contemporary Jewish life. His Jewish recordings are an integral part of the community, weaving song and spirit into the fabric of Jewish life, and his compositions are used extensively in formal and informal Jewish settings across America.

Craig became passionate about using his talents to bring diverse people together in new ways. He branched out to plan and oversee the production of community building events, some for a variety of Jews and some for an interfaith audience. Inspired by the history, location and spiritual energy of the Pico Union Project building, Craig is using his gift for creating community connections through music, worship and the arts to build a new kind of community center.

He attributes his great success to good hair products and his dog, children and wife of 25 years who keep him in line.

—– melody/niggun —-

I wrote that melody as a wordless niggun for my father’s 70th birthday, 11 years ago. I didn’t have the words to express to him what I was feeling, and so I went to my default setting, which was music. For me, music came easily. Music spoke louder than any words I could possibly come up with.

I’ve used music my entire life. I used it as a 14 year old camper at camp Ramah. That was my counsellor. You should see him now! I used music at Disney and I used it in Israel. I used it because I recognised that music could create holy space, it could create holy ground. I used it at concerts all over the country, all over the world. I used it with Rabbi David Wolpe to create Friday Night Live, a Friday evening service that I’ve been doing for 17 years, creating community in Los Angeles, where over 2,000 people would come and celebrate Shabbat each month.

But music for me was holy ground, music for me was the place that I would go to change things from what is to what ought to be.

And this is my second song –

Every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every thing, every one, every place and every way, where you walk, where you stand, where you love and where you love and where you praise, your life is holy ground.

Every he, every she, every what, every who

It’s in her, it’s in them, its in me and its in you

In the bitter, in the sweet

In the calm and in the storm

Your life is holy ground.

So walk as if it’s holy ground

Breathe as if it’s all around

Talk and make a holy sound

Take your shoes off, you’re on holy ground.

If you hurt, if you fear

When you laugh, when you praise

Choose to hope, choose to keep

Maybe give it away

Every second, every minute, every hour, every day, your life is holy ground.

Walk as if it’s holy ground

Breathe as if it’s all around

Talk and make a holy sound

Take your shoes off, you’re on holy ground.

We are one people, sharing one story, one tapestry we leave

We are hundreds, thousands of people sharing many stories

But only one legacy we can leave

Every second, every minute, every hour, everyday, everything and everyone, every place and every way, where you walk, where you stand, where you love and where you praise, your life is holy ground. Can you feel the holy ground? Take your shoes off, you’re on holy ground.

—– clapping —

The older I got, the more gigs I did, and the more communities I went to, and the more I was desirous of creating this holy space. And I felt not as moved, I felt like something was missing, and I was haunted by the words of this man behind me, Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who passed away two weeks ago, one of the great, great leaders of American Jewry, who 30 years ago, from his pulpit on the High Holidays said, “I just read an article that one in ten people is gay, and I just read our by-laws and they’re not welcome in our synagogue, there’s something wrong”. He said, “Craig, think not is, think ought, not what it is you should be doing but what ought you be doing.”

And I thought a lot about it and I realised that I had a lot of work to do. I wanted a community that would be about thriving not just surviving. I was tired of people talking about “but is it good for the Jews?” I wanted a community that would be a force that integrated not segregated, that was about inclusion not exclusion because I firmly believed that inclusion beat exclusion every day of the week. And my Jewish community ought to emphasize understanding and love, because love, when we do it well, is the best thing we do. And I want you to think right now about ought versus is. Are your communities like this? Is this a community that you want? And think about it while we sing that first niggun again (I’m going back to my default, right).

—- singing —-

So I thought, what is? What ought? And then the skies opened up and there was a huge bolt of lightning, and a voice, loud …it didn’t happen that way! But two years ago, I got a phone call from Steve Sass and he said, “Craig, the oldest synagogue in Los Angeles is for sale and you should buy it.” It was built as Sinai Temple in 1909, 1909, that’s old by Los Angeles standards. I mean we have homes that are 30 years old, but this was a synagogue it was 100 years old. In 1925 it became the Welsh Presbyterian Church for 88 years, and 2 years ago they needed to sell it. And I said I’m going to buy the church, I’m going to buy the synagogue and I’m going to create a space that is a model of my community. It is going to be based on the Jewish principle ‘V’ahavta L’reacha C’mocha.’ It was so noble, it was so great. And then I walked into the community and I didn’t know my neighbours. How could I love them if I didn’t know them. They were Latino, they were African American, they were Korean and so I invited them into my space and together we created a multi-faith house of worship, this is what it looked like in like the 1930s. We now have five prayer communities that meet there: a Latino outreach group, an African-American First AME Church, a group of Jewish people, a Korean Church and, in January, the woman’s mosque of America will be meeting in our prayer space.

I knew it had to have music, so I invited my friends who create music, David Broza, Idan Reichel, Rita Osomatli, Santa Sicilia, Los Lobos to fill the space with music. Now I am not naïve, I know that it’s hard. There are days I wake up and I’m exhausted and there are days I wake up and my wife will say Dayeinu, enough get off your soap box, stop preaching, there are days I’m angry because more people think I’m nuts, there are days that I’m on my soap box.

And I don’t expect you to go out and build your own multi-faith, multi-cultural art centres or houses of worship. But I do want to leave you with this, to know that what is, is, but you only have one chance to create what ought to be. What ought your community look like? What ought your families look like? Not what is your Jewish community, but what ought it be? Celebration, inclusion, acceptance. I am so grateful and privileged to be here. I knew I won the birthright lottery being born in the United States, I understand. I understand that when I was born, I never experienced anti-Semitism, when I was born there was already a state of Israel. I understand that I have been blessed with things that were inconceivable years ago. And I am grateful to be invited here, I am grateful to you, I am grateful to all of the staff of Limmud, I am grateful to the teachers on whose shoulders I stand, and I am grateful for God for allowing me to be here on this day.



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