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MatisPicIC.jpgRecently a wonderful book came across my desk called “Awearness: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference,” by clothing designer and humanitarian Kenneth Cole. The book is a compilation of essays by such well known celebrity-activists as Elton John, Jane Fonda, Lance Armstrong, Jon Bon Jovi, Ludacris, and more, on different issues–environmentalism, homelessness, education, etc.–and how we can get involved, even in a small way, to make a big impact.
100 percent of net proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Awearness Fund, a not-for-profit entity that supports, encourages, and empowers acts of service, volunteerism, and social change. You may can purchase the book at Amazon.com and other book outlets.
Below I’ve reprinted, with permission, an essay by Orthodox Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu.
Matisyahu on Music, Religion, and Charity
Before I became religious, I remember playing some of my music for a record company. In one song, I made a reference to slavery, to which the A&R responded: “I guess that’s cool…but who wants to hear a white Jewish kid rap about slavery?” He was ultimately right, especially if you look at Jews in the world today without having the historical perspective. But the truth is that Jews were the original people to break out of slavery, overthrowing the power in Egypt and leaving to start their own nation.
I’ve always been attracted to realness. So for me, it’s never been a question as to whether or not I should deny myself and make my identity less extreme. As I’ve changed, so have my clothes, but none of it has been as a result of trying to conform. What was always important was to find my true identity and allow my music to stem from there. That’s not to say I wasn’t afraid to make different decisions, but because I believed in the music, I knew that people would embrace it. As it turned out, my differences worked to my advantage. Much of the initial press I received was based on having the surprise element of being a guy who looked a certain way, but then does this music. It’s a classic example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The music was striking a chord with people and breaking down barriers.
In my religion, there’s a law called tzedakah where you’re supposed to give ten to twenty percent of the money you make to charity. And as I grew up, my parents, who are secular, taught me that doing something meaningful with our lives and dedicating our lives to help in some way–whether by donating money or spending a day working with people–was the most important thing. The God thing is up for grabs, whether it’s real or not real, but the true thing a person can do with their life is to help another person. The only way I could really do this mitzvah and feel good about it was to start my own program. My foundation Something From Nothing helps kids that have some talent, whether it’s developed or not, and some inner spiritual turmoil to create their own music and arts. Using the connections I make in the arts industry, I am able to call on everyone from filmmakers to guitar players and drummers to help develop the artistic talents of these children.
To have the ability to really change the world and affect it in a positive way is such an amazing thing. I just hope my life is centered around that and centered around doing good things. There’s another concept in Hebrew called tikkum olam, which literally means “fixing of the world.” The world is cracked. God created the world with this essential rift, which exists in God, and the job of humans is to somehow fix it, fix the world, and in a sense, fix God. The most that people can do is spiritual work. Don’t be afraid to feel the madness, the insanity, the darkness of this world. Because it can be so overwhelming, people often distract themselves with their own lives. Before you write a check to some foundation, you have to open yourself up to knowing what’s going on.
From there, turn on the news and pay attention to what’s happening, whether it’s a fire somewhere or someone being killed, or fighting going on in Crown Heights between blacks and Jews. Whatever it is, see it, hear it, feel it, and act from there.
Orthodox Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu challenges people to break boundaries and embrace the unconventional with his unique fusion of music and religion. He is currently launching his foundation Something From Nothing, to encourage kids in the arts. His website is MatisMusic.com
Excerpted from AWEARNESS: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference by Kenneth Cole with permission from Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. and Melcher Media. Copyright 2008.

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