Yom Hadash, Hebrew for "the new day," plays spiritual music with aJewish twist, breaking new ground religiously and musically.
"Our target audience is teens and college kids," said co-founder JonNelson, 29. "What we're trying to do with our music is to make kidsaware of the fact that Judaism can be cool. That there's a new movementout there. And that we want other kids to form their own bands and dothe same thing."
The group's work feeds into the growing genre of contemporary Jewishmusic, which includes performers such as Craig Taubman and David Broza.
Yom Hadash's goals are similar to those of early Christiancontemporary musical artists -- now part of a booming commercial market-- who sought to recast faith in modern musical form.
"There are a lot of similarities, singing about faith and singingabout spirituality," Nelson said. "The main difference is, we don't havethe fan base. There aren't as many Jews. If we could get Jewish peopleexcited about their heritage and about music that reflects that, I thinkwe could grow."
Yom Hadash strives in lyric and melody to reach the alreadyobservant Jew and the religiously unaffiliated.
"We played a gig in New York; probably three-quarters of the peoplethere were young adults who never go to synagogue," Nelson said. "If wecan turn them on to Jewish rock, they may reconnect. We're trying togive them something that is universal, that is spiritual, thattranscends -- something Jews everywhere from all movements can unite andlisten to."
Nelson and his younger brother Josh, 22, both sing lead for YomHadash. Jon, who plays bass and acoustic guitar, devotes more than halfhis time to music, and also works as a youth director at a ConservativeJewish synagogue in Boston. Josh plays keyboards and rhythm guitar forthe group, and is a professional musician working in the Boston area.Rounding out the band are drummer David Lefkowitz, 29, who owns a Bostonmusic studio, and guitarist Adam Dehner, 29, who teaches special-needsstudents in Boston schools.
Jon Nelson, Lefkowitz and Dehner have been friends since childhood,playing together in bands during their high school years.
The first songs with a Jewish message, early versions of the group'snow popular "Jerusalem" and "Hallelu," were written and performed by theNelson brothers. After discussing the music's potential to reach otheryoung Jewish adults, the brothers enlisted Lefkowitz's help to cut ademo CD.
Initial performances were followed by more bookings, and the group'smembers realized they needed another performer to do the music justice.Dehner, as committed as the others to his Jewish heritage and to qualitymusic, became the fourth member, filling out the group's sound withtight harmonies and individualistic guitar stylings.V Yom Hadash got its start at international Jewish youth festivalssuch as United Synagogue Youth's annual convention, and at colleges anduniversities, including Harvard and Brown. Its debut CD, "When We WereYoung," was released in late 1997. The group's lush harmonies, resonantvocals and upbeat, modern sound quickly brought more bookings.
Beth Rosenwasser, education director at Congregation Beth Am inHouston, said the group is "hitting a market that up until now theJewish community has not been able to reach spiritually." She saw YomHadash perform in Columbus, Ohio, last summer.
"Kids were standing up and hollering and screaming because the kindof music that they do is Jewish music, but it's not folksy. This is thefirst group that has taken it to the next level, incorporating the stylethe kids are accustomed to," Rosenwasser said.
Yom Hadash members write some lyrics in Hebrew, some in English.
Songs such as "Bashanah Haba'ah," a traditional Israeli tune sung inHebrew, are reconfigured with different beats and rhythms. Others suchas "Take Me Back," written and performed in English, reflect the group'sreverence for Jewish tradition: "Take me back to long ago when peopleformed the history we now know. I wish that I was there to seetraditions passed along to me."
The style attracts Jewish young people who may feel distant anddislocated from Judaism, Josh Nelson said. "It's hard for kids to talkabout spirituality, and it's hard for them to discuss anything that isnot Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync," he said. "A lot of kids come (to aconcert) for the social aspect. We'll come on, and they'll feel thevibe."