When the word “festival” is said among today’s youth, one’s mind often wanders to music-tilted events such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, SXSW or Lollapalooza.
Throw the word “Jewish” in front of that notion, and the images can get scrambled into something less familiar, like a temple’s cantor leading youth services with a rendition of “Pharaoh Pharaoh” set to the tune of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie.”
However, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, co-founder and director of the eighth annual Jewlicious Festival, has something more contemporary in mind for his eclectic gathering, which kicks off Friday at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. “It’s not your grandmother’s Jewish festival,” he said.
Having previously featured such musicians such as Matisyahu and Fool’s Gold and athletes such as former World Boxing Assn. champion Yuri Foreman, Jewlicious has attracted some notable Jewish names in sports and entertainment, all part of a program geared largely toward a younger audience of “college students, post-college students and young professionals,” Bookstein said.
“We have elements of Jewish summer camp, TED and a music festival all wrapped into one,” Bookstein said. “It’s a real celebration, and I like to say it’s a weekend unlike any other in Jewish history.”
The “Executive Rabbi” for the events promotion organization JConnectLA and a blogger who has contributed to the Huffington Post, Bookstein created the Jewlicious Festival along with his wife and David Abitbol, founder of the blog Jewlicious.com.
“The festival started as a collaboration between Jewlicious and a local Jewish organization in Long Beach called Long Beach Hillel in 2005,” Bookstein said. “Since then [the festival] has grown considerably and became its own organization producing two festivals a year, one in the wintertime in Long Beach and one in the summertime in Simi Valley.”
This year’s Jewlicious Festival will be a new experience as the festival changes locations from its longtime home at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach to the Queen Mary. With the historic ocean liner providing the backdrop for the three-day festival, Jewlicious will focus on the various aspects of Jewish culture, which is steeped heavily in history and tradition.
“Jewish culture has many facets,” Bookstein said. “There’s an intellectual component, the musical component, the artistic component. We try to engage all parts of Jewish culture for this celebration, and it’s a pretty successful formula that has been improved upon every year.”
Filling these various components will be this year’s performers, featuring comedians Todd Barry and Moshe Kasher, former “Blossom” and “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik as well as local ska-reggae band the Aggrolites and four-time Jewlicious performers Moshav.
“The artists who perform there are from all over the map,” explained Duvid Swirsky, acoustic guitarist and vocalist for Moshav, which first came together in Israel. “You’ll get everything from a really hipster comedian to stuff that’s more traditional, so it’s always really cool.”
As a band that borrows from genres across the musical spectrum including reggae, folk, world, rock and hip-hop, Moshav embodies the diversity present within the festival’s various participants and activities.
“Someone once described our music to me as Neil Young takes an Egyptian vacation, but really I’d say it’s all over the place,” Swirsky said. “It’s basically a big dance party.”
While dancing certainly is among the planned activities at Jewlicious, attendees can also expect lower-key attractions that include meditation and Jewish yoga; talks on philosophy, politics and the Occupy movement; and a range of Shabbat services beginning Friday night.
Scheduled to perform Saturday, Swirsky has his own goals in mind for the festival. “I just hope to be inspired … then I obviously hope to do the same thing to whoever is listening to our music,” he said. “I look forward to finding something I didn’t expect.”