Good times with a good man

Ellen Futterman, Editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light

BY ELLEN FUTTERMAN

Driving 2 ½ hours to Charleston, Mo. to bring Passover to Jewish prisoners at the Southeastern Correctional Facility earlier this year, Rabbi James Stone Goodman and I got to talking about a lot of things. One of those things was the rabbi’s love of music.

He told me how last Hanukkah he had the time of his life playing guitar and singing with the Brothers Lazaroff. Together, they performed a unique brand of traditional Klezmer and Americana music, “noise rock” and poetry. A second annual Hanukkah Hullabaloo is planned for Saturday Dec. 8 to kick off this year’s Festival of Lights.

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Goodman explained he had met David Lazaroff when he showed up for one of the rabbi’s concerts at Congregation Neve Shalom. Lazaroff was carrying a guitar and asked if he could sit in. 

“During a break, we connected that I had performed a wedding where the Lazaroff Brothers had played,” said Goodman. “(David) had an interest in the music of the rabbi/musician, Shlomo Carlebach, whose tunes I was featuring that night, so I taught him the songs and he gobbled them up.”

The next time Goodman heard from Lazaroff he asked if the rabbi was interested in joining a late night Hanukkah celebration at Off Broadway. They met the Tuesday before the gig with Lazaroff’s group, which includes his brother Jeff and three other members.

“We ate dinner together and then we made a rehearsal,” said Goodman. “We knew we had something going.”

The Friday night of that first Hanukkah performance, Goodman headed to Off Broadway after he finished conducting services. He recalled how he got on stage with about 10 musicians and began reading poetry he had written around the themes of the Hanukkah holiday. 

“There are many different versions of the lessons of the Hanukkah story and I wrote a different lesson into each night’s poem: the series is called ‘Eight Nights,’” said Goodman. “One of the guys on stage whispered to me if I had an ‘edgy’ piece. I told him yeah, I have a ninth poem for an imagined ninth night, and it’s real edgy.” 

As the rabbi and the Brothers took front and center, Lazaroff sisters-in-law Julie and Gayle made latkes at the back of the stage for the audience to sample. 

“It was an ascendant evening. The musicians folded into each other and we had a blast,” said Goodman. “The whole night was a major hoot. Latkes all around. Everyone loved it – the all-ages audience, the musicians.

“The night was so strong that the Brothers booked a studio to record something approximating what we put out on stage at Off Broadway,” he added.

In the space of two to three weeks, they recorded “Eight Nights,” a CD of nine original songs that Goodman describes as “nine pieces of poetry over deconstructed Jewish-Klezmer music.” 

“We all felt we had fallen into something wonderful and out of it we created a piece of art we could be proud of,” he said, noting that the $6,500 in proceeds from the concert and subsequent recording went to benefit the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

“It felt like a phenomenon,” he added. “I was along for the ride and exulting in every moment.”

The rabbi’s enthusiasm for this year’s show hasn’t waned. If anything, he’s more jazzed because he and the Brothers Lazaroff have been rehearsing hard, and the results are promising.

“We had one rehearsal for the first show. When I showed up at the gig, I didn’t know if I would sing my pieces or speak them because they’re basically poems” he said. “Now it’s like a well-rehearsed great thing we have going on. We’re definitely taking it to the next level.”

Another nice surprise for the rabbi, sprung on him by the Brothers: Proceeds from this year’s show will benefit Goodman’s One Life –Whole World Project of Neve Shalom: An organization dedicated to Prison Outreach, Attention to Mental Illness and Addiction Outreach.

The Brothers Lazaroff 2nd Annual Hanukkah Hullabaloo, featuring Rabbi James Stone Goodman along with Will Soll’s Klezmer Conspiracy and The Vaad, will take place at 9 p.m. Dec. 8 at Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. Advance tickets at $8 can be purchased at www.ticketweb.com as well as at Central Reform Congregation, Neve Shalom and Shaare Zedek.

Netflix for Jews

Still scratching your head over Hanukkah gifts? Here’s an idea for film buffs in the family – a subscription to the Jewish Film Club.

Every other month an award-winning Jewish film arrives for the recipient to keep and watch at home. Most of these films are new releases that haven’t yet been shown in theaters. Recent titles include “Free Men,” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival; the French family comedy, “The Day I Saw Your Heart,” featuring Melanie Laurent  (“Inglourious Basterds) and the critically-acclaimed German-Israeli documentary, “Hitler’s Children,” about the descendants of the Nazi’s inner circle (including Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler). 

The Jewish Film Club’s memberships are available in 6-month ($55 plus $3.25 per DVD shipping and handling) and 12-month ($95, free S&H) subscriptions. Find out more at www.jewishfilmclub.com.