Jewish rocker Rick Recht sings and shares his passions

Jewish rock musician Rick Recht is the founder of Jewish Rock Radio and co-founder of Songleader Boot Camp. Photo courtesy of Rick Recht.

By Megan Rubenstein, Junior, Parkway North High School

Rick Recht is a household name in the St. Louis Jewish community. 

The Jewish rock musician, a St. Louis native, has had an impact on Jewish teens and the Jewish community for many years. Recht is founder of Jewish Rock Radio, co-founder of Songleader Boot Camp, and is well known for his summer camp concerts and Shabbat Alive services.

Growing up, Recht was strongly connected to his Jewish identity. He attended Traditional Congregation and in high school was involved with the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) through Congregation Shaare Emeth. 

However, he never planned on having a career in Jewish music; he was originally in a rock band.

“I was initially inspired to write Jewish music because I was touring in a secular band, playing concerts at night in clubs and colleges,” Recht said. “During the day, I studied gender relations, ways to break down bias and discrimination, and other types of social action. I was incredibly moved when I learned that these passions of mine were all core Jewish values.  

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“All of the initial songs I wrote were about these values and topics, and through writing Jewish music, I found a way to express myself and learn from the wisdom of our tradition.”

Recht’s journey as a Jewish musician began on the day he gave  the woman who would become his wife her first guitar lesson. Elisa grew up with a strong Jewish identity, attending Jewish day school and summer camp. Rick said she helped him see that his secular music could easily be turned into Jewish music, as it held the same values. Elisa later persuaded Rick to become the song leader at her camp.

“Leading daily tefillah (prayer), song sessions and classes for 250 kids, side-by-side with Elisa, I experienced a metamorphic transformation that summer,” Recht said. “I had never witnessed anything like it. I had never gone to Jewish camp. Standing in the middle of over 250 kids singing at the top of their lungs with such explosive joy was a completely foreign, exhilarating and life-altering experience for me.”

After that summer, Recht’s passion for Jewish music became a big part of his life. He says it is not only about the music, but the connection it helped him make with others.

“While I love writing music and playing my guitar, my greatest joy comes from singing with people, helping to create a sense of connection, community and Jewish identity,” Recht said.

The Recht family attends United Hebrew Congregation, where he serves as the artist-in-residence. Recht has spent many years at UH, working as a song leader and music teacher at the preschool, summer camp and religious school.

“My work as artist-in-residence at United Hebrew has always served as a laboratory for my development as a Jew, a Jewish educator, Jewish songwriter/performer, and leader in the Jewish community,” Recht said. “Developing and leading the Teen Team gave me an amazing opportunity to focus on creating a suite of song-leading and general leadership techniques for teaching teens to be powerful and effective leaders in the Jewish community.”

In the early 2000s, Recht developed the Teen Team, a group of teenagers at UH who often led services alongside him. Today, these teens are young adults, yet they still have fond memories of working with their mentor. 

Former Teen Team member Elyse Pickle, now married and living in Memphis, believes that her experience shaped her Jewish identity. 

“In retrospect, it gave me the opportunity that not many Jewish teens had at the time,” she said. “Singing in front of the congregation and countless solos at Shabbat Alive helped my self-confidence immensely. It was also a way for me to stay connected with United Hebrew and continue to build relationships there after confirmation.”

Pickle’s favorite moment was when she had the opportunity to record tracks for Recht’s 2005 album “Tear Down the Walls,” which combined his passions for Jewish music and social justice.

“We collaborated with local teens on a track and was a great day full of music and community,” Pickle said.

Recht’s involvement with UH is only a small portion of the work he does with Jewish youth. He has built relationships with Jewish children and teenagers across the country, as he regularly tours Jewish summer camps each year. 

“The explosive energy, the joy and the overt pride in celebrating Judaism is absolutely tangible at Jewish summer camps across North America,” Recht said. “I see this expression from Jewish youth during my concerts, and it gives me such faith and hope that our Jewish future with be exciting, meaningful, relevant and cool.”

Recht also has built relationships with many Jewish professionals as founder of Jewish Rock Radio and co-founder of Songleader Boot Camp with Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of engagement and adult programs at the Jewish Community Center. 

“The power of music in Jewish life to be a vehicle for inspiring, teaching and engaging Jewish souls is a core value that both Rick and I feel is paramount,” Horwitz said. “So when Rick came to me with the idea to start a new kind of leadership training program, I immediately agreed to work with him to co-found SLBC here at the J. I knew Rick well before we started SLBC, and I was blessed to be able to join forces with him and Elisa on this project.”

The Jewish professionals that Recht has worked with all praise his professionalism and passion.

“Rick is truly a visionary, but also grounded in reality and practice,” Horwitz said. “He has high standards of excellence and always seeks to exceed expectations. Rick has been a tremendous partner and is not just able to ‘talk the talk’ but also ‘walk the walk.’ He is a true mensch.”

Recht’s passion for Jewish music became a prominent part of his life as a young adult, but he was also greatly affected in high school by the power of Jewish music and the community it builds.

“In NFTY, I formed deep bonds with Jewish friends from all over the U.S.,” he said. “These are still some of my best friends today. NFTY was where I experienced the neshamah, the soul of my Judaism, for the first time through music, candlelight and lots of affection from friends. In youth group, I experienced a passionate love for my Jewish community, my friends, my Judaism and the music that pervaded every NFTY experience.” 

Recht has inspired many young people to pursue their love of  Jewish music. Not only does he teach the words and the music, but he focuses on teaching young song leaders “the ability to engage and create super interactive experiences with Jewish audiences by maximizing the use of body language.” 

He believes that connecting with the audience is the most effective form of communication.

“Being a powerful and effective Jewish musician is actually about being a Jewish educator who uses music as an effective vehicle for inspiring and educating others to feel a sense of pride and Jewish connection,” Recht said.