I was 13 on September 11, 2001. As a Jewish kid in private schools, that mean that my weekends for the next two years were dominated by bat and bar mitzvahs. We'd go to synagogue in the morning, the kid would give a half-hearted speech about the values of Judaism, and then the rabbi would give a sermon. It goes without saying that, on the Upper East Side, these congregations were fairly politically conservative.
It would not be unfair to say that two years of my life were dominated by the Cuban Shuffle, catered food and, even more toxic, unabashed pro-Zionist Islamophobia spewing forth from the mouths of people who positioned themselves as moral authorities. My twin sister and I found ourselves, three months after the attacks, delivering speeches about learning from Jacob and Esau (somebody thought it would be cute to give the twins a reading about twins...who couldn't fucking stand each other?) and drawing a distinction between the hatred of those who committed the attacks and the vast majority of Muslim people, a nuance that we had not heard from a single adult's mouth in those two years. As I delivered my speech on the bima (dais), I found myself losing my faith. If Judaism's ethical system centered around a place I had never been to and that I couldn't even trace my ancestry to, then I was out. There was also, of course, Judaism's stance towards homosexuality (which at the time was "depends on who you ask" and now is "go for it!" unless you're Orthodox.) But, man, if the Shondes had been in my life when I was a kid, they would have had just as much airplay as Sleater-Kinney and I probably would be spending Saturday mornings down at Kolot in Park Slope.
For the uninitiated, "shonde" is Yiddish for disgrace (as in your mom telling you "Don't dye your hair green! It'll be a shonde for the neighbors!") It's a great name for Jewish punk band, but Brighton, at least, is not at all about shame. A live show about the Shondes is what any religious experience should be about: celebrating the potential for transformation, liberation, and joy. Louise Solomon's voice is strident, reminiscent of a young Ani diFranco minus the angst. While some songs deal explicitly with Jewish themes, like "True North"'s reminder that
When we [they?] say
Next year in Jerusalem
We say every day is revolution
A direct reference to the conclusion of the Passover seder (the hope that next year, we will be able to celebrate Passover in our "birthright" homeland), I see this as a reminder that Judaism is often oriented to a utopian time that may or may not come (the coming of the messiah), but it really should be (more) focused on making the world better around us now. However, most of the music on here, like "Everything Good," are more general reminders of how great life actually is, and that it's worth sticking around for.
The Shondes -- Official, Facebook, Purchase on Bandcamp