Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Star of Davida Interviews Naomi Less

Don't forget to submit an entry to the Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest!

Although many people don’t realize it, Jewish women are actually pretty cool performers. Cass Elliot (born Ellen Cohen), Amy Winehouse, P!nk (her mother’s maiden name is Kugel), Paula Abdul, Regina Spektor…the list can go on and on. Within the religious sphere, there are certainly rocking Jewish women who are shattering gender stereotypes with their music while simultaneously connecting with God. One such woman is Naomi Less.

Less created Jewish Chicks Rock, an umbrella organization for the activities and programs she has developed to ensure that girls become “resilient, strong, and healthy individuals…[who can] shine and rock.” She explains that breaking gender stereotypes is so important to her because the Jewish community “needs to reflect all the voices in the community… if there are only male voices, you’re not actually getting the perspective of all Jewish people.” I could not agree with Less more. If we want to see the Jewish community flourish, it is imperative that everyone’s thoughts are heard and considered. Otherwise, the Jewish community is not truly inclusive, and people will feel alienated from a religion and society that has the potential to be a beautiful place for Jews of every persuasion.

Last summer, I attended Genesis at Brandeis University, an academic program for Jewish high school students. I cannot even begin to fully express how awesome Genesis, and its sister arts program BIMA, is; I mean it when I say that I literally had the best time of my life there. Less also had an extremely positive experience with Jewish summer camps. “Eight weeks wasn’t long enough for me,” she explains with a laugh. As a result, she does programs and workshops with camps to help kids develop their Jewish identities and relationship with their Creator. “The kids actually get the opportunity to process and understand what they’re experiencing so they can make meaning for themselves,” Less said. I think it’s so beautiful that she is giving campers the opportunity to find themselves and where they stand on the religious spectrum.

I was really interested by the fact that Less leads worship services, considering she is a lay person and performer, not a member of the clergy. “I want to facilitate an experience that allows people to grapple with meaning, to investigate in an immersive way the meaning of the prayers, and how it relates - or if it relates - to their lives, in accessible way,” she explained. Over the past few years, I have really begun to understand the importance of tefillah (prayer), and done my best to delve into the text of the tefillot so as to best connect to my Creator. However, all of this effort on my part would have been unnecessary if my Orthodox day school had instilled a love of tefillah in me during my nine years at the school. Before I really began to appreciate tefillah, I know that I would have greatly benefited from one of Less’ prayer services and workshops, as she makes the text accessible, understandable, and personal, thereby empowering the individual in his or her Judaism. “Our tradition, the Talmud, is about commentary, and that your voice is as important as an ancient voice,” she said.

One of the many causes close to Less’ heart is marriage equality and LGBT+ rights. “I’ve been a lover of Keshet [an organization for LGBT+ Jews] for many years,” she said. Less underscored the importance of including LGBT+ Jews as “equal participants…who are valued for their personhood, not defined by their sexuality.” Less developed the training initiative Addressing Evaded Issues in Jewish Education, which deals with common problems among teenagers, from academic pressure to body image to sexuality, that educators have difficulty handling properly. Less brought this initiative to Keshet, where it was so successful that the organization made it part of its training institute.

Less will actually be performing a livestreamed concert through Jewish Rock Radio benefiting Keshet tomorrow, February 6 at 8:30 PM. “When Jewish Rock Radio told me who the beneficiary would be for the concert I’m doing, I was thrilled because this is an organization that would’ve been on my shortlist. Keshet’s great at activating people and giving them concrete actions to do,” she said.

I feel safe saying that as an active Jew, dedicated performer, and social justice activist, Naomi Less is truly a Jewish chick who rocks.

Make sure to get your e-ticket to this online concert here

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