AJMF6 changed the sound and soul of Judaism in Atlanta
By Benjamin Kweskin
“AJMF is one of my favorite Jewish events during the year and this was the best one yet. What a great addition to Jewish Atlanta!” praised Amy Price, long-time Jewish music fan.
The sixth annual Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (AJMF) wrapped up on Monday after 11 days, leaving concertgoers, congregants and sponsors gleaming from its success.
The largest-yet Spring festival featured music from local and international artists, reflecting Atlanta’s growing, diverse Jewish community.
“The sheer number of musicians, sponsors, supporters and audience members far eclipsed anything we’ve done in the past,” said AJMF Founder and Executive Director Russell Gottschalk.
This year’s festival was sponsored by over one hundred individuals and organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the Marcus Foundation, Fulton County Arts and Culture, and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
For the first time, AJMF expanded its borders to Austin, Texas where the festival proudly supported and financed several AJMF artists at a SXSW festival showcase.
“One of our goals for AJMF6 and beyond is to step onto the national stage. With our presence this year at SXSW we are showing the nation that Atlanta is a major player in Jewish music,” AJMF President Bram Bessoff said.
AJMF6 set out to affiliate with as many local congregations as possible, making them official venues of the Spring Festival.
“With the involvement of pioneering congregations like The Temple, Temple Emanu-el, Ahavath Achim, Temple Beth Tikvah & Congregation Beth Shalom, we are finally creating the network of support we need to establish Atlanta as a Jewish Cultural Hub of the South,” Bessoff said.
AJMF6 opened with an energetic performance that had the crowd hopping by Canadian Ska/Rock Band Jump Babylon and closed with an emotional and powerful Holocaust Remembrance Concert in partnership with the Kennesaw State University (KSU) Music Department, Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, the Breman Museum and The Temple.
Rising star and Georgia native singer Hannah Zale chose to debut her new album “Fortress” during AJMF6.
“Although I do write secular music,” said Zale, “it’s all through a very Jewish lens and from a very Jewish place, which is my heart. I’m very prideful of my Judaism.”
Certainly, the festival’s biggest highlight was its Main Event spotlighting two captivating performances by Israeli artists Diwan Saz and Yael Deckelbaum.
Playing to a large crowd of several hundred, Diwan Saz performed traditional Middle Eastern music with a beautiful Havdalah interlude led by band member and Iraqi-Kurdish rabbi, David Menachem.
Deckelbaum and her band were equally energetic, eliciting an encore; blending pop, rock, reggae, folk, and even operatic skills. Deckelbaum engaged the crowd a great deal during the surprising and unique performance.
“Frankly, I loved Diwan Saz the most!” exclaimed Nina Rubin. “They were thrilling in vocals, harmonies, instruments and kavannah (spiritual intent). Yael Deckelbaum’s voice was impressive with stunning control and range.”
Ethan Davidson, former AJMF board chair, played guitar with Tony Levitas and the 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra during the Atlanta Hunger Walk at Turner Field, where thousands got their
first taste of Jewish Music while helping the Atlanta Food Bank.
“AJMF has become ingrained in Atlanta’s cultural fabric,” said Davidson. “This festival is offering experiences no other festival can provide.”
Many Atlanta area synagogues utilized the AJMF to excite and engage congregants.
A festival highlight for many was a spiritually moving Shabbat service featuring ancient chanting derived from both Eastern and Western traditions called Kirtan. For the third consecutive year, Congregation Bet Haverim and Ahavath Achim Synagogues united to include this unique and powerful addition in the AJMF lineup.
“The best part about this year’s festival was to see AJMF’s overall growth, our increased breadth and continuing diversity,” said Gottschalk. “Seeing different Jewish organizations and communities coming together for AJMF is really special and makes me optimistic for the future of Jewish Atlanta.”