Above: Nefesh Mountain is led by Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg (center) and includes Gary Oleyar (right) and Tim Kiah (left).

Atlanta’s synagogues have caught Jewgrass fever.

Back in April, Temple Kol Emeth hosted Nefesh Mountain, a nationally touring band led by Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg that blends bluegrass and old-time Appalachian music with Jewish themes and lyrics.

On Sept. 16, Ahavath Achim hosted Bluegrass Shabbat with local bluegrass duo the Cohen Brothers Band (David and Elie) and Sammy Rosenbaum. More than 200 people enjoyed barbecue, cocktails and bluegrass music.

Local bluegrass duo The Cohen Brothers Band performs with Sammy Rosenbaum at Bluegrass Shabbat Sept. 16.

Local bluegrass duo the Cohen Brothers Band performs with Sammy Rosenbaum at Bluegrass Shabbat Sept. 16. Watch a video from the performance here. 

This weekend, Nefesh Mountain is back in Atlanta and will sit in at Temple Beth Tikvah for Shabbat services at Sept. 23 and 24 and Selichot on Sept. 24.

Friday, Lindberg, Zasloff and their backing band (upright bassist Tim Kiah and fiddler Gary Oleyar) will lead a bluegrass Erev Shabbat service for the congregation at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, they’ll lead a Jewish bluegrass Shabbat service at 10 a.m., then close the day with a Selichot service at 9 p.m.

Nonmembers are welcome to join the Roswell congregation for all services this weekend with the band.

“We’ve been planning a weekend with Nefesh Mountian since we saw them perform at last year’s URJ Biennial,” Beth Tikvah Cantor Nancy Kassel said. “They have a really unique way of taking our Jewish prayers and interpreting them to bluegrass music. It’s very creative.”

Cantor Kassel added that the congregation is always looking for ways to enhance Shabbat, and bringing Nefesh Mountain to Atlanta is one way to make congregants more aware of the different types of Jewish music.

Nefesh Mountain performs at congregations across the country, but each service is unique, Zasloff said. The group normally collaborates with a cantor or rabbi to infuse bluegrass into the proceedings.

“It’s our goal to communicate a Jewish spirit and connection through this genre of music that we love,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be coming back to Atlanta and honored to be part of this amazing community.”

Listen: Nefesh Mountain, “I Want to Hear Somebody Pray”

Ahavath Achim engagement director Gabrielle Adler, who planned Bluegrass Shabbat at Ahavath Achim, said her goal was to reach out to members and nonmembers from a variety of backgrounds.

“With the daily stress of work, school, family and social obligations, sometimes we need to just take a step back and relax,” she said. “Bluegrass Shabbat offered a space for folks of all ages and religious observances to come together for an evening of Southern-style cooking, bluegrass music and an easy-to-follow musical service.”

Missed AA’s Bluegrass Shabbat and can’t make it to Beth Tikvah this weekend? On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Nefesh Mountain will return to Temple Kol Emeth to lead a youth and teen service as well as perform a few songs during the main service at the congregation.

The Cohen Brothers Band will perform bluegrass music at the Marcus JCC as part of its Sukkot Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 23.


David R. Cohen is the guitarist for the Cohen Brothers Band and associate editor for the Atlanta Jewish Times.