The 2005 Jewish Music Awards
The first Jewish Music Awards was founded this year by Michael Dorf, the festival’s producer, in order “to show respect and be proud of our artists. Things have changed so much from when Bob Dylan changed his name.” Dorf explained that he did not expect to it perfect on this first attempt, but sought “to plant a flag in the sand.”
The winners were determined by twenty-five journalists selected by Dorf to list their favorite bands in each category. The top four picked were then resent to the same journalists to select their favorite.
Contrary to common perception, Heeb Magazine was not part of the JM Awards program generally; Heeb’s involvement was limited to the Lifetime Achievement Award to Joey Ramone. Never the less, Joey’s presence and his impending award at the end of the show was the theme throughout the night. Both surviving members of the Ramones were in attendance, as were his mother and brother.
The crowd at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where the Awards took place, did not completely fill the space. Many of the nominated artists were not there, and many of those were not even represented. But Dorf’s words about the “flag in the sand” rang true, and once the bands started playing, indeed it felt like a Music Awards show.
Divahn, who started in Austin, Texas, played a slow, minor version of “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” with full viola and cello solos, of course. Golem, surely one of the most energetic punk-klezmer bands out there (perhaps the most?) paid tribute to punk rock with a song about Odessa, explaining that it was known as a city of “prostitutes, criminals, and general lowlifes.” What I Like About Jew did a Simon and Gurfunkel version of “I Want to Be Sedated,” followed up by a deliciously hateful (but very funny hateful) song, “Jews For Jesus,” fantasizing about the terrible things they would do to prove the “turncoats” wrong.
In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award, the following were given:

  • Best New Klezmer Band – Rashanim
  • Bet Hip Hop – Edan
  • The Heritage Award – Debbie Friedman (There were no other contenders for this award)
  • Best Blend of Jazz and Heritage – Masada. John Zorn was surprisingly not there, but Dorf accepted the award for him. He had told Zorn of his nomination, and Dorf asserted that Zorn had told him, “Who’s to say if Armstrong is better than Ellington? It’s bullshit! Either you dig it or you don’t!” Dorf claimed Zorn continued to curse at him over the nomination, but asserted that, “I’m sure he appreciates it. Actually, no, he doesn’t.”
  • Best Danceable – Oi Va Voi
  • Best Singer/Songwriter – Keren Ann
  • Best Middle Eastern Band – Divahn
  • Best New Approach – Matisyahu
  • Best Jewish Punk – Golem

And then it was time for Joey “Jeffrey Hyman” Ramone’s Lifetime Achievment Award.
Heeb selected this one, and Editor-in-Chief Josh Neuman explained Heeb’s decision to Jewschool.
“Heeb has always been more interested in the marginally Jewish, the tangentially Jewish, the Jewish by side-glance. Whether it is our magazine, our national storytelling series or our annual film festival, our interest is in exploring the murky space between Jewish culture and pop culture. The point is that those who followed his career or were fans of his always understood a kind of Jewish subtext flowing through his work, from his childhood growing up in Forest Hills as Jeffrey Hyman to his recasting the rock and roll icon as a nebbishy outsider to Bonzo Goes to Bitburg, in which he laments Reagen’s laying of the wreath at Bitgurg cemetery—where Nazi war criminals were buried—“As I watched it on TV, somehow it really bothered me.”
Neuman rejects a strict definition of a “Jewish” artist.
“I think we’re discovering now is when you call someone a Jewish musician it can mean a lot of different things, it can mean that they perform traditional Jewish music, that they perform traditional Jewish music with and infusion of modern sensibilities, it can mean that their music has no clear relationship with traditional Jewish music but they at times explore their Jewishness as artists.”
George Tabb presented the award, and noted that Joey and his brother Mitchell would attend High Holiday services with their Uncle Henry in Brighton Beach. He reminded the audience of Joey’s “4th Rule,” to Eat Kosher Salami, a reference from “Commando” on the “Leave Home” album.
Charlotte Lecher (Joey’s Mom) accepted the award, and assured the audience that, “Joey would have really approved of the whole thing.”
Full Disclosure – David Kelsey is the Ad Manager for Heeb. His views do not necessarily represent those of the magazine.
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