Jewbilee! is a highly entertaining holiday alternative to Christmas Eve for Jewish people and non-Jewish alike. This new "holiday" began seven years ago when local multi-faceted creative artist/musician/DJ/journalist Danny Sigelman, living in Austin, Texas at the time, was inspired to create something for Jewish people to do on Christmas Eve. When Sigelman moved to Minneapolis, he and his friend, Jewish hip-hop artist Yoni Reinhardt, co-launched Jewbilee!, held over the years at 331 Club, Grumpy's Downtown, and the Kitty Cat Klub. Now returning for its sixth year, it's being held this Saturday, December 24, at the 7th St. Entry.
This year, people can hang out in the Depot and then see live music, comedy, and DJs and eat Chinese food in the Entry. The lineup is bigger than ever before at this non-denominational event, which typically draws 400-500 people. Musical performers include Mike 2600 King, Kids Like Us, Kin featuring Bobby Z of the Revolution and his three sons, Adam Levy, "Rabbi" Jon Davis and His Klezmer Orchestra (Sigelman himself), and a stellar stand-up comedy lineup including David Harris, Laura Thorne, Dan Mogol, and Pat Susmilch.
This party is for Jewish people and non-Jewish people looking for fun and camaraderie on Christmas Eve -- "everyone is welcome to join our annual desolation party," says Sigelman. I had the opportunity to interview Sigelman (who also contributes to Gimme Noise) about Jewbilee! at one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants, Quang.
Tell me how you were inspired to begin Jewbilee?
I was living in Austin, Texas. It was Christmas time, and I saw there was a Jewish party going on at this bar. It sparked my curiosity. I didn't know that many Jews in Texas, but it was packed. I met a lot of folks there. It seemed like a fun, easy thing to do, playing on the idea that Jewish people don't always have something to do, feel a little isolated during the holidays. We can't really relate to the Christmas thing very much. It's about making something for the community.
Over the past six years we've done it, its taken on a life of its own. If you think in terms of how holidays evolve . . . we talk tongue-in-chic about how we'll create our own holiday that'll eclipse Christmas - its all for fun. Its also become something that people want to go to, to escape their families or because they don't know about the Jewish community and they want to see what kind of fun is happening outside of the traditional Christmas stuff.
It's really about half and half, the Jewish people that are part of the Jewish community, and non-Jews that show up. It's not exclusive. I'm not super-religious or anything. I mean culturally I identify myself as being Jewish, and I relate to a lot of the Jewish community and stuff people do. This is just one of the ways that I get involved in that respect.
Through the years it's been at different places and people get excited about it coming up. Last year when we didn't have it, a lot of people were disappointed. A couple places have been asking me to have it. The break last year was because it fell on a Friday night, a night Jewish people traditionally don't work. We work with Jewish Community Action, who observes the Sabbath and such, so it made sense.
Would you talk about the benefit and fundraising aspects?
This is the first year we branched out a little more with different organizations. It's always been important to me that it becomes a benefit somehow, since it's a big part of the Jewish tradition. This year we've opened to a couple more organizations. Traditionally it was Jewish Community Action. They do social justice work and now through them we are working with Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition and Minnesotans United for All Families.
Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition helps people who have foreclosed homes, stay in their homes. Minnesota United for All Families works with fighting the anti-gay marriage agenda. The Jewish Community Action has been doing this and we are making that more visible this year. This is the first year we'll have a cover at the Jewbilee. That's going for a good cause. I want people to understand its not only to have fun at a party but also to have a purpose beyond the non-purpose. What I do personally and creatively -- I like things to be ambiguous but with an intentional underlying purpose. So, in that respect this is another creative entity of mine that's a little more defined and as time goes on will become even more defined. Originally it was just something to do on Christmas Eve. I like the idea of it becoming something people recognize as important on Christmas Eve and non-denominational, yet rooted in the Jewish tradition of heightening existence, They call it "Tikkun Olam" which means "to heal the world" -- that's about as much as I do as far as being Jewish.
Is this the first year you've had comedy?
We've had comedy a little each year, but this will be the first we are having as much as we're having. This is probably the most music we've had too. It runs like a variety show in a lot of ways. I like to think of it as like the old Catskills . . . Jewish comedians and variety show. You get the right people involved and they're willing and able to do about anything. That's the exciting part of it. To be able to run into Bobby Z downtown and ask him to do this and he's like, "Yeah! Sure!" That's pretty cool! My whole thing in general is: minimum effort creates a greater reward. So if you get a lot of people putting in a little bit, you can collectively create something big and not put too much stress on any one person doing everything. It's been great working with JCA. I take care of the entertainment because that's more my background. They work more on the social work aspects that I want to be more involved with and want to be part of this. Every time we've done it, everyone has been impressed by what their role was in it and what came about with their involvement.
Would you talk about some of the people who are involved or sponsoring this, such as Dan Schlissel of Stand Up! Records?
I've known Dan forever, and he got excited when I told him about what I was doing one of the years. He's been into it every year. He helps pay for some of it. Stand Up! Records is his label and they sponsor it. We have free Chinese food every year, which is sort of the traditional thing Jewish people do every year, because that's like all there is to do on Christmas Eve, get Chinese food and go to a movie. We kind of try to play that up. He helps do the design and promotional stuff. Its great to have him along. Collectively everybody works together. Its great. I sometimes only see these people once a year. Each year we get incrementally more involved with more people and different things.
Please tell us more about Carin Mrotz?
I think Carin was at one of the first ones and asked me about participating, or someone referred me to her. I like what they do. They don't have such a religious bent, but more social justice. Their philosophy is the whole "Jews working more in the greater community to do good things." That's very much in line with where I wanted this to go. They actually work within the Jewish community. It's great she has all those connections and motivates the base of the Jewish community that's interested in this event every year.
Now it's in the Entry. That the biggest place you've had it right? How'd that come to be?
When I came back from China, it was one of the places I was most excited about going to, that and First Avenue. Nate Kranz had a great time at Jewbilee! one year at the 331 Club, and thought it would be cool to do it in the Mainroom. So I guess we're edging up to that in some ways. I like the idea of having it in the Entry and the Depot. People can go back and forth . . .
Before when it was in a big room, it was sometimes harder to get attention because there wasn't like a show that you'd watch, and I wanted it to become more of a variety show that would be the center of attention.
I like the old road show, variety show thing where a bunch of the artists are doing parts of their thing and there are DJ's and comedians intermixed. It's an old showbiz sort of thing. That is how I've always wanted this to go.
Tell us more about some of the artists?
Mike 2600 is one of people's more favorite party DJs. He's really excited about it every year. I've always wanted Adam Levy involved. He's able to do it this year. For me personally, I've always wanted a Klezmer band and haven't really been able to find one that stays up past 7 p.m. So this year I asked Jon Davis to play with me as a Klezmer band. It wont' be your great-grandfather's Klesmer band, I think.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
I like to think musicians and artists have a responsibility to themselves to always create something greater than themselves. I just think the best art transcends the personalities of the people who created it. As much as you want to maintain your own identity, there's something to be said about creating something bigger than yourself that you didn't know was possible. That's what I try to do, with everything I do. There's a lot of trial and error in that, but its always the most gratifying thing when something you didn't expect comes of it. I'm more the type to always relish uncertainty and create something that I didn't know I was capable of.
Have there been any surprises or things that amazed you with Jewbilee?
I think just the fact that people show up and that people I don't necessarily know find a lot of joy in it, that aren't even Jewish. You can be cynical about the holidays, or you can make your own.
A portion of the proceeds from this event will benefit Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, Minnesotans United for All Families and Jewish Community Action. JEWBILEE! Is Sponsored by Indie Jews, Jewish Community Action, and Stand Up! Records and TCJewfolk.com.
JEWBILEE! takes place this Saturday, December 24, at the 7th St. Entry. 18+. $3 adv/$3 door. 9 p.m.