The Music of the URJ Biennial: What to Expect This Year

by Josh Nelson

“The wave of a song carries the soul to heights which utterable meanings can never reach.”
(Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man’s Quest for God)

The URJ Biennial is just a month and a half away, and as always, it promises to be the very best place to experience many of the finest performers and composers in modern Jewish music. One of the hallmark principles of Reform Judaism is the freedom to choose which elements of our faith and traditions most resonate with us as individuals. With that freedom as a guiding principle, the Biennial offers a variety of worship and learning experiences, as well as a wide selection of musical choices. These diverse offerings reflect the similarly diverse range of Jews that attend this event. Jazz, rock, folk, classical, cantorial, pop, bluegrass, world beat, cabaret, and more – it’s all waiting for you in sunny California.

Who can you expect to hear from at the Biennial? Our line-up features a mix of familiar and new artists and performers. You’ll experience the Jewish musicians you already know and love (like Rick Recht, Peri Smilow, and Julie Silver), and you’ll find some new names to add to your regular rotation, too. Here’s a little more about just a few of the dozens of artists who will join us in San Diego:

  • Beloved Reform rocker Dan Nichols is at new creative heights in his career, continuing to artistically and professionally inspire this movement in an extraordinary way. He’s even got a new movie coming out, Road to Eden, which chronicles his Sukkot tour through the Southern United States. As always, the music he brings us is incredibly exciting and holy.
  • The supremely talented Neshama Carlebach is the daughter of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a Jewish musical legend – and she’s gone on to become a groundbreaking musician in her own right. Neshama has sold more than a million records throughout her career and just finished work on Soul Doctor, the Broadway musical about her father that closed this month. Her upcoming record, Soul Daughter, will feature music from the show.
  • Biennial first-timer Billy Jonas is a composer with a big Jewish soul who professes to make “funky folk music for the whole family.” In the past, he’s shared the stage with musical greats like Alison Krauss, Peter Yarrow, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ani DiFranco, Pete Seeger… and even Justin Bieber!
  • Aviva Chernick will perform both solo and with her Toronto-based band Jaffa Road, whose 2013 album Where the Light Gets In was nominated for a JUNO Award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards) for Best World Music Album. Their Middle Eastern-inflected pop music is complicated and groovy.
  • Chicago’s Cantor Arik Luck will perform his original musical revue, Moishe Oysher: The Master Singer of His People! in collaboration with actress and singer Sari Greenberg and special guests the Euphoria Brass Band. Previous productions have been mounted in Paris, New York, Chicago, and at Hava Nashira, the URJ’s annual song leading and music workshop hosted by the Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute.

You can also expect to hear from Grammy Award-winning composer Doug Cotler, funky singer-songwriter Max Jared, vocalist Elana Jagoda, blues artist Saul Kaye, jazz flutist Mattan Klein, YouTube sensation Michelle Citrin, and the fantastic Jewish bluegrass of Rocky Mountain Jewgrass.

At the URJ Biennial, there’s room for countless kinds of musical experiences. Whether you’re in the mood for serious, joyful, deep or laughter-filled music – or all of the above! – you’ll have the chance to choose your own musical soundtrack for what is sure to be an extraordinary convention.

Looking forward to learning, singing, and praying with you in San Diego!

Register now to join us at the URJ Biennial and introduce yourself to a world of Jewish music.

Josh Nelson is one of the most popular performers and producers in modern Jewish music. A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Josh’s music is celebrated and integrated into the repertoire of congregations, camps and communities around the world. Josh is the music director for the URJ Biennial convention, a faculty member of Hava Nashira, and an artist in residence for the JCC Maccabi Artsfest. Learn more at

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2 Responses to “The Music of the URJ Biennial: What to Expect This Year”

  1. avatar

    I am delighted to be one of the musicians performing at biennial this year. As well, I’ll be presenting a workshop with co-presenter Shira Kline called “Is God Invited To Your Tot Shabbat?”

    Biennial is really one of the highlights of my conference year. I look forward to being a part of moving our movement forward.

    ~Ellen Allard

  2. avatar

    I’m delighted to be joining this inspiring line up of musicians at the Biennial. Please join me for Yoga Shalom Thursday morning and at my BAM Stage set on Thursday at 3:15 when I will be joined by flutist Mattan Klein and special friends who recorded jazz covers of my music on my recently released CD Sowing Seeds.

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