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Getting to know the rockin' rabbi

Valencia's Or Emet receives musical leadership

Posted: March 16, 2009 3:52 p.m.
Updated: March 16, 2009 11:55 a.m.
Rabbi Jay Levy of Or Emet in Valencia has a diverse musical background. Rabbi Jay Levy of Or Emet in Valencia has a diverse musical background.
Rabbi Jay Levy of Or Emet in Valencia has a diverse musical background.
He's known as the "Rock and Roll Rabbi" to many fans and reviewers, and to the congregation of Or Emet in Valencia, Rabbi Jay Levy has provided musical and uplifting leadership for nine years.

"(Rabbi Levy) is an incredibly inspiring and motivational speaker for our temple," said David Schneider of Or Emet. "It doesn't matter what religion you are - he touches everyone."

Since he was a young teen in New York, Rabbi Jay Levy remembers playing in studios and bands with well-known musicians. All the while he was writing his own music and setting himself up for an impressive career involving faith, music and family.
Levy's success

As a composer and author, Levy said he has written and worked with a variety of artists including Melba Moore, Buck Owens, Sister Sledge, Patty Loveless and many more. He's won awards such as the Recording Industry Association of America Gold and Platinum records and the Parent's Choice Gold Award.

His most recent recording, "To Life," for Warner/Rhino Records, is the first new recording of Jewish music for a major label in many years, according to information Levy provided.

Levy said his work has granted him the name "Rock and Roll Rabbi" by multiple reviewers but his musical talents are not kept hidden from Or Emet congregants.

"An incredible part of (his leadership) is his musicality and the fact he can turn prayers and songs into something incredible," said David Schneider or Or Emet.

"By delivering the message in that (musical) way, he's able to reach everyone in the congregation, from a child to an adult, because of the way he uses music to share prayers with them."

Beyond regularly leading services at Or Emet, Levy, of Sherman Oaks, recently completed a pilot of a game show about ethics, a show he co-wrote and produced. He's also the subject of a documentary in progress titled "The Rabbi and the Rocker."

"Ten years ago I met a man at a booth selling Turkish cymbals and drums," Levy said. "He told me, ‘I'm an amazing guitar player and play better than anyone here.'"

Levy didn't take the rocker's claims too seriously but 10 years later looked the man up on the Internet.

"Awesome John is a legend in Turkey," Levy said of the man he'd run into a decade earlier. "He's a huge performer there. ... We connected on the Internet and just connected in a powerful way."

Levy said Awesome John, who's originally from the United States, recently decided he wanted to bring his talents back to the U.S., and Levy wants to help him do so.

"This Muslim guitar player has become a brother with a Jewish guitar player in America," Levy said about their friendship and preface for the documentary.

The heart behind the success

Levy's life might be busy, but that's the way he prefers it.

"Every day you're given is a blessing. You can either waste the time or fill the time," Levy said. "I choose to spend my time doing things that are meaningful to me."

Levy spends much of his time bonding musically with his 15-year-old son, Asher.

"My wife, Donna, and I are so proud of our son. He's taken the things he loves, Jewish tradition and involvement, and he's a role model for kids in our congregation," Levy said.

Levy recalled a lyric he wrote as part of a Ray Charles and Mary J. Blige duet titled "It All Goes By So Fast."

"Just remember every moment and treat it like it might be your last, because it all goes by so fast," he said. "And that's really my philosophy."

Schneider feels Levy's leadership has lifted their congregation during tough economic times.

"He has a way of bringing us back up from that and letting us know we have so many wonderful things in this world," Schneider said. "He has a wonderful way of expressing that to people."

Levy said touching lives is the best part of what he does.

"The most rewarding thing is really the work I do as a rabbi," he said. "God's given me, for whatever reasons, some talents, and the greatest joy I have is when I can take my music and use it for something sacred."


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