Punk Torah Engages Crowd

[Archived from August 28, 2009]

[by Michelle Jones]

When Patrick A., of the punk band Can!!Can spoke at Adath Jeshurun on the evening of August 14 he didn’t challenge any assumptions of what punk rockers look like. In a black t-shirt, torn jeans and sporting several tattoos Patrick looked the part of a punk musician. However, with a kippah on his head and tzitzit in plain view he did challenge ideas of what an observant Jew looks like.

In addition to his role as lead singer of a punk band, Patrick is also the founder of a Jewish outreach initiative called Punk Torah (punktorah.com) and it was in that role that Patrick was invited to Adath Jeshurun.

A large, diverse crowd ranging from middle schoolers to senior citizens enjoyed Kabbalat Shabbat services and a dinner of kosher New York style pizza before listening to Patrick detail his path to spirituality and balancing Jewish observance with a modern musician’s lifestyle. He discussed his love of Torah, his love of the Jewish people and his belief that there is no force in the world more powerful or more revolutionary than Judaism.

Patrick engaged the crowd with a spirited Q&A that included questions about Torah, observing kashrut, Talmudic debates and jokes about ZZ Top and Green Day. Throughout the entire evening he was an energetic and passionate speaker whose love of Judaism was apparent.

Also apparent was his dedication to Jewish outreach in new and different ways. Punk Torah’s primary outreach mechanism is a weekly video d’var Torah uploaded to YouTube though Patrick also makes good use of other social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. Through those communication channels, he connects and communicates with young Jews throughout the United States.

Different techniques for outreach and targeting different audiences for outreach were major components of Patrick’s message. He encouraged individual Jews as well as congregations to reach out to Jews of color, gay and lesbian Jews, converts and young Jews who don’t fit into the “young professional” category. Making synagogues and Jewish activities as comfortable for those outsider Jews as they are for more traditional Jews is one Punk Torah’s goals.

Another primary Punk Torah goal is to make Torah knowledge and study as accessible and easy to relate to as possible. Near the end of the program Patrick asked for questions specifically related to Torah and a young attendee said he didn’t know any Torah.

Nudged to share what he thought was the single most important concept in the Torah Patrick honed in on the notion that every human has the opportunity to choose holiness. He reminded the audience that each day brings new opportunities for choosing holiness and ethical living.

Today will you choose to eat a cheeseburger or choose to wear tzitzit and kippah? Will you choose to give tzedakah? Will you choose to engage in tikkun olam? Will you choose to study the weekly parsha? Will you choose to welcome a newcomer to your shul? According to Patrick A., making those choices a regular part of your lifestyle makes you part of the Punk Torah family, and he welcomes you.

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