Cantor Ilan Davidson of Temple Beth El and band The Moody Jews breaks down his music gigs and the Hanukkah celebration.
Were there any major musical influences you had growing up that drove you to pick up music?
I grew up in a very musical family. Records were always playing—from Mario Lanza and Pavarotti to Sinatra and soundtracks of musicals, to my own love of Queen, Styx and whatever the popular flavor of the day was. I was eclectic. That said, I came from a long line of cantors in my family—four or five generations long—and had the tutelage of Philip Moddel, which ultimately drove me to my calling and career as a cantor.
What were the seminal moments that led you to pursue being a cantor?
I think anybody who says that they always wanted to commit to a life of service to the community would be pulling the wool over your eyes. That said, I was trained starting at the age of 5 to take my place in the line of my family. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Like any rebellious teen, I ran away from this to pursue a career in opera and musical theatre during college, only to realize that I didn’t particularly like who I had to be to succeed in that business. Humility couldn’t allow my ego to be the SUPER ego it had to be to succeed, and I searched my soul to find my calling. Music, teaching, children, family, community and giving back to society were the things that fulfilled me in my life … in short, everything I get to be as a cantor of a wonderfully caring, supportive and welcoming community.
What’s the best part about working with kids ?
Kids are a clean palette. They absorb all that you bring to them. And even when it might not be their cup of tea, if you bring it with enthusiasm and excitement, it tends to catch on.
How did The Moody Jews come to be?
One day, while we were taking the youth choir on tour about 16 years ago, a couple of dads who were chaperoning came to me and asked if they could play with the kids. One of them had been the bass player in the ‘70s and ‘80s for a group called Raven. The other had been a platinum recording drummer back in the day in Serbia. And the third was a really talented lead guitarist who played with pick-up bands all over the place. The Moody Jews were born that night. Some of the faces have changed over the years, but the love for the kids and rock ‘n’ roll has remained a constant. We even brought out our own CD, In A Hanukkah Mood, about 10 years ago.
I grew up in a Jew-“ish” household. Would love to know what Hanukkah traditions you grew up.
I grew up with the typical traditions and celebrations in my family, surrounding Hanukkah: lighting candles, singing songs, eating latkes, giving and receiving gifts. We were your typical “Norman Rockwell” Jewish family. My wife, Jodi, and I try to imbue that same joy in our two girls and extended family with nightly rituals. That said, I also try to teach folks the meaning of Hanukkah, rededicating oneself to community and recommitting one’s relationship to the temple, or whatever you want to use to describe your spiritual center. The warmness of the season is something we ALL share, no matter which winter holiday we celebrate, so why not share our celebrations with each other and celebrate the miracles in our lives?
How did you become involved with Terranea’s menorah ceremony?
As community outreach, I created relationships with the management at Terranea from the moment they opened. One of those relationships was with Marissa Edwards, their activities director. When we talked about having the youth choir and The Moody Jews come and play in the lobby with a candle lighting, we never imagined how it would grow. About 100 people showed up the first year, and it’s been growing ever since. From Congresswoman Hahn to Councilman Joe Buscaino, our little program has had far-reaching fingers into the community and accolades to match.The candles will be lit by myself and Rabbi Briskin, including any dignitaries who may be present. And afterward, the kids program will be offered complimentary to any families who may want to enjoy dinner at any of the restaurants on property. It has become a food and beverage dream, mid-week at the resort.
Come see Ilan, the youth choir and The Moody Jews perform at Terranea beginning December 6. For more, visit terranea.com
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