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Adam on Arts & Culture - February

Love, wine, and song

Matis Adam image

Love is in the air this month, and appropriately, we're in a cultural month of the "one love" spirit of reggae and, Israeli musical fusion. By virtue of proximity to Purim, we can add confusion to that list, with belated latkes served alongside Hamentashen, and things being turned on their head, reversals, and surprise endings.


The formerly-Hasidic-yet-still-Jewishly-influenced pop singer took the music world by storm in recent years with original reggae and dancehall music drawing heavily on Jewish texts and spiritual themes. His decision earlier this year to eschew his beard and Hasidic garb dismayed many of his early fans, but Matisyahu's physical and theological evolution may have been beneficial to his music. In advance of his recent release, Spark Seeker, Matisyahu spent a year with producer Kool Kojak (Nicki Minaj, Ke$ha) before the two jetted off to Israel to record with notable performers based there, including Zohar Fresco, Hasidic saxophone wunderkind Daniel Zamir, Ravid Kahalani (Yemen Blues) and newly Orthodox rapper Shyne. This concert will be a good chance to see the now famous singer without the trappings, the beard or Hasidic garb. For better or worse, this upcoming performance will be similarly stripped down and acoustic, and all about the music. Feb 6. 7:30 p.m. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. All ages. Tickets $35-55.

2/12 Latke-Hamantash Debate

More of a cultural phenomenon than anything else, the always entertaining University of Chicago Latke-Hamantash Debate was finally pushed off the Latke's home turf in December to a pre-Purim date. The debate has been a campus tradition since 1946. Fans of Jon Stewart and similarly intellectual comedy should prepare to cast their lots (pun intended) for their favorite. All ages and free, but arrive early. Feb. 12, 7 p.m. at Mandel Hall on the University of Chicago campus.

The Idan Raichel Project

Israel's most renowned composer and recording artist of the last decade performs two back-to-back appearances this month in Chicago. See page/related story for a more in-depth profile of this important Israeli recording artist. Feb. 17 and 18, 8 p.m. at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, Chicago. All ages. Tickets $40-$50.

Everything is Illuminated

Next Theatre debuts a stage adaptation of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, which followed a young man's travels through the Ukranian countryside. Armed only with an aging photograph, he seeks an elderly woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. His is accompanied in his journey by his local driver and translator, Alex, whose command of English is only slightly worse than his driving skills. Joining them are Alex's grandfather, who is haunted by his own experiences in the war; and a loveable dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Fans of the author, who appeared at Spertus Institute last month, will appreciate the play's adaptation of the book by Simon Block. Director Devon de Mayo is a rising name on the Chicago theatre scene, and the show features Bill Norris, Ann Whitney, HG Ward, with Brad Smith as Jonathan and Alex Goodrich as Alex on a journey into a past that is unexpected and unforgettable. February 21 - March 31,  at the Next Theatre in Evanston.

 Reggae, Rastas, and Rabbis

Does that listing about Matisyahu still have you wondering about the connection between Jamaica's famed musical export, with its imagery of Zion, Lions of Judah, and Stars of David, and the Jewish experience? I'll be giving a presentation on the subject at Or Shalom in Vernon Hills. If you're not sure what Reggae even is, or what Jamaica and Jews have in common, or what Jewish reggae sounds like, emancipate yourself from mental slavery, as Bob Marley sang, and come hear it all explained. The presentation will include audio and video samples of contemporary Jewish reggae that go beyond Matisyahu to show some truly creative Jewish musical fusion. Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Or Shalom, Vernon Hills. All ages and free.  

For more tickets and information on these and other Jewish arts, music and culture events around Chicago, visit KFAR Jewish Arts Center's online community cultural calendar:

Adam Davis is the founder and executive director of KFAR Jewish Arts Center, a leading presenter and advocate of contemporary Jewish arts, music, and culture programs in and around Chicago. For future arts suggestions and feedback, e-mail Adam at

Also notable this month:

Klezmer Brunch -  The weekly buffet brunch at City Winery is accompanied by performances Chicago's best Klezmer musicians. Every Sunday, 10am - 1pm.

The Whipping Man - The critically acclaimed production of Matt Lopez's play surrounding the story of a unique Passover Seder in Confederate Virginia continues its run. Through Feb. 18 at Northlight Theatre, Skokie.

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