Rapping Rabbi Spits Jewish Rhymes

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“I didn’t know Judaism could be so progressive and interesting. At no point did I think I’m going to be a rabbi,” Michael Perice said.

A Jew that can freestyle and spit fire is often unheard of, but Michael Perice, a student rabbi at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, has done it since he was a teenager.
Perice, 30, a native of Cherry Hill, is the youth educator at Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne.
His family belonged to Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill when he was a child, but everything changed when he was 10. In 1994, the shul’s former rabbi, Fred Neulander, was convicted of hiring two congregants to kill his wife, Carol.
“At 11- or 12-years-old I’m really rebellious, and I’m thinking these guys are fake and phonies,” Perice said referring to rabbis. “I want nothing to do with [Judaism]. The rabbi was a great public speaker, and nobody knew he was a sociopath.”
Neulander was sentenced to 30 years in jail, while the two men he hired were released from prison in 2014. According to Perice, Neulander still proclaims he is innocent.
Perice had his Bar Mitzvah, but afterward was mostly a secular Jew from ages 13 to 24. The only time he went to shul was when he took his grandmother.
“I always identified as a Jew,” he said. “Culturally, I had no religious affiliation.”
In 2007 he graduated from Temple University with a degree in political science, then worked for several political campaigns. Eventually he realized that it wasn’t for him.
After leaving the political world, Perice began to work for his family’s funeral home, Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael-Sacks. That’s where he met many rabbis, including his first Reconstructionist one, Linda Holtzman.
“What I found interesting is that Reconstructionist rabbis have a profound impact on the Jewish community as a whole,” Perice said. “I’m here meeting these amazing people who are talking about Judaism in a way that I never heard. I didn’t know Judaism could be so progressive and interesting. At no point did I think I’m going to be a rabbi.”
That changed while working at the funeral home in 2013.
There, he encountered a grieving elderly woman. He sat and prayed with her. It was that feeling of spirituality that pushed him toward the path of becoming a rabbi.
“To me, Judaism is about people, relationships and community,” he said.
Perice enrolled at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2014, and last year served as the education director at Congregation Beth Tikvah in Marlton, N.J.
But when he crossed the bridge and joined Beth David, students were exposed to his rhymes. On one of his first days there, he played the game “two truths and a lie” with the kids where, of course, they thought the lie was that he could rap.
Perice showed them they were wrong.
“People look at me, they don’t see it, and then they hear it and they’re, like, ‘whoa’,” he said.
Perice grew up in the ‘90s when hip-hop was big — led by Tupac, Notorious B.I.G. and others — and he would often rap battle his friends at Cherry Hill East High School. Still, he never imagined using rap as part of his profession.
He added that often when he mentions his favorite old-school rappers, such as KRS-One, the kids have no idea who he is talking about.
“I really feel like music helps us tap into all these emotions we have,” Perice said. “Hip-hop, much like the Torah, does not always have to be taken literally.”
He comes up with a new rap every week and has performed many of them for the parents and clergy.
“His rapping definitely gets the students’ attention and, while they’re listening, he passes on info and commentary on Jewish practice,” said Jessi Roemer, the cantor at Beth David Reform.
Perice has created raps for Passover, Chanukah, Purim and many other occasions.
“I like to think my Judaism shows in my raps,” he said. “I’m trying to bring this whole new light to Judaism. I’m trying to be a rabbi in a different way. One way of doing that is through using hip hop.”
Here’s an example of Perice’s work, with the opening lyrics from “Haman the lame man.”
“There once was a hand to the king named Haman,
he was a lame man,
he said hey man, bend a knee to me.
But wise old Mordecai,
had the type of pride that money cannot buy,
he said I will not tell a lie;
I will not bend that knee.
I only show RESPECT to blessed be he!
Haman thought, oh Mordecai you are through,
for I am powerful and you are but a Jew,
I will have my due and plot to kill you and your people too.
But what Haman couldn’t have known,
was Mordecai had a relative close to the throne.
Her name was Esther the queen,
not some lean mean fighting machine,
but a beauty to behold, intelligent to boot,
with enough elegance and grace that put the king in pursuit.” 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0747

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