Rabbi Josh Warshawsky Brings the Beat to Har Zion Temple

Rabbi Josh Warshawsky plays guitar and sings into a microphone at a synagogue
Rabbi Josh Warshawsky performs at synagogues across the country. This weekend, he’ll be playing at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley. (Photo by Aleya Schwartz)

The Cantors Assembly’s SongSwap is a periodical video conference giving Conservative cantors a chance to share new melodies, and when Hazzan Eliot Vogel of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley tuned in last spring, he was enthralled with Rabbi Josh Warshawsky’s music.

“I was so taken with him, his personality, how genuine he was, I thought what a great idea it would be to bring him (to Har Zion),” Vogel said.

For the past few years, Warshawsky, 29, has performed and led services at synagogues nationwide.

At 6 p.m. on Oct. 25, he’ll lead a musical Erev Shabbat service at Har Zion followed by dinner with song and teaching. The next day he’ll lead a morning service titled “Niggun Halev: Melody of the Heart” at 9:30 a.m. and perform a farewell concert at 7:30 p.m. All events are open to the community.

“It’s a musical experience, but at the same time we’re talking about what the words mean and how they can have an impact on our lives now. These words written thousands of years ago are still relevant for us to this day,” Warshawsky said. “Whether you’ve been to synagogue every week or whether you haven’t been in a long time, this is an experience which will hopefully move you and help you connect to the people around you, and the people in your community and to what’s in your own heart.”

Warshawsky grew up in Deerfield, Illinois, in a Conservative home. As a boy at Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, he first developed a passion for Jewish music, Hebrew and scripture. At age 10 he picked up the guitar and incorporated it into his music.

Warshawsky attended Rochelle Zell Jewish High School and later the joint program at Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in religion, talmud and rabbinics. After graduation, he took a job teaching music at a Hebrew school in New Jersey.

He further developed his passion for prayer and Jewish music to the point where he wanted to expand his education. At first, the plan was to return to New York for rabbinical school, but Warshawsky ended up in Los Angeles after being offered a position as an artist-in-residence and music specialist at Temple Beth Am and Pressman Academy. He loved it so much that he stayed longer than planned, attending the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

It was there that Warshawsky started doing artist-in-residence weekends, the type of program he’s putting on at Har Zion. He said many synagogues are hungry for new music and forms of spirituality and connection but can be isolated to those concepts and innovations.

Last year, he traveled to 16 synagogues and 10 day schools, visiting places in Nebraska, North Carolina and New York. Locally, he visited Adath Israel on the Main Line on four occasions. Warshawsky was ordained in May and now tours full time. Later this year, he will make appearances at Perelman Jewish Day School, Adath Israel and Temple Sinai in Dresher.

In 2013, he released his first album of original Jewish melodies. Two years later came “Mah Rabu,” with his latest album, “Chaverai Nevarech,” released last year. Warshawsky recorded each track of the new album at The Pico Union Project in Los Angeles over three days. Each session was filmed, with the videos put online for public viewing.

“Really, what you see is what we created in that moment,” Warshawsky said. “The whole experience was meant to create something you could see and say, ‘I want to create that in my own community.’ Here you can see what that looks like.”

Vogel looks forward to Warshawsky’s upcoming performance, saying his music speaks on a spiritual level and is catchy.

“I find that Josh, as a product of the Conservative movement, brings a great deal of appeal and ability to engage people from different age groups while still having a respect and sensitivity for tradition,” Vogel said. “He’s all about the music for the sense of community.”

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