Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Matisyahu Story

An Interpretation: Well, by now, Abq Jew suspects, you've all heard last week's news from Santa Fe:

Matisyahu is Too Jewish for Meow Wolf!

It turns out that Matisyahu is also too Jewish for Tucson - but that's for AZ Jews to deal with. Right here, we've got Abq Jew's snapshot - not comprehensive and probably not up-to-date - of the City Different situation.


First, an introduction. For those who are of a certain age and who, therefore, may not be entirely conversant with the phenomenon of Matisyahu, Wikipedia tells us:

Matthew Paul Miller (born June 30, 1979), known by his stage name Matisyahu (מתיסיהו‎), is an American reggae singer, rapper, beatboxer, and alternative rock musician.

He was brought up a Reconstructionist Jew and attended Hebrew school at Bet Am Shalom, a synagogue in White Plains, New York. 

From 2001 through July 2007, Matisyahu was affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, whose rabbi officiated at his wedding in 2004. 

However, as of July 17, 2007, he told the Miami New Times in an interview that he no longer "necessarily" identifies with the Lubavitch movement. 

On December 13, 2011, after a session with his therapist, Matisyahu walked into a Supercuts on the Upper West Side in Manhattan and shaved his beard. 

STL Jewish Light further explains:

After shaving his beard, Matisyahu began to attend a Hasidic shul in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, associated with the Karlin sect.

“The place I feel most comfortable davening is by the Hasidim who scream,” he said. “I stepped into a Karlin shul, where they’re literally pissed off and screaming at God and everybody is singing their own melody. And it’s very beautiful.”

These days, Matisyahu is still religious — and he’s looking for a new synagogue to pray at near his home in Monsey, a town in New York’s Rockland County.

But enough background . . . . 


What happened?

The short version: Two of Matisyahu's planned concerts - one in Santa Fe, one in Tucson - were cancelled, more or less at the last minute, for reasons having to do with pro-Palestinian protests planned for both venues.

JTA Logo

JTA's Philissa Cramer provides an excellent short synopsis. Which begins:

2 Matisyahu concerts in the Southwest are canceled after pro-Palestinian activists protest

(JTA) — Two concerts by Matisyahu, the American Jewish singer famous for his peace anthem “One Day,” have been canceled after pro-Palestinian protesters targeted venues where he was set to perform.

Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico, canceled one concert on Wednesday. The Rialto Theatre in Tucson, Arizona, canceled a second on Thursday, after first saying it would not do so.

Both venues cited staffing shortages and safety concerns. Both had been targeted by protesters who said Matisyahu’s record of performing for Israeli soldiers and pro-Israel groups in the United States should disqualify him from appearing.

Matisyahu said in a statement posted to Instagram that he had offered to pay for additional staffing and security at the Rialto show but had been rebuffed.

“They do this because they are either antisemitic or have confused their empathy for the Palestinian people with hatred for someone like me who builds empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians,” he wrote about those who had sought to cancel his show. 

“It truly is a sad day when dialogue with those you disagree with is abandoned for hate-mongering and silencing artistic expression.”

He will instead play a free show in Tucson for hundreds of people.

The concerts’ cancelation adds to a growing number of incidents in which Jewish and pro-Israel athletes and celebrities have had appearances scuttled, or threatened to be canceled, amid fierce criticism by pro-Palestinian activists, more than four months into the Israel-Hamas war that began Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel.

The Santa Fe Reporter's Alex De Vore provides a local view:

Meow Wolf Calls Off Matisyahu Concert 

Activists say they joined workers to push for the last-minute cancellation over artist’s message on Israel-Gaza war

Following pressure from local activists and a last-minute staff shortage, Santa Fe arts corporation and music venue Meow Wolf canceled a Valentine’s Day show with reggae artist Matisyahu on Tuesday evening just before the proverbial curtain was set to rise.

“Yesterday, we canceled a concert at the House of Eternal Return,” reads a statement Meow Wolf Vice President of Public Relations Kati Murphy issued to SFR. “Two hours before the show was set to begin, we found ourselves without adequate staff to safely manage the sold out crowd. Meow Wolf will always prioritize the safety of our employees and our guests. We are in the process of refunding ticket holders.”

Members of Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine, Santa Fe Jews for a Free Palestine, the Santa Fe Democratic Socialists of America, Showing Up For Racial Justice in Northern New Mexico and the Santa Fe Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine say they asked Meow Wolf to call off the concert and planned a protest at the venue because Matisyahu has been an outspoken supporter of the Israeli campaign in Gaza.

KRQE News13

But KRQE News13's Jordan Honeycutt offers a much more robust view of what happened:

Hip hop artist says Meow Wolf show canceled over support for Israel

Hip hop fans were disappointed in Santa Fe Wednesday when a sold-out musical performance was canceled two hours before show time. Matisyahu was scheduled to perform at Meow Wolf until the company pulled the plug on the show. The hip-hop artist has been vocal about his support of Israel during the war with Palestine [sic].

Local pro-Palestinian groups activist groups are claiming that their pressure on Meow Wolf is the reason for the cancellation.

Jewish Responses

Matisyahu (reported by KRQE) released this statement to his fans:

To my fans: My fans and I should have played a sold out show at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe last night and we were excited for tonight’s show at the Rialto Theater in Tucson. Instead, the staff at these venues refused to come to work, forcing cancellations. 

Without our permission or approval, the venue in Santa Fe misinformed our fans cancelling the show due to “security concerns,” when the only concern was a group of staff unwilling to work my show.

Tonight in Tucson, we have offered to supplement their staff shortages on our own dime, but to no avail. They do this because they are either anti-Semititc or have confused their empathy for the Palestinian people with hatred for some who holds empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians.

It is truly a sad day when dialogue with those you disagree with is abandoned for hate mongering and silencing artistic expression. 

My band and I will keep moving forward always! 

We will perform songs that celebrate unity, peace, and perseverance, and we will connect with our fans through the sacredness of shared music which has always brought people together. Unfortunately, it seems that more and more people are choosing to cast their lot with actions that tear people apart.

Tearing down posters of kidnapped children does not bring peace. Chanting genocidal slogans at Jews does not bring peace. Preventing fans of all ethnic and religious backgrounds from singing together in Santa Fe or Tucson does not bring peace. In fact, it does the opposite. 

It may make some people feel good to express anger publicly in hopes that it will obscure the hypocrisy of us Americans living on actual colonized land taken through an actual genocide of Native Americans. But I refuse to succumb to such destructive behavior which helps nobody and only fuels more anger.

So to my fans in Santa Fe and Tucson, I am sorry you were denied a show. I love you all. My band and I will be back. We will not respond to hate with more hate. We will be together again. 

We will make music together again. 

We will sing together again One Day soon . . . .

Mayor Alan Webber

And Santa Fe's Mayor Alan Webber (reported by KRQE) released this statement:

There is a significant difference between protesting against the policies of the Netanyahu government in Gaza and shutting down the performance of a Jewish-American artist in Santa Fe. 

There’s no excuse for antisemitism, Islamophobia, bigotry, bias, racism, or intolerance, not here, not now, not ever. 

The war in Israel and Gaza is a humanitarian tragedy, and we should all join in the call for the safe return of all hostages and an end to the killing. We need to see peace in the Middle East.

Rabbi Levertov

Rabbi Berel Levertov of the Santa Fe Chabad Jewish Center posted:

Wednesday evening, Jewish Reggae Singer Matisyahu was set to hold a sold-out concert at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe.

After the sound-check, without discussing with him, Meow Wolf canceled the concert. The reason? Their antisemitic staff walked out and would not staff the concert because Matisyahu is Jewish and supports Israel!

Pure antisemitism in Santa Fe.

This was not a last-minute decision, this was a planned attack, carefully orchestrated to hurt Jews. Plain and simple.

So far Meow Wolf has been silent about the incident other than notify the concert-goers that the concert is canceled, and tickets will be refunded. It's a shame.

If you had tickets to the concert, we would like to chat with you and discuss what we can do . . . .

Rabbi Neil Amswych of Santa Fe's Temple Beth Shalom sent this letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican (it was published), and later posted it on Facebook.

Since December, I have been sharing a presentation on the Israel-Hamas War with faith communities in Santa Fe, a presentation that is critical of leadership on both sides, that is pro-peace by being both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. 

If you would like me to bring it to your community or organization, please reach out to Temple Beth Shalom. 

The more I share the presentation, the more I encounter a very small but disturbingly vocal number of Santa Feans who have taken to emailing venues in advance to try to get my presentation cancelled. 

To such people, truth and peace-making is not important anymore, only cancelling any opinion that is divergent of their own. I now personally face the absurd accusations of being not only Islamophobic and a genocide denier but of even being pro-genocide, almost totally from people who have never even heard my presentation! 

I used to think that cancel culture didn’t really exist until they aimed it at me, a liberal Jew who dares to express anything informed, complex and nuanced, instead of inaccurate, ignorant and oversimplistic soundbites. 

And now those who mistakenly imagine these perverse accusations to be moral have gone further by forcing the cancellation of a Jewish performer visiting our city while using exactly the same lies and slurs about him as they do about me, merely because of his support for one side in a war against a vicious terrorist organization that would gladly kill every single one of the people who cancelled him if they had the opportunity.

To the minority on the far left who have now gone full circle and inadvertently met up with the far right’s intolerance of divergent opinions, especially Jewish ones that don’t fit their narrative, I have some advice. If you don’t like somebody’s politics or religion, don’t give them your money - it’s that simple. 

But if you try to stop others from doing so, they will resent not just you but also your cause. The online anger outside your bubble for what you did at Meow Wolf was palpable. 

You did nothing to bring peace to the world, you just boycotted a Jew for his beliefs, ruined the evening of four hundred people and tarnished the reputation of Meow Wolf.

To the decent people of Santa Fe who still value dialogue and diversity, I believe that we need to work together to combat the effects of the intolerance of these disproportionately loud and deliberately divisive individuals in our community. 

As Karl Popper famously wrote, for a tolerant society to exist, we need to be intolerant of the intolerant. 

After this successful boycott, one person wrote online that they were ashamed of Santa Fe. Don’t be. Fight for Santa Fe. 

Work with the city, with educational establishments, with businesses, with faith communities and with organizations to ensure that they are prepared for the inevitable future boycotts and disruptions by those who seek to silence diversity. 

Openly and loudly support those individuals, organizations and communities who work for peace not by drowning out difference but by celebrating it. Ensure that local discourse, in print and online, focuses on those who represent the majority who get on quietly with the difficult work of making peace, instead of those who just shout the loudest. 

Help those who know little about the subject not learn from angry soundbites but from informed, rational discourse backed up by facts. Elevate the communities and organizations that value nuance and balance and who seek a just and mutual peace. 

Together, in response to this intolerance, we must create a more tolerant and diverse Santa Fe.

Zach Benjamin

Zach Benjamin, former Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico (JFNM) and currently a member of the Steering Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Coalition of New Mexico (JCRC-NM), posted this on his Facebook page:

Let us be abundantly clear and, frankly, honest with ourselves. 
We have reached a point where Jewish artists and their patrons are being intimidated, threatened, and silenced for one reason, and one reason only: because they are Jewish (and/or consume art created by Jews). 
We live at a point in the history of Western civilization where any perceived bias against any individual or group due to race, culture, national origin, or personal identity is met with fervent, aggressive opposition and condemnation. 
It is utterly imperative, then, that this same visceral reaction to prejudice extend to anti-Jewish hate. 
And yet, hatred of Jews--which by every measure is a lethal and ancient scourge--continues to be explained and excused by thought leaders and institutions that actively and abjectly reject every other form of bias. 
Enough is enough. 
Your personal perspectives on Israeli geopolitics do not excuse, explain, or justify the persecution or silencing of Jewish voices. 
Oppose hatred, bias, and prejudice against Jews. Period.

The Jewish Community Relations Coalition of New Mexico (JCRC NM) noted that

On February 14th, musical artist, Matisyahu, was scheduled to perform at Meow Wolf, to a sold out crowd. Just 2 hours before the performance the audience received an email that the show was cancelled, with reasons that ranged from 'security issues,' 'safety, potential conflict, worker resistance to the artist. 

It basically boiled down to Meow Wolf workers unwilling to show up to manage the show. 

The JCRC-NM later sent out a Press Release, a version of which was also sent to Meow Wolf executives and the Mayor of Santa Fe, Alan Webber.

We are writing on behalf of the New Mexico Jewish Community Relations Coalition (JCRC), a broad coalition of 25 non-profit religious, educational, advocacy, cultural, and assistance organizations representing the diverse perspectives of the Jewish community in our state, including many in Santa Fe. 

Collectively the organizations in our coalition represent thousands of Jews in New Mexico. 

Like most New Mexicans, we understand that the arts are the very thread from which our state’s rich, dynamic cultural fabric is woven, and so we were saddened to learn of the decision to forego Matisyahu’s February 14 concert at Meow Wolf due to security concerns. 

Furthermore, the arts represent one of the most important sectors of New Mexico’s economy, and so it is doubly critical that New Mexico, and Santa Fe in particular, remain a nurturing environment for the arts and a place that enables them to flourish.

Thirty days ago, anti-Israel protestors attempted to shout down Governor Lujan Grisham during the State of the State message to members of the state legislature. They did not stop the work of the legislature. It is unfortunate that some of those same elements were able to shut down the voice of a Jewish musician and deprive the community of his artistry.  

Let us be clear: Matisyahu, an American artist, became a target only because of his identity as a Jew with an affinity toward Israel.  This kind of targeting cannot be normalized.

As Jews and as New Mexicans, we believe deeply in freedom of artistic expression, and we applaud Meow Wolf for its seminal role in advancing the arts in Santa Fe and across the Mountain West. We also understand that the conditions that led to the cancellation of last night’s concert were beyond Meow Wolf’s immediate control. 

However, we fear that this incident nonetheless sets a dangerous precedent that may deprive local audiences of exposure to the important, transformative work of artists from a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. 

We are also concerned that the performance’s cancellation may implicitly discourage other artists from seeking to bring their talents to our community, which may now be inaccurately characterized as one that welcomes them only selectively.

Santa Fe, its businesses and civic leaders must remain fully committed to free artistic expression without regard for any artist’s cultural, religious, or national affiliation. The city’s character, culture, and economy depend on it remaining a place where the arts thrive unabated, and where the right to artistic freedom is secure. 

To limit artistic expression is to threaten the very economic and cultural foundation on which the city stands, and so our leaders must take every measure to protect artistic freedom.

The JCRC would be pleased to work with you in any way necessary to guard against further attacks on free artistic expression, and we would welcome a dialog to learn how to do so most effectively. 

Meanwhile, Matisyahu has taken to social media to express his intent to return to Santa Fe to perform, and we certainly encourage Meow Wolf to provide a venue through which to expose the community to his artistic talents.

And now . . . 

Abq Jew

 What does Abq Jew think?

Abq Jew applauds and supports the reasonable and rational, polite and politically correct, civil and civilized efforts of the JCRC-NM (in particular) and others to have a reasonable and rational, polite and politically correct, civil and civilized discussion of all the events surrounding the Matisyahu boycott with those who are at best indifferent to Jewish concerns and at worst rooting for The Jews to just go away.

But - especially after all the sleepless nights since October 7th - Abq Jew is extremely tired of and, frankly, antagonistic toward those worldly forces who want him to apologize for who he is.

Abq Jew models his approach, therefore, on that which Mary Poppins first enunciated in the 1964 eponymous film.

Mary Poppins

Am Israel Chai

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My husband and I had tickets for the Santa Fe show. I am still furious about this. I doubt I'll ever get to see Matisyahu. And I blame those young, ignorant, antisemitism for exercising their censorship powers.