At times, I couldn’t help but rub my eyes and wonder.
I wondered what my great-zaydie, Reb Oren Sauber, would’ve thought, watching all of the wild, hypnotic dancing, flailing arms and frenzied activities going on June 10 in the ornate sanctuary of his old shul, B’nai Israel on Lloyd Street.
I’d like to think that although he was a product of the old yeshiva world of his native Riga, Reb Oren, a melamed, or teacher, at B’nai Israel would’ve been impressed with the authentic kavanah (spiritual intention) and power of the music moving those folks in the pews.
I know I was.
Serving up a soulful and electrifying stew of sacred steel music at B’nai Israel were the Campbell Brothers, an award-winning, world-renowned gospel group out of Rush, N.Y. Their concert was the latest installment of the fabulous “Lombard & Lloyd: Creative Alliance at B’nai Israel” sacred music series.
Founded last fall, the series — which is co-sponsored by Jmore — is modeled loosely after the popular Sixth & I Historic Synagogue venue in Washington, D.C. Sixth & I offers a wide range of musical performances, entertainment, lectures and other programming, as well as worship services, at an historic shul in D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.
“Lombard & Lloyd” is the byproduct of a marriage between the historic Orthodox synagogue in East Baltimore and the Creative Alliance arts center in Highlandtown. More specifically, it’s the baby of B’nai Israel’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Etan Mintz, and Josh Kohn, performance director at the Creative Alliance. (Credit must also be given to Lynne Farbman, chair of B’nai Israel’s cultural committee, who conceived the idea for the series after attending a show at the Creative Alliance.)
“The notion of sacred music is that it transcends religions and denominations,” Rabbi Mintz told me last October while sitting in B’nai Israel’s social hall. “We want music that truly brings people together.” Added Kohn: “This is music searching to get to a higher place.”
Music searching to get to a higher place. That was certainly the case on Sunday afternoon.
Hundreds of people of all ages, races and backgrounds filled up B’nai Israel’s sanctuary of 336 seats (and a few were in the balcony as well) to hear the Campbell Brothers’ soaring, intoxicating sounds. With Darick Campbell on lap steel and Chuck Campbell on pedal steel, audience members could scarcely contain themselves as the five-man band performed such classics as the gospel chestnut “Wade in the Water” and Sam Cooke’s immortal “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Led by lead guitarist and vocalist Phil Campbell, the brothers also performed a stirring and transcendent 20-minute gospel version of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” (The Campbells were commissioned by the Lincoln Center’s “Out of Doors” series in 2014 to re-conceptualize the Coltrane classic in honor of its 50th anniversary, and they’ve performed their rendition all over the globe.)
The band also played Chuck and Phil Campbell’s thumping, crowd-pleasing “Hell No! Heaven Yes!” and the pulsating, deep-in-the-kishkes “Lord, I Just Want to Thank You.” At the end of the concert, the Campbells respectfully brought up on the bimah their longtime friend and local gospel legend Katie Jackson, who absolutely blew the crowd away with her powerful vocals reminiscent of Mahalia Jackson, the late, great queen of gospel.
At times throughout the 90-minute concert, I had to remind myself that I was actually in a shul and not an African-American church setting. The sense of fervor and devotion was so intense and joyful, one could not help but be moved by the experience. After all, how often do you go to synagogue and hear people from the pews yelling out words of encouragement (“Alright, sing it!!“) toward the bimah, or standing on their feet for most of the service and sweating up a storm like they just stepped out of a pool?
Some might frown when hearing of gospel music performed in a synagogue, but learning about other faiths and how they plug into the divine source can only make us better Jews and more committed to our own spirituality. That’s the genius and wonder of “Lombard & Lloyd,” and it should be fully supported and embraced by the larger Jewish community.
Kudos to Rabbi Mintz, Josh Kohn, Lynne Farbman, and the B’nai Israel and Creative Alliance teams for what they’re accomplishing with this amazing series. They’re building bridges of hope, fellowship and spiritual nourishment – to other communities and to ourselves.
If you get a chance, please catch an upcoming Lombard & Lloyd show. You won’t be disappointed.