Rabbi David Lazar and Deanna Bogart.

For some, music is scripture. For others, scripture is music.

Rabbi David Lazar is one of those others. For the past few years, Lazar—who can often be found jamming on his saxophone—has been producing an event that benefits Or Hamidbar, a nonprofit group that celebrates Jewish spirituality. That event, called Jews Do the Blues, will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Cascade Lounge inside the Agua Caliente Palm Springs. Deanna Bogart and her band will be performing alongside Lazar.

During a recent phone interview, Lazar described Or Hamidbar (orhamidbar.org) as “a new kind of a synagogue with no building, and no membership, per se. It’s just for folks to come together to study, to pray, and to do social-justice work together—with a Jewish flavor to it.”

Lazar said that he doesn’t consider himself a great musician—but he knows how to play the blues.

“I get together with a very excellent musician who is a Jewish woman named Deanna Bogart, and Deanna has her local musicians Bob Gross on bass, Bob Hamilton on guitar and banjo, and Jeff Olson on drums and percussion. I’m joined by our daughter Gabi Lazar, who has got an enormous voice. Rabbi Sam Feldman, an old friend and colleague of mine, is coming in from Santa Monica, and this year, Rabbi Andrew Bentley, one of my colleagues here in the desert, will be joining us for a few numbers.

“The idea is to have a theme every year, and this year, the theme is Jews who have composed famous blues tunes, or bluesy tunes, or have performed those tunes, so we will be coming up with a song list of all sorts, from pure blues … to rock ’n’ roll to maybe a little bit of jazz. We’re doing it this year at the Cascade Lounge under the auspices of Adam Levy’s Desert Blues Revival; he’s been very, very generous in allowing us to make this into our annual fundraiser.”

Lazar is more than just your average rabbi with a love for music. Every few years, he performs in Paris with the band Les Rockin’ Rabbis, a group of—you guessed it—musical rabbis. Lazar explained how he first combined religion and music on a whim.

“The first year I was here, the congregation I was with wanted to do a rabbinic installation, an event where a new clergy person comes into the position,” he said. “Usually, those events have long speeches, and there’s a dinner with people sitting around tables. I thought to myself, ‘Let’s do something fun!’ Because I so love to play, and I don’t get a chance to play with other folks often, I said, ‘Let’s do a concert instead.’ People have really loved the events; they’ve built a whole following here in the desert with people, most of them not Jewish, who have become close friends.”

Meeting Deanna Bogart allowed Lazar to become more familiar with the desert’s music community.

“When I got out here, I found out there was a Jewish woman who was producing an event on the rooftop of the parking garage at the mall in Palm Desert,” Lazar said. “I went to support it, because she was a young Jewish woman. … I wanted to sit down and have a salad at a table where there was room, so I said, ‘May I join you folks?’ And one guy said, ‘You can if you tell us your story.’ Of course, I’m a rabbi, and that’s what I do, so I sat down, and I started to tell them I was a farmer in the Gaza Strip, then I got married and lived in Israel for most of my life. I was born in the United States, and then I was a Chief Rabbi in Sweden. They said, ‘That’s amazing! What a story!’ And I said, ‘It gets even better.’ I told them I play in a band called Les Rockin’ Rabbis. … They invited me to this event called Jam on the Rocks at their friend’s house up on the mountain, and that’s how I met Deanna and the whole group, and many musicians out here in the Coachella Valley.”

A previous Jews Do the Blues Event.

Understanding different ways of ministering allowed Lazar to see the full potential of the Jews Do the Blues event.

“There are different ways to be a rabbi,” said Lazar. “In the church world, you have this concept called pub ministry. I have a friend in Austin, Texas, an Episcopal priest, who had this pub ministry that met in these beer-garden kind of places. They did some study together, some conversation together, and even some music together. To me, that’s what this event is about, and my friendship with Deanna is a very spiritual friendship. Her spiritual practice is music; mine is prayer and study of Jewish texts, and going out and fixing the world. When we come together, it’s just this joyful conversation.

“The passion is to play the music together with these folks to make it mean something beyond just the blues tune or the jazz or the rock—whatever it is—for it to mean something in a very Jewish way.”

Jews Do the Blues will take place at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Cascade Lounge inside the Agua Caliente Palm Springs, 401 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25 (individual) to $450 (table). For tickets or more information, visit www.eventspalmsprings.com/blues.

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Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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