Moshiach Oi: Punk With an Authentic Jewish Focus
I wandered into the basement to find Yishai on guitar and Mitch on bass. Paul, the drummer, was M.I.A.—how punk rock. Linda Miriam (who provides “occasional screeching,” according to the band’s MySpace page) was in the Holy Land—how Jewish. After Menashe Yaakov came down, he shouted, “Guess who’s coming to dinner!”
“Moshiach! Moshiach! Moshiach!” screamed Yishai. “Oi! Oi! Oi! Oi! Oi!” This began "Moshiach Oi," the only song I heard Moshiach Oi play.
“We scream ‘oi’ a lot,” explained Yishai. “Punks always scream ‘oi.’ … Jews also always scream ‘oi.’”
We went upstairs for the interview. Menashe Yaakov offered me a beer, and I was a bit surprised. He had originally told me that Moshiach Oi was “perhaps the world's first hardcore vegan straight-edge Orthodox Jewish punk band.” But that’s no longer the best way to describe the band. At the time (in August), Yishai was the only member. Yishai is straight-edge and vegan, but those things don’t have much to do with Moshiach Oi. Moshiach Oi has one very clear, straightforward focus: Torah hardcore.
I’ve written about Jewish punk bands with lots of comic shtick. Some feature punks singing about Jewish themes and come across as gimmicky. For Moshiach Oi, however, punk rock is a means of expression for religious concepts. Song topics include observing Shabbos, cautioning against loshon hara, learning Torah, and praying for the moshiach (messiah), in addition to renditions of the Shema and “Eliyahu Hanavi.” The band is a cousin of various other local Jewish musical acts that the members also play in—including the aforementioned Mr. Shabbos Show, which features a list of references with no fewer than 17 rabbis on its Web site. These guys are bona fide Jews—many of them frum. Torah teachings are their paint, and in the case of Moshiach Oi, punk is their canvas.
“That’s what makes us different: We’re actually into Torah and Hashem—it’s not a novelty for us,” said Yishai. “I’m using punk rock as an outlet to express these things.”
The best proof that Moshiach Oi isn’t a copycat of Jewish punk predecessors is that Yishai didn’t know anything about the others when he founded the band. Menashe Yaakov heard Yidcore at a Judaica store years ago and even told me about a “weird Eastern European punk” act I’d never heard of. But Yishai’s influences were chiefly ’80s hardcore—including Bad Brains, who were positive and sang about G-d, he noted. Perhaps naysayers to punk’s power as a religious pursuit shouldn’t be so close-minded.
Moshiach Oi is still young. Their only show with their full lineup drew three fans. Their upcoming 1 a.m. show should draw a large crowd of people who are out and about late on a Saturday, they hope. And the band members were optimistic that there’s a market for Torah hardcore; Menashe Yaakov said there’s “a minority that’s not being spoken for” yet.
I don’t think Moshiach Oi pins its hopes on commercial success. You can’t care about record sales when you don’t have a CD yet, and one of the three fans at the debut show did express interest in buying an album. It doesn’t matter if you play big punk shows if you can perform and have a blast at a Chabad wedding in Crown Heights, as some of Moshiach Oi’s members did under the name White Shabbos. It doesn’t even matter if the band might wind up being too punk for Orthodox Judaism or too Jewish for punk fans. What matters is that just as prayers and niggunim can make people feel connected to G-d and encourage them to do the right thing, so can Torah hardcore.
As my interview drew to a close, I asked if the band members had anything else they wanted to add. Yishai looked at me and said as sincerely as could be, “I want Moshiach now. I’m trying to help bring Moshiach by screaming ‘oi.’”
Moshiach Oi will be playing at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC on Saturday, December 13, at 1 a.m. Go to Moshiach Oi’s MySpace page to listen to “We Want Moshiach Now,” “I Wanna Learn Torah,” “Shabbos,” and “Loshon Hara.”