Shawn Zevit is practicing what he preaches. A Philadelphia-based Reconstructionist rabbi who serves as a visiting rabbi at Pittsburgh’s Congregation Dor Hadash, Zevit is also a singer, songwriter and guitarist with two full-length CDs to his credit.
With musical influences ranging from The Beatles to indie rock, from soul to R&B, Zevit’s new album, “Sanctuary,” is less liturgically based than his first CD, “Heart and Soul.” But Zevit still calls “Sanctuary” a “Jewish soul record” that explores spirituality and reflects his personal connection with God.
In addition to writing and performing music, Zevit is the author of a recently published book about giving, “Offerings of the Heart: Money and Values in Faith Communities” (Alban Institute) — a practical guide for clergy and lay leaders that draws on traditional and contemporary texts to explore the relationship between Judaism and the use of money as a spiritual tool to help others in need.
“The book and the CD take a holistic approach,” Zevit told the Forward. “I want to send the message that art is personally moving and socially transformative.”
So how does a singing rabbi bridge his roles as a spiritual leader, teacher, writer and performer? For Zevit, the answer is simple: He utilizes his musical talents as a means to raise funds for worthy causes and promote social awareness. On November 2, Zevit performed songs from “Sanctuary” in a Philadelphia concert at Tin Angel. Ten percent of the night’s CD sales were donated to victims of Hurricane Katrina through a relief fund that is a combined effort of The Shefa Fund and the Jewish Fund for Justice. With some 50 people in the audience, the event raised several hundred dollars and provided information to attendees in the hope of encouraging them to play more active roles in their communities.
Zevit said that all the performances he’s done in the past six or seven years “have involved some element of tzedaka ” — connecting the theme of his book with the theme of his music.
“Writing the book is a challenge for me to live its message,” he said, “and it’s made me more cognizant of its message.”