lifting spirits

MIT to host music festival celebrating ‘Jewish joy’ this week

Performers at the ‘We Will Dance Again’ festival include Idan Raichel, Matisyahu and Five for Fighting

Rick Kern/Getty Images

Matisyahu performs in concert during the "Hold The Fire Tour" at Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater on February 10, 2024 in Austin, Texas.

In recent weeks, as headlines have painted an increasingly grim picture of life for Jewish students on many American college campuses, a group of Boston-area Jewish students banded together to try to inject some positivity into that gloomy narrative. 

The result is a just-announced music festival taking place on Thursday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, with a slew of artists who have been outspoken about their support for Israel and the Jewish community in recent months. The four-hour event will feature performances by the Israeli singer Idan Raichel; rapper and reggae artist Matisyahu and his son, LAIVY; singer-songwriter John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting; rapper Kosha Dillz; and a DJ from the Nova music festival. There will also be food trucks on-site, including kosher options.

“Through the power of music and rhythm, the event aims to unite attendees, honor those who have passed, and support those facing challenges while celebrating joyful Judaism,” reads the event description. Tickets are free for college students, and cost $36 for anyone else who wants to attend.

Called “We Will Dance Again,” the event came together in less than two weeks, after MIT graduate student Talia Khan, the co-president of the MIT Israel Alliance, created a GoFundMe with the support of MIT Chabad to raise money to organize the event and cover the cost of student tickets. As of Tuesday night, the campaign has raised $32,000. 

“We invite you to support and join us at ‘We Will Dance Again,’ a vibrant, student-led party,” inspired by the mantra used by survivors of the Nova music festival massacre, “which promises an unforgettable night of music, dance, and solidarity,” Khan wrote in the GoFundMe campaign. The festival is also being supported by several major Jewish nonprofits, including Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Hillel International, the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish National Fund.

Organizers expect 1,500 people at the festival, which is taking place at Hockfield Court, a campus lawn just half a mile from where an anti-Israel encampment stood until a few days ago. MIT’s classes ended this week, but the school year is already over at some other local universities. 

“Security is always, of course, top of mind when we’re bringing large groups together right now on campuses,” said Leora Kimmel Greene, a Boston event planner who is producing the outdoor concert. “The idea of having to go inside because our event feels too political, or too pro-Israel or too Jewish, just feels so sad. While this event is outdoors and in a tent, we have built a perimeter around the area to ensure that only those with tickets can come in and out of the space.”

Rabbi Menachem Altein, director of MIT Chabad, offered a more positive twist: “As they say, haters gonna hate, but we’re proud and loud,” he said on Tuesday. “Being Jewish should invoke a feeling of gladness rather than the feeling of sadness and being a target.”

The organizers hope the event inspires Jewish students at other campuses. “My hope is that, while at Thursday’s event we’re aiming to amplify our message of unity and resilience at MIT, there’s other people on campuses around the country and beyond [who] see this as a model to replicate,” Greene said. “I strongly believe that Jewish college students going back to campus in the fall will need moments that are so focused on Jewish joy and being able to live loudly and proudly Jewish in a safe and meaningful way.”

Matisyahu has faced protests at many of his shows due to his support for Israel, and a handful of stops on his recent tour have been canceled. Ondrasik, who is not Jewish, has emerged as a strong voice against antisemitism since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel. He released a single in January, “OK,” that calls out the silence of many leaders and activists in the aftermath of Oct. 7 and traveled to the Jewish state last month. 
“As MIT has created a climate of rampant antisemitism, I look forward to speaking and singing to the students who have been under siege, and telling them personally that people of conscience love and support them,” Ondrasik told Jewish Insider on Tuesday.

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