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Nissim Black performance stimulates conversation around rap and Judaism

March 3, 2023

Andrew Yuan
BLACK'S TRACKS: Rapper Nissim Black performs in Kresge Auditorium. The show and talk was sponsored by Hillel and the Department of Music.

Nissim Black occupies a unique niche in the world of hip-hop. He began his career as a secular artist, but since his conversion to Judaism, he has shifted to creating religion-oriented rap music.

Black performed at the College on Wednesday, with a student-led reflection set for this afternoon. The purpose of the reflection and the performance is to spark dialogue among students on Black’s observations on the intertwinement of rap music and religion.

Ava Liversidge ’26, one of the leaders of the student reflection, commented on Black’s objectives with his music.

“His project is to condemn—condemn is a harsh word but I’ll use it—mainstream rap as doing more harm than good, sort of like a force of evil in the world,” Liversidge said. “He tries to provide an alternative through his religiously inspired rap music.”

Though Black’s approach to hip-hop is unique, the involvement of religious sentiments in music is nothing new.

“The entire idea of making a secular genre religious isn’t inherently bad because music is divinely inspired in many ways,” Liversidge said.

Black was raised in Islam before converting to Christianity as a teenager and then arriving at Judaism in his adulthood. Though his journey was indirect, he eventually found his belonging within the Jewish religion and its community.

Gabe Gitter-Dentz ’25, a member of the Hillel board and one of Liversidge’s co-facilitators for today’s student reflection, attended a dinner with Black and other Hillel leaders prior to the performance. He talked with Black—who practices Orthodox Judaism—about the existing spectrum of how different people engage in Judaism.

“I learned a lot about the community he lives in and some of his traditions that were previously unfamiliar to me,” Gitter-Dentz said.

Gitter-Dentz felt that the performance went well, as Black kept up the energy and interspersed some talking between sets. He hopes that Black’s passion inspires other Bowdoin students to get involved with Hillel and Judaism.

“I hope people were more exposed to Judaism in general, and will be more likely to learn more or come to other Hillel events,” Gitter-Dentz said. “I hope people were able to recognize the value of some of what he was saying.”

Hillel president Lia Kornmehl ’23 expanded on the significance of Black and his music to the Jewish community.

“Nissim Black’s story is about strength of conviction and love of one’s family and community—while a Black Orthodox Jewish rapper certainly goes against stereotypes of American Jewry held by Jews and non-Jews alike, Nissim demonstrates every day that a Jewish person is a Jewish person no matter when or where one arrived to know the community,” Kornmehl said.  “In a time of rampant anti-semitism across the world, it is more important than ever for Jews to uplift and celebrate one another—Nissim’s music and message does just that.”

Julia Starck ’26, a member of the Hillel board, echoed Gitter-Dentz’s sentiments about learning from Black. She noted the vastness of what being Jewish can mean for different people.

“To be Jewish isn’t one thing, which I’ve known because there’s so many different sects of Judaism, just like any religion,” Starck said. “But Judaism means so many things, and he is a physical manifestation of the possibilities of the umbrella term.”

The show attracted a wide variety of people, not just those under the “umbrella” of Judaism. Brunswick residents attended, and they brought the energy.

“I really liked when I turned around and saw all these older Brunswick townspeople up on their feet dancing,” Starck said.

The reflection will be held today in the Lancaster Lounge in Moulton Union from 3 to 5 p.m.


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