For Janice Markham, Jewish music is about more than just a sound—it’s about survival. That’s why the Mostly Kosher violinist is so excited about her band’s upcoming performance at the ninth annual Festival for Jewish Music in Pasadena on December 17. The night will mark a homecoming for the group, and a chance to pass the torch of Jewish music between generations.
Markham and Leeav Sofer form the core of Mostly Kosher, a klezmer group that draws heavily from world music influences. The group has been rapidly gaining popularity as audiences across the Southland and beyond have enjoyed their unique music. “I feel like Klezmer and Jewish cultural music is coming to the fore and isn’t just looked at as a sort of niche thing anymore,” Markham said on a recent call from her home in Southern California.
The group’s ascendancy is reflected in their selection this year as the first Jewish group to perform in Disneyland’s California Adventure as part of their Festival of Holidays. People in the parks have responded very positively since they began performing there in November. “I’m sure they probably didn’t figure they’d be singing “Ma O’tzur” at Disneyland,” Markham said. “It’s been really exciting, especially because we’re part of a whole movement, in a way, to embrace world culture.”
When Mostly Kosher comes to the Festival of Jewish Music later this month, they’ll be embracing a family culture as well. The Festival was founded nine years ago by Cantor Judy Sofer, who happens to be the mother of Mostly Kosher bandleader Leeav Sofer. “Everybody thinks that Mostly Kosher belongs to them,” Cantor Sofer said. “They very much came out of the San Gabriel Valley.”
Mostly Kosher is excited to make their Pasadena return. “We actually haven’t had a performance in Pasadena for a while, so we’re really excited to connect with that community,” Markham said. “That’s actually the community where Leeav (Sofer) and I started playing together.” The group got its start during Cantor Sofer’s time at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, where this year’s Festival for Jewish Music will be held. Markham had been working with the elder Sofer before she was introduced to Leeav.
“This is the first time that we’re bringing in outside people,” Cantor Sofer said. In previous years the Festival has consisted mostly of local choirs and cantors. This year, Mostly Kosher will be joined by the Jewish Youth Orchestra, Kol HaEmek-Voice of the Valley and the Jubilation Musical Society.
Markham is excited by the Jewish Youth Orchestra’s inclusion in particular because her daughters play in it. “It sort of embodies exactly what we’re trying to do: the passing the torch, the musical torch from one generation to the next.” Markham and her daughters will join Leeav and Judy Sofer together on stage.
Markham is also excited that the group will be joined by Yiddish dance expert Bruce Bierman, who will help get the audience up and moving. “He’s an amazing Yiddish dance leader,” Markham said. “You can put anything out there and he’ll be able to lead dance in whatever that style of music is.”
For Cantor Sofer, the night offers a chance for the Jewish musical community to really shine. “All we hear is Christmas music all the time. We were trying to do something different, that was ours,” Sofer said, of the impetus to begin the Festival nine years ago. “This is our turn to share our own music.”
Markham agrees with Sofer. “We want this music to survive. We want this music to be passed down to the next generation,” Markham said. “Music has a way of really empowering us, making us strong, giving us something to share.”
The Ninth Annual Festival of Jewish Music takes place on Saturday, December 17 at 7:00 pm at The Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.
Jonathan Maseng’s work has appeared in LA Weekly, The Press Enterprise, The Jewish Journal, and the Jerusalem Post Magazine. He also writes regularly about the New York Mets for SB Nation’s Amazin’ Avenue.
Popular klezmer fusion group Mostly Kosher will take a break from their new gig at Disneyland to headline the Ninth Annual Festival of Jewish Music on December 17.