As an aspiring singer and actress in Los Angeles, Nancy Nagler Good hoped to still be singing and performing decades later.
“I have been in the music business my whole life,” Good said, noting that she grew up with Joan Jett, auditioned for the Runaways and turned down a chance to audition for the Go-Go’s.
Good, 56, now performs several times each month and is recording a CD. She has fulfilled her dream, although she could not have imagined that her band would be a Jewish rock band and her venue would be a Conservative temple in Charlotte.
The Ruach Band (pronounced roo-akh, a Hebrew word that generally means “spirit” in the Torah) was formed in January 2009 at the suggestion of Rabbi Murray Ezring, the senior rabbi at Temple Israel. Its other founding member is Peter Levinson, 60, a fellow congregant and avid guitar player.
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“Unlike Nancy,” Levinson said, “I had only played in garage bands. But Rabbi Ezring knew I played guitar and he asked me to meet with Nancy and do an alternative Saturday morning service.”
Levinson and Good recruited their children, aged 14 at the time, to round out the band. Jill Levinson joined Good on vocals while Good’s son, Josh, drummed on bongos.
For that first service, the band performed “Ein Keloheinu,” a traditional Jewish song.
“But set it to ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by the Beatles,” Levinson said.
They performed in a small side room at Temple Israel that doesn’t seat more than 50 people, anticipating that they would draw a small crowd.
“It was standing room only,” Levinson said.
Good and Levinson knew they were on to something.
“People are hungry for laid-back, alternative services,” Good said.
The Ruach Band now plays regularly at Temple Israel in Friday night services (the third Friday of each month) that often have several hundred people in attendance. They also play around town, including at the Temple’s senior social club, the Levine Jewish Community Center’s annual kosher barbecue and the Tosco music festival. They have also been invited to play at the Atlanta Jewish Festival this March.
Band members have come and gone, including Josh Good and Jill Levinson (who are now in college at N.C. State and Chapel Hill, respectively), and the band has also upgraded from bongos to drums and updated the sound system to accommodate, as their CD proclaims, “Real. Jewish. Rock.”
Temple Israel congregant Marshall Rauch (the similarity of his name to the band’s name is kismet, said Levinson serves as the band’s biggest benefactor.
“He was moved to support us after hearing us play,” Levinson said. “He told us, ‘You are the future of what Jewish community looks like.’ ”
When the band needed a bass player, Dan Ruda, 56, a former Temple Israel president, stepped forward.
“It turned out he had been a professional musician,” Levinson said. “Who knew?”
Aly Lerner rounds out the vocals, Franklin Kaunitz plays the violin and Dean Adelman and David Krusch play the drums.
Good and Levinson meet on a weekly basis to compose and rehearse and look to bands like U2, Fleetwood Mac, The Who and the Indigo Girls for inspiration. They also look to contemporary Jewish musicians such as Dan Nichols and Rick Reicht.
“We really do focus on the service and the prayers,” Good said.
“We are all about engagement,” Levinson said. “We want the congregation to sing along.”
“This is so much more meaningful than playing in a cover band,” Good said.
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.