Seattle’s Rapping Rabbi Revives Ladino Folksongs

September 4, 2015 | Jerry Large
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Simon Benzaquen, an Orthodox rabbi of Moroccan-Sephardi ancestry, has recently teamed up with his congregant Alex Hernandez, a Mexican-born convert to Judaism, to perform Ladino folksongs in rap form. Jerry Large writes:

Benzaquen [said] that just a few years ago he thought of rap as disgusting, The change in Benzaquen’s view of rap came from another collaboration with a member of the congregation, the Seattle rapper Nissim (who used to be known as D. Black before his religious conversion). . . . Benzaquen was hooked on the idea of using hip-hop to reach a wider audience, which led to his partnership with Hernandez, another member of the congregation and a rapper and guitarist.

Hernandez grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico. He [said that] his grandfather used to read to him from the Bible, and he was attracted to the stories of the Israelite kings. He said he was a Christian for twelve years, then “One day I was like, ‘who wrote the Bible?’” He wanted to get closer to the original, so he learned Hebrew, and that led to a closer study of Judaism. Six years ago, he and his wife, Netzah Hernandez, who helps with the music, moved to Seattle for the conversion process. Most people may come to pursue the American dream, making money and all that, but Hernandez said he and his wife came for the religion. “I’m here because I wanted the Jewish dream.”

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