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JRR Gift of Music

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
In collaboration with

While this project is driven by the staff of Jewish Rock Radio (JRR), the actual function of the project is a true collaboration between JRR and dozens of organizations. Together, JRR and participating organizations distribute the JRR Gift of Music to tens of thousands of Jewish teens and young adults.

UC Berkeley
UC Santa Barbara
Ohio State
Washington University in St. Louis
University of Maryland
University of Florida
Indiana University
University of Memphis
Arizona State University
Young Professionals Division St. Louis
Young Adults Division Memphis
ConnecTI Memphis
Young Adults and Bais Abe

Prize category
1 – 3 years
Target audience
College Students
Community Building

The Jewish Rock Radio (JRR) JRR Gift of Music national initiative distributes free Jewish rock music to thousands of young Jews across the country, amplifying their Jewish experiences and reconnecting them to important Jewish experiences in their lives. JRR facilitates the distribution of digital downloads to young adults every three months for two years. JRR Gift of Music complements engagement efforts of other organizations, providing a valuable tool - a gift of music paired with ways to more effectively promote organizational activities. JRR Gift of Music launched in 2016 in St. Louis, Memphis, and Hillel Birthright trips at campuses nationwide.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Judaism has a centuries-long tradition of music. From Torah chanting and liturgical chazzanut to Debbie Friedman and contemporary Hebrew rock, it is clear that music holds a central place in our faith tradition. Music is a powerful medium, a tool that can strengthen our Jewish identities and deepen a sense of community connection. Music is a time machine, transporting us back to moments of happiness, community and connection. In fact, many influential philosophers and thinkers have placed extremely high value on the power of music in our lives:

"There is a special Temple in Heaven, whose gates can be opened only through music."
- Zohar

"The most direct means for attaching ourselves to God from this material world is through music and song."
- Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

"All of God's wisdom is encased in a garment: it is in the music. The greatest revelation of God's oneness in the world is music."
- Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

"Listening to great music is a shattering experience, throwing the soul into an encounter with an aspect of reality beyond anything the mind can relate by itself."
- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Current research bears out this Jewish wisdom. The neurochemistry of music (published in Trends in Cognitive Science in 2013) shows that music actually changes our brain chemistry, which is why we feel good when we hear the music we first listened to during our formative years. The music we hear in camp and youth group quite literally changes our neuro-chemical make up and informs our self-identity. According to an MTV/Harris study, teens credit music with impacting their identities more than family, moral values, religion or style.

Why, then, have we not harnessed music in a systematic way? Our exposure to Jewish music is haphazard at best. With current technology making it possible to listen to our favorite song with just a few taps on the keyboard, the opportunity is ripe for the Jewish world to harness this powerful medium for Jewish connectivity and engagement.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

The JRR Gift of Music is a new approach to Jewish engagement that unleashes the power of music. Profound experiences such as Israel trips, youth group, and worship are all soaked in Jewish music. Yet, no systematic music distribution exists to bring current Jewish music directly to Jewish young adults, the way PJ Library brings books to young children. The JRR Gift of Music is geared toward a digital generation, unleashing Jewish music to help young adults engage with Jewish organizations as well as the broader community. The initiative uses a gift of music to provide a creative way for organizations to regularly share information about upcoming activities and exciting engagement opportunities in the broader Jewish community. Ultimately, JRR Gift of Music helps build community, increasing young adult engagement in their current organizations and in local Jewish community life.

Jewish Rock Radio shares digital Jewish music (not physical CDs) in partnership with Jewish organizations that work with teens and young adults. Jewish teens and young adults who receive the JRR Gift of Music are given Jewish rock greatest hits music compilations every three months from the organizations they participate in (i.e. YLD, Hillel, etc.). Each distribution is also paired with Jewish Engagement Touches – information about upcoming activities and ways to get involved in local Jewish life, giving Jewish teens and young adults ongoing ways to connect and engage in person with their peers.

The intention of JRR Gift of Music is to complement the engagement efforts of other organizations by providing them with a valuable tool - a gift of music paired with ways to more effectively share information about upcoming activities. The JRR Gift of Music does not provide a separate service, but rather a vehicle that helps to promote the existing programs of young adult engagement organizations.

The JRR Gift of Music target audience has previously participated in formative and musical Jewish experiences described above, such as camp, youth group, Israel trips, or musical worship. The JRR Gift of Music is also uniquely positioned to reach young adults who may not have had formative Jewish experiences. The JRR Gift of Music is sent to participants with wide ranges of experience. Many participants may not regularly participate in Jewish life, and the JRR Gift of Music provides a valuable outreach vehicle for reaching this more disengaged segment of the population.

How it works:
Step 1: Gift Preparation
The JRR Gift of Music program director provides a digital form to the young adult organization representative that can be filled out in approximately 5-10 minutes. The representative is asked to enter minimal information, including name, email address, short personal message, details about upcoming engagement opportunities, and a contact list spreadsheet.

Step 2: Sending the Gift
Jewish Rock Radio sends a personalized email from the organization representative to young adult recipients. The email comes from the email address of the organization representative.
● The recipient is prompted to visit the JRR Gift of Music website that is customized for the organization with logos and other branding images, so the recipient feels a sense of familiarity.
● When recipients visit the JRR Gift of Music website, music will automatically download to their computers. They can then transfer the music to their various devices. The website also recognizes mobile devices.
● The JRR Gift of Music website includes a “Share with a Friend” feature, a viral outreach tool that empowers participants to serve as ambassadors for their organizations by sharing the JRR Gift of Music with friends, thereby increasing the reach of the organization and impact of the initiative.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

The JRR Gift of Music was launched this year; as such, hard analytics are still in process. However, evidence of the program’s impact is extremely important to Jewish Rock Radio.

JRR has incorporated extensive diagnostic tools directly into the design of the JRR Gift of Music website to provide the metrics necessary to learn and calibrate the initiative in order to maximize impact. JRR utilizes this sophisticated proprietary diagnostic tool for data collection, organization, and reporting. JRR regularly collects quantitative data through the JRR Gift of Music website to analyze the success rate of the music distribution emails. Data include the number of recipients who open the JRR Gift of Music email, download the JRR Gift of Music, and download subsequent releases. JRR collects detailed demographic information about each recipient including age, location, and organizational affiliation. These data help JRR to calibrate the technical aspects of the program: number of opens helps to calibrate the time of day, type and length of message, and even adjustments to the delivery method.

Additionally, the JRR Gift of Music conducts research through recipient surveys to measure personal impact, including the recipients’ connection to Judaism through music, their connection to the local Jewish community, and other questions that measure the qualitative impact of the program. These personal impact surveys help JRR calibrate the specific content included in the JRR Gift of Music. The results inform what kinds of songs best achieve the desired outcomes: when recipients hear the music, does it remind them of powerful Jewish experiences in their lives? Does it connect them to Judaism? Does it connect them to local Jewish life?

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

The staff of Jewish Rock Radio manages selection, licensing, production, and distribution of PJ Library music albums worldwide, distributing nearly a million albums over the last several years. Data collected through extensive surveying of PJ Library families, overwhelmingly demonstrates that the impact of Jewish music on the Jewish identity and engagement of individuals and families is absolutely profound. Rick Recht, Jewish Rock Radio’s Executive Director, is one of the top touring influential Jewish music artists of our generation and has spent many years practicing the applied Jewish wisdom of music – the philosophy that underpins JRR’s mission and work. Widely considered to be a pioneer in the field of Jewish rock and Jewish leadership training, Rick has seen first-hand music’s powerful impact on the lives of children, teens, young adults, and families. Not only are they impacted at concerts and worship services, but years later, many participants have shared how the impact of those experiences changed the trajectory of their lives – family relationships, professions, hobbies, and overall connection with Judaism.