When Israeli yeshiva teacher sings in Oakland, the spirit will move him

Singer Shlomo Katz is looking forward to his upcoming Bay Area concert, though he can’t say right now what songs he’ll perform. He often doesn’t decide on a set until shortly before the curtain goes up.

“In Hebrew we say ‘k’vut,’ “ Katz notes, referring to the term meaning impermanence. “I try to adjust myself to where I am each time.”

When the popular 28-year-old singer and Torah scholar plays a free concert at Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation on Saturday, Feb. 28, he’ll probably be in a good mood. Not only does Katz have a new CD, “Ve’Hakohanim,” out, but he also got married three months ago. He and his wife, Bina, live in Efrat, Israel, and travel together whenever Katz hits the road

Shlomo Katz. photo/aharon hyman

And though that road has led to concerts around the world, every time he performs, Katz tries to turn the auditorium into a beit tefilah, or house of prayer. An ordained Orthodox rabbi who regularly teaches Torah and Talmud, Katz feels his two careers are really one.

“They’re the same calling,” he says of his rabbinic and musical roles. In both, Katz tries to “get people’s hearts to open, and the only way to do that is if mine is open. It’s very easy to touch people in the level of music. People don’t have to try too hard when it’s music.”

It wasn’t hard for Katz to fall into music as a life path. His father, Avshalom Katz, is an Argentine-born Orthodox chazzan in Los Angeles. Shlomo Katz grew up in Pasadena and, later, Israel. He studied violin for seven years before switching to guitar.

Katz pursued the rabbinate in his own way, teaching Torah classes at the Happy Minyan in Los Angeles and serving as a chaplain at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. He returned to Israel to study at Yeshivat HaMivtar in Efrat, and received his ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.

Currently, Katz serves as a rabbi at three yeshivas in Israel. He is also one of the instructors on Webyeshiva.org, an online real-time Yeshiva network with students from every continent.

Musically, Katz found his direction as a young teen when he discovered the music of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

“He is by far the strongest influence on me,” Katz says of the Jewish musical legend, who died 14 years ago. “He provided me with such a hunger to get into the depth of Yiddishkeit. I’m shocked at how much greatness was in one man, and it’s only beginning to be revealed. “

Katz had other heroes, too, and not all of them were shomer Shabbos.

“Neil Young has been the greatest influence from the non-Jewish world,” Katz says. “The vibe I get through his playing really touched me.”

Not that he ever throws “Heart of Gold” in his set. Rather, Carlebach’s innumerable nigguns, or wordless spiritual chants, have become staples in Katz’s repertoire. Into the mix he throws his originals, too, many of them nigguns infused with reggae, jazz, folk and pop elements.

The Oakland concert will be Katz’s first Bay Area appearance in six years. Though he’s lived in Israel for several years, his California dreaming has never stopped.

“I have so many life friends in L.A. and San Francisco,” he says. “You can never escape it, not would you want to.”

And even if Katz hasn’t yet picked all the songs for his concert, there is always an aspect of every show that never changes.

“Pray before, pray during, pray after,” he says. “Nothing can be accomplished without prayer.”

Shlomo Katz plays 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd., Oakland. Admission is free. For more information, call (510) 482-1147.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.