Classic texts inspire Berkeley singers spiritual Jewish fusion CD

Sometimes, Miriam Raziel has to get high to write a song. About 35,000 feet high.

“I get my deepest songwriting inspirations on airplanes,” says the Berkeley singer-songwriter. “I had the fragment of the chorus for one song for six years. One day on an airplane from St. Louis to the Bay Area all the lyrics came to me.”

That song later became the title track of “Light Warrior,” Raziel’s newly released debut solo CD. Though the album blends reggae, jazz, Middle Eastern and pop styles, the heart of it, like Raziel herself, embodies Jewish spirituality.

Some of the album’s 10 songs draw on classic Jewish texts — from Psalms to Genesis to the Zohar — and are sung in Hebrew, while her reggae-flavored songs play on the Rastafarian fascination with Judaism. All feature Raziel’s distinctively raspy vocals.

“Reggae has a very spiritual message about connecting to the earth and connecting to the most high, which is God,” she says. “Same with Judaism. The essence of our Jewish roots is connection to the earth. They both speak about the same thing.”

She doesn’t only sing about it. Her day job is Jewish educator. Raziel, 30, works with children and teens, not only in the Hebrew school classroom, but also leading outdoor nature encounters for innovative Jewish organizations Urban Adamah and Wilderness Torah.

She also performs regularly in Jewish settings, such as the rocking Friday night services at Berkeley’s Chochmat HaLev.

Her interests in music and Judaism go way back. A native of St. Louis, Raziel was heavily influenced by her Israeli-born mother and her father, noted Jewish scholar Howard Schwartz. “I grew up learning Jewish folklore, storytelling and Kabbalah in my home,” she recalls.

Raziel spent many summers in Israel, staying with family and mastering Hebrew. She later lived there during a few college and post-college years as well, attending Ben-Gurion University and eventually earning her certification as a Jewish educator.

In Israel she met her future husband, a medical student from Los Angeles. The two married and moved to Berkeley in 2009. She taught at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon, and today works with children at Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El and the Gan Shalom preschool.

Raziel considers teaching her “main work in the world,” but music remains her passion. She grew up absorbing the songs of baby boomer heroes such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, as well as jazz titans Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.

Jewish music touched her deeply as well, and recording her own CD was a long-held dream. Eventually she started working with producer John Alevisakis at Little Buddha Studios in San Rafael. One year later she completed the project, and “Light Warrior” was born.

“I wanted an album that was spiritual Jewish fusion and had the Jewish essence, but was also accessible to younger generations,” she says. “I’m not trying to be a famous pop star. My goal was to spread the energy of the music.”

“Light Warrior” CD by Miriam Razel is available at

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.