Rabbi of Rap shares words of wisdom about guns, education

Noemi Zeigler Sanchez, known onstage as Madeline Minx, is hitting her stride. Her latest music video, “Rabbi of Rap,” is the Jewish Film Institute’s online short of the month.

Sanchez jumps into the video’s hip-hop rabbi persona, rapping,  “Put your guns down. Lift your books up. Rise up.” She hopes the 4½-minute video will inspire teens and young adults to turn away from violence, hearing the message: “Education is a weapon. It’s a weapon of mind.”

Noemi Zeigler Sanchez

“The idea of talking about education and some of my Jewish values comes out in my work,” Sanchez said. “My mom has been such a powerful influence on me with social justice and the progressive Jewish movement.”

Sanchez, a 46-year-old San Francisco resident, spent part of her childhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she and her family attended services. They also lived for about six years in Rehovot, Israel, just south of Tel Aviv, after her parents decided to make aliyah.

“At school on Friday [in Israel], we had beautiful celebrations,” she said. “Every Friday, shops closed early, people bought flowers and we had a Shabbat dinner.”

Sanchez said she wanted the lyrics and imagery of the “Rabbi of Rap” video to reflect the truth about young urban people’s lives. To do that, she collaborated on the video with a number of her students at local colleges, where she teaches film and media courses.

Still from “Rabbi of Rap”

“The video was a huge collaboration,” Sanchez said. “Most of the actors are students, as well as many of the people crewing the film.”

The video took two days to shoot, but that was just the beginning. “Planning and editing the video took several months,” she said. “It was a big process.”

For her students, she said, working on the video was “an opportunity for them to work with some professionals in the business,” and to get real-life experience. “We have some good equipment, but students don’t always have access to what a professional set looks like.”

Sanchez is no stranger to the entertainment industry, having created music videos, hosted web shows and written music for 20 years. Her work has appeared at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and she performed her one-woman show, “Pushy TV: Live From Langton,” at the pioneering art-space New Langton Arts in San Francisco.

In 2012, she released an anti-bullying rap music video, “Feminem,” in which she declares herself the female Eminem and the Jewish Madonna. The “Rabbi of Rap” video premiered in May at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill club.

Sanchez said Jewish values always seem to find their way into her work, which often channels the voice of her own Jewish mother, whom she describes as “critical, but also hilarious.”

She doesn’t belong to a synagogue right now, but she and her family are part of a group that hosts rotating monthly Shabbat dinners. She and her husband, Pepe, who was raised Catholic, call themselves interfaith “Jewxicans.”

Sanchez herself plays many of the characters she creates, because they reflect pieces of her own life — whether they’re rapping in a music video or starring in a scene from her one-woman show.

“It’s always hard for people to figure out who the hell I am or where I fit in,” she said. “I feel like I’m a variety show. My ultimate form would be a literal variety show where I told stories and performed songs.”

The variety can be disorienting. “It’s a crazy experience — for years it’s like ‘I should pick something,’ ” she said. “Maybe I could get ahead if it was more obvious what I am.”

But she doesn’t think she can pick just one thing. “Ultimately, that’s just not possible for me,” she said, “so I literally work on 10 projects at once — from writing to directing to performing. I like it all.”

To view the video and a Q&A with Noemi Zeigler Sanchez, go to www.jewishfilminstitute.org/2015/07/31/augusts-online-short-rabbi-of-rap/